World War II
Memories of Dunston and World War II
Jack Dixon recalls life in Dunston during World War II.
Read by Pete Keen.
Available on: A Miscellany of Twentieth Century Memories from the Old Whickham Urban District.
Stay at home holiday August 1946 by Dorothy Douglas
Whickham's grand Holiday at Home Week opened on Friday with a fancy dress ball in the Miners Welfare Hall, and on Saturday the 'Queen' Miss Lavinia Ackerley was crowned by, the Mayor of Gateshead, Ald. H. Kegie. The Mayor was accompanied by the Mayoress, Mrs Kegie, and was introduced by the chairman of the Entertainments Committee, Coun. N. Gill.
The 'Queen' was attended by two little girls Miss Judith Heywood, (chosen from the Parochial School), and Miss Dorothy Charlton, (chosen from the Front Street School).
After the crowning there was a parade headed by Felling Brass Band, around the village to the recreation field.
In a children's fancy dress competition the winners were
- William Charlton
- Rita Bradley
- Winifred McKenna
The chief attraction on Monday was cycle racing, which was given under the auspices of the British League of Racing Cyclists.
In addition there were sports, music, a Punch and Judy Show and many sideshows.
Westway VE Street Party 1945.
Swalwell Victory Celebrations. by Sheila Carver
On the night that peace was declared, the whole family went to Trinity Church for the thanksgiving service.
On VE day all of my family went to Holy Trinity Church for the Thanksgiving Service. All the church bells were ringing out at the same time. Before we left home for church Grandma gathered, all the family together. She said it would be a nice gesture if we would all climb on the bus and wish the Germans well. We all did with one exception, Auntie Betty. Grandma told her she was ashamed of her because her son was being returned safely to her. Grandma had always been kind to the prisoners, often giving them apples from the orchard. Most of them got out of their seats and embraced her, it was a moving sight.
The night all the bon-fires across England were lit my mother came and got me out of bed to watch from the window.
Later a Victory Day Celebration took place on the old cricket ground and my cousin Laura was the beauty queen. My Uncle George and my Grandfather did all the horses tails with ribbons.
I can remember a contest for lovely hair, a baby contest, fancy dress, tug of war and lots of others. I can still remember who won the prizes!
Dunston Hill (The Pensions) Hospital.
Dunston Hill Hospital (known at one time as the "Pensions Hospital) had many casualties from the First and Second World Wars. Unfortunately this was the place where many would spend the rest of their lives. These old soldiers still wore their distinctive blue suits which clearly marked them out right up until the 1950s.
Miss Margaret Dryburgh 1890-1945
A Dutch woman sparked off a far-reaching chain of events when she donated a collection of music manuscripts to California's Stanford University ten years ago. For the meticulously handwritten manuscripts were far removed from any usual musical composition.
They were choral arrangements sung by 30 Dutch, British and Australian woman imprisoned by the Japanese during the Second World War. To cope with captivity the woman formed a choral group in their prison camp on Sumatra, Indonesia. The inspiration for this was Margaret Dryburgh.
Margaret was born in Sunderland, the daughter of the Reverend and Mrs. W. Dryburgh. The family moved to Swalwell in the 1900's where he was the minister at the Presbyterian Church at the Ebeneezer Chapel in Market Lane. The family was very well liked in the village and they were all keen and talented musicians. Margaret became a qualified teacher and taught for a short time at the village school before going to China in 1919 as a missionary.
Soon she began arrangements of classical works for a 'Voice Orchestra', where types of humming sounds were used for each instrument. She taught the other inmates how to produce these sounds and concerts were put on to raise morale. From memory Margaret Dryburgh wrote down pages of music from baroque to contemporary with the help of Norah Chambers, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London.
With only their memories to guide them they reproduced musical scores for over 30 orchestral and piano works by composers, which included Handel, Brahms, Chopin and Beethoven. Even the Japanese soldiers were amazed at the women's talent and used to listen at the door when they sang their services. The Saturday night gatherings grew so large and loud, that the guards peering in at the windows and climbing on to the dustbins, for a better view could not ignore them. They took to inviting themselves, sitting in the front row on cane chairs while the woman sat on the ground.
One of the pieces written by Margaret was the 'Captives Hymn', which was sung every Sunday at worship in the camp.
Its main feature was the absence of bitterness or hatred of their captors, despite the dreadful conditions they endured.
Together the two women rearranged the scores for choral singing, condensing a 15-minute movement of a symphony into a 5- minute choral work without losing its sense of balance and flow. Unless needed for vocal ease, the new scores remained faithful to the original keys.
The choice of syllabuses to be sung was left to Norah Chambers. To keep the programme a surprise for the other captives, she rehearsed the orchestra in a sooty shed behind the kitchen, without so much as a pitch pipe for an aid.
Constant hunger and disease took their toll and Margaret died on April 21st 1945 after reciting Psalm 23, a matter of months before the war ended. She was buried on 23rd April 1945 among the rubber trees of "Belau Camp on Sumatra. On March 2nd 1951 Margaret was reburied in the Dutch War Grave Cemetery in Java.
A year after the compositions were handed over to Stanford University, a women's chorus in California performed them in a series of concerts.
The first picture below is a drawing by Margaret Dryburgh of the kitchen at Muntok Camp; the second a drawing of the Men's Camp. (Thanks to Neil McGregor for these two drawings)
The story of the women and their music captured the audiences' imagination. It is thanks to a Dutch survivor, Helen Colijn, that their amazing spirit and Margaret's story lives on in her book which was later made into a film. The film -makers contacted Bill Fletcher, who played the organ in the Swalwell Chapel where her father was minister, to find out about her Tyneside background. The film,' Song of Survival', was shown in Britain on Channel Four.
In December 1997, a film, called 'Paradise Road', was released that showed the women's struggle to survive a horrific time in a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp in Sumatra during the Second World War, Margaret Dryburgh, was played by Pauline Collins.
Wards 9 and 10 at Dunston Hill Hospital were renamed 'The Margaret Dryburgh Ward' because of the hospital's connection with the Far Eastern Prisoners of War Association.
Control Commission, Germany, October 1945-1946. Mary Holmes' Memories
After the defeat of Germany in 1945, a Control Commission was set up to support the Military Government, which was in place at that time. This Military government was gradually phased out and the Control Commission took over the role of "Local Government". It was responsible for Public Safety and Health, Transport, Intelligence (which included rooting out Nazis), housing etc. The advanced HeadQuarters was in Berlin. Recruits had to be 21 and were recruited from, civil servants and foreign office and demobbed force's personnel. The Control Commission gradually replaced the Military Government, becoming in fact the "Local Government".
Mary Holmes joined the commission just after her 21st birthday; she was posted to a division, which was at Bunde, near Bielefeld in Westphalia.
Working in the office was much the same as being at home. Life in general was certainly very different. The staff lived in an army type mess with army cooks! It was thought that some of the food meant for the staff ended up on the very active black market.
Uniform was worn (which was neither shape nor make) and army type rules had to be obeyed. There was a curfew at 9.00p.m. No fraternisation with local people was allowed. Germans had to step off the pavement to allow the British to pass by.
One compensation, was the social life, friends were made with work colleagues or ATS, many of whom, when demobbed returned to serve with the Control Commission.
Weekend passes were available to Paris and Brussels. On visiting Brussels for the first time Mary was amazed at the variety of goods in the shops compared with the shortages in Britain.
There were many parties, mainly organised by males competing with different and wilder ideas to attract the very few females available. To reach the American zone (where the best parties were) you had to travel through the Russian control points where security was very strict. The curfew had to be carefully adhered to or you would be stuck there all night and not get to work on time the next day!
Sadly Mary's mother became ill and she returned home to take care of her parents and siblings.
Mary came across many characters during her time there. One girl bought a Dachshund and decided to take it home when she went on leave. She drugged the dog with aspirin and took it on board ship in a zipped up shopping bag!
Another girl took tea and sugar and coffee from the mess (everyone wondered why there never was enough to go round) then took it home to sell. She then bought aquamarine gemstones to mount on silver obtained by melting silver spoons, which she had brought from England, returning to England on her next leave with jewellery to sell!
Tess Larmour (born 7th January 1923).
When the German Coke works employed 200 people and the acid plant and the tar beds were another source of employment.
Tthe miners in Middle Row, back -to -back houses with six shared toilets at the end of each street.
The deputies living in Post Office Row and these houses had "proper" toilets.
