Book binds together stories of life

Joyce Simpson who has edited the book Jubilee Diamond
Joyce Simpson who has edited the book Jubilee Diamond
Have your say

EVA PINTHUS was aged 14 when she arrived in England via a Kindertransport train from Germany in June 1939.

The lawyer’s daughter, who had already lost her father and sister, Edith, through illness, can only remember that the train was full of children and that she knew she would never see her mother or grandmother again.

“My mind is an absolute total blank from saying goodbye to my mother to arriving in England,” she recalls. “Those 24 hours are lost.”

The refugee’s moving account of her early life through to her candid reflections on the past are to be found among the pages of a new book hinged on the inhabitants of a West Yorkshire village.

Bound together by their subjects’ closeness to St John the Divine, Menston with Woodhead Parish Church, Jubilee Diamonds: Celebrating Young Lives 1952 and 2012 includes 40 pieces recounting memories of the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

Produced by the church to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth, the book, which is due to be launched on Friday, is a tapestry of stories, poems, anecdotes and reflective pieces on the lives of the people in the village, sitting alongside six children’s accounts of last summer’s Jubilee celebrations.

Joyce Simpson, churchwarden, who edited the book, said: “I thought that it would be possible to bring a better awareness of each other to the different generations. In churches people often just see grey hair and people walking with a stick and they do not really know what lies behind that elderly appearance.

“Churches are storytelling communities. A parish church is a community gathered around story and there are also the stories we tell each other when we meet for a coffee. We tell the day to day stories of our lives but we do not always tell the deep stories. I just felt there were people in the congregation who have vivid memories of being children in the 1930s, 40s and 50s and that they are really a unique generation.

“This book is putting in a little dipstick into English society focused within two and a half miles of the parish church. That’s what joins these stories together but the stories are not chiefly about Menston.”

Indeed, some the people whose histories are laid bare began life far from the village they now call home.

Ms Pinthus, who is now in her 80s, was among the thousands of children who escaped Nazi Germany before the outbreak of the Second World War.

She was first sent to a Kent boarding school, which she describes as a “Dickensian establishment”, where she was forbidden to speak her native tongue, before a bombing raid forced her and 15 other children to a “terrifying” farmhouse in mid Wales.

“The wretched farmers used to go out at night with lanterns to hunt rabbits. When you have been bombed out, that’s not very comforting as quite often the German planes would drop their bombs as they passed over on their return journey, just to get rid of them,” she says.

Despite having to delay her School Certificate due to lack of books, Ms Pinthus went on to pass her Matriculation Certificate and nurse through the war.

She was on night duty in 1943 when she received the last Red Cross letter from her mother, who wrote: “You won’t hear from me anymore.”

Ms Pinthus says in the book: “Whether she died on the way to, or in Auschwitz or elsewhere, I shall never know.”

Other stories recounted in Jubilee Diamonds include that of Iris Nerurkar, who became the first female chemist to work in the laboratories at Cadbury’s in Bourneville, and tales of pioneering work at Leeds General Infirmary to develop X-ray machines to diagnose problems in babies.

Sergeant John Francis Stansfield Walter, who grew up in Menston, is also remembered. He died from beriberi in a prisoner of war camp on the west coast of Borneo on the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

In the preface, Bishop of Bradford Nick Baines, says: “I hope that those who read it will catch a glimpse of how life continues in our communities, constantly being shaped by one generation for the next. At the heart of it is a church that belongs to everybody – a church that offers a particular lens through which to remember the past and create the future.”