A POLISH pilot found himself in the dock at Hexham Magistrates Court while the might of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s stormtroopers were champing at the bit to cross the Channel.

Stealing an Aylesbury duck worth 12 shillings (60p) from a smallholding belonging to a local policeman brought the RAF Ouston-based airman before the bench, where he appeared in full flying gear.

He spoke no English, so the services of an interpreter were required, and it transpired that he had not stolen the duck for food, but wanted it as a mascot for the next time he took to the air against the German war machine,

The case was dismissed, but the Pole was ordered to pay five shillings in costs – a sum paid out of his own pocket by one of the magistrates in recognition of the fact that the pilot had shot down a German plane earlier in the week!

This is just one of the stories contained in Tynedale at War – 1939-45, the long-awaited new book by former Hexham Courant deputy editor Brian Tilley, which is published this month.

The book takes an in-depth look at the way the district coped with a second world war, just 25 years after the War to End Wars.

It’s a heady mix of triumphs and tragedies, heroism and horror and the day to day efforts of the Tynedale populace to cope with the demands of the conflict.

The local people opened their homes to frightened and occasionally louse-ridden evacuees from bomb-blasted Tyneside, while also having to deal with rationing, fatalities in the black-out and loved ones marching off to fight for freedom from the German jackboot.

Apart from a lone Luftwaffe aircraft “buzzing” the Bellingham to Hexham bus early in the war, the full horror of what was happening across the Channel did not make itself felt until scores of gravely wounded casualties from the retreat from Dunkirk started arriving at Hexham Emergency Hospital.

While there were only sporadic air raids on the district, there were fatalities on the Tynedale Home Front, notably at Coanwood, where 24 men were left dead or seriously injured when a training exercise went badly wrong, and an exploding ammunition train at Hexham railway station left three men dead.

A runaway barrage balloon also killed a man near Sparty Lea, and a popular schoolmaster and Tynedale Rugby Club star, K.W.D. Hodgson, was killed in another accident while serving with the Hexham Platoon of the Home Guard.

Tales of the Home Guard abound, giving the impression that the television favourite Dad’s Army was more of a documentary than a comedy show.

There were more inventive tales before the magistrates, such as the North Tyne farmer’s wife who sold eggs at more than the laid down price because she thought they might be double yolkers, and the pub landlady who claimed she had watered down her gin to prevent naive Land Army girls getting drunk.

The influx of foreign troops into the district also brought problems, mainly through the Australian contingent, who not only beat the locals at every single event in a sports day at Hexham, but also caused deep concern for the police through their constant uninhibited brawling.

Even before the conflict began, founder of the British Union of Fascists Sir Oswald Mosley and the hated Nazi propaganda broadcaster, William Joyce – better known as Lord Haw Haw– both came to Hexham to preach the Fascist gospel.

The book runs to 200-pages of tales gleaned mostly from the pages of the war-time Courant, with lots of photographs.

Published by Pen and Sword, and selling for £12.99, the book should be available from local bookshops later this month.