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Eleanor Roosevelt in Liverpool

By Ralf Shepherd

ASToday Online

Posted 19 November, 2004
 

Eleanor Roosevelt

8th November 1942 - a day in the life of a young telephone engineer
Extracts from Mrs.Roosevelt's BBC broadcast from Liverpool

 

Earlier this year the ASRC was visited by a local man, Ralf Shepherd. There then unfolded the story of his fascinating personal quest to uncover events that taken place over sixty years ago in wartime Liverpool. The ASRC was pleased to assist Ralf in this and the background to his search for details of Eleanor Roosevelt's visit to Liverpool are recorded below by Ralf himself. We would like to thank Bob Clark, a senior archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration in Hyde Park NY, for his support and help in uncovering this 'lost' piece of history. Bob in fact informed us that Mrs. Roosevelt had left the US on October 21st 1942 to visit the UK. The purpose of her visit was to observe the wartime work of British women and to meet with US military personnel based here. She toured many communities as well as meeting with British government officials, members of the royal family and leaders of foreign governments in exile. Events of that day were also recorded in a newspaper article by Mrs. Roosevelt ('My Day' column) in which she recalls meeting the C in C of the Western Approaches, Sir Percy Noble, in Liverpool, and also later with WRENS following the broadcast. She notes with some affection the singing of popular songs, such as 'Just a song at twilight' and 'A bicycle made for two' which provoked happy childhood memories. Earlier in the day Mrs.Roosevelt had taken lunch in the Adelphi Hotel with Lord Derby.
Although now retired, Ralf Shepherd remains active as a volunteer worker for Merseyside Maritime Museum and he also retains a lively interest in Liverpool's shipping and wartime history.


Ian Ralston
8th November 1942 - a day in the life of a young telephone engineer

 

One day in 1942, as a trainee telephone engineer with Post Office Telephones, the gang I was with at the time, on overhead construction duties, was sent to Sefton Park in Liverpool to erect cables from a distribution pole at the rear of the synagogue in Greenbank Drive to Ackerley House, a large Victorian house in Greenbank Lane. (Click here for map)

Ralf Shepherd in the ASRCIt was well into the afternoon when we started and with the co-operation of two other gangs we completed the job in the dark. At that stage, no one knew what the cables were to be used for; even the gang foremen weren't told.

On completion of our part of the work we passed the cable to the internal engineers who turned out to be BBC staff. We were then told they were to be used for a broadcast by the US First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was to visit the building, which, incidentally, was the headquarters of the WRENS from Royal Navy Western Command.

I remember listening to the broadcast with my parents later that evening. Her speech included her assessment of the work that the women of Great Britain were doing to help the war effort. Where she was speaking from was not disclosed, but this was not unusual for the war time period.

I was eventually called up for military duty and served in the Royal Signals. Some years after being demobilised I decided to walk through the Park to see if the house was still there. It was, but in a very derelict condition.

Some months ago, thinking of the occasion and how the speech was a piece of Liverpool's history, I decided to repeat the walk. I was so pleased to see that quite major work was being carried out on the house. On enquiry I found that it had been taken over by the 'Greenbank Trust,'  a charitable organisation that works with, and creates opportunities for, disabled people in the Merseyside area and beyond.

With my curiosity aroused, I decided to make enquiries as to the exact date of Eleanor Roosevelt's broadcast. First of all I carried out a search at the Liverpool City Archives and then contacted the BBC archives in London, both without success. I then contacted my son and asked if he would conduct a search on the Internet to see if he could find any relevant information about her visit to Great Britain during the war years. He gave it a good try but again without success. However, he did come up with the fact that Liverpool John Moores University Library, had an American Studies Resource Centre who, he suggested, may be able to help.

At the first opportunity I made a visit to the centre and contacted Ian Ralston, the Director. On hearing my story he became very interested and he soon made a search of the Franklin D Roosevelt Library web site in the USA, but again initially without success.

He assured me he would keep trying, and a week or so later rang me to say he had just received an e-mail from the FDR Library to say they had found a transcript of the broadcast. It had taken place at 9.l5pm (British time) on November 8th 1942. There was also a transcript of Mrs. Roosevelt's 'My Day' column d was also transcript of Mrs Roosevelt's 'My Day' column, dated 9th November giving details of her visit to Liverpool. The library then sent copies of both the column and the speech to the American Studies Centre. As soon as Ian Ralston received these, his sent copies onto me.

So ended a search, which made me very proud that I had saved and recorded a small piece of my great city's history that would have otherwise remained unknown.

Ralf Shepherd Liverpool March 2004
Extracts from Mrs.Roosevelt's BBC broadcast from Liverpool, November 8th 1942.
Good evening. 

First of all I should like to thank the people of Great Britain, who everywhere have given me such a warm and sympathetic welcome, and to rejoice with them on this momentous day. I also want to thank the many kind people who have written to me........

I realise I am here as a symbol, a symbol representing an ally whom the people of Great Britain are glad to have fighting with them, not only because we bring them mat"Lumberjills"  felling a tree in Argyllshire, some of the women whose work Eleanor Roosevelt commendederial strength, but because the peoples of the two countries feel they are fighting for the same objectives - a world which shall be free of cruelty and greed and oppression - a world where men shall be free to worship God as they see fit and to seek the development of their own personalities and their own happiness within the limits that safeguard the rights of other human beings to do the same....

I have seen that the women are working side by side with men in the military forces, in industrial jobs and in addition they are doing countless numbers of jobs in civilian defence as volunteers with the Women's Voluntary Services. They work as well in many of the long established organisations like the Red Cross, the Y's, the Women's Institutes, which in the rural areas make the wheels go round....

The women of Britain are helping to win the war, in fact they are a very vital factor in the man power of the nation and they know also that they will be a very vital factor in making the peace and in carrying on the crusade which will certainly have to be carried on in the future. Women may have had a feeling in the past that they did not have an equal responsibility with men in world affairs. The women of the future can not have that feeling because the writing on the wall is clear that if there is to be peace in the world, women as well as men will have to decide to work and sacrifice to achieve it.

The price of peace in the future may be sacrifices of material comforts in the years after the war......

The young people in high schools and colleges today, as well as those in the Armed Forces and industry and on the farms, will be a great factor in making these decisions of the future. If we decide to be selfish and to think of ourselves alone, for a time we may be able to achieve something which appears temporarily desirable. It seemed to be a desirable world we were creating in the 1920s, but the 30s were not very happy for many men, women and young people. Like a Greek tragedy, the war moved forward in the wake of poverty, and disease and material and spiritual attrition inevitably fell upon nation after nation.
Our hope for the future, I believe lies in the acceptance by women and young people of their responsibility. I think we failed before because we could not think on international lines. We did not have a broad enough vision and the peoples of the world left their business in the hands of self-seekers who thought of themselves and their temporary gains, but now and in the future you, the women and the youth of all the United Nations, will have to awaken and accept full responsibility. It is no easy burden to assume, but if we win the battle over ourselves, the vision of God's world ruled by justice and love, may become a reality.

  American Studies Today Online is published by
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City of Liverpool College, Liverpool John Moores University and the Contributors, 2004
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