Margaret Brenchley's book, on World War Two in the local area, is available now!

Margaret Brenchley’s book, on World War Two in the local area, is available now!

Entitled Keep Smiling Through – Life in the Hodder Valley during WW2, the book by local historian Margaret Brenchley, is available for £10 from the Slaidburn Archive, or – by special arrangement while local stocks last – from Margaret herself, or via Tony Maguire.

Keep Smiling Through!
Margaret Brenchley

Tony Maguire reviewed the book for the Craven Herald:

Margaret’s determined we’ll all Keep Smiling Through

Churchill hailed the most gallant who saved Britain as ‘The Few’, but those who served in the Second World War and are still left among us are also now, sadly, very few.

Together, they brought victory despite the dark times – and the overwhelming odds against Britain’s survival. Yet the equally remarkable story of the men and women who stood behind the nation’s uniformed vanguard is slowly slipping further from view.

Author and genealogist Margaret Brenchley’s latest book on wartime in the glorious Hodder Valley brings the lives of these extraordinary people back into focus after too long in the shadows. 

The book is a meticulously researched insight into the detail of everyday life for those left behind, and gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the private challenges families faced almost from the day war was declared in September 1939 to VE Day 80 years ago.  Harrowing details of the heroism of those who died serving their country are captured, along with tales of lasting friendships – and lifelong memories – formed against the contrasting backdrop of country life and constant conflict.

Lieutenant Ralph Rigby, a Royal Marine killed on D Day, is just one of the heroes whose tragically short life is marked so vividly in Keep Smiling Through. Ralph, from Slaidburn, was a boarder at Ermysted Grammar before starting a promising career in the City, which he promptly abandoned to join a Commando unit as war broke out. A sense of his drive and fearlessness is unearthed in a school report. Ralph was a natural leader on the rugby field: “…he captained the Fifteen, he was noted as a tearing forward, energetic, fast and devastating in his tackling.” At cricket “he liked to see the ball fly”.

“He revelled in a hard fight and was at his best in difficult situations” is the poignant tribute to Rigby, not at Bayeux Cemetery where he now lies, but in an entry in Ermysted’s 1944 Summer Chronicle.  

There are many heartwarming stories of the selflessness of the local community during the darkest days. Scores of lives were saved after Jewish refugees from the Nazis were given safety and shelter by Dr Fitch at Dunnow Hall, Newton-in-Bowland and countless evacuees filled the homes of villagers in Slaidburn, Tosside, Dunsop Bridge and the farms and cottages across Bowland. Many came from Manchester or London and a number of Brighton schoolchildren were evacuated to Hodder Valley.

These children were often poorly dressed and footwear was a big issue.  An insight into the new footwear evacuees were wearing came in a thank you letter to Bowland Council from the Mayor of Brighton, J Talbot Nanson:

“…I hear of the great generosity with which many parents, often in humble circumstances themselves, have catered for the needs of the children. I was interested to learn that our children have taken kindly to the clogs which have been given to many of them.”

The cherished memories evacuees have of their time in the Hodder Valley are captured against a backdrop of the grim realities of wartime life. Amid food and petrol rationing rare treats could be found: a solitary lemon raised over £4 at auction (£50 now).  The rules of wartime life were extensive, and breaches were costly. We will never know, for instance, whether Dunnow Hall’s Dr Fitch was busy picking up Jewish children escaping the Nazis when he fell foul of wartime stationary vehicle regulations.

He was hauled before Clitheroe Magistrates for leaving his vehicle unattended and failing to immobilise it. The Magistrate issued the following statement: “A public warning that crossing the leads of the motor car is not immobilising them within the meaning of the Regulation” Dr Fitch’s penalty? Fined, ten shillings. 

It’s these small glimpses of life among those left behind – and the serving ‘few’ we still have in our community now – that make this book endlessly absorbing and so heartwarming. Mary Worswick is one of those precious “few” still with us. Mary, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday, was put in charge of a team of WAAF’s on the Norfolk coast. She was working at Salthouse radar station when a damaged aircraft returning from a mission tried to land on saltmarshes but instead crash landed on the Salthouse radar antennae killing all the crew, but Mary and her colleagues were unscathed. After the war Mary qualified as a children’s nurse working at the Christ’s Hospital, Blue Coat School, before she became a Dame at Eton College, responsible for the care of boys in one of the boarding houses.   

Margaret Brenchley’s first wartime book covered the lives and tragically early deaths of the Hodder Valley’s heroes of World War One (‘In Love, In Gratitude, In Remembrance’ which was published to coincide with the centenary of the end of the Great War in 2018).  The launch of Keep Smiling Through, planned to coincide with VE-Day commemorations in 2020, was delayed because of the pandemic but its publication now is certainly well worth the wait. A rare insight, certain to spark connections again across the generations for many families near and far.

All proceeds from the sale of ‘Keep Smiling Through’ go to the Slaidburn Archive. Copies are available from the archive, 25 Church Street, Slaidburn, Clitheroe, BB7 3ER. Price £10, postage £2.50.