Category Archives: Story of the week

Schooling in Peshawar in the 1950s

Writer and broadcaster, Safia Haleem, shares this story about attending a girls’ school in Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan in the 1950s.


It was 1956 and probably the end of March that my father took me on his bicycle through the narrow streets of Peshawar. I don’t remember whether my parents prepared me for that day or not but I was quite excited to enter a world where my older brother and sister went every day. The word school was a familiar one but still carried a mystery and was associated with the modern world.

The street of the school was familiar to me because I used to pass through these narrow lanes with my maternal grandmother. She went for fabric, silk and wool for knitting as my mother always knitted us beautiful things in winter.

The school was known as “Jogiwarra” which was the name of that street. Jogi in Hindi means a “hermit” and it seems that part of the city was a forest hundreds of years ago as jogis lived under trees. Peshawar is the oldest living city in Asia with a history of over 2000 years. Nobody knows the name of the hermit but we still have very ancient Peepal trees in the old bazaar of city and the ruins of a Buddhist Stupa from the time of King Kanishka were excavated in the beginning of the 20th Century.Our school building was an old temple probably Buddhist, with rooms around a big courtyard which had huge Peepal trees.

I remember vaguely, standing in a courtyard looking around and then found myself in a huge room with many girls of my own age. A lady with red lipstick asked my name and wrote it in a register.

There was a water tank with tap under the spiralling stairs and that spiral went up to the second and third floors. The very top of the building had a bricked courtyard with beautiful facade in the shape of Lotus flower petals. In one corner of that courtyard were the toilets.

It was a primary school for girls only and all the rooms were occupied by the senior classes. The youngest group of children was literally treated as the lowest of the low. Therefore, we had to sit in the courtyard and not in a room.

Looking back it seems so unfair, but at that time we loved to sit on the jute mats spread on the brick floor. During the hot weather, it was bliss to feel the cool floor underneath. There were several open air classes in that courtyard and plenty of view.

All the teachers wore beautiful clothes and high heels.There was a room for the headmistress and near its door, a round copper disc was hanging. We could see that an attendant would come and hit the disc with a wooden hammer. After a few days, I loved the sound of this “bell” as it announced the end of a lesson.

We sat in front of a wooden blackboard placed on a tripod stand. There was a cane chair for the teacher who brought a piece of chalk and a foot long ruler, which was known as “foot”. I don’t remember many things about my lessons, but loved to play hide and seek with a group of girls in that building.

Every class had their own teacher and my teacher was “Susan” – the same lady who wrote my name. She was a Christian but I didn’t know that. She looked like other teachers and always wore red lipstick which I loved. We called them, Apajee, which was a title of respect for an elder sister.

My mother tongue was Pashto but living in the city, I had learnt the local dialect as well which was spoken by most teachers. We were taught in Urdu which was the language of the books. Sometimes, I did not understand what was being taught but there were clever girls who knew everything and they helped.

Each girl had a flat piece of wood known as “Takhti“, a reed pen, inkwell, and a book with alphabet. The teacher wrote with white chalk on the blackboard and we learnt the sounds of the alphabet. Then we wrote on the takhti with the reed pen and black ink which the teacher checked. I made a lot of mess with black ink on my hands, clothes and even my face, but learnt quickly how to drain my pen in the inkwell which had a small piece of cloth.

At some point during the day, we were allowed to go and wash our takhti in the water tank. There would be some green clay known as “gachi” which we rubbed on the damp takhti like soap and made it smooth with hand. Later we would air dry these planks to be ready for the next round of writing. The clay absorbed the ink and it also covered the old ink markings.

There were a number of women attendants known to us as “Amma” (aunt) who escorted us after school and each one of them had a group of girls under their supervision. Every day, when the bell rang in the afternoon we would wait for our “Amma” near the gate and walk with her like chicks around a mother hen. Some girls who were slow or day dreamers like me, would be asked to walk in front so that she could keep an eye on us. She had her own system of taking us through the streets. Some days, she would take a long route and at others she would go the shortest.

