A forgotten part of Harrogate's war effort in the Second World War is being highlighted by the town's M&S stores.
Little known until now, M&S Harrogate became a much-valued place of respite for wounded servicemen during the war.
In 1945 wounded soldiers from the local hospital were invited by the store team to parties in the canteen to coincide with their own tea breaks.
The sign on its Café Bar was even altered to read read “RAF Sergeants’ Mess”.
A Marks & Spencer staff member at the time gave a glimpse of the reaction of attendees: “When some of the boys in hospital blue saw the tea table, they said they had not seen such a spread since 1939.”
Store funds were used to entertain all walking cases from the hospital, as well as to purchase food parcels and cigarettes for bedbound patients.
M&S’s connection with the RAF dates back to 1938 when Simon Marks, Chairman, and son of the founder was instrumental in setting up what became the RAF Air Cadets.
By the end of WWII, almost 100,000 cadets had joined the RAF – a pipeline of talent made possible by M&S and the RAF.
During the Second World War, more than 320 M&S employees served in the RAF, 18 of whom received awards.
Store manager of M&S Harrogate, Dawn Briggs, said: “Hearing the stories of how our predecessors coped during the war is so inspiring. It really underlines how M&S has always been at the heart of the community here in Harrogate.
"We are proud to be partnering with the RAF to celebrate its Centenary Year and look forward to welcoming our local branch of the RAF cadets into store to raise funds for a truly worthwhile cause.”
During the current celebrations to mark the RAF’s Centenary year, M&S stores in Harrogate will be recalling remarkable WWII stories of incredible community spirit in Harrogate.
And to celebrate its long, shared history with the RAF, M&S is pledging £500,000 worth of fundraising in support of the RAF100 Appeal.
As part of the national fund-raising drive, M&S Harrogate on Cambridge Street will be inviting in local RAF Cadets into their stores.
The funds raised by the RAF Cadets in store will go towards inspiring the next generation of engineers, scientists and technology specialists through scholarships, training and university bursaries for air cadets and school pupils from underprivileged backgrounds. The fundraising will also support the Royal Air Force’s four major charities – RAFA, the RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF Charitable Trust and the RAF Museum.
As part of M&S’s partnership with the RAF to celebrate the Centenary Year M&S has also designed a limited edition men’s leather flying jacket, ‘The Marksman’, which will go on sale from 26 June, with all profits going to the RAF100 Appeal.
The jacket is named in recognition of the M&S colleagues who raised £5,000 in 1941 to fund a new spitfire for the RAF war effort which they named ‘The Marksman’.
From July 7, local RAF Air Cadets will offer their bag-packing services to customers at M&S Harrogate on Cambridge Street and encourage customers to donate their spare change in a bid to help reach the £500,000 fundraising target.
RAF cadets will also be selling limited edition RAF100 pins in aid of the charity.