The pit communities were very close, everyone helping each other.
How the miners’ lives revolved around the pit, the chapel and their allotments.
How the women’s lives revolved around the pit, the children and their home, they had to rise early for washing, cleaning, cooking. They led very busy lives but always made time to tidy up and to get washed and changed before their man came home from the pit. They had to have the hot water ready for the bath at the end of the shift. In an evening the women’s entertainment was to sit outside in the street and chat to their neighbours.
The fear when the pit siren sounded and everyone gathering at the pit yard for news of casualties. The ambulance was kept at the Hobson Colliery and unfortunately was frequently in use.
1949 she remembers the wages robbery at Marley Hill pit.
Social life revolving around the Primitive and Wesleyan Chapels.
One of her earliest chapel memories is learning and saying her “piece�? for the Easter Anniversary.
Making mistletoes with holly and mistletoe at Christmas, the smell of the fruit and vegetables at Harvest Festivals and the yearly chapel trip.
The yearly school trip on the first Friday in July when the children and their mothers filled two buses.
Polly Winger who had a shop in her front room selling sweets and pop who, when she was ninety had a boy friend who was ninety three and used to visit her in his pony and trap.
Nellie Ralph selling fish and chips from her scullery on Fridays that she had cooked in her set-pot. She still managed to have a wash as good as anyone else.
Tess moved from Marley Hill when she was eight years old.
Dunston British Legion
Dunston British Legion
committee post-war: 1950's.
Photo on wall is Joe Harvey,
captain of Newcastle United
with the F.A. Cup.
Front 2nd from right: William Ritchie.
Back far left: Jimmy Goulbourn
Back right and 2nd right:
Front row, 2nd from right
Centre front: Mr Wappat.
Third from left: Billy Dixon.
Far left: Mr Hawe.
Back far right: Billy Little.
Dunston British Legion Show 1948.
Billy Ritchie: Front right, Mrs Howitt:
Front left. Mrs Cooper.
back right. Mrs Massey: back left.
Dunston British Legion
Dunston British Legion
Armistice parade -women's
section Parade passing
Hexham Road Presbyterian
Mrs Hilda Ritchie
(partly hidden by
Mrs Massey at front left).
Left: Billy Ritchie,
Jessie Robinson, third from left, Principal Boy
Mr W Prince in evening dress
(had Plewes ships' chandlers).
Nelly Marshal, 5th from left
Mr Robeson 2nd from right
(father of lady 3rd from left)
The show was Sinbad the Sailor
Dunston British Legion Show
Mrs Ritchie 2nd right and
Mrs Cooper 2nd left.
Dunston British Legion parade
coming up Dunston Road
passing Gunn Street near
Four Lane Ends.
Mr D Ritchie, right,
black overcoat, 1950's.
Dunston British Legion parade
passing Dunston Hill School.
Dunston Brass Band at the
Cenotaph in November 1966.
In centre, William Ritchie,
president of the Dunston
British Legion at that time.
Services Beyond the Call of Duty
William Richardson was born in Sunniside on the 25th of August 1905. He married Ethel Miller in Christ Church, Dunston in 1927; they were married for fifty-four years, having one daughter Thelma. William died in 1982 at the age of seventy-seven.
He was a motor vehicle engineer for Northern General Transport Company in Bensham, Gateshead. William and a group of his friends and acquaintances from Northern General Transport Company joined the T.A prior to the outbreak of the Second World War so when the call for recruitment came, they were amongst the first to sign up for the services. He would serve with the 8th army, working in REME, rising to the position of Sergeant Major.
He was one of the last people to leave Dunkirk. Back in Dover they received a wonderful welcome home. According to Mr Richardson, they would have thought they had actually won the war instead of losing it.
William served in the British Expeditionary Force in France and later with the 1st and 8th Armies in North Africa and Italy.
He was a Warrant Officer (Class One) Armament Artificer in a large Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Field Workshop, under the command of Brigadier W S Tope.
William rode on his motorbike scouting, this was ahead of the General Army, for places to set up workshops to enable REME to repair all the broken vehicles, tanks, lorries, etc. which could be repaired. A couple of times William went over enemy lines. This allowed him to advise the army of the dangers ahead. He warned them about pulling back a little because he didn't want them to lose the workshops.
The men of REME were the first in the camps, they were able to notify the army of fairly safe places to stay: and then when the Army was finished, REME had to blast everything, they destroyed equipment to prevent the Germans from using it; cleared up and got away on their motorbikes as fast as they could. These men were the first in and the last out; they really were on the front line of the war.
When they were departing Salerno Landing, William and his colleagues should have left on the second last boat, but because of orders requesting them to stay, they actually left on the very last boat. To their shock and horror, they discovered that the 2nd last boat had been sunk.
They passed a lot of casualities from the sunken boat on their way out, the men were struggling in very oily waters; William and his fellow soldiers helped with the rescue of those who were still alive.
Mr.William Richardson was not only mentioned twice in Despatches, the first 'mention' being gained for his work in North Africa and the second for the Salerno Landing; he was also awarded an MBE, (Member of the British Empire) for distinguished Conduct and services beyond the call of duty whilst serving with his regiment, the 8th Army.
The letter from the War Office telling Thelma's father that he had been awarded the M.B.E was written by Colonel J.C. Elwes Directorate of Mechanical Engineering Allied Force Headquarters CMF on the 23rd of June 1945, and was published in the London Gazette on the 28th of June 1945.
It stated: -
The Under-Secretary of State for War presents his compliments and by Command of the Army Council has the honour to transmit the enclosed Awards granted for services during the war of 1939-45 It is noted from records held by this office that you have been awarded the MBE, Africa Star, with 1st Army Clasp, 1939-45 Star. B.E.F. 12th September 1939 to 19th June 1940, Italy Star...C.M.F. 10th April 1944 to 8th May 1945.
Bill Oloman was in the Territorial Army from March 1939. Billy did his peacetime training in Low Fell once a week. Each year the TA went away for two weeks to various camps, including Halton in Lancashire.
He was called up on August 28th 1939, just a few weeks before war was declared and he joined the Royal Engineers where he rose to Company Sergeant Major. He was demobbed in May 1946.
In December 1942 he was posted to North Africa and sailed, December 22nd 1942 on the Strathalan, which had been a P&O Liner. The ship was torpedoed, he was picked up and taken to Oran then straight onto another troop ship where they were put straight onto another troop ship and taken to Algiers. They than followed the war through North Africa finishing in Tunis. When the campaign finished about September/October 1943. The aqueduct had been bombed, as engineers it was their job to get electricity and water back to various towns and villages.
In December 1943 Billy went to Italy, they landed in Taranto and went straight up country to Bari, where they were for only a few days before going to a place called Cervinaro which was not far from Monte Casino.
The troop was there for four to five months, again repairing aqueducts, reinstating water supplies, electricity and generally getting utilities back to normal Bill said "In our company we were like a contracting firm, all self contained sections. As a Sergeant, I was in charge of B section which was responsible for the oil and water pipeline (only because I was a Heating Engineer). When I became a company Sergeant Major I was in charge of them all! "
From there, Billy went to Naples, but they were only there a few months. In Naples they rebuilt the Royal Palace (which the Yanks had hit with bombs about six times) it was then used as the NAFFI. After Bill left Naples he went to Palestine.
The only time that Bill and his fellow soldiers came under dangerous fire was in Medjez-elbab in North Africa, when they were building a bridge. As they were engineers they relied on the infantry to give them cover. Usually Bill's unit only moved into an area after it had been made safe.
Bill and his men stayed in North Africa approximately 12 months, about the same time in Italy, then they moved on to Palestine where they built camps for housing recruits.
The men did quite a bit of maintenance on oil lines in Palestine, The men really had nothing much to do with the people of Palestine as there was trouble, even in 1944 between the Jews and the Arabs. Apparently the Jews left Palestine before the Germans came, leaving all their land and property. When they came back, the Arabs had taken over everything.
The Arabs, in fact planted orange trees and lemon trees. When the Jews returned, the Arabs refused to allow the Jews to reclaim their property; stating that they had worked hard to make the orchards, so fighting started.
Billy did get a months leave from Palestine in December 1945, but went back to Palestine for another few months until he was de-mobbed in May 1946.
I asked Bill had he met anyone from Whickham on his travels. "I met one chap from Whickham who lived at Watergate, who was a bricklayer, he came to our unit for pre-vocational training."