After a few weeks, I started going to school with a group of other children from the neighborhood. But, coming home was always with my “Amma” because I loved listening to her stories. She was a very good story teller and although I knew the way to my house, I still followed her.

In the winter months, all the lowest classes were held in the big hall which was used for assembly. The only partition between the three sections was the black board and the teacher’s chair. The jute mats were known as “Taat” which were five to six meters long and a meter wide. They were spread in rows and one row would have seven or eight girls. Those who sat in the front were considered clever and sometimes when they decided to be mean, the last girl would be literally on the cement floor. But the teachers would know and did not allow anyone to have more than their fair share of the space on a mat.

The Taats would be dusted, folded and kept in one corner at the end of the day. It was done by the attendants, after which a woman would come and start sweeping the cemented floor. In the morning, before the assembly, the girls would bring the mats back to the allocated space and spread them in rows. Everyone had their turn and it became a responsibility for us from an early age.

I always sat with my friend behind me except when we fought. If that occurred at the end of the day, either she or I would decide to sit in another row. But it was an unpleasant experience because the girl, whose space was taken, would fight back.

When I passed my first grade, I had a slate added to my three school books. We used the slate for adding numbers and doing sums. It was better than the wooden takhti as it was easy to clean.

The real sponge was rare and only a few girls had pieces to clean their slates. Others would use a dampened cotton piece, sewn with a string and attached to the wooden frame of the slate. Those of us who did not have a sponge or a damp cloth…did the most disgusting things children would do…spat on slates and rubbed with hands while the teachers would scold us if they found out.

We did not have uniform in our school and I wore my sister’s hand-me-downs, my brother’s trousers and even my silk frocks with spangles on. Some girls were always smartly dressed and we knew that they were rich. Others did not have woollen jumpers in severe winter months but they managed somehow.

One day we were all assembled in the courtyard and the headmistress announced that we need to wear specific dress to school every day. It was cotton, sky blue frock and shalwar with white scarf or dupatta. One little girl modelled it for us and I did not like it at all. This was our uniform for the next four years and then in 5th class we started wearing white shalwar with blue frocks. In winter we had bottle green woollen jumpers and later they restricted us to tie our hair with white ribbons only.

Thousands of girls go to school in Peshawar now but they don’t use the learning devices as we did.

© Safia Haleem

Writer and Broadcaster

On the theme of girl’ education the article The Queen in Swat on her website is especially interesting.

Dales Festival of Food & Drink


Above: The founders of Leyburn’s Dales Festival of Food & Drink with Richard Whiteley in May 2004. From the left (the late) Keith Knight, (the late) Richard Whiteley, Ann Hodgson, Margaret Knight and Gerald Hodgson. Below is a feature I wrote in April 2003 about how the festival began, followed by photographs  from 2002, 2003 and 2004.

The Festival was so successful that from 2004 until 2015 it was held in a field on the east  side of Leyburn. It was then moved back into Leyburn Market Place  but in March 2020 the partnership which organised the event issued this statement: “The event had remained popular with the public but the absence of an entry charge made it impossible to cover costs.

“The directors of the Leyburn and Mid Wensleydale Partnership wish to thank the festival’s supporters, many generous sponsors and an army of volunteers, whose efforts enabled the event to happen and to be the big success it was for many years.”

Driving into Leyburn in Wensleydale for the first day of the Dales Festival of Food & Drink in 2002 was an amazing experience. The town centre was so full of people that  one little boy commented: “It’s just like London.”  During the foot and mouth epidemic the year before Leyburn had been almost like a ghost town and a pall of smoke and depression had hung over Wensleydale. But four local people were determined to help kick start the dales economy.

Over 15,000 attended that first festival and it has become an important annual event in North Yorkshire and beyond. I interviewed Keith and Margaret Knight and Gerald and Ann Hodgson in April 2003 for their story about the founding of the festival and this was published in the Darlington and Stockton Times.  To mark the 10th anniversary here is that story:

Good friendships and the hands-on approach were major factors in the success of the first Festival of Food and Drink in Leyburn, Wensleydale, in 2002. And at the heart of the team were four people with a vision: Ann and Gerald Hodgson and Margaret and Keith Knight. It all started with Ann being irritated by the way urban politicians and planners viewed the countryside.

