DURING the war, Press reader Mary Broadhead's aunt, also Mary, was one of the Rowntree girls who found herself joining in the war effort.

The Rowntree department where Mary Storey-Richmond worked was converted to produce 'munitions'. Mrs Broadhead isn't entirely clear precisely what her aunt worked on. "But it was some sort of explosive.

"She used to say they had to put their hands inside boxes to do whatever it was they were doing. I think she mentioned the word cordite.

"They had to be very careful. In fact, there were one or two bangs, but she always said nobody was seriously hurt."

Which isn't to say they weren't affected. The women wore turbans, but there was always a fringe of hair that wasn't covered. And, depending on what they were working on, some of the women found their exposed hair turning orange. "They were called the canaries," Mrs Broadhead says.

Her aunt was still very young. She had joined Rowntree straight from school, at 14 or 15, and the war broke out soon after.

She found working with explosives frightening, Mrs Broadhead admits, so applied to do alternative war work. She was transferred to the railways - and found herself operating a signal box at Church Fenton.

"She was tiny: under five foot, and slim - and those big signals were very difficult to handle."

There were no cars for civilians in those days, either - and even if there had been, they'd not have been able to get petrol. So Mary was unable to get home when her shift ended, and had to stay in lodgings.

Some good came of it, however, Mrs Broadhead says: her aunt met her husband-to-be, Peter Ansell, at a dance at the RAF air base.

After the war Mr Ansell, who had been in the RAF, worked at GCHQ. He and his wife also spent 10 years stationed in Hong Kong.

Mrs Broadhead's Aunt Mary (she wasn't a real aunt, but a second cousin; but in true wartime fashion Mrs Broadhead knew her as Auntie Mary) died last year, at the age of 95.

While going through her things, Mrs Broadhead, who lives in Heslington, found a series of photos of workers (mainly women) at Rowntrees during the war.

The photos are actually labelled 'County Industries, York'. "But it was Rowntrees," Mrs Broadhead says.

She can't recognise her aunt in any of the photos. But there may well be other York people who do recognise parents, aunts or grandparents there, she believes.

So why not have a good look...

Stephen Lewis