Across Europe with "Monty".
Whilst Margaret Rayner was chopping down trees in the Timber Corp her brother, Bill Hall, was guarding Field Marshal Montgomery's headquarters.
When he left school in 1937, Bill was unable to find work on Tyneside but he managed to gain employment in Welwyn Garden City. Consequently, when in 1939 he was called up, he found himself serving in the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. He was posted to "Monty's" headquarters where he carried out guard duties at the inner camp.
"Monty" preferred using caravans rather than a building. (The map caravan formerly belonged to Italian generals.) He liked to be surrounded by hedges and trees, which made task of guarding him more difficult! It was at times like a gypsy camp with Monty's two dogs (a wire haired terrier called Hitler and a cocker spaniel called Rommel) and a menagerie of other animals. When camped near Hamburg zoo these were peacocks, black swans and ducks from the local zoo they varied according to where they were.
Bill's personal view of "Monty" was that he was an infantryman who was a cavalryman at heart; a good soldier, too thoughtful to be an officer! He considered that "Monty" was very upset at the failure of the initiative at Arnhem. A nonconformist to some extent, Montgomery was an infantry officer but always wore a tank regiment Beret.
Bill himself was not keen on army regulations and considered himself an armed civilian. He reached the dizzy heights of lance corporal for one week! A printer in by trade, he had attended night classes in engineering for two years. One day in the mess an officer asked if any one was an engineer. A friend volunteered the information that Bill knew something about engineering! He was asked to draw a plan and he did so by pacing out the area in question. The officer was impressed. After that, he was responsible for making the plans for the advanced H.Q. until a draughtsman was brought in to carry out this duty.
On June 6th at 1pm., after leaving of the Isle of Wight, they sailed to the Normandy beaches and then journeyed through France, Holland, Belgium and into Germany. There, on May 4th 1945 at Deutsch Evern (near Luneburg), Field Marshal Montgomery accepted the surrender of all armed forces opposing 21 Army Group. Three days later Germany surrendered to the Allied Expeditionary Force and to the Soviet High Command, under which all forces would cease active operations at midnight 8/9 May 1945.
There were many interesting events along the way; at one camp "Monty" had his portrait painted. During a lull in the fighting King George V1 invested him as Sir Bernard Montgomery. Bill was in the guard of honour. The event was filmed a newsreel.
In Holland people were starving. Bill helped one family with 13 children; he gave them the left over bread from the mess. This family kept in touch for years with Bill by sending Christmas cards.
One night on guard duty (3 hours on - 3 hours off), he challenged two men who ran away. Later they turned out to be American airman who had escaped from a prisoner of war camp. They were taken to holding camp behind the lines then back to their camp in England.
The only time he came actually came under fire was during training with live ammunition! Bill has many, many more stories.
After the war, H.Q. became a regular army camp with white painted sentry boxes. Monty's reaction was "If these are for me take them away!" He did not care for army bull.
THE JOURNEY OF FIELD MARSHAL MONTGOMERY'S HEADQUARTERS IN N.W. EUROPE --------------------------------------------------------------------- June 6th 1944 1 pm Standing off Beaches. " 7th " FRANCE Moved to St Croix-sur-Mer. " 8th " " " Croullet. " 23rd " " " Blay. Aug 3rd " " " Foret-de-Cerisy. " 14th " " " Campeaux (near Beny Bocage) " 19th " " " Proussy (near Conde-sur-Noireau) " 25th " " " Avernes-sous Exmes " 30th " " " Fontaine (near Evreux) Sep 1st " " " Dangu (across Seine) " 3rd " " " Conty " 4th " " " Saulty (Pas de Calais) " 6th " BELGUIM " Chateau Houtaing " 8th " " " Everberg (BRUSSELS) " 21st " " " Hechtel " 27th " HOLLAND " Eindhoven Nov 9th " BELGIUM " Zonhoven Feb 7th 1945 HOLLAND " Geldrop Mar 10th " " " Venlo (2 miles N.W.) " 17th " GERMANY " Straelen " 29th " " " Bonninghardt " 31st " " " Brunen Apr 3rd " " " Nottuln (West of Munster) " 6th " " " Rheine (Bombed Barracks) " 10th " " " Ostenwalde (West of Osnabrucke) " 14th " " " Nienberg (River Wesel) " 21st " " " Soltau May 1st " " " Deutch Evern (near LUNEBURG) " 4th " " Field Marshal Montgomery accepted Surrender of all armed forces opposing 21 Army Group. " 7th " " Germany surrendered to the Allied Ex- peditionary Force and to the Soviet High Command at 070241, under which all forces will cease active operations at midnight 8/9 May 1945.
Anne Sloan - Working in an Aircraft Factory.
My name was Anne Joynson and I came up North when I was very young. We lived in Bensham. I had four brothers and three sisters. I went to Lady Vernon School at St. Cuthbert's. I left school when I was 14 and started straight away in Fashion.
First of all I worked at Henry Dodgson's and then I went over to Fenwicks. I liked Fenwicks. I loved Fenwicks in fact and I was very unhappy when I was called up. I thought the end of the world had come. I could see myself getting pushed into this factory and I had heard such stories about factory life.
However I was first sent to a training centre on the Team Valley Trading Estate for six months. There I met a friend who was a lot younger than me. We are still good friends today.
She was very good at the practical work and I was very poor at the practical work but I was good at the theory. The foreman just didn't like me and I didn't like him. Every time I took a piece of work up he wouldn't pass it.
I said, 'I am leaving, I'll get put in gaol, but I'm not coming back'.
So my friend said, 'Take this up.'
I said, 'I can't do that!'
But she said 'Go on'. I did and he passed it.
Jimmy White's was the No.1 factory on the Trading Estate. In fact it was an Aircraft Factory - aircraft components and we used to do the Halifax Bombers and the Spitfires. He picked six girls out to go and work for him. I was one of them and so was Jean, my friend. Well, she was great at it, she was very good.
They said to me 'I think you should go on inspection'. I landed in inspection and left poor Jean on the floor and we worked there until 1944 when I got married.
There were few people who knew how important the Trading Estate was. We were No I and there was a No 2 factory, which belonged to the White brothers. They were also making the same components as we were. It was so important really; when you left the factory it was a blank because you hadn't to talk about it, very secret. When we first went in it was a factory full of men but by the time we had been there a little over a year it was a factory of women all doing men's jobs so the men could go and do the fighting. It was marvellous to think that women who had only been at home could come and be trained to do such jobs. We did shift work - day shift and night shift - week and week about.
Even the Fashion world had to change over and there were many Fashion factories in the Team Valley. They had to turn straight over to army uniforms. Also there were a lot of other firms who had to turn over and do different war efforts.
There was a very good, big, gun factory. The Bren Gun Factory. The man himself was a Czech who had escaped during the war but all his family didn't. However he managed to bring out the formula that belonged to him and that's how it was called the Bren Gun factory because they called him Bren.
I really enjoyed working in the factory as I enjoyed the comradeship. You know when I worked in Fenwicks you couldn't speak - I mean you entered that door and that was it till you came out at night. I used to 'fire watch' in Fenwicks. Every Sunday we had to take our turns and go up watching the building. Everyone else did in the shops in Newcastle, not just Fenwicks. Everyone had to take part and mind there was no transport. You walked there and you walked back home. It was marvellous how everyone helped one another then you know.
When I worked in the Aircraft Factory we had to walk to the other side of the Team Valley to the Canteen. It was a very big canteen, everybody used it. I think the Government provided the food and paid the staff. In the factory it was 'Music while you work' in the morning and afternoon. It was lovely, such a big change from what I had been used to because all my life I had worked under restriction.
What a difference the War made to my life
The Timber Corps of the Women's Land Army - Margaret Rayner
Timber was one of the most vital munitions of war, but the extra men required for the woods were required even more urgently elseIt was essential that women should replace men over as wide a field as possible and so, from a nucleus of about 1000 Land Army members already working in the Department, the Women's Timber Corps was established in April 1942. Members wore the same uniform as the Land Army except for a green beret and a Timber Corps badge.
Home Timber Production Dept.
The Timber Corps sounded good to me. Two of my friends had joined and so I volunteered and was accepted for Training at Wetherby in Yorkshire. Here we were introduced to the main sections of the work, felling, cross-cutting, clearing in the woods, sawing and measuring. Each morning we were taken in open lorries along the A1 to work in Bramham Woods where the timber, which was cut here was mainly for pit props. We used 5lb axes, but the lumberjacks who we sometimes helped with trimming used the heavier 7lb axes.