“I got terribly upset listening to instructions to farmers that they had to change their lives and that the countryside should be a large pleasure ground for the tourists. And all these farmers were going to have to change their way of life by applying for grants. That upset me again. Most of the farmers were born around here. They love and understand the land and how to use it, and have great animal husbandry skills. All this knowledge is so important and not to be just packaged up and changed. We have this wonderful countryside – let’s use it.

“Let’s tell everyone we are good farmers, that we provide excellent food and everyone can come to Leyburn and buy it. We should have a food festival I said. I was thinking more about the flower and wine festivals in Europe. I used Gerald as a sounding board.”

This was just after Margaret Knight started her two year stint as chairman of the Leyburn and Mid Wensleydale Business Association. So Gerald told her about Ann’s idea. They also shared it with Richard and Jacqueline Wells who told them there was an annual food festival at Ludlow. At their own expense, the Hodgsons and Knights headed for Ludlow just a few weeks later.

“We had a lovely time and were very impressed,” commented Mrs Knight. “I walked around with a pad of paper and if I saw a good idea I would make a note of it. Those notes were the foundation of our planning.”

“But we never thought we could do as well,” added her husband, Keith.

“That festival had been running for eight years and had worked up to 12,000 visitors,” said Mr Hodgson. “It had clearly had a considerable impact upon the town of Ludlow which has become a nationally renowned centre for good food. We noted good ideas and added our own. It was held in the centre of the town and that seemed very important because that created a great atmosphere. They had made only a small effort to involve the farming community but we wanted to involve the farmers in a more meaningful way.”

They also wanted to make sure that all local businesses benefited. But they never thought they would do as well as Ludlow in their first year. “We expected a total of 8,000 people and we got 15,000,” said Mr Hodgson.

Mrs Knight, as chairman of the business association, got the ball rolling by organising an open meeting. Among those invited were representatives of the local churches. “We thought we had done a fair amount of work but St Matthew’s scored four tries,” said Mrs Knight. “They suggested the band concert, flowers in the church, refreshments and that lovely cookery book. The Methodists also organised food and a pudding tasting competition.”

“The business association was a great help because they said they would bank roll it. Without that we would not have been able to go ahead,” said Mr Knight. They decided to look for funding because with that they could plan with more confidence, including ordering the marquees. In the end they received £20,000 from various agencies as they emphasised the need to counteract the devastating effects of the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001.  Even so, as Mrs Hodgson said, it was an ambitious decision to go for a three-day event. “People could not envisage what we were trying to do. They could not believe it. That was the worse moment for me. I thought it was going to fail.”

“In January and February 2002 we debated if we should pull the plug on the whole thing,” said Mr Knight. “We had no idea how many people would come. It was a leap of faith.But all were used to facing tough times.

Mr Knight had been a train control system consultant and they had lived quite a transient life before moving back to England after five years in the States. They looked at properties in the Lake District and the dales and found something suitable in Leyburn.At first they had a bread and breakfast business but this almost came to a standstill during the miners’ strike. They were facing bankruptcy when the local vicar pointed out there was a need for good quality residential care for the elderly.

“It was a complete gamble,” commented Mr Knight. But it worked well right through to their retirement in 2002. The Hodgson’s retired in 2001when they sold Copley Decor in Leyburn to their long term business colleague, Bruce Storr.

“We first came to Leyburn 25 years ago and started that business in an outbuilding beside our house,” said Mr Hodgson. When that was moved to a premises on Leyburn business estate Mrs Hodgson was busy developing a special idea of her own in those same outbuildings. She came from a textile background in Bradford but as a young woman was thoroughly frustrated that the whole wool trade only employed women as secretaries or tea makers.

