Diaries show how days used to be

FAMILY TIME: This happy snapshot of the Walker family shows Ruth in her later years pictured with daughter Edith who later went to live in Australia. Also pictured is Alec Jury, husband of her daughter Sophia, and their children, Ruth and John.
FAMILY TIME: This happy snapshot of the Walker family shows Ruth in her later years pictured with daughter Edith who later went to live in Australia. Also pictured is Alec Jury, husband of her daughter Sophia, and their children, Ruth and John.

MOST people think their lives aren’t exciting enough to be written about in a daily diary but they are wrong.

For what is boring today will be fascinating to our descendants in years to come so let us all get writing.

Make no mistake, what is happening today will take on a whole new meaning for coming generations.

This is what happened when the family of Ruth Walker, of Briestfield, discovered their grandma had kept diaries all her life.

They found her day-to-day recordings of life in a Yorkshire village utterly fascinating and decided to make a book about them called Grandmother’s Diaries.

Recently I wrote about some of the incidents Ruth had recorded of happenings taking place in Dewsbury, just after the war, and this week I reveal more from her diary of 1946.

Ruth’s day-to-day recordings of life in Dewsbury when food, coal and clothes were still on ration, give us an insight into how people coped.

Despite these deprivations there was an air of quiet contentment about the way Ruth lived her life and the gratitude she felt for things we take for granted today.

Ruth’s diaries reveals a way of life most of us have lost, a way of doing things which helped people cope with hardships, the like of which the present generation have never known, and I hope never will.

THIS week I continue more from Ruth’s diary, but to refresh your memories, I will include biographical details about her and her family.

Ruth was married to William Walker, a winding engine man in a local coal mine, who also ran a smallholding at their home, Oak Cottage, Briestfield.

They had two children, Edith, who was serving in the Army as a nurse during the war, and Sophia, who was married to Alec Jury, a schoolteacher at nearby Lepton.

Edith served in various military hospitals and also on board ships, but after the war married and settled in Australia where her descendants still live.

Sophia lived at Lepton, not far from her parents home, and in her diary Ruth refers to Sophia’s house simply by its number - 221.

She refers to her husband as ‘dad’ and the couple are able to afford a small Austin car, which Ruth loves.

They don’t, however, have one of the new electric washing machines just coming on the market, but her daughter Sophia does, and does her mother’s washing for her.

Ruth rarely complains about anything throughout her diary and shows a quiet acceptance about the terrible things going on around her.

She reports the death of her nephew Stanley Brown, son of her sister Ethel, in an aircraft accident at 21 years of age, but does not reveal her family’s heartache.

Neither does she complain of the dangers her own daughter Edith is in while away at war, or her son-in-law Alec who fights with the Desert Rats for five years.

Ruth and William work hard and are careful with their money but they don’t mind spending now and again on little luxuries, like a new coat for Ruth from Marshall and Snelgrove in Leeds.

Their income is supplemented weekly from the rent they receive from a cottage they own in Combs Road, Thornhill, which William bought in 1919.

Neither do they suffer from coal shortages because William works in the pit and is allowed a ton of free coal every five weeks.

Ruth’s diaries tell us a lot about life in Dewsbury 60 years ago, and every entry, even the quiet days, are still enchanting to read because it makes us feel happy to know that Ruth, the heroine of our story, has at last had a quiet day.

THE new year in 1946 started very quietly for Ruth Walker and her family with little going on as these selected entries show.



Paid off all the outstanding bills of 1945. Also paid £2.15s for quarterly licence for Austin car, DWU 858.


Good, had a letter from Edith, written from Genoa 24 December 1945, saying H.M.H.S. P Genoa was picking up patients at Malta, maybe Algiers, and will land in England 10-14 January.


Sophia and Alec came and had tea. Took the week’s washing down, which I greatly appreciate.


Nice feeling to know my week’s washing is already finished without the usual pressing, rubbing and boiling.


Went to the Co-op for our weekly rations, which means for each person, 8oz sugar, 4oz butter, 2oz margarine, 2oz lard, 4oz tea, 3oz bacon, 4oz cheese. Wonder these days whatever I did with the pounds of butter, sugar, lard before 1938.


Mrs Sellers and myself went to Huddersfield and were rather lucky, found oranges for sale, 4d per lb. Allowed 1lb on each ration book.

Happened to have both books with me so that meant 2lbs.


Good. Received a letter from Edith written on January 5, has come through two days of violent storms. The ship is now staying at Gibraltar until it subsides.


Went down to night’s service at the Weslyan Chapel, Briestfield, which was held in the schoolroom underneath owing to a leak in the boiler of central heating.


Hear bananas are on the market, only children and those up to 16 allowed to have them. To be sold by weight, three to the pound/ Price 1/1d.


Went down to 221 to lunch, afterwards going down to town shopping.

Queued for fish, frozen cod, rather tasteless, but helps to make a dinner. Fresh herrings, very good for breakfast.


Spent morning doing a little sewing, long overdue. Have more time for it now that I have no washing day, except ironing. Dad is on nights this week, early dinner, off to bed, spend rest of afternoons quietly to allow him to get a few hours sleep.


No letter from Edith, hope to hear about the ship landing safely in Port. Perhaps hear something tomorrow. I hope so.


Ethel and Joseph came to tea. Stanley’s personal clothing and equipment came home last week.


Coal is very scarce, due to war conditions, even now when the war is ended, coal situation is no better, even worse owing to shortage of labour and exports.

People are rationed, only allowed five bags of coal per month, except the people who work in a coal mine. I am very fortunate indeed as Dad is allowed one ton of coal every five weeks.


Looked out for postman, hoping to hear from Edith, but in vain. Very anxious to hear more news. In the afternoon went to Dewsbury shopping, queues for fish, frozen. Very little to buy, all the shops closed. No polony or pork pies. All sold out. With luck managed to get eight oranges from a stall, buying from same, one stick of celery costing 1/-. orange extra.


Sophia and Alec came after dinner as usual, saying a letter had arrived from Edith, posted to Woolich. After tea they took Auntie Ethel some coal, the one thing which Tomroyd Farm needs.


A letter from Edith, posted from Woolich, wondering if it will be better to go overseas again. Feels quite unsettled about life at present. Am sincerely hoping she will settle in England.


Sophia came on Wednesday to try on a blouse I am making. Alec came after school hours just in time for tea.

They had a letter from Edith saying it would perhaps be best to join Overseas Service, which would be best - West Africa, India, Ceylon, Palestine. Sophia wrote if one must go abroad try Ceylon. Dad said cross words about it.


Early this morning a workman from the Firm came with a note saying Dad was to come to work four hours sooner as two of his mates were too ill to start work. It means 12 hours duty instead of eight hours. Hope it does not last long.

In coming weeks I hope to publish more from Ruth’s diaries with pictures.

I am indebted to her family for allowing me to publish their grandmother’s diaries, especially the following who put them together in book form: Ruth Morrison, John Jury, Jane Weise, Deborah Jarver and Susan Rintoul.