THIS week, I’ve been scrabbling around a railway embankment to the south of Darlington in search of a Second World War bunker, scratching my way through scrub and gorse bushes covered with the delicate pink flowers of wild dog rose.

When I got home, I spoke to RAF Middleton St George historian Geoff Hill who told me how, during the war, in memory of airmen who never came home, groundcrews planted wild dog roses beside the now vacant stands from which the men had taken off on their last journeys.

All this and more in tomorrow’s Memories, but before then, I wanted to know why the dog rose is named after a dog.

The wild rose is the national flower of England (and Romania), and was the personal emblem of Elizabeth I, and so in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare has the queen of the fairies happily making her bed surrounded by them: “There sleeps Titania sometime of the night, Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight”.

There are at least 14 species and innumerable varieties in our hedgerows – that’s why the War of the Roses was fought between the red rose of Lancashire and the white rose of Yorkshire. The pink dog rose, uniting the warring factions in colour, is the most common of them all, and perhaps the grand-daddy of them all.

There are two theories about its name. A boring one says that its prickles are shaped like dog’s teeth. A more exciting one, which has at least a degree of truth to it, is that the ancient Greeks and Romans used the root of the wild rose to treat someone who had been bitten by a mad, rabid, dog.

It is doubtful that doctors still prescribe dog rose for such a condition, but the wartime generation discovered it had other medicinal properties: when imported fresh fruit had disappeared more completely from shop shelves than toilet roll in a pandemic, the rosehips provided a valuable source of Vitamin C.

One cup of rosehip syrup has more Vitamin C than 40 fresh oranges.

In 1941, the Ministry of Health started a rosehip collection scheme, which was run by County Herb Committees, particularly in the north where the rosehips were said to have a greater concentration of Vitamin C than their southern counterparts. In the autumn, children – guides and scouts – were encouraged to harvest the hedgerows in return for a few pennies.

In 1942, 200 tons of rosehips were collected. The Government propaganda machine worked out that this was 134m hips, which were minced, stewed and then strained to create 600,000 6oz bottles of National Rose Hip Syrup.

One teaspoon of the syrup provided half a child’s recommended daily intake of Vitamin C. Perhaps this war use made the planting of the dog roses at the airfield more poignant.

The straining part of the manufacture of the syrup was very important because it removed the seeds which could cause internal irritations. In fact, the seeds of the dog rose have little hooks on them which schoolboys used to know made excellent itching powder when sprinkled down the neck of an unsuspecting, but shrieking, girl.

Indeed, it is said that other field-dwelling animals, like cattle, which rubbed along dog rose-filled hedgerows also get a bad case of the itches, which led the Small Faces to sing about Itchycoo Park. Perhaps.