In the dales she was fascinated by the Wensleydale Longwool sheep. “They have a magnificent fleece. Its probably the world’s finest  lustre wool,” she said.  At that time the breed was in decline. She said that the main way to promote it was to use the wool. And so she started the Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Shop, which is now run by Ann Bolam and Ruth Tombleson at Garriston near Leyburn. Under Ann’s guidance the shop twice won an International Quality award from the British Wool Marketing Board.

The Hodgsons and the Knights were also encouraged to keep going in 2002 by the rest of the steering committee set up to organise the festival. “David Berry, Alistair Davy and Elizabeth Hird were just great,” commented Mr Hodgson. “Another major contributor was Mavis Parry who joined the team as the representative of Leyburn Town Council.” In the end about 35 people were involved besides the small army of volunteers who helped throughout the festival.

“Ann worked immensely hard to persuade people to come,” said Mr Hodgson. “It was a very big commitment for small businesses as they had to spend three days at the festival.”

His wife added: “They had to make all the preparations beforehand and there was a lo t of clearing up afterwards. We were trying to give confidence to everyone to go ahead.  But we had to proceed with it. It was really worthwhile not just for us but for the whole area.” And all their hard work did pay off for not only was that first festival a big success but everyone who had a stand in the food hall last year returned in 2003. And more booked to join them.

“I would love to see the festival being automatically included on everyone’s calendar just as the Yorkshire Show is,” said Mrs Hodgson.  To which Mrs Knight added: “We also want the local people to have a good time.” Their ultimate aim was summed up by the Hodgsons: “We want Leyburn to become nationally recognised as a centre of good food based on the wholesome production of the surrounding countryside.”

Margaret Knight spent most of the first festival wearing an apron as she was so busy making sure that the theatre marquee was clean and tidy for each demonstration. She was still cleaning up the day after the festival – and was spotted “shut in” the market shelter. Her husband and the Hodgsons all helped with tidying up afterwards – and for the Hodgsons that included moving a rather sorry looking “sheep”.


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Among the special guests  in 2002 were Clarissa Dickson Wright and Johnny Scott who signed copies of their books. Derek Kettlewell of Raydale Preserves has been among those who have regularly had stalls in the main marquee. And Andrew Thwaite had his Wensleydale family there to help at his chocolate stall including his grandmother, Isabel Robinson, and his mother (right) Gillian Thwaite.

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Richard Whiteley joined Andrew Thwaite in the theatre marquee during the 2003 festival for lessons in how to make chocolate much to the delight of a packed audience. “It was great fun. I’ve never made chocolates before and I thoroughly enjoyed myself,” Mr Whiteley said.

Below: Rick Stein was one of the guests at the 2003 festival where he enjoyed sampling the roast pork at the Mainsgill Farmshop stand and trying his hand at Craske’s traditional shooting gallery. Gerald Hodgson took good care of him during his visit to Leyburn.  Also pictured: Local estate agent Brian Carlisle with all those balloons, and the young four-legged star of the farming marquee.














































The festival in the field east of Leyburn


















































After the 2003 festival it was decided to move to a field on the outskirts of Leyburn for the festival had already outgrown the town’s market square. This new site has proved to be a big success as it provides plenty of space of the large marquees as well as room (on warm, dry days) for families to sit on the grass and relax.

Also photographed in 2004: Richard Whiteley after a cookery lesson with Peter Ball of Darlington College; Gervaise Phinn book signing; and Ffion Hague tasting honey watched by her husband, William Hague MP.



Wensleydale’s new farm shop and cafe


Above: Bridget and Adrian Thornton-Berry enjoying a tea break after the official opening of Berry’s Farm Shop and Cafe by William Hague MP on Saturday, April 14.


Woodland and meadow walks and the chance to see llamas, kune kune pigs and the fluffiest chickens you can imagine (Buff Orpingtons)  are all on the “menu” at Berry’s Farm Shop and Cafe at Swinithwaite in Wensleydale. Bridget Thornton-Berry and her family have created an environmentally friendly place to gather and enjoy a meal behind Swinithwaite Hall.