At the end of our 4 weeks training, we were sent to work, some for the Ministry and others to timber merchants though we were all still employees of the Department. The administration and welfare of members was delegated to the Home Timber Production Department of the Ministry of Supply.
I was sent to work in a sawmill in Worcester where I learnt to operate a pendulum cross-cut saw. This was a circular saw of about 30 inches in diameter, electrically driven, fixed to a pendulum with a weight on one end. The saw was pulled across the saw bench and the weight took it back.
The work was out of doors. There was an awning of sorts - to keep the equipment dry - but the operator stood out in all weathers! Cold in winter to begin the days work but not for long.
Lengths of timber were cut for use in various ways, from tool and brush handles to tent pegs for the military and crosses for soldiers' graves.
There were 3 other Timber Corps members working in the sawmill, we were "the girls" although there were over 100 women employed there.
The work was hard but it was a good firm to work for and I enjoyed my time there.
Jean Mundy, Land Girl.
I set forth on my first trip away from home on the fourth of October 1944 from Leeds city station. My father saw me off and my destination was Exeter, changing at Bristol. I was very apprehensive about the whole journey, never having travelled alone before. Finally I arrived and a Land Army person was there to shepherd us into some transport to take us to Whiteways Cider Farm, which was our home for one month's training. It was at a place called Whimple in Devon and we lived in a hostel. We received a uniform, shirts, overalls, breeches, greatcoat, hat, shoes and Wellington boots.
We were then shown all the different parts of farming. It was a mixed farm, cows, pigs (300), and of course we had a big dairy. We worked in groups on a different section each week. When you were on pigs, which had to be cleaned out and fed before breakfast, no one would sit near you because of the smell. Before they let us loose on the dairy cows we had to train on a rubber udder, which was a laugh. We were taught how to record all the milk a cow gave and, of course, it went through several filters before it went into churns and off to the large dairy.
We didn't get a lot of free time. The girls were from all over the place. One girl I made friends with called Maira, she was Welsh. We were taken one night to a dance at a camp. They were Canadians and a lot of them were wounded. One week we were asked if we would go apple picking. We all thought this would be a good job. Not so - it was very hard work picking them up off the frozen ground. They sent us out with what seemed like old blokes to us. At lunchtime they all had big jars of scrumpy cider, the rough stuff and very strong.
Then it was time to go out to different farms. I was sent to a place called Ladrum Bay, very lonely it was, right on the coast. I didn't last long. They hardly spoke to me and the cooking was pretty awful. The farmer's wife was a Londoner. The rice pudding I remember very well -it took three days to cook. So when I got a day off I left and went back to Exeter. I expected to get really told off, but it wasn't so bad. It was getting near Christmas and one of the farmers at Ottery St Mary's needed a land girl while their girl went on leave. They were called Potter and they were really lovely people. I slept in a feather bed before duvets (very comfortable). The food was great. We did so much work before breakfast; we milked and then I used to deliver milk with one of those bikes with a big basket on the front. I had one disaster, spilling the milk before I got the hang of it.
I spent that Christmas with them and I hung up my stocking and got all sorts of bits and pieces plus a ten-shilling note. Mr and Mrs Potter were lovely people and when I got moved to a permanent farm, I still used to cycle over to see them. I used to write to them for years after I left the Land Army. Mr Potter died first, but I wrote to Mrs Potter until she was over ninety years old.
Before I was taken to my next farm I had to go to Headquarters in Exeter. They told me I was going to the Barry's at Ten Acres on West Hill, Ottery St Marys. I was told I was only to do farm work, no housework. They felt they were just a small place and as their daughter had to go to the Admiralty at Bath, they thought Mrs Barry might be after a cheap servant. This was not the case but they used to call to make sure. Mrs Barry never asked me to do any housework, but I did use to help as they were so kind to me. I learnt so many things, skinning rabbits, killing ducks and chickens and preparing them for the table. We didn't get much meat ration so I used to get sent to the gamekeeper for pigeons etc.
Theirs was a lovely house. Mr Barry had had it built with about 16 acres of land They had beautiful Jersey cows, a pet lamb, a horse, chickens, ducks and cats that slept outside, and a lovely English Setter called Dina. She was also kept outside. Mr and Mrs Barry had decided to retire fairly young and then decided they would like to farm. They worked very hard. They had built most of the outside buildings themselves.
This was where I really got to know about farming.
The Barry's always used to show me how to do things like lifting sacks of feed without damaging myself. I used to milk but some of the cows were quite temperamental. They used to hold the milk if you didn't do it right, so it was a while before I could milk all of them. They didn't have a bull, but used artificial insemination, which was very modern in those days. The herd was a pedigree one, so we used to get all the semen from another pedigree herd. This used to come in big thermos flasks by train so it was all a matter of timing and, of course, the vet with me as his assistant holding the cow's tail. Then a wait, to make sure it was all OK. The first calf I saw born, I sat up all night. I was very thrilled it was so beautiful.
A good job was sawing logs. Two used to work the bow saw; it kept you nice and warm on winter days we used the wood for the fire.
I was one of the lucky ones in the war. The air raids were never near where I was and we never went short of food. Plus nobody I knew was killed in the war. I was always glad I went away from home. It showed me how the other half lived.
Minnie Rutherford was registered for war work when she was 19 and called up when she was 20 years old. She was put into the Land Army in Wolsingham near Bishop Auckland. There was one other girl there and they had to milk cows, make butter and even go shopping. It was the first time she had had a room to herself so she quite enjoyed it!
Mary Burdon Gilhespie.
Mary, born in Whickham in 1923, belonged to an old Whickham Family. She left school when she was 15 years of age. Her first job was at the Hadrian Stores. When she was sixteen she went for one of those really old fashioned interviews. She had to sit at a large table opposite a group of men who interviewed her to see if she was acceptable for a job in Whickham Co-operative Stores.
Mary got the job and started work in the Grocery Department on Fellside Road. In those days, you were quite privileged to get a position with the Co-operative Stores. As Mary said "To get a job with the Co-op in those days meant you are set for life"
Mary worked at the Co-op for four years before being called up in 1943. She had to go to Scotland to do her training, which she said was an event in itself. She had only once been to Scotland before, and that was when she went on a school trip to Edinburgh. Mary's journey involved her getting a train to Glasgow, changing trains there for the onward journey to Bewick, which was on the banks of Lock Lomond.
Mary's stay in Scotland was in December and January. She recalled what a beautiful place it was. Unfortunately for her and her fellow Wrens, it being winter, they had to go round in oilskins, clogs and sou'westers. Apparently the site had once been an American Naval Base with just Nissan Huts and oil stoves to keep them warm. Mary said it was dreadful and she would never forget the experience as long as she lived.
After her training in Scotland Mary was sent Rochester, which was not far from the Chatham Dockyards. She had all her injections and what not done there. As a young Wren, Mary remembers, the Royal Navy being very protective towards the young girls who were stationed there. If they went into Chatham and were caught by the MP's loitering, talking to anyone, more so Naval Personnel, they were in front of the Commodore the next day.
Mary was not in Chatham very long before moving to Staines in Middlesex. Here she worked in a former Lino Factory, which the Royal Navy had taken over. There were Men Ratings as well as the Wrens, working in the various departments, shipping, packing and office jobs; this was where Mary worked. From this factory the Navy were repairing and supplying spare parts and machinery for the ships including anchors and propellers which were then transported to Naval Bases abroad.
When in Rochester, Mary's accommodation was quite good. She and her fellow Wrens lived in one of the houses taken over by the Admiralty. There were four streets of Victorian houses, which were on two floors with attics and large cellars. They also had small gardens to front and back of the house. The Windows were blacked out on the inside and sandbagged half way up the windows on the outside. Mary and her fellow mates saw at first hand the raids in London, all the bombing and the doodlebugs. It was a terrible experienced she said.
In the house at Rochester, the Wrens, lived, slept, and washed. There was no furniture, only makeshift cupboards for clothes with curtains around them. No food was taken there as meals were served in the canteen at the Wrens quarters in Rochester. One or two Wrens were billeted there, but it was just a staging post before being transferred.
