Amateur Dramatics was big at Terry’s in the 1930s – as it was at the chocolate factory’s rival, Rowntrees.

Among the productions staged by the Terry’s Amateur Dramatic Society in the pre-war years, according to Van Wilson’s excellent The Story of Terry’s, was Mystery At Greenfingers – a play specially written for a three-act play competition and performed in 1937.

One local reviewer wrote that the players were “establishing themselves as purveyors of excellent entertainment”.

Already, however, the storm clouds were gathering. In 1937, Terry’s sent staff on courses about air raids and gas masks. By July 1939, air raid shelters had been built, Van writes – a shelter in the old chocolate cellar at Clementhorpe for 170 people, and a tunnel shelter for 600 and ground floor shelter for 1,000 at Bishopthorpe Road.

Once war was declared in September 1939, female staff were encouraged to sign up as auxiliary nurses, while many of the men left to join the forces. F Hills and Sons, a manufacturer of aircraft propeller blades from Manchester, moved into the factory.

Betty Metcalfe started work at Terry’s in 1939.

“Sugar got very scarce and cocoa beans were hardly imported,” she says in an interview in Van’s book. “They did go on making boiled sweets, and barley sugar drops packed in tins. They went into the inflatables and rescue ships that the aircraft and the navy had, as survival rations….

“The men could volunteer to fire-watch and females used to man the telephones at the weekend. And we had the doubtful pleasure of putting the siren on when we got the red signal, on top of the five-storey block. It was an electric one, you just pressed the button and it started wailing away.

“We were all issued with steel helmets. Well, me in a steel helmet was a sight to behold because they weren’t like the army ones with a strap on the back, they were very much deeper and had a wide brim.

“Then along came the aircraft people, Hills, who made laminated aeroplane blades (for propellers), and repaired them. The smell was appalling, like concentrated nail varnish. …They used to bring RAF low loaders up Bishopthorpe Road to the factory with blades in various states of brokenness.

“I was there when a plane crashed on Nunthorpe estates. Our office was on the Bishopthorpe side. We knew the planes were going out, then we heard this tremendous crash and the next thing we knew, the sky was full of debris…We saw some of the airmen coming down in parachutes. There were machine gun bullets whizzing all over, right past Terry’s… We just got outside on to the back of the office block and the petrol tanks of the plane went up. Well, I’ve never heard anything like it. It was horrifying.”

Cissie Colley recalls working on the Hill’s propeller blades at Terry’s. “It had to be a certain amount of varnish on, and if you got more, you had to scrape it off.

“We were so tired. You’d to go seven days a week, if they wanted you on a Sunday you had to go in.

“They dropped all the rules and regulations about labour, there was no bank holidays. It was terribly important because they were losing a lot of aeroplanes.”

A lot of aeroplanes, and a lot of lives. But eventually, at great cost, the war was won – and Terry’s had played its part.

• The Story Of Terry’s, by Van Wilson, is published by York Oral History Society, priced £9.95.