The walks include a newly opened one through unimproved pasture full of native wild flowers to Redmire waterfalls. Dogs on leads  are welcome on those walks.

Hopefully there will be plenty of warm, dry weather this summer so that the lovely courtyard beside the café can be enjoyed as well. Light snacks will be served from  9.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Saturday. For Sunday lunches it will be open from 10am to 4pm. To contact the shop and cafe phone 01969 663377.

The chairs and much of the new buildings have been made from timber from the Swinithwaite Estate and a wood burning boiler provides the heating and hot water.  All the water comes from the roofs of the buildings. This same sustainable approach applies to the café and the shop with the vegetables, cheeses, oils, chocolates and preserves  being procured from local producers by Nick and Sue White’s  WKD Rural Business Consultancy. The on-site butcher selects beef, lamb and game from the Swinithwaite Estate and quality meat from a 30 mile radius.

Mrs Thornton-Berry said: “By having a farm shop and café we realise a dream of sharing the views and the land with more people and in so doing help people to understand that food comes from this landscape. We see ourselves as care takers for a beautiful part of the dales, and we feel very privileged to live here.”

Other old farm buildings at the hall have been developed to retain their traditional features and to provide modern facilities for such businesses as a laundry and a bakery.

See also A Meadow Walk in Wensleydale

Eileen and Bill Shuttleworth

shuttleworth_golden A memorial service was held at St Andrew’s church, Aysgarth church on May 15 for Eileen Shuttleworth  because so many were unable to get to her funeral in December due to the very bad weather conditions. (Photo: Bill and Eileen celebrating their golden wedding anniversary.)

At the funeral service in December the Rev Penny Yeadon told those who did get there that the core of Mrs  Shuttleworth’s life had been her faith in Jesus. This has been evident in her calling to be a nurse in inner city hospitals, in the way she assisted at her husband’s medical practice, the communities she lived in, and as a homemaker.

She was born at Whitley Bay in Tyneside in 1917 but, as her son Keith explained, the family moved to Rothbury in Northumberland while she was still young because her father had to take early retirement from the ship yards due to ill health. She enjoyed the open countryside as well as taking part in sports and the Guiding movement.

During the war, after qualifying as a nurse, she transferred to the Liverpool Royal Hospital where she met Dr Bill Shuttleworth. He was born in Coventry and grew up in Wales.  “The romance soon blossomed completely contrary to hospital regulations which would not countenance such a scandal,” said Mr Shuttleworth. They were married at Rothbury in 1943 and not long after that Dr Shuttleworth joined the RAMC.

While he was away his wife moved back to Rothbury to live near her parents. On his return in 1947 he joined a medical practice at in the large mining village of Witton Park, Bishop Auckland. Mr Shuttleworth told those at the funeral:”With the establishment of the NHS in 1948 the practice grew as did the size of the twice daily surgeries. Mother helped to relieve the pressure by acting as receptionist, dispensing medicines and performing nursing tasks.”

By 1954 she also had four sons to care for but all that did not stop her having her own interests. She joined the Women’s Institute and the St John’s Ambulance as well as helping with Meals on Wheels. But her main interest was the church at which she was a Sunday school teacher and a member of the Mothers’ Union and the choir. She also occasionally played the organ.

Dr Shuttleworth’s annual two weeks leave gave them the opportunity to take caravan holidays in Scotland, Ireland and Scandinavia – and also in Walden near Leyburn. This led to their buying a house in West Burton in the 1960s and to which they retired in 1975. They joined Aysgarth church and became choir members. Mrs Shuttleworth was the choir leader for 16 years and especially encouraged the junior members. She was the church organist for a few years after Madge Blades retired.

Retirement provided them with an opportunity to expand their love of classical music by learning to play the violin and cello and they joined the Wensleydale Philarmonic Orchestra. They sang with Aysgarth Choral Society for many years and were instrumental in the formation of a local recorded music club. Her continuing love of sport led to her becoming a lady member of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and to buying a wide-screen plasma TV recently so she could enjoy watching cricket, tennis and snooker matches.

