by Ian Dewhirst
Big surprise for everybody,” Mrs. Elsie Claughton wrote at Whitsuntide in 1941,” clothes are to be rationed… Everybody is talking about clothes rationing.” When she went to Skipton to buy herself some shoes and a dress for her little girl, she had to use three coupons for the shoes though none for the dress.
Mrs Elsie Claughton lived at Haworth and worked at Hartley’s confectioners in nearby Cross Roads. She had a young daughter called June. Her husband Joseph worked at Roper’s greengrocers
in Haworth, and served as an air raid warden. Her 1941 diary has survived, its brief pencilled entries sketching the Second World War from a housewife’s viewpoint.
Mrs Claughton kept abreast of events and offered some homely comments:
“We have sunk the Bismark. Hooray!” “We have been forced to evacuate Crete. We are getting good at it.” A proposed repatriation of wounded faltered because “Germany would not stick to the rules. The Rotters.”
She listened to the wireless and noted announcements: Lord Woolton decreeing “less sugar and meat” for the Army, Bevin “going to make women register for war work”, Churchill saying “We are much better off. But must always be prepared for invasion.” That October, “when we were listening to the 9 o’clock news a ghost voice kept shouting ‘it’s a lie. Churchill is afraid Roosevelt won’t fight’ and various other remarks.”
The chief value of such diaries is their record of local minutiae, and sometimes their letting slip of otherwise censored details – that “ghost voice” on the 9 o’clock news was probably never publicised. In January of 1941 the weather was severe: “Snowing all day. Very deep”… “Very heavy snow, kept on all day. Impossible to go to Lily’s”… “Could not go out for snow.”
Yet nothing of this appeared in the press until a censorship ban was lifted in February. Only then could the local newspapers relate how for six days there had been no buses between Bradford
and Denholme, none for seven days from Shipley to Wrose; how Wharfedale roads had been blocked by 14-foot drifts; how a Denholme bus had been stuck in snow and householders on Otley Chevin cut off for a week.
There was a complete ban on the reporting of local air raid warnings. High above neighbouring Airedale, Robert Smith Williams of the West Riding Special Constabulary logged 61 “siren raid warnings” between 1940 and 1945, none of which were made public at the time. Mrs Claughton jotted down her experience of nine in the Haworth area, plus another at Windermere where she had gone on an Easter Monday trip, one at Heptonstall where her father kept the Cross Inn, and one at Barnsley where her Auntie Annie was in hospital. Auntie Annie was “very frightened”, but grateful for Mrs Claughton’s gift of sweets and oranges, “as there have been no oranges for months.” Auntie Annie died that June.
An air raid warning in January lasted only half an hour, but four planes flew over, “one very low”. During a threehour March alert the audience had to leave the cinema in the middle of ‘Mortal Storm’, while early in May, with alarms lasting most of several consecutive nights, husband Joe, out on his A.R.P. duties, only got to bed at 5.30 a.m. Meanwhile a diary kept by Special Constable Williams stresses the nocturnal reality of this “quiet” sector of the home front:
May 3/May 4, 1941; “Moonlight night and quite a stream of aircraft passed over and seemed to be making towards Merseyside. Flashes in the sky also pointed to it being in this area. Cold frosty night.”
May 4/May 5: “44th warning. 11.57 to 5am Moonlight night and plenty of planes about, part gunfire could be heard. Two very loud explosions at 12.15 to 12.30 sounded fairly local.”
The explosions marked the crashing of a German bomber on Idle, Bradford.
On March 12th Mrs Claughton wrote a particularly brutal diary entry;
“Will Hewitt and his wife killed at Morecambe by bomb, direct hit.”
The ‘Keighley News’ put it rather differently: “The death has occurred of Mr and Mrs William Hewitt, of Heysham, who formally lived at Haworth.” Mr Hewitt had been a Sunday School teacher and superintendent at Bridge house Methodist Church at Haworth, and had sung in the choir. When he and his wife moved to Heysham he had involved himself with the Methodists there.
On Sunday, March 23rd, 1941, a National Day of Prayer, Mrs Claughton attended a memorial service for the Hewitts at Bridgehouse, where they sang Mr Hewitt’s favourite hymn. Ironically it was ‘God is Good’. Reporting the event, the local press made no mention of how they had died.
On the other hand, the introduction of Double Summer Time that May – duly recorded by Mrs Claughton: “The clocks are put forward today, an extra hour taken off until August” – made controversial news. It was “hailed with satisfaction by railway authorities and transport, manufacturing, and entertaining industries, but not by farmers.” Craven farmers felt the extra hour would
“upset their work timetable, particularly during the hay harvest.”
The inconveniences and shortages inherent in being at war permeate Mrs Claughton’s diary. Even hair clips were hard to find. She couldn’t work at the beginning of January “as we are very short of sugar”, and by May her confectioners were “so short that we are not letting people have unlimited tarts and buns.” The meat ration got reduced to “ls.6d instead of 1s.l0d including offals”, though later the sugar increased by “half as much again and 2 oz. more of fats. I wish it was more butter instead of marg.” When farming friends gave her some cream she realised that they “would all get into trouble if it was known!”
Perhaps not surprisingly, like many others Mrs Claughton went down with flu in late February.
By way of compensation there was a lively social life. In July the Claughtons had a holiday in Blackpool “with Rennie and Anne, Dorothy and Jack”. They “all stayed at the same place” where the food was very good and a “very good time was had by all.” In March the Haworth A.R.P. services held a Saturday night dance, though the Claughtons couldn’t go because “June kept wakening”. They missed a well attended event with music by the Haworth Public Prize Band.
The Keighley Hippodrome theatre was booming. Coming home from ‘Tropical Express’ (“The Wonder Show. All Round the World in an Evening. 40 Scenes.40 Artists”) the Claughtons were challenged by a soldier with a bayonet – “Halt who goes there, fool me said sorry”! As a treat in March, they had tea out before seeing Sandy Powell’s 1941 Road Show — to say nothing of an afternoon showing of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ at the Regent Picture House(“very funny”).
Indeed, Mrs Claughton would go to the Haworth Bronte Cinema by herself: “Jane Withers in ‘High School’ very good”. When she took young June to see ‘Pinocchio’ “she was thrilled with it”.
Later in the year, however, Mrs Claughton became preoccupied with Joe when he got his call-up papers. He had to report to Cardington, near Bedford, and left home at 6.35 a.m. on October 20th. She spent the following day “wondering how Joe was getting on” – then he arrived back home after midnight and had to knock her up! “Was very glad to see him” was surely an understatement. But his papers came again in November, and he left again for the R.A.F. at Cardington on the 28th. Thereafter Mrs Claughton’s diary reiterates “Got letter from Joe” and “Sent Joe a parcel” until a poignant summary of hope and disappointment just before Christmas:
December 19: “Telegram from Joe. Leaving Sat. Write later.Love Joe.” December 20: “I thought he was coming home, but he was not.” December 23: “Letter from Joe, he is at Skegness…”
Thanks are due to Mrs June Pope, of Scholes, Cleckheaton, for the use of her mother’s diary. Her parents subsequently set up business as J. H. Claughton, high-class bakers and confectioners in Lower Town, Oxenhope.