DENNIS Durkin didn’t think much of it when, in April 1942, he was asked to stand atop the Layerthorpe Gasometer to watch for anyone who might break the York Blackout.
Young Dennis was only 17 and older members of the Home Guard in York had told him it would be perfectly safe.
“He had been reassured … that in the event of an air raid, gas was sucked from the gasometer and hidden in tanks under the Foss River!” said his daughter, Sandra Wreglesworth.
From his lofty vantage point, Dennis was able to sound the alarm bells as the first bombs began to drop in what has come to be known in history as the infamous York Baedeker Raid.
But what he didn’t know at the time, Sandra said, was that according to Luftwaffe pilot Willi Schludecker, the gasometer was one of the main targets in that night’s raid. “He could have been the first man on the moon!” Sandra said.
Dennis himself described that night in an interview with The Press in 2007.
Then 83, he told the newspaper: “My friend and I were on top of the gasometer with binoculars looking for lights so that we could report them to the guards of the blackout.
“When we were up there we heard a plane fly over town, then heard it come back. It must have gone through the system because the air raid sirens did not go off.
“When the bomb was dropped it rocked the whole tower. I had to phone to say where I thought it had landed and then we were told to get down as soon as possible.
“I can’t stop thinking about how lucky we were. If that gasometer had been hit, I think all of York would have been destroyed.”
Dennis, who is now deceased at the age of 96, has had a busy and active life.
At 19, he volunteered as a Royal Engineer in the British Army. Shortly after, he was recruited to join General Ord Wingate’s Chindits.
“After rigorous and dangerous training, Dennis served in India, Singapore, Malaysia and Egypt,” said Sandra.
“But it was mainly in Burma that he engaged in guerrilla warfare, causing as much havoc and destruction in enemy territory as possible. At the time of the Battle of Kohima, Dennis was behind the Japanese lines, detonating roads, bridges, supply lines and damaging communications. ”
Dennis Durkin as a Young Man in the War
Half of the Chindits were killed or wounded in action – and many died or suffered the crippling effects of malaria, yellow fever or sandfly fever, Sandra said.
“At one point, Dennis was so sick that the doctors told the nurses not to treat him anymore. Luckily, a nurse whispered in his ear that she would not leave him and treated him again for get back in shape, even though he continued to suffer from recurrent attacks of malaria for the rest of his life. ”
At the end of the war, in recognition of his service and sacrifice, Dennis received a samurai sword presented by a Japanese officer during the official surrender ceremony.
After the war, the former schoolboy of St George becomes an antique dealer. In 2008, he and his wife Kay celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.
Dennis, who lived in Bad Bargain Lane, York, passed away peacefully at home on January 25 after a short illness. He is survived by Kay, to whom he was married for almost 73 years, four daughters, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
“My dad may have been a forgotten military member, but he will never be forgotten by his family and friends,” Sandra said. “He was a special man who fought in a special force. If it hadn’t been for men like my father, maybe none of us could have enjoyed life and freedoms we all enjoy today ”.
Dennis’ funeral will be at St George’s Church on Friday February 12 at 12:30 p.m. followed by interment in Fulford Cemetery.