Mr Shuttleworth thanked all the neighbours and friends who had helped his parents in the past few years, and had supported his mother after Dr Shuttleworth died in 2009. He also thanked those who had cleared the driveway to the church on the day of the funeral.

EXCERPTS FROM THE REV SUE WHITEHOUSE’S ADDRESS ON MAY 15:  She began by reading the pilgrim journey of the Church as described in a prayer by George Appleton, one time Bishop of Jerusalem.

“For over 90 years the church’s (pilgrim) journey was also Eileen’s, and for a good part of that time within the fellowship of St Andrew’s church.

“The early Christians devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers. Eileen’s own spirituality was sustained by receiving communion and by her daily prayers and Bible reading. Gathering together for worship was important to her – she was faithful in her attendance at Sunday and weekday services. There was a steely determination about Eileen. It was because of Eileen that the midnight Christmas communion service about 12 years ago actually took place. It was a night of dreadful storms. She and Bill had had to negotiate a fallen tree on their way out of West Burton. They arrived to find no electricity at church. Eileen made her way in the pitch black to the vestry to find some candles. When I arrived from Redmire the church was in candlelight and ready for what was to be a memorable service.

“Hospitality – reflecting God’s welcome to each of us – has always been a hallmark of Christianity. Eileen and Bill’s home was a place of welcome. Meals with friends; larger gatherings to celebrate important birthdays or anniversaries; choir parties – especially enjoyed by the younger members with their good old-fashioned party games; and shared meals for Christmas and Easter. It was generous and sensitive hospitality.

“And there were the glad hearts in the early church – and I think that above all Eileen’s life showed such a gladness and gratitude to God for all his faithfulness and his gifts to her. She rejoiced in her family – Bill, their four sons, their daughters-in-law, grandchildren and great grandchildren. ”

She said that Eileen accepted the gift of life from God and lived it to the full – enjoying the opportunities presented to her and sharing with others her gifts and interests. And continued:

“When someone dies we look back over past years with mixed emotions – gratitude, grief, regret, laughter, nostalgia – thoughts too deep for words. But then (we remember) we are a pilgrim people – a pilgrim church. Eileen, in her earthly life, showed how following the good shepherd led to growth and development in her relationship with God and in her understanding of Him. Jesus’ promise is now fulfilled in her: that He came to live, to die and rise again, that we might have life and have it abundantly. As we as individuals and as His church continue on our earthly journey we pray that we may hear the Good Shepherd call us, by name, and be ready to follow him wherever he leads that we too may grow and develop as people and as His church.”

shuttleworths_diamond The memorial service  provided an opportunity to remember both Eileen and Bill Shuttleworth (Left: at their diamond wedding celebration) The following is from my report about the Shuttleworth’s  Golden wedding celebrations in September 2003:

Dr Shuttleworth told all those who attended the celebration at West Burton village hall that so much in his life, including his 25 years as a GP in Barnard Castle, would not have been possible without Eileen. Along with raising their four sons (Keith, Hugh, Philip and Paul) she had been the general practice nurse, receptionist and dispenser at that surgery. She was also the nursing officer with the local St John’s Ambulance Brigade for many years.

It was when she was working as a probationer nurse at a hospital in Liverpool that they met. Their eyes twinkled mischievously as they spoke of their clandestine romance. “The nurses weren’t supposed to fraternise with the doctors. We were very discreet but we did get teased,” she said. They spent their honeymoon in Scotland “feasting on the fat of the land” as Dr Shuttleworth recalled. “We ate grouse, venison and salmon and then had to go back to strict rationing.”

In 1945 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corp for two years seeing his wife only occasionally in her small cottage near Rothbury. “There was no electricity. There were oil lamps and an outside toilet,” she recalled. Her father sent in a snow plough to get her out during the winter of 1947, just two weeks before her second son was born. So she was very pleased when Captain Shuttleworth was demobbed.

