Trailblazing Harrogate WW2 servicewoman launches start of events to mark 100th anniversary of town's war memorial
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Sheila Pantin, who will celebrate her own 100th birthday on October 21, was one of the first British servicewomen to enter a concentration camp in the last days of the war in April 1945.
A pioneering member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women's branch of the British Army in the Second World War, today, Friday, September 1 saw the remarkable veteran cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony at West Park United Reformed Church.
Ms Panton is also to deliver a talk entitled The Road to the Concentration Camps, based on her experience of seeing inside Belsen concentration camp in 1945, as part of celebrations organised by the Harrogate War Memorial Project Group.
A driver of army ambulances and staff cars, Ms Pantin was one of the few female service women in the Second World War to see active duty all the way from France to Berlin after the Allied landings on D Day.
Talking to the Harrogate Advertiser last year, she said she had not expected to face the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.
"I had been asked to lead a convoy of about ten three tonne Bedford lorries into Germany from Holland,” she said.
"I thought it would be something to do with creating physical training centre for British troops.
"When I got there I was asked if I wanted to work in the camps.
"I thought they meant barracks but they didn’t.
"There was the camp with this huge entrance and a lot of huts surrounded by barbed wire fencing.
"It was Belsen.
"I could see our boys digging out mass graves to give the bodies proper burials.
"The only people left alive were in rags and in a terrible state."
The central part of the anniversary programme is the More Than A Name On A Memorial exhibition paying tribute to all 1,163 names on the war memorial, which opened today at West Park United Reformed Church.