Ellen Gill (1888-1988): War & Memory

Ellen did live through both World War One and World War Two however she refrains from discussing these events in great detail.

‘I shall never forget that holiday as on August the 4th war was declared’ (p 9) This is the first reference that Ellen makes concerning the war, and on a memorable day indeed as it was the day she was set to go on her honeymoon to Bridlington. She tries to remember that time and recalls her mother telling her that  Harry, her brother was called up to serve for their country, being newly introduced to the Leeds Rifles there was a great deal of worry for him.

‘I remember that people were buying stocks of food and I bought a couple of stones of flour.’ (p 9) Food shortages were predicted and so many stumbled to buy their rations before the conditions worsened. She comments on how there were queues upon queues to buy food at the groceries, sharing with the reader a sense of chaos through her depictions then of a true reality.

Soon after Harry followed her two brothers Willie and Arthur next to join up. This worried her Mother and Father very much and they also missed their help financially. Ellen comments on how the wages from her brothers were sent home to help their parents with the daily struggles, ‘The rule was to give more to parents if their children were earning more.’ (p 9)

World War two was declared again in September 1939 and Ellen’s daughter Betty Doreen was evacuated along with other schoolchildren to a safer place. A time that Ellen wishes she did not have to live through, ‘I shall never forget that awful weekend Betty went with Lawnswood School to Ripon with her gas mask and small amount of luggage.’ (p 12)

The outbreak of the war did affect Leeds and everyone in it. Ellen tries to paint this picture of emptiness and despair through her language, the Sunday Woodhouse Carr Sunday school which was always buzzing with people, ‘was almost empty.’ There was a ‘bad raid on Leeds; a bomb dropped in Cliff Road demolishing a house.’ (p 13) here Ellen conveys the dangerous darkness of the War and recalls of how she remembers being stuck in a coal cellar, ‘hearing the swish of the bomb’. (p13) However she ends with a single comment of thankfulness, ‘I am glad to say that was the only raid on Leeds.’ (p 13)


To help with the war efforts Ellen joined the Women’s Voluntary Service which I have previously mentioned in the Life & Labour post. Even though unable to serve her country as it was only men who could sign up she showed her caring and generous nature by volunteering to help those who struggled.

I believe the war may have had a lasting effect on Ellen, as she has the outmost respect and adoration for her family and close relations which shines through her memoir. The war was an anxious time and a time of the unknown, unaware of what could happen next. This may have made her appreciate her loved ones more as they could have never came back from the war but to her delight everyone arrived home safely.



Gill, Ellen, ‘Ellen Gill’s Diary’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library,Vol. 1 No. 269

Gill, Arthur, ‘I remember! Reminiscences of a Cobblers Son’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library,Vol. 1 No. 268

Image one: http://theculturevulture.co.uk/blog/people-and-places/leeds%E2%80%99-darkest-night/

Image two: http://www.mylearning.org/leeds-in-world-war-ii/images/1-849/

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