It was in 1965 that they bought a holiday home in West Burton and began singing with Aysgarth church choir. By the time they retired and moved to West Burton they had been singing with the church choir in Witton Park for 25 years. They said their love of classical music and working together had kept them close. “It has been a very satisfying and happy marriage,” commented Mrs Shuttleworth.  Her husband added: “We just hit it off together and we helped one another. We needed each other.” Both had a deep Christian faith but in all their years of attending church services they  rarely sat together because of their choir duties. They notched up another 25 years of choir singing with Aysgarth church choir!

Memories of War Time China


A FEATURE I wrote for the ‘Darlington and Stockton Times’ in June led to two people reminiscing about the life of Darlington born Doug Hardy who died in China in June 1942. After reading the feature Wendy Acres of Darlington contacted me because she so wanted to meet someone who had known Mr Hardy who was, she explained, her first cousin once removed.

(Above) Wendy Acres with Peter Leyland

“There are very few of my family left now and I was very small when Doug left England,” she said. So she was delighted to have an opportunity to visit Peter Leyland at his home in Bainbridge in Wensleydale.

Mr Leyland and Mr Hardy became friends at the Quaker College at Ackworth, shared a berth on the voyage to India and to Burma, and worked together with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit (FAU) in China.

She was also very pleased that Mr Leyland said he would ask if the certificate Mr Hardy had been awarded could be deposited later in the archives of the Society of Friends (Quakers). (above: Ms Acres and Mr Leyland with the certificate)

Mr Leyland said that the Executive Yuan of the Chinese Republic during the war had only issued the illuminated certificates to the two members of the FAU who had died while serving there. Both John Briggs from Horsforth near Leeds and Mr Hardy died from typhus.DHardyS2

Mr Hardy had joined the FAU because he was a conscientious objector like the rest of his family. He and his parents had attended a Methodist church in Darlington. (right) Doug Hardy

During her visit on Monday afternoon Ms Acres showed Mr Leyland photographs of Mr Hardy and the letters which had been sent by a doctor and a nurse who had nursed him at the mission hospital until his death. The nurse had written that even when very distressed “his manner was always just beautiful”.

“I’ve enjoyed reminiscing this afternoon even if about a sad time. I was very cut up when Doug died,” said Mr Leyland.


I have been working with Mr Leyland, who is known to many by his given name of John, on an oral history record of his interesting life. From that I produced the feature that caught Ms Acres attention. Here it is:



THE earthquake in China has brought back memories for Peter Leyland of Bainbridge in Wensleydale of transporting medical aid to Sichuan Province during the Second World War.


(Right) Peter and Janet Leyland studying his China diary and photographs.

One month remains particularly unforgettable and that was June 1942. First he lost a very close friend and then he heard that his father, John, had died. As he was a volunteer with the Friends Ambulance Unit in China, and the Japanese had cut off the road link to Burma, there was no way he could get to his father’s funeral in Bainbridge. (See In Remembrance)

Peter was articled as an accountant in London when the Second World War broke out. He served with the FAU  in London during the Blitz and then joined the “China Convoy” as it became known. After lessons in Chinese, mechanics and first aid he and about 40 others headed for Burma late in 1941. Ten months later, on  June 10, when in West China, he wrote in his diary that the unit was at its lowest ebb in morale – and that was before he heard of the death of his friend, Douglas Hardy. Doug, from Darlington, had attended the Society of Friends school at Ackworth with Peter.

They had shared a cabin in the City of Baroda when it sailed from Glasgow in September 1941 during the height of the U-boat war in the Atlantic. During the journey they had gone sight seeing together in South Africa and India and in China had met each other regularly.

On Saturday,  June 13 ,1942 he wrote: “Doug died on Thursday. It seems he developed typhus and with the dysentery just hadn’t the resistance. Poor Doug – I suppose he is the last of us I should have wished to go, having known him since school and being such great friends during our time together in this convoy. He has been buried at Anshun. I am gathering Doug’s things together.” For the China Convoy this was the second death from typhus for John Briggs had died on June 9. John was from Horsforth near Leeds and his parents built almshouses there in his memory.

