In 2003, a heavy parcel posted from New Zealand arrived at a bungalow in Rawmarsh.
The package consisted of a huge typewritten diary produced by Gwennie Peacock, a young woman from Auckland, while competing a journey round the world between 1939 and 1940.
And much of the diary focussed on the year she spent with her extended – but never before seen – family in the Rotherham suburb.
It was sent to Gwennie’s family here in Rotherham after she passed away.
Now that diary – or at least 125,000 of its 375,000 words – have been published for the first time. And they give an absolutely fascinating insight into life in South Yorkshire – as seen through a strangers eyes – in those dramatic years.
“This extraordinary account vividly brings to life the approach of war and its first few months,” says Anthony Dodsworth, a retired humanities teacher who as edited the diary on behalf of the family. “Gwennie’s journey crosses five continents – particularly Europe and North America – and is described in fascinating detail by someone with a zest for life. But it is when she settles for a year with her family in the Yorkshire mining village of Rawmarsh and visits every corner of the British Isles that might really appeal to South Yorkshire readers.
“It gets to the heart of life in a typical mining village at the onset of the Second World War.”
Gwennie’s mum had left Rawmarsh for New Zealand more than 30 years earlier. Her daughter came here as part of a world wide trip of a lifetime, arriving in June 1939 and stayed with various family members until March 1940.
While here, she went down Aldwarke Main (a family member smuggled her down there), visited a maggot farm in Goldthorpe (because some of her families were fishermen) and took in Conisborough Castle.
She visited Sheffield – and was particularly impressed by the markets – and had a fine day out in Barnsley.
“When the family asked me to look through this huge diary almost 10 years ago I wasn’t convinced it would make a book that anyone else would necessarily want to read,” says Anthony, himself of Rawmarsh. “But it’s absolutely fascinating.
“This gives a real glimpse into the social history of our region. But it’s done by a writer who is clearly very witty, very engaging and very good company in the written word.”
After she left Rawmarsh, Gwennie, who was 31 at the time, travelled by boat to America (even as the war continued) before heading back home to New Zealand. She never left home again.
On New York men: “The heat is terrific and I mentally divest myself of woollen underclothes. Every man we pass mentally divests me of them too.”
On the South Yorkshire accent: “He very seldom commits himself in any way but his ‘Oh aye’ has a wealth of thought behind it.”
On Sheffield markets: “It was Xmas of the story-books – rows of turkeys, some hanging, some trussed. Women poke and prod and argue over the price. Some shops hang the turkeys outside, right from the upper windows to the ground floor in the clean cold air. Piles of fish are slapped around, and as I pass, a cheery butcher with a face as red as one of his own joints yells ‘Best New Zealand lamb, lady’.”