The Freda Laycock Memorial Web Site
This site is dedicated to the memory of Freda Laycock
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About This Site
This site was primarily put together in memory of Freda Laycock but it also has a wider purpose in being a record of times gone by when life was not as peaceful as it is now and when thousands of young people from many nations gave their lives in the name of war.
Through Freda's exceptional life and the artefacts she collected during the years of the Second World War we are able to piece together a story of love, hope and dedication to duty.
I was privileged to know Freda and Charles Blackburne for a number of years and they were without doubt an inspirational couple.
I first met them in the 1970s in a rather strange and roundabout way. Their daughter Kathryn was friends with one Anne Burton. Both came from Knottingley and both travelled to Russia in 1974 on a youth exchange programme.
I was on the same trip and got to know both of them. I kept in touch with Anne and eventually we became engaged and were married in Knottingley Parish Church on July 24th, 1976. Kathryn attended the wedding and shortly afterwards was married to Terry Ingham.
Over the past 30 years the Stewards and the Inghams have met up on numerous occasions and both have seen their own families grow.
One of my passions in life (possibly almost an obsession) is putting together web sites. One day earlier this year Kathryn mentioned that she had a wealth of material from her mother's war years which she felt would be of interest to many people. She also wanted to keep her mother's memory alive. She had and still is considering donating the material to a museum - a laudable idea but not one that would on its own give everyone the opportunity to view some very historic and hugely important documents and photographs.
So we hit upon the idea of producing a web site dedicated to the life and work of Freda Blackburne (nee Laycock). What better way to make the material available?
I wanted the web site to achieve three things. Firstly I wanted it to be a genuine site in memory of Freda; secondly I wanted it to, in some small way, conjure up the feel of life in the 40s when so much was in turmoil and there was so much uncertainty; and thirdly I wanted it to be historically relevant.
I am a firm believer that we can only go forward if we understand the past. Learn from the past, look to the future and cherish the present seems an apt message. Only from learning from the mistakes of the past can we build a better future.
People like Freda helped to build that better future. There is still so much wrong in our world, but thankfully the Second World War taught us (hopefully) that mass extermination, brutality and the psychopathic tendencies of a ruler cannot be allowed to go unchecked.
I look upon myself as a pacifist, but one with a fascination for war and often for the futility of war. We can never re-live history we can only use sources of information to try to visualise what the past was like, to try and place us in those times forever gone.
Freda's role in the war was way beyond propaganda and politics. Hers was a war of caring and service to her fellow human beings. It suited her beliefs and character perfectly.
Like Freda I too have been to the Normandy beaches. I was privileged to travel with a group of the original paratroopers who landed there. I have enjoyed the celebrations that go on every June to mark the anniversary of the D-Day landings. Seeing the rows of perfectly kept graves and the superbly manicured cemeteries and trying to put yourself in the place of the troops and imagine what was going through their minds has tremendous poignancy. It brings home the sacrifices made by so many in the name of freedom.
I was just a visitor to these places, Freda was actually there. She saw at first hand the suffering and, thankfully, chose to keep reports and documents that we are now able to share. The lengthy report by Major McLaren on first seeing the inmates of Sandbostel is one of the most moving descriptions of the inside of a concentration camp I have ever read.
Many of these reports, photographs and documents are extremely valuable from an historic perspective. It is important that they should be preserved for coming generations as soon the veterans themselves will be gone and only their testimonies will remain.
The internet will play a vital part in bringing these testimonies and artefacts to a wide audience. In reading through Freda's correspondence, reports etc I was struck by the feeling of calm and orderliness that existed and almost a sense of fun that often hid the seriousness of the situation. This was the Freda I met in the 1970s - a person full of purpose, direction and love of life.
I hope that by launching the Freda Laycock Memorial site we will add in some small measure to the understanding of what happened in Europe over 60 years ago and how relevant it is to how we behave and lead our lives today. Above all I hope that it stands as a monument to the work of a remarkable woman who was loved by so many people.
Peter Steward - July 2006.