Mary was at Chatham about eighteen months before she went to Windsor. She and a number of her fellow Wrens actually lived in Clewer Park, a large house which stood in its own grounds, with the house backing onto the River Thames and Windsor Racecourse. Whilst in Windsor Mary was a messenger for the Navy and she used to go to The Admiralty in Trafalgar Square to deliver messages.
She used to get a pass to take her on the train from Staines to Windsor, where there was a civil defence place. This was all to do with the Admiralty. It was like the military supplies department. When signals came up from the Admiralty, into the teleprinter room she would deliver them to the different departments. She was one of the first in the section, apart from the Admiralty, to know that the Second World War had ended.
Mary came out of the Wrens in January 1946 after being with the Wrens just over two years. She never thought she would have been called up for the war. Her position as Wren Caygill was, in her opinion, just an ordinary jenny Wren who was a messenger.
Women at War - Caroline Chilvers
I was called up in 1940 because my husband was in the army and I had no children.
I had to go to the Dole Office on the Windmill Hills for a medical examination first. I had always worked in hotels but now I had no choice, I was told to go to the Royal Ordnance Factory in Birtley. I was there for four and a half years. I lived in Back Athol Street, Dunston, and had to walk to Victoria Road for the special bus that was provided for us. There were a lot of women from Dunston working there and we all wore clogs so made quite a clatter walking along. There were three shifts, 6 am until 2 pm, 2 pm until 10pm, and 10pm until 6 am. I didn't know what daylight was like on some shifts. I was paid £3 a week and that was a lot of money in those days. I felt like a millionaire! There were only women in the shop and we had a couple of air raids while we were at work. We had a canteen for our breaks. It was hard graft! I was on a machine making shells that weighed 40lbs and we had to lift them. I am only 5 feet tall. I am 88 now so it didn't do me any harm. We were told to tell anyone who asked that we were making tins for food.
Women at War - Florence Clark
Florence Clark also served in the W.A.A.F. during World War 2. She met and married George Wilson, a soldier, during the war.
Women at War - Elsie Harm
Elsie Harm served in the W.A.A.F. during World War 2. Elsie married Gordon Hartley on 5th March 1947.
My first memories of the war were of men coming to the farm all dressed in different uniforms. going off to war. Most of them had played with my two cousins George and Tom at the farm. One young man, Jackie Rutter, was his name, walked up Millers Lane with me hanging from his neck.
He was in the RAF and was killed in Holland. When you enter St. Marys Church, Whickham, in the porch is a small stained glass window that the Scouts put in his memory.
My grandparents had purchased a Ford V8 car in about 1936-37, but sadly had to sell it to Whickham Council to be used for Civil Emergency in the war years.
I remember the balloons on the cricket field. I used to be very frightened, I remember that one got away and my cousin told me that men were in them and they would come and take me away.
German prisoners came to work on the farms during the war. The camp was on Lord Gort's estate at Hamsterly Mill. The prisoners, Italian and German worked on local farms travelling daily by bus. My sister and I went with grandma and Mrs Clark to look around the prison camp. The coach driver took us there and we went to so many farms picking up, that the bus got full. My sister and I ended up sitting on two German's knees.
Two of my cousins went off to war and as they had made a fuss of me I missed them terribly, but suddenly the Germans came to work; one whose name was Helmut, came to East Farm. I found him like my cousins. We used to tease him, shouting:-
There will always be an England
And England shall be free
Because of our brave army
Air force and Navy".
He used to pretend to be mad and throw turnips at us.
His home was in Leipzig. When the war ended I have often wondered what happened to him as that was in the Russian Zone. He was not bothered about going back to Germany because all his family were killed during the war. When the war ended, he would come to the pictures at Blaydon, grandma always insisting that he sat beside us in case of any trouble.
House bombed in Sunniside
May 12 1941 a German bomber dropped a stick of five bombs. One landed in the front garden of nos. 16-17 Fernville Ave. One of the occupants, George Shanks, was killed and Tom and Jeannie Ann Shanks were injured.
The roofs and windows of nearby houses were damaged and even as far as Elm Street some of the back doors were ripped open by the effects of the bomb blast.
The illustrations are of a Letter from District Valuer and a List of Clothing Destroyed.
The Ack Ack Camp 1939-1945
In the early part of the war Whickham had a Ack Ack camp, (an AntiAircraft Guns and Research camp). There were a number of big guns there and also vital equipment. The camp operated by W.A.A.C. (Womens Auxillary Army Corps) was located on Fellside Road, where the bungalows are now on the Rectory Estate, going towards the Glebe. This camp was not large and the accommodation consisted of wooden huts.
There were various nationalities in the camp including soldiers who had been evacuated from Dunkirk, and some Americans. Eva Tingler relates a story about the young men in the camp. Apparently one day a group of young Americans knocked on her and a few of her neighbours' doors, asking if they could please have a bath.
Eva lived in one of the Colliery houses quite near to the camp. As Eva's husband was a miner, with a concessionary coal supply, they had ample coal to heat the hot water needed for the baths so she quite willingly obliged. In way of thanks, Eva was given some army blankets. Eva said she not only kept the blankets but also used those blankets right through the years until just recently when she bought herself a quilt.
A number of the men from the Ack Ack Camp used to go to the dances at the Miners Welfare Hall, (now Whickham Sales Rooms) on a Saturday evening and quite a few acquaintances were developed with the local girls. The hall was originally built after the First World War for Axwell Pit as an Institute, but as it was not used it was offered to Watergate Pit.
Betty Oloman can remember when doing her milk round on her cart, she would sometimes carry extra milk and the men from the camp would buy it from her. She also remembers being teased by the wolf whistles she received.
When the army vacated the camp many of the local families moved into the camp as squatters and used the wooden huts as homes. In those days it was very difficult to get houses. Many people had no option but to squat. They stayed in the huts until they were either rehoused, often in prefabs, by the council or they could afford to buy a property for themselves.
Thomas Dickinson's Memories
The first memory I have of world war two was when the proprietor of the local shop, Mr L. Jarron, came down the street shouting that war had been declared. Everyone was standing at their doors.
As the war progressed air raids became more frequent so the school I attended, Whickham County Council, introduced a code of practice which was that if an air raid finished after midnight you did not have to attend until 1pm the next day.
Air raid shelters were built next to the school and our gas masks were often tested for different kinds of gas that may have been used by the Germans. Barricade blocks were built on certain roads. These were made of concrete and there was just enough space for one vehicle to pass through. There was one on Broom Lane near my home and others at Fellside road and Sunniside.
The government introduced a scheme so that you could get extra clothing coupons if your feet were over a certain length but I never qualified.
As the war progressed, when you reached the age of 13 you were allowed to "potato pick" in the autumn. I think that it was for either 25p per day or 25p per week. It was hard work!
There were a few air raids when bombs were dropped in our area, notably one in Tait's farm field at the top of the street where I lived. A number of houses had their windows shattered. The day after the raid we used to go into the bomb craters to collect shrapnel (pieces of the bomb). In an air raid on Sunniside a bomb killed a Mr George Shanks. The bomb was a direct hit on his home.
My father was a coal miner and one of the shifts he worked finished at 11.30pm; if an air raid was on and they were bombing South Shields, he would take me to the bottom of the street and show me the flares, fires and guns being fired at the German aircraft.
There was an army camp on Fellside Road, which had an anti-aircraft gun; there was also one at Lobley Hill and the noise was terrific. There were also barrage balloons situated around the area, one in Beech Grove (below Whickham Church) and one at Fellside. There were also static water tanks where gallons of water were stored in case of fire from the bombs. During the blackout people were shouted at by the wardens, for showing lights from windows.
Once my mother took me to Whickham pictures, now the gym in Church Chare, and when we came out it was pitch black. Instead of walking up Broom Lane to our house we ended up in Duckpool Lane.
I never saw a banana, until near the end of the war. A schoolboy brought one into the schoolyard it was black. His father, a soldier, brought it from abroad.
At the end of the war we were all introduced to a famous person. It was Maurice Chevalier, the French singer and film star. He was introduced by our Head Master, Mr Kennedy, who had been a prisoner with him during the First World War and who had taught him to speak English.
I keep remembering things since starting this story such as when an air raid was in progress we either went to a public shelter which was about 75 yards from our house or to a single bed under the staircase which was supposed to be the safest place if we were bombed.
Sweets and chocolates were rationed to 4ozs a week so when we went to the pictures we used to buy a half-penny carrot at H. Hutchinson the fruiterers, Front Street, Whickham, now a bank.
