Darkest Hour brought 'memories flooding back' of Churchill's wartime secretary for Knaresborough resident

Celia Murray now lives in Knaresborough and helped re-publish Elizabeth's book
Celia Murray now lives in Knaresborough and helped re-publish Elizabeth's book
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The silver-screen depiction of a  family friend who served as Winston Churchill’s war-time secretary has brought memories flooding back to a Knaresborough resident.

Celia Murray, who has lived in the town for six years, was left touched after seeing the film Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman, which was released in January.

Depicting Britain on the precipice of the Second World War the film’s cast of characters includes a familiar name, the young secretary Elizabeth Layton.

Originally a friend of her mother’s in South Africa,Mrs Murray would help the former secretary re-publish a book covering her service from 1941 to 1945 with the Prime Minister.

Mrs Murray said: “It has been so delightful and it meant so much for me to see her depicted in this way, especially after the time I spent putting the book together on her life.

“It was a revelation to see her there in front of me again, all those memories just flooded back.

“With the work that I did I knew what role she had, but to see that enthusiasm and responsibility of serving in the war-room was fantastic.

“She did so much and with exceeding devotion, weeping with exhaustion at her typewriter.”

She added: “I know she would have felt so proud, she was not someone who was egotistical, but she was someone who was right for the job and was there at the right time.”

Born in Britain, Elizabeth Layton moved with her family to Canada in 1924, in order for her father to recover from tuberculosis. She returned 12 years later to attend college in London to learn typing and shorthand.

The outbreak of war in 1939 occurred while she was visiting her family. Due to travel restrictions she had to persuade the Ottawa regional government to give her permission to take the dangerous sea voyage back to Britain in 1940.

German U-boats destroyed two other ships travelling along the same route as hers before she arrived back in Britain. Shortly after she was asked if she would like to apply for a position at Downing Street.

Elizabeth wrote in her book, Winston Churchill By His Personal Secretary: “Luckily they did not send any other applicants, and I was taken on.

“I felt rather like one of the barrage balloons that floated over London.”

Although originally planning to return to Canada, Elizabeth would marry a Lieutenant, Frans Nel, and move to South Africa in 1945.

Before she departed she remembered the kindness of a bedridden Churchill.

She wrote: “He was in bed with a sore throat and could only speak in a whisper.

“Mrs Churchill was sitting beside him. They told me I must have four children, one for mother, one for father, one for accidents and one for increase.

“After telling me a little of South Africa as he had known it, he looked down the expanse of bed and whispered hoarsely ‘I know you will keep the flag flying’.”

Elizabeth would serve with Mrs Murray’s mother on the National Council of Women in Port Elizabeth, earning an honorary life vice-presidency.

After moving to the UK in the early 2000s Mrs Murray helped organise the re-publishing of her book after meeting book publisher Charles Muller. Elizabeth died shortly after aged 90