Nostalgia: Preserving the home front
LEEK Wootton villagers will next week celebrate the official publication of the diary of a young mother who never gave up hope that her wartime fighter pilot husband would be found alive and well.
Doreen Cooper had played ice hockey for England and in 1930 won a relay medal for swimming in the first British Empire Games before she married Gilbert Wright.
He was the son of Arthur Fitzherbert Wright and the Honorable Daisy Moncreiff who lived in considerable style at Wootton Court, now part of the Warwickshire Golf and Country Club.
Doreen already had three children in 1940 when Gilbert’s Hawker Hurricane was lost and he was reported missing.
Refusing to believe her 36-year-old husband would not come home, Doreen took the children from their home in Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire, to live with her in-laws at Wootton Court.
It was there she immersed herself in village life, jam-making with the WI and making pyjamas for the Red Cross.
In scenes reminiscent of Housewife 49, the television drama written by Victoria Wood but also based on a real wartime diary, Doreen recorded day-to-day life as she waited for good news that would sadly never arrive.
She died in 2003, at the age of 95, living back in Chalfont St Giles, where years later her children discovered her two diaries and asked members of the Leek Wootton History Group whether they had any historical merit.
Paul Eldridge, chairman of the group, asked his daughter Helen to transcribe Doreen’s handwriting.
He said: “It became immediately that these diaries were important on many levels, not only as an account of the effect of a world at war on everyday life in Leek Wootton but as a family story, as a study in grief and, most importantly, as an account of a strong woman coming to terms with a changing world and changing personal circumstances.”
The history group, working in partnership with Warwickshire County Record Office and other supporters, successfully applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund to combine the two diaries and publish them as one book entited: Doreen’s Diary - She Could Not Have Loved More.
Copies will be available in local bookshops and libraries.
Among the everyday minutiae of Leek Wootton life, was the frantic need to gather in enough food and preserve it. Doreen may have lived in a fine house with maids and a chauffeur but keeping busy was one way of not thinking about her missing husband. Here are a few extracts from her diary.
19 February, 1941: Got some more elephants galoshes made - my slippers for plaster feet out of inner tubes. Got Ronnie to help me modify design to suit heavier type of tyre - fairly successfully I think but it will have to be modified still more...
30 June, 1941: Such a long and tiring day. I hope they all won’t be as bad. It was, I think, just getting this jam business started - nothing was in the right place or where it was wanted. I was expecting a possible twelve pounds of fruit only and got instead 24lbs and had too few helpers so that it went on much too late. Suppose we’ll get into it in time.
22 July 1941: Yesterday, while the babies were asleep I was picking ruit, rushed up to village after tea on fruit business, rushed home, put them to bed, picked fruit for 20 minutes, started two helpers off, had supper, over to Woodloes for rhubarb, back to pick up helpers, up to the hut, chopped rhubarb and washed redcurrants until 11pm, bath and bed at midnight - was I tired. Then this morning we started jamming at 10.30am, shorthanded, and I came away at 7.30pm with one ‘break’ of an hour at midday. Tomorrow I’ve probably got to do a second churning, tie up and transport to store over 111lb jam.
26 September 1942: Just a roaringly busy week with nothing outstanding happening. Butter churning on Monday, cut out pyjamas for Bill in the afternoon. Jamming on Tuesday, shopping Wednesday morning and sewing in afternoon. The babes and I went blackberrying in our own fields - found one big clump at the top of Hayes Meadow and got two and a half pounds off the one plant...”
After an inspector judged some jams hadn’t set enough and were only good for a school or institution (ex-ration), Doreen wrote: “The stuff is proving frightfully troublesome and we’ve come to the conclusion there’s been a slip in the printing of the official recipe and are now following our own ideas...”
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Friday 24 May 2013
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