Another event in the war was just after Dunkirk, hundreds of soldiers were sent to Whickham and district. I remember them seeing some of them sitting and lying in the fields below where The Gibside is now. My father once brought a couple of soldiers home for lunch.
Margaret Campbell remembers the war years.
"At the beginning World War 2 most of my friends were evacuated to villages in Co. Durham. My parents decided that we would be evacuated together. My father stayed at home, I went with my mother and sisters to stay with relatives at Salters Gate between Castleside and Tow Law. It was a street of houses in the middle of the moors, almost two miles walk to the nearest bus stop. We have very happy memories of all the things we did there. In later years, we were surprised to find we had been there only two weeks. After a fortnight, my father had had enough of being on his own so we all went back to Dunston. On our return we found that air raid shelters were being built. We only used the shelter in the street once. After one air raid my parents and grandparents decided to strengthen the large cupboard under the stairs. We always referred to it as the gas cupboard because it had a gas meter in there."
"Stronger beams were added and a platform bed built under the sloping roof. The three of us could just fit in there. There was an armchair in there where my mother or grandmother could sit. My mother made us all siren suits; these were one-piece suits to wear over our pyjamas. If the air raid warning went during the night, under the stairs we went, wearing our siren suits, and there we stayed until the all clear sounded. We were supposed to go straight to sleep! I do not remember how well we slept. We liked being there. We had a tin box with treats in and if we were in any length of time we might get a piece of chocolate or a Horlicks tablet or something we wouldn't have got if we'd stayed in bed!"
"I remember playing in the street with my sisters and I think some friends. We were playing some sort of chasing game because of course there was no traffic so we could run quite safely across the cobbles. Suddenly we heard a plane and a machine gun firing. It was above our heads, bullets were bouncing along the street. Our mother was shrieking at us to get in the house. She was very annoyed with us because we had not come straight into the house. Our main interest was looking round to see if we could pick up some shrapnel from the bullets coming at us. This would have given us high rating in school the next day. We almost got a thick ear for that one.
The next exciting thing that happened was, when, in the middle of an air raid a warden came along the street warning everyone to get out quick. My father was out on duty that night. The whole street was evacuated because a bomb, an unexploded bomb, had landed in the backyard next door to my grand parents, which was next door to us. So out we went, no time to take anything with us. "
"They turfed us all out, there we all were standing in the cobbled street underneath the streetlight. The adults started getting their heads together deciding what to do. We were lucky that we had an aunt who lived in another street of terraced flats about 100 or 150 yards away. My grandmother and we three children headed in that direction. I think my mother was trying to find my father to let him know what was happening. She arrived with some neighbours who had no had relatives nearby. Those who had, had rushed off in various directions but there were those wondering what to do next. No one was saying well use the church hall or anything. My mother and aunt went back again to see who had nowhere to go. They brought more people back I am not quite sure how many people were in the house that night but there were certainly 30 or more. We were all crammed in a large kitchen, sat around the walls or on the floor. My mother and aunt made tea continuously. It seemed to last all night. I do not remember having any sleep. There were people who we had hardly even spoken to before. We were quite excited and thought great we won't have to go to school the next day but in fact it was afternoon school so we did go."
"We were thinking we'd have to go in our siren suits but a warden came across and told us we could go back in the houses. It was all a false alarm. It turned out to be a dud shell from Big Bertha, the big gun at the top of Lobley Hill. It had gone down the drain. They managed to get it out, so we could all return to our homes. We had to go to school after all.
My aunt had no bread or biscuits left and certainly no tea. Later that day everyone was back at my aunt's house giving her tea and biscuits and anything they had, to thank her.
"There was one more exciting thing that happened. I have very strong memories of the soldiers rescued from the beaches at Dunkirk. There were all these dirty, tired, weary, very dispirited and hungry men and not enough army camps to take them. They went to various places overnight and then further a field.
Someone came round the doors saying that the Dunston Board School was going to be re opened to accommodate soldiers from Dunkirk. They asked people to offer a bath and a hot meal to one or two soldiers. It was a lot to ask people to do in an area like that in those days. The housing in the area was what is now grandly called Tyneside flats. They had no bathrooms or inside toilets, it was quite a performance to have a bath your self, never mind offering a bath to strangers. There certainly was not much food around with all the rationing.
We all turned out and lined the sides of Wellington Road at the time of their expected arrival. We sisters stood in a row beside my father, jumping up and down, before the convoy arrived.
I can still remember how tired and weary the soldiers looked. I am sure they had not had much to eat since they left. They certainly had not had a wash. They were probably in the same clothes as when they had left the beaches. They really did look terrible."
"We were getting anxious. People were shouting, Hi, mate, you just come with me, but my father just stood there just looking whilst we were dancing up and down. I do not know who it was in the end. I think it was one of my sisters, who shouted. I do not think my father ever did. Two soldiers said they would be pleased to come to our home.
We had to stay outside and play while my mother organised baths for the two men who came with us. We did not see an awful lot of these soldiers. The next day the soldiers came to thank us and gave us a tin of bully beef. We discovered later that my father had been too busy looking at the men because he knew that it was very likely his brother, our Uncle Frank, would have been on the beaches of Dunkirk. He thought he might have been in one of those army lorries in that convoy.
The soldiers were from various regiments, many in fact from Australia. My sisters said they knew as soon as they saw their hats. I only remember their faces."
"My next strong recollection is that we did have a big street party when the war ended. Trestle tables were put along the cobbles, everyone in the street contributed what they could. We had to remove to the tin mission, (the local church hall) because it rained, nothing changes!"
Mary Williams remembers the war years.
"I started work in 1939 having attended Commercial College and studied book-keeping, business economics, as well as shorthand and typing. In those days most accounts were kept by male members of staff, but they were soon all "called up", and because of my training I was transferred to Accounts. This was fortunate for me as when the official came, on one of his regular visits to interview all workers who had reached the age of 18, my papers were stamped "Exempt" as the company was then on war work and I was the Book-keeper!
I was given instructions to report to the First Aid Depot where I had to do training and stay overnight one night each week and also report immediately if the air raid siren sounded. My mother was aghast, as I was prone to fainting at the sight of blood. However, orders are orders. In the event, I was never put to the test."
The war continued - a round of work, evening classes and first -aid depot to the end of the war. The only bright spot was in October 1944 when, acting as bridesmaid for my cousin, I met my future husband, who like the bridegroom was also on leave. Alas, by the end of December he had been posted to the Middle East and remained there until June 1947, long after the end of the war without any home leaves. However, he did return, we were married and lived happily together for 40 years."
Memories of September 1939 - June 1944 by Jack Dixon
"Seated one day at the organ,
I was weary and ill-at-ease,
My fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys."
(the words of a popular song of the early 1930's)
I can relate to the first line because that is what I was doing on Sunday 3rd September, 1939, at Ravensworth Road Methodist Chapel, Dunston. I was not weary or ill-at-ease but rather excited or maybe apprehensive? After the first hymn it was accepted that in a few moments we would be at war with Germany. I could not imagine what the future would be - the excitement maybe because of the unknown, and apprehension of how the war would affect me. Shortly after 11 a.m. the preacher closed the service with a prayer, and a few minutes later the air raid sirens sound. What a weird, frightening sound and a sound which still remains with me. I left the chapel and made my way home.
No buses, no people, complete eerie silence. Maybe people were afraid to come out, imagining the skies would be black with planes (as we had been told). They would have to be fast ones to be over Dunston so soon!! It proved to be a false alarm - the first of many. The evening service was held at Wood Street Methodist Chapel - again I was on the organ seat complete with cardboard box containing gas mask!
