October 3, 2017

1942. The English Village of Barham Hosts Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt Visits Barham
Eleanor Roosevelt and Clementine Churchill in the village of Barham to visit the Barham Women's Institute, October 1942 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS London

October 31, 1942

Prime Minister Churchill and Field Marshal Smuts are meeting with 2,500 coal miners and mine owners from every coal pit in the country today to discuss the critical fuel situation. It is a closed meeting. The men will discuss problems of increasing coal production as well as disputes and misunderstandings over wages and working conditions.

It is expected that both Mr. Churchill and the South African prime minister will address the miners.  The meeting is a forceful demonstration of a democratic approach to what has been one of Britain's most difficult labor problems. By sitting down and talking things over, the miners and their employers should solve many difficulties which in peacetime would have resulted in damaging strikes.

You have been hearing over the radio and reading in your newspapers for the past few weeks a lot of statements and counter-statements and demands and declarations concerning British and American relations.

From all the charges and inferences made between various leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, it would almost appear that Britain and America were fighting with each other instead of being allies in the most desperate war in civilization.

All this talk, of course, has been well-meaning. It all has been aimed at producing the most complete war effort in both countries to get a United Nations victory as soon as possible. But Dr. Goebbels and his Berlin propaganda ministry must be rubbing their hands with delight at the apparent estrangement between Britain and the United States.

I thought the Nazi propagandists, before drawing any conclusions, ought to know what happened in a little farming community in Southern England yesterday. You will be interested in what went on there too.

The village is Barham, population nine hundred, located in East Kent not many miles from the English Channel. The people of Barham entertained Eleanor Roosevelt yesterday and they did the job in fine style.

For five days they prepared for the occasion. They wanted to show America's First Lady just what the farmers of Britain are doing in the war effort. Schoolchildren were especially instructed in American history and politics and taught the meaning of the words "President of the United States." They had a day's holiday yesterday.

The ladies' choir sent to London and got copies of the Star-Spangled Banner and rehearsed it for three days. A microphone and amplifier and some American flags also were sent from London for the occasion.

For two days the village picked its best flowers and cleaned its streets and washed its windows and got out its clean curtains. Parties of children went into the woods and picked the most colorful fall leaves off the trees to aid in the decorations.

The ladies of Barham wanted to show Mrs. Roosevelt what they could do with the grayish brown national wheatmeal flower. They decided to show her what an eggless cake baked of this crude flour looks like.

As could be expected, there were too many cooks, and two cakes were baked and burned only a few hours before Mrs. Roosevelt arrived. However, the wife of a farmer saved the day when she remembered that she had baked an eggless cake the day before. She rushed home and found that her children had only cut one piece out of it. But it did very nicely.

Barham has made itself more than self-sufficient since the war began. All the housewives of the village have clubbed together working sometimes twelve and fourteen hours a day. They canned six thousand pounds of jam. Fifteen hundred cans of plums and currants, tomatoes, and other foodstuffs also have been canned. Nothing is wasted. Even the wool that was pulled off the sheep by the barbed wire fences has been collected and spun into yarn.

Mrs. Roosevelt inspected all these things. Then she came to the display of the Barham Rabbit and Pig Club. A member of the club stopped her and pointed out a prize Flemish doe rabbit. He blushed when he told Mrs. Roosevelt that the prize rabbit had been named Eleanor in her honor. Farther down the line, a prize young pig was out-squealing all the other pigs. He had just been named Franklin in honor of the president.

Well, the ladies' choir got through the Star-Spangled Banner all right after a kind of thin start. One of the ladies had a good soprano voice and got in all the high notes.

Everybody had a good time.

This story of Barham isn't exactly big headline news. But it's a good story to remember the next time you hear talk that the people of Britain and the people of America don't like each other.