Whaley author Gillian seeks war memories


Teenage boy students of Elizabeth College, Guernsey, who were evacuated to the Peak District in 1940 just before the island was invaded by the Germans, lived and were educated at Whitehall on Long Hill. Here, they are on Home Guard duties. Younger members of the college were housed and educated at the Unitarian Church’s holiday homes at Great Hucklow. Picture courtesy of Elizabeth College Archive, Guernsey.

Whaley Bridge author Gillian Mawson, fresh from publishing her story of the hundreds of children evacuated to Greater Manchester and the Peak District as the Germans invaded Guernsey is now researching the wider stories of the two world wars.

Author Gillian with her Guernsey book. Can you help with local wartime memories?

Next year sees the centenary of the start of World War I on 28 July1914.  The following year is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1945.  VE Day (Victory in Europe) was 8 May and VJ Day (Victory over Japan) was 14 August.

People in the High Peak are invited to help Gillian with their memories and memorabilia such as photos, medals, newspaper cuttings, letters.  The results of her research will be added to those of a larger group, ‘Derbyshire Lives Through the World Wars’.  This Arts Council-funded project is being conducted on behalf of Derbyshire County Council.

House at Newtown, New Mills, when it was a World War I Red Cross hospital. Picture courtesy Furness Vale Local History Society

Gillian said:  “I want to hear about the home front in Derbyshire, as well as the military exploits.  How did life go on around here as the two greatest wars in our history changed things for ever.”

She is holding meet-the-people sessions in

  • Whaley Bridge Library on Monday 11 March, 2.15pm-4pm
  • New Mills Library on Thursday 14 March, 10am-12noon
  • Chapel en le Frith Library on Thursday 14 March, 2-4pm

Gillian said:  “Bring along any memorabilia you have from the two wars, but most of all bring your own stories of your family. There’s an endless list of aspects of life, from the military to the domestic, church to schools.  Unfortunately, no-one alive can now remember World War I, the Great War, but many families will have their own history from then.  Luckily, here are many people who remember the end of World War II, the greatest days in their lives.”

Here are some aspects of wartime life that may trigger memories or unearth family letters, documents, photos or memorabilia:

  • Farming – this is a rural area.  What difference did the wars make, did prisoners work on the farms, were crops changed, did the Women’s Land Army operate in our area?
  • Industry – how did it change?  Wasn’t here a Whaley Bridger mill said to have produced most of the bandages used in this country – did their output increase during the wars?
  • Women at work – we know that the wars changed the lives of millions.  What went on here?
  • Family life – how did it change?  What did it do for our diet?
  • Hospitals – there were local ‘Red Cross hospitals’ around the area, including one at Newtown, New Mills.  What other changes came?
  • Prisoners of war – were there camps in this area?  Were there stories of attempted escapes?
  • School life – what was it like then, what did children do for the war effort?
  • Churches – they dealt with personal grief in both wars.  Some local victims of the wars are buried in St James’ churchyard, Taxal, in war graves. How else did church life change?
  • Women and fund-raising – who remembers raising money to buy Spitfires?
  • Dad’s Army – the Home Guard may be a joke on TV, but it was reality in World War II.  How did it change everyday family life?
  • Air raids and enemy activity that came very close.  Occasional bombs were dropped after enemy raids on regional targets, including New Mills and Hayfield.
  • Refugees, but also evacuees from London or Manchester came here, especially in World War II.  How did that change local communities?
  • Who were the heroes locally and how did communities learn about their heroism?

Invitation to local groups:  Are you planning to mark the three major dates  in the two wars.  Send information to gillianmawson@btinternet.com or leave a message on 01663 732963 before 5pm. The ‘Derbyshire Lives Through the Wars’  project site is at http://derbyshirelives.wordpress.com/

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