Listened to the 9 p.m. news on radio - the ATHENIA had been torpedoed and sunk with heavy loss of life - men, women and children. Now the meaning of war hit me and excitement left me. Days went by and the term 'phoney war' expressed the situation. British troops were in France but no action had taken place. Sirens were often sounded but mostly false alarms. Christmas came but festivities were very limited. Eventually the real war started. May 1940 - the German army swept through to the Channel ports. Miraculously, more than 300,000 troops were evacuated from Dunkirk. All equipment, arms etc were left behind, mostly destroyed. Great Britain now faced invasion - the phoney war was over. Factories went into full-time, and there was now a greater sense of urgency and determination. We had to face the fact that there was every possibility on invasion. I was now in the LDV (later to be famous as 'Dad's Army') and on patrol at nights if the sirens sounded. One night, or rather at 2 a.m. in the morning, whilst listening to 2 old soldiers telling of their experiences of WW1 (World War 1) and making my hair stand on end, a messenger arrived on a bicycle. "Report to Headquarters immediately - paratroopers have been sighted dropping nearby". Fear not, I was heavily armed with a cudgel!!?! What a farce! It transpired that a balloon had been broken from its moorings and passed through a searchlight
On now to Wednesday, July 3rd 1940. A plane had been droning around for some time and it was evident from the sound of the engines that it was a German - no sirens had been sounded. Left the office at 5 p.m. to cycle home and approaching the barrage balloon site the plane dived out of the clouds machine gunning the balloon. I could clearly see the Swastika markings. Terrified, I jumped off my bike and dived into the hedge. The plane flew towards the bridges over the Tyne and I saw a huge flash and clouds of smoke and dust. My first experience of seeing a bomb dropped. Many more were to follow in the next 12 months. When I got home my father handed me a buff envelope marked 'O.H.M.S. and I did not need to open it to know that it was my 'calling up papers' - "Report to Dingle Vale Schools".
Liverpool, Thursday July 11th. Mixed feelings. What would it be like leaving home? I knew the misery of homesickness from school camps and Boy Scout Camps. I had a good home life, good pals and a great interest in piano and organ playing. All this would be lost. The next few days were grim, the waiting and uncertainty were worst. Wednesday July 10th 10 p.m. dreading the farewells at the Central Station, Newcastle. Only in later years did I realise what it must have been like for my parents to see me disappearing over the bridge to Platform 9 then returning home and worse still, a few days later when the case containing my clothes arrived.
The journey to Liverpool seemed to be never ending as I had never been further than Saltburn! Duly arrived at Lime Street Station 8 a.m. Apart from Joe Thomson (Swalwell) I had palled up with Jack Stenhouse (Benwell). The three of us found a cafe, thick chipped tea mugs and bacon sandwiches! "How do we get to Dingle Vale School?" we asked the Chinese owner. "Tlam Clar (Chinese accent) with notice Aigburth on flont". For about two miles we rumbled and clattered our way, and there was the school. Documented and issued with clothing etc. then escorted to a classroom. "Sorry lads" said the Sgt. "No palliasses yet, you will get used to sleeping on the floor!." Night came but sleep did not. There were 30 of us and it was talk, talk and more talk, and lots of fun until the Orderly Officer came and ordered "SILENCE!" After three days we dispersed to various houses in the area (there were 300 soldiers in the Company). Beautiful stone built houses, the owners evidently well off, had moved to safer areas and the army took possession.
Joe, Jack and I were in a room on the third floor, (comfort now because we had palliasses). Every morning we were marched to the school which was about a mile away for breakfast followed by the inevitable Square Bashing. I was happy and enjoying a completely new life. Exercise, discipline and comradeship, and a feeling of pride. Walking out in the evening in your best battledress (even if it was not a perfect fit) shoulders back and saluting officers, great. One morning on parade the Officer in charge said that personnel were required to form headquarters staff to control the intake of 300 recruits every Thursday. Cooks, admin, quartermaster etc. were needed and if anyone was interested to step forward otherwise instead of volunteering you would be ordered. I was pushed forward by Joe, and the Officer assumed I was volunteering. "Report to QM Captain Gosling at 2 pm." So at 2 pm I was giving an account of what I had done in Civvy Street, and I ended up in the QM Stores Office. This was start of the worst period of my six years service. Good fellows to work with, Taffy, Smithy, Ray and Stan but the work was so futile and useless. We had ledgers to control the input of clothing etc and issues of same. If the stock remaining did not tally they were simply written off!
As the weeks went by air raids became almost nightly and heavier. Sitting in the Trocadero Cinema one Saturday evening (September 15th) and listening to the Wurlitzer Organist who, later was called up, joined our unit, and eventually played the organ for our wedding, when suddenly he stopped and a notice was flashed on the screen ALL SERVICE MEN REPORT TO THEIR UNITS IMMEDIATELY. No trouble getting lifts to the school where chaos reigned. Report to the armoury was the order. Issued with rifle and five rounds and marched in groups of ten to the banks of the Mersey. Word passed that invasion was imminent and two German battleships were at the mouth of the Mersey! We lay there all night and I'm sure everybody thought the same as me, what will a rifle and five bullets do to a battleship?! At 2 pm on Sunday we were stood down. Rumours were flying around and many weeks later it was disclosed that invasion barges had been sighted in the Channel but it was not clear whether it was an exercise or the real thing. I remember once standing on the landing stage waiting for the Ferry to New Brighton when suddenly there was the sound of a bomb dropping. The piercing whistle got louder and I felt it was going to land on my back. Instead all I got was a soaking. The bomb dropped in the water near the landing stage. That bomb evidently did not have my name on it.
May 5th 1940 was the start of a week of continuous bombing every night from 7 pm till 4 am for 6 nights. I was now billeted in 99 Colebrook Road with Taffy, Smithy, Ray and Stan which was an extra storeroom for Army clothing and blankets etc. This street was only 100 yards from a huge oil storage depot - 30 tanks in all. On May 7th two tanks received direct hits and night was turned into day. There was a direct hit on No. 104 but fortunately most of the inhabitants had cleared off to Sefton Park as they felt safer there. The noise of bombs and anti-aircraft fire was deafening. The sky over the city was red. I went into Liverpool on the Saturday - fires still burning on the dock side and ships sunk by the docks. Lewis's Store completely burned out, Bryant & May's factory burning and scores of people outside the Town Hall scanning the notices of names of the dead and unidentified. There was an air of sadness and despair.
The powers-that be decided that Liverpool was not a safe place and it took them 12 months to realise that, so we were moved to Pheasey Farm Estate, Great Barr, about five miles from Birmingham. This was a huge council house estate which had just been completed at the beginning of the war but commandeered by the Army. Leaving Liverpool was a wrench despite the bombing. It is a wonderful city and I have memories which will never fade. Some happy ones, some sad. I think of the little boy who used to play with us in the evenings. We did not see him for a while but when we did on crutches - he had lost a foot. I think of the brave firemen who night after night tackled the huge fires. I think of the times I walked up the hill to the Anglican Cathedral and sat there and prayed not only for myself but for all affected by bombing. Air raids are so terrifying as you can't see your enemy, you know he is up there but you are helpless.
JULY 1941 saw us settled into our new camp and this was to alter my career and also my life. I felt that I must get out of the boring job so I requested an interview with the QM who was also in charge of Transport. I took the bull by the horns as it were and asked for a transfer to the Transport staff. As luck would have it, there was a vacancy and so I became a driver. I was so happy driving cars and lorries of all sizes. One afternoon I was detailed to go to Great Barr station to pick up an ATS Corporal and thirty other ranks. On arrival at the station there they were, all very smart. Something about the corporal attracted me immediately - standing there so smart and lovely, not only physically, but something else which was hard to describe. Whatever it was I had no doubt whatsoever that some day, if she would have me, I wanted her to be my wife. Love at first sight - call it what you will. As we talked on the way back to camp I found that she was from Birmingham (but no Birmingham accent) and was to work in the QM stores. What a stroke of luck - it meant I would see her almost every day! I was so afraid to ask her for a date so asked my pal, Taffy, to do that. "Surely he can ask me himself" was the answer. So I plucked up courage and the reply was "Yes, I would like that". Remember she was a corporal and I was a driver so officially we were not allowed to hold hands but I think we broke the rules a few times! Clifton Cinema, Perry Bar, was our first date and beginning of a wonderful courtship. After a few months she(Jessie) was posted to Lichfield on an NCO's course. I missed her so much. Eric, one of the drivers (who eventually married one of the ATS and we kept in contact long after the war ended) came to the rescue. There was an old motor cycle without a pillion seat in the garage and Eric said he would take me to Lichfield one evening. I put my greatcoat on the back mudguard and away we went. I often think how did we have the nerve to do it - goodness knows what would have happened if we had been stopped by the Redcaps! Jessie was delighted and it wasn't long before she returned to camp - this time a Sergeant.