While Peter was mainly confined to an office as the unit’s accountant John and Doug were convoy drivers and mechanics. Doug and Peter had been at sea between Calcutta and Rangoon when news of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbour broke. Most of the coolies left Rangoon after the Japanese bombed the city and Peter and other FAU team members themselves loaded valuable hospital equipment straight from the docks onto their trucks ready for the drive over the Burma Road to China. Some of the FAU team were almost trapped in Rangoon when the Japanese invaded but managed to get out with their valuable lorries and cargoes. (Photo: A convoy on its way to Kunming.)

Peter helped with the drive north to Lashio and on into China. On January 2, 1942, the scenery was so awe inspiring that he almost forgot it was his 22nd birthday. The day before they had driven up Maymyo Hill, a rise of 3,000 feet in six miles in a series of 22 hairpin bends.

(For photos of the China convoy and others of FAU in China click here )

He wrote in his diary: “Rather like a long stretch of Kidstones Pass, Wharfedale side, at the top. The view from the top across the plain with the Irrawaddy meandering in the distance was striking.” (The Kidstones Pass is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.)

The following day they headed towards the Goktech Gorge. “We came over a hill and saw this steep narrow gorge down below , with mist hanging in its depths.  In the distance we could see the railway viaduct, which crosses 1,000 ft above the river. We drove down into the gorge, having to reverse on some of the bends in order to get round them.  My hand brake behaved very badly.  Crossing the bridge at the bottom we climbed very steeply by means of another series of hairpins.  This time I had to reverse on just one, but having to back towards the edge is not  pleasant.  I believe that some chaps had to reverse on three or four of these bends.” He said later “That was the first time I experienced hairpin bends on mountainous roads. The Salween gorge was even more awesome!”


It was not long before the Burma Road was closed by the Japanese and the FAU made its headquarters near Kunming in China. There was a desperate shortage of petrol and so most of their lorries were converted to run on charcoal. Doug had been one of the pioneers of using such adapted lorries.

(Left) Checking a charcoal burner on a truck.

Peter explained:“Our job was mainly to transport these medical supplies with our charcoal burners throughout west China to the various hospitals. The Government of China was established in Chongqing and we were transporting these medical supplies brought in over the Hump throughout this west China region mainly Yunnan, Guizhou and farther north Sichuan.  Chongqing was in the middle of Sichuan on the Yangtze.” The Hump was the name given to the air supply route over the Himalayas from India to Kunming over the Himalayas.

As an accountant his main problem was the level of inflation which was often at 20 per cent per month. Foreign currency for the China Convoy was sent to the British Embassy in Chungking and was only converted into Chinese dollars as and when needed. When drawing Chinese dollars from the bank Peter had to take a rucksack because he received the money  in huge wads of notes. “We when we paid wages to our Chinese staff they would immediately rush round to the market. They converted it as soon as they could into goods, rice and food – it was really quite extraordinary,” he said.

In November 1945 as he came to the end of his time with the FAU he was asked to travel home via North America to talk to some of the donors about inflation accounting. But then he got a telegram informing him that his only brother, Derrik, had died.

He headed home to support his mother but was held up in India for three months waiting for a berth on a ship. Within days of his reaching Bainbridge she introduced him to her fiancé, Anthony Pim, who was a master at Bootham School in York where Derrik had also been teaching. So he went back to London to complete his accountancy training. He went on to become the finance director  of the Scott Bader Commonwealth.

InChina1bIt wasn’t until 1992 that he and a fellow China Convoy man, Theo Willis, who grew up in Carperby in Wensleydale, went back to China with their wives. The tourist group they were with was taken to see the house in Chongqing where Chou En-lai, had lived during the war. Chou En-lai was later the Chinese premier. “When inside Theo looked to the right and said – ‘that’s where Duncan Wood and I sat with Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai who had organised a meeting to thank the FAU for the help we had given by getting medical supplies to them in Yenan. All of our group was quite overcome with surprise at this – a bit of living history and several afterwards said it was the best bit of their whole trip.”