ON the night of Tuesday May 2, 1916, death fell from the skies onto an unsuspecting York.

When an odd, cigar-shaped object appeared in the skies, many people came out to look, wondering what it was.

At first the zeppelin hung suspended 3-4,000 feet above fields outside the city, as if the pilot were taking his bearings.

Then the engines restarted. Belching black smoke, the zeppelin droned over York. And then the bombs fell.

Eighteen bombs were dropped in all, leaving nine people dead, 40 more injured, and homes in the Nunthorpe Lane area and in Bishophill and Hungate destroyed.

Among the dead was Emily Chapman from Nunthorpe Avenue who, like so many others, had gone outside that night to gaze up at the strange object in the sky.

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Zeppelin raid damage in Bishophill. Photo. Clements Hall Local History Group

Emily's sister, Norah, described what happened in a letter.

"My poor darling sister was killed in the air raid, my dear darling mother has had her arm shot off and I am very badly wounded at the top of my right arm, and three wounds in my back," Norah wrote, the shock still evident in her words. "The house is completely wrecked."

The story of the zeppelin raid on York that night is one of many stories told in 'York in the First World War', the latest education resource pack for local primary schools to be produced by York Civic Trust and Explore York Libraries and Archives.

The pack draws on archives, records, letters, recruitment posters and contemporary newspaper reports and photographs to look at how the people of York coped during the dreadful conflict that was the First World War.

It uses case studies of real people, eye-witness accounts, and a wealth of old photographs and original documents to paint a picture of what daily life was like on the home front in York during the war – and what it was like for the young men who went off to serve in the trenches.

One section focusses on wartime recruitment. A brightly-coloured poster shows two women standing at an open window, while a child clings to their skirts. Outside the window a column of men can be seen marching smartly off into the distance. "Women Of Britain Say Go!" the poster proclaims. The pack asks children to imagine they were a young man out walking with friends who were all soldiers. "You walk past this poster. How might it make you feel?" the pack asks.

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Another section looks at the reality of life in the trenches: the cramped, insanitary conditions, and the risk of developing ailments such as trench foot (there's a very graphic photo that children will love...)

The pack includes a section on the 'Chocolate Letters': the letters sent to York's Lord Mayor JB Morrell from soldiers serving at the front to thank him for the tin of chocolate sent out at Christmas 1914 to every York soldier on active duty. "I have just received your kind Xmas gift which you so kindly sent to all York men on active service and I would like to express my thanks," wrote Private GW Breckon, serving with the Royal Maries aboard HMS New Zealand, on February 8, 1915. "I am sending the box home as I guess my people would like to have it for a keepsake and I can assure you that I have enjoyed the contents."

The pack looks at how, with the men away at the front, women began doing jobs that had always been done by men - including driving tramcars around the city. There are sections on animals at war; on how the wounded were looked after when they came home to recuperate; and on the treatment of conscientious objectors - young men who, for ethical or religious reasons, refused to fight.

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Conscientious objector William Varley. Photo: Explore York Libraries and Archives

One such, William Varley from Chestnut Grove in York, was sent to prison because he refused to enlist: there is a copy of the 'notice paper' ordering him to join up, dated September 25, 1916, which he refused to comply with. Former Rowntrees worker Alfred Martlew, meanwhile, refused to enlist or wear a uniform, and was sent, along with 15 other conscientious objectors, to Richmond Castle. Alfred was later sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to 10 years hard labour - he was sent to a granite quarry in Scotland to break stones.

The aim of the pack, which is targeted at Key Stage 2, is to bring this extraordinary period of York's history to life for a modern generation of primary school children.

Folders containing printed versions of both a teacher's and student's pack are being sent out to all York primary schools, together with a USB stick containing a digital version of the pack.

Digital versions can also be downloaded from the Civic Trust website.

"With the 100th anniversary of the Armistice approaching, we thought many children may be working on projects related to the First World War," said Civic Trust chief executive David Fraser. "We hope that teachers will find this pack useful - and that children will enjoy using it to find out what life was like in York at this extraordinary time in our history!"

  • Print versions of the York in the First World War education pack are being sent to all York primary schools. Digital versions of the pack (and of earlier education packs focussing on life in Victorian York and the lives of York suffragettes) can be downloaded by visiting yorkcivictrust.co.uk and clicking on 'education'.

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