Our next move was to Oldham where we got engaged, and then three months at Heysham, near Morecambe After that it was on to Prestatyn which was formerly Pontins Holiday Camp. We planned to get married but Army regulations stated that a married couple could not be on the same camp.. If we had gone ahead we would have been separated, so we agreed that it was better to be together and hope that some day the stupid regulation would be cancelled. Out of the blue it was when a few months later the Commandant of the ATS paid a visit to the camp. Questions were invited from the NCO's so up got Sergeant Hobson and asked was it not better for a married couple to be together in time of war than separated. The Commandant claimed that she was not aware of this rule (likely story) but would look into it. A few weeks later the regulation was cancelled so we were able to go ahead with our plans. The date was set - Saturday, June 17th 1944 at Trinity Church, Prestatyn. A glorious sunny day and understandably, a nervous one. The start of another chapter in my life.
Memories of WW2
"The first memory I have of the war was when the proprietor of the local shop (Mr. L. Jarron) came down the street shouting that war had been declared. Everyone was standing at their doors."
"Concrete barricade blocks were built on certain roads. There was just enough space for one vehicle to pass through. Do you remember where these were?"
"One day while on the way to the hairdresser's in Back Row a plane came overhead and a man pushed me over a wall by Spoor's Chapel. The plane was a German one and it machine-gunned children playing in the schoolyard in Rye Hill."
"The night they bombed the Derwent instead of the Tyne the sky was lit like illuminations with flares and incendiary bombs."
Home Guard Certificate
"All the women of the pit streets used to hold Beetle drives (no Bingo then) to raise money for a victory party after England won the war."
"Air raid sirens were sounded after the Chamberlain broadcast on the wireless, which woke the baby."
"If bananas appeared in fruit shops there were big queues. Bartering food for goods and services was usual in the village. People grew their own vegetables. Patterson's nursery on Grange Lane was where the prisoners of war were put to work."
"A shell came across the park and landed in a lady's back yard. We thought it was German but it came from the big gun in Lobley Hill known as Big Bertha, The heavy Ack Ack battery sited on Fellside Road. Everyone was evacuated from their homes and came to our house."
"An army camp of the Kent's regiment was on Fellside Road and Larkspur."
"My father and others used to bring them (soldiers) home for supper and we even had their wives come to stay."
"I used to deliver the newspaper (to the army camp) every day and used to look forward to my huge mug of tea and a big jam sandwich."
"Holidays were spent at home. Bands played and we had dances. The army played football matches against Whickham in fancy dress."
June moved to the trading estate making filters for gas masks while other buildings were being adapted for producing shell cases. The pay was five pounds a week. The pay was increased when working on furnaces.
"Working on the furnaces was alright in winter."
Marley Hill Home Guard
"The Gibside Estate was used during the last war as a training ground for the Army and the Home Guard for grenade and Sten gun practise etc., the canteen being in the now derelict hall."
"My daughter was getting christened in church, another lady was a godfather short. So one of the young soldiers who had just arrived from France stood as a godfather for her."
"At a time of very heavy bombing in London, Cockney evacuees arrived on Tyneside. A group of children, mothers and grandmothers were billeted in the disused church school building in Dunston. My grandmother was in the WRVS. I went with her when she went to see how they were coping. I remember being fascinated by their Cockney accents."
"We did not go to school full time from 1940."
"There wasn't a lot of room so the Catholic school children and the Board school children would go in the morning one week and the Hill school children would go in the afternoon. The next week it was reversed."
"I was playing in the street with my sisters and some friends because of course there was no traffic. Suddenly and simultaneously we heard a plane and a machine-gun firing and realised in fact they were above our heads and the bullets were bouncing along the street and our mother was shrieking at us to get in the house.
Our main interest was in looking round to see if we could pick up some shrapnel."
"Someone came knocking round the doors saying that the Dunston Board school was going to be opened and soldiers from Dunkirk would be billeted there and could people manage to offer a bath and a hot meal to one or two soldiers."
On Whickham war memorial are inscribed the names of those who lost their lives in two world wars. R.A.F. Sergeant John Guthrie was shot down in a Lancaster bomber as h e flew over the village of Erskdork, Germany. He was only 23 when he was shot down. His sister still remembers the day when it happened. "My mother was informed of what happened by the war office and from what I know the rest of the crew were also in their twenties. Every time that I walk past the war memorial in Whickham I look at it as his name is on there, I think it's only natural." [Source Gateshead Post, 14 June 2000]
Killed on the Last Day
Nick Timbey was a non-commissioned officer with the Scots Fusiliers survived Dunkirk only to be killed on the Dutch/German border on the last day of the war. The whole village was devastated by the news.
Horrific Find at Dunston
Shortly after hostilities finished in World War 2, an armed merchant ship in the service of the Royal Navy was bought by ship breakers Clayton and Davie, during dismantling workmen discovered human bones behind emergency concrete repairs.
The ship, which had been in action, had had many casualties, and the emergency repairs which were necessary, concealed the presence of some dead sailors, who sailed in this floating hearse until found by the men at Dunston.
There had to be an inquest, then the bodies of the unidentified were buried in Garden House Cemetery, Swalwell.
Tom Goulbourn tells us that he was on board when the bodies were found and that his father Thomas Thompson Goulbourn was Foreman of the Jury at the Inquest.
Killed in Action WW2
A Son Killed in Each War
Ann Keen nee Scott Remembers
I know a great deal about Mr & Mrs Robert Scott's sons, even although one was killed twenty years before I was born and the other was killed when I was three years old. You see one was my Uncle Fred and the other was my Dad, Robert "Bob" Scott. My Granny, Margaret Humble Scott nee Elfert, kept their memories alive for me. In the days of large families my grandparents had only two sons.
Killed in Action WW1
Frederick Ernest who was born in 1894 was a great scouter. He was a member of the 19th Dunston Christ Church Boy Scouts and had the distinction of winning the Silver Wolf. This is the highest award a Scout can win and he was the first boy in the North of England to obtain this much-coveted honour. It was not until 1979 that anyone else in the Gateshead area was awarded this honour.
He served in the 1st (Northumberland) Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, in the First World War. He died on Thursday 24th October 1918 aged 24 and was buried with honour at Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France. [View Memorial on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.]
Killed in Action WW2
Robert Norman was born in 1903 and served in the Merchant Navy, rising to the rank of Chief Engineer. He died on Wednesday 13th November 1940 aged 37 and was buried with honour at Swalwell (Garden House) Cemetery, Co Durham. [View Memorial on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.]
I last saw my Father at Greenock, where his ship was in dry dock being fitted out against the magnetic mines laid by the Germans. His ship sailed for Falmouth where it was blown up by a different type of mine, which a German submarine had laid during the night.
My Granny hated the Germans. They killed both of her sons. The ironic part of this is that her Father, Christian Ernst Frederic Elfert, was a German who at the age of sixteen had run away to sea and ended up marrying Mary Francis Humble of North Shields.
Remembrance Sunday, Swalwell
Remembrance Day (nearest Sunday to November 11) "The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month"
The Swalwell War Memorial
is opened by the Earl
of Durham on Easter Monday 1919
Until the early 60s, Remembrance Day in Swalwell was an event to be waited for. Members of The Royal British Legion, local military and TA units plus elements from the local army cadet forces and war veterans would all parade through Swalwell. The parade would start at the RBL building at the bottom of Ruskin Road and would march along Clavering Road, down Masefield Avenue, along Crowley Road swing into the bottom of Napier Road and then turn left on Market Lane to Swalwell War Memorial which was then next to Keelman's Bridge on the Waterside.
It was a grand sight.
Led by a military band the RBL would be flying all their banners and flags, the military units would be in their different uniforms and the veterans would be bedecked in medals. All would be carrying poppy wreaths to lay at the memorial - it was an inspiring sight and despite the solemness of the occasion it did have a kind of festive air if you were just a kid.
It made you feel proud to be British. Sadly this day is no longer what it used to be.
Remembrance Sunday, Dunston
On Remembrance Sunday people would gather on Barry Street to begin the walk up Wellington Road and Dunston Road to the War Memorial. The Scouts, British Legion, and the St John's Ambulance Brigade used to march to the drum beat. On one occasion in the thirties there were seven drummers with just a glimpse of wreaths and banners behind the five buglers in the front row: In the late fifties Pipe Bands lead the way to the War Memorial with the British Legion Banners right behind them.
In 1936 the then vicar of St Nicholas asked if any motor car owners would collect men from the 'Pensions Hospital' Dunston Hill Hospital, to bring them to church on the 8th of November, this was to allow the old solders to Commemorate the death of their fellow servicemen who had been killed in the First World War.