HER gentle voice cracks as North East war heroine Nora High reveals her sadness at witnessing the young lives lost on both sides during the senseless slaughter of the Second World War.

It may be more than three-quarters of a century ago, but the great grandmother’s memories of deafening air raids are as vivid as ever.

She fought Nazi Germany on the dangerous frontline of England’s defences by working as a spotter with the Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery.

Nora was stationed at Hellfire Corner, a particularly busy battery at Dover, so-called because of the frequency of deadly Luftwaffe attacks and the very real risk of being shelled or shot.

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Nora High, who served in the Second World War, is now 96

Nora grew up in the harbour town of Seaham, the daughter of Charles Wilson, who served with the Royal Navy during the First World War, and his wife, Nora.

He was initially a submariner and then went on Destroyers, while her grandfather, Henry Nelson, another sailor, spent the war in German captivity having been captured when the ship was interned in 1914.

Twenty-five years later, in September 1939, Europe was plunged into darkness once again as the Second World War broke out after Adolf Hitler defied Allied warnings and his forces invaded Poland as part of his policy of expansion.

The conflict dragged on, and four years later, as soon as she was old enough, two months before she turned 18, Norah enlisted and was sent to North Wales for training.

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Nora enlisted in the Royal Artillery as a teenager 

She was found to have a certain aptitude for being able to target enemy planes flying overhead and was set to work with the ‘ack-acks’ - the nickname for anti-aircraft from the spelling alphabet used by the British for the voice transmission of AA.

Before long the teenager found herself stationed at Dover Castle, helping to pick off German bombers in the skies above the white cliffs as they droned their way to London.

Nora said: “There was a command post, where there was a tracker, a height finder, a range finder and a predicter.

“Because I was quite regular, they made me a ‘number one’, which meant guns were right next to us. There were eleven men to a gun. They were massive guns.

“When I was on target, and when I was on the crossing point, I used to have to shout ‘FIRE’ and the men on the guns fired.

“I sometimes get a bit maudlin now, thinking about the planes that were shot down and the young lads that were in there, but, of course, it was war wasn’t it?

“They were doing that to our young men.”

During this time, there was also heavy German shelling and bombing of the Dover strait and the campaign saw 3,059 alerts, 216 civilian deaths and damage to 10,056 premises in the Dover area, which led to it being called Hellfire Corner.

Nora described her time there as ‘hell on Earth’.

She said: “It was known as ‘bomb alley’.

“We just tried to get the planes before they reached London, but you could get hit by shrapnel and die.

“All we had was our ‘tin hats’, which were steel helmets, and the women had to wear trousers, not skirts.

“There was quite a few girls killed or badly wounded by falling shrapnel. That was awful.

“There was one time we hit this German plane and he knew he was going to die, he knew he was going to crash.

“What he did was he followed the search light brigade and took out quite a few search light people.”

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Nora's sister, Dorothy, with her husband, Ronald, on their wedding day

Nora’s family made an incredible contribution to the war effort and her sister Dorothy served in the WAF, while her uncle Harry Nelson served with the DLI in Burma.

Tragically, her brother-in-law, Ronald Laud, a 27-year-old squadron leader, died when his Stirling bomber was shot down as he flew over Belgium in June 1943.

Nora has been presented with service medals for doing her duty for the country all those years ago, and on Saturday she was a guest of honour at special ceremony during which poppies fell from the tower of Durham Cathedral.

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Nora at the event on Saturday night

She was joined at the Festival of Remembrance by former Durham Light Infantry soldier Harry Oliver, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Poland, and is now 102, as well as 98-year-old D-Day veteran Cyril Coxon, who was awarded the Legion D’honneur by the Honorary French Consul at the event.

After the war, Nora returned to the North East, married Chris High, and went on to have four children before starting her career in retail, which led to her becoming a shoe shop manager at Kay’s in Sunderland.

But fifteen years ago she won another important battle born out of the wartime Britain, and one much more personal.

After decades of campaigning she helped secure an official pardon for her uncle, Billy Nelson, a 19-year-old private with 14DLI executed for desertion after leaving the trenches at the Somme, the bloodiest battle of the First World War.

His mother, Nora’s grandmother, died aged 42, while his father was a prisoner of war in Germany, and his younger brother and sister, were being taken into a workhouse.

He needed to make sure they were safe.

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Billy Nelson was executed by the British Army in 1916

Billy Nelson was one of the 306 young men who were shot at dawn by the British Army, and his niece, now 96, is adamant he must be remembered along with all of those who died while serving their country.

Norah said: “It is very, very important to remember everyone who died during the wars because it should not happen again.

“There must be no more wars.

“The likes of Billy, and all of the young men and women never got to live their lives.

“They did not know what life was all about.

“They were too young to die.”

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Read more: Remembrance services take place across the region

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