The Wartime Memories Project - North East England - Part 2

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World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII

As some of you may remember, in 1939 the British government made an effort to evacuate as many children as possible from industrial areas which they felt would be targets for German bombers.

I was one of those "evacuees" as we were known to the locals. My sister, Maureen and I were loaded on a train at Gateshead station complete with a rucksack containing a few bits of clothing, something to eat on the journey, and the proverbial Gas-mask in a little cardboard box, destination Askrigg, Yorkshire

Upon arrival at Askrigg we were taken to the village hall where the people we were to be billeted with collected us and took us away. Our stay in Askrigg was probably a year and I have vivid memories of the School, the village,a waterfall that was close by, the cross in the village square,and some of the people there.

I never went back to Askrigg nor had the urge to until one day while in England on holiday from California with my 18 year old American born daughter I decided to take her there and show her the place that played a part in my growing up days. It was 1989, 50 years since I had been shuttled to Yorkshire in the big evacuation of the war.

When we arrived in Askrigg it looked exactly as I remembered it. There was a little shop in the village square that I remembered being there and I went in with my daughter to ask for information and directions to where I had been lodged.

The lady behind the counter waited until I had finished asking and then said, " I know who you are, you and your sister were in my class at the village school". She told me my name, my sister's name and then told me to wait a minute and disappeared into the back of the shop.

When she came back she had a photograph taken at the school and she pointed out my sister, herself, and me, and all the other local kids and evacuees. She gave me the photo on condition I took a copy and send her the original back, which I did.

Askrigg School 1940

Askrigg School 1940, Evacuees from Gateshead: Noel Kelly (2nd Row 6 from left) Maureen Kelly (3rd Row, 2 from right) Pat Cree (2nd Row 2nd from left) Topsy Cree (3rd Row 4 from right). (If you know the names of anyone else please contact us)

To be recognised like that after 50 years was amazing, my daughter was flabbergasted and talks about it to this day. She contends I must have been a bit of a bugger to be remembered like that but I contend it was because I was a Geordie lad who was a bit of a novelty to the local yokels and all the village girls were daft over me, after-all, I was eight years old and growing.

All joking aside, it's not often that one can make a nostalgic journey as I did that day and realise that you can go back to the past.

As I related earlier my sister and I were evacuated to Askrigg,Yorkshire in 1939.

Our first billet was with a lady who already had two evacuees from Liverpool who were somehow related to her. Unfortunately she took ill and a new billet had to be found for us and one could not be found that was prepared to take the two of us so my sister and I were split up.

My sister was sent to live with a cheesemaker and I was put in a place that took in boarders and it didn't prove to be a suitable place for children so I was moved once more to live with a large family who were very good to me during my stay with them.

My sister and I saw each other every day at school and everything seemed to be going smoothly until once again we were on the move. In their efforts to keep families together as much as possible the authorities had found a place where my sister and I could be together again.

The move this time was to take us out of Askrigg and put us on a farm in the nearby village of Bainbridge and this was to become a terrible experience for both of us. It started out just fine, as in Askrigg the school in Bainbridge had a lot of evacuees from our school (Chester Place) in Gateshead so we did not feel like newcomers and felt right at home.

Our troubles began with the farmer, apart from our time at school we were not given too much free time on the farm, the farmer gave us chores to do and if we didn't do them fast enough or to his satisfaction he would take his belt to us. My sister did not escape his punishment but as a boy I bore the brunt of it. The farmers wife was not happy with his treatment of us but there was precious little she could do about it.

Somehow the word must have got around about how we were being treated as after a while two of my mother's sisters from Gateshead showed up at the farm as mad as hell and bundled us out of there. The language that these two Geordie lasses used in a tirade at the farmer wasn't fit for my young ears bi gum!!

Next stop Gateshead??, No-no-no, Great Houghton, further south in Yorkshire, one of my mother's sisters had committed a cardinal sin, she married out of her tribe, got hitched to a pitman from Darfield who was working and living in Great Houghton. She was never forgiven for that until she persuaded the pitman to move to the land of the Prince Bishops, Co.Durham.

My sister and I had a good time in Great Houghton until we returned to the Tyneside in 1942 and only then were we told that our mother had died in December 1940.

We made some good friends in Gt.Houghton but we never went back,well my sister didn't but I did, but not until 1997, 55 years later to meet up with one of the friends I had made there and had no contact with since the day I left in 1942.

As I related before, my sister and I were evacuated to three places in Yorkshire during the war, first there was Askgrigg, then Bainbridge, and finally Great Houghton and this final episode relates to Gt.Houghton and events that followed many, many years later. As I said in my earlier story, my sister and I were removed from a farm in Bainbridge because the farmer was beating us and our next billet was to be with an aunt who had married a pitman from Darfield and was living in Great Houghton, a far cry from her native Gateshead.

Our stay in Gt.Houghton was as I remember it, quite pleasant, and I seem to recall that we were the only evacuees in the village which appeared to be in our favour. It seemed that the women in the neighbourhood were determined to make us feel at home and not feel as though we were not welcome. The children, well they were a little different, with them I think it was status, I think they saw us as people they needed and wanted to be friends with before others beat them to it, and we were never short of someone to play with.

Unlike Askrigg & Bainbridge where I can only remember the names of the people I was lodged with, there are many names of the children I went to school with and made friends with in Gt. Houghton that are etched in my memory even today. However, there was one particular tyke that this story really revolves around.

Terry Mynett, how could I forget him, or actually how could he forget me, I'm the Geordie lad that broke his bloody leg!! Playing in the backyard of the local pub I decided to climb one of the drain-pipes to get on top of a high wall and in doing so, the pipe became detached from the wall and as it fell struck Terry on the leg and broke it. As for me, well I was always an agile little bugger and even though I was taken by surprise and falling backwards I managed to land on my feet without a scratch. Terry survived the incident shown by the fact that when he did his National Service it was in one of the " Guards" regiments.

In 1942 my sister and I were returned to Gateshead, why I don't know but what I do know is that I would never see or hear of Terry Mynett again until 1 9 9 7, 55 years later, WHY, I just don't know.

The year was 1996, right here in California and my wife was going through a shoe-box full of old photographs when she suddenly held up a picture and said, who is this? I looked at it and immediately said that's Terry Mynett and naturally had to explain who this nine year old boy she was looking at was.

Seeing the photo aroused feelings in me I had never felt before and I said to my wife I've got to find him if he's still alive.

His address of old was on the back of the photo but the chances of anyone still been there were slim to none but it was a starting point. I wrote to the address explaining who I was and who I was looking for, and help.

A Mrs Jackie Martin was living there and bless her, she decided she was going to help so she checked the area Directory and found one T.Mynett who she called to see if it was him. With the information I had put in my letter it was easy for her to determine he was the one I was looking for.

Terry was living in Thurnscoe and Jackie drove over there and gave him my letter and then drove home and wrote to me giving me his address. In her letter she mentioned that when she visited Terry he was asked by his wife who I was and he explained it to her and even mentioned the broken leg incident!

Terry and I started corresponding and the following year,1997 I took my wife to see Terry and his wife,and then we did a tour of the places I knew as a boy in Gt.Houghton. Nothing seemed to have changed very much, only Terry and I seemed to have got older. Stopped in to have a cuppa with my new friend Jackie Martin and we still keep in touch. Sadly Terry Mynett died last year, maybe he thought if he hung around I might break his leg again.

I'm ever so glad my wife found the photo, wont forget Jackie for her help, words can't explain how I feel about my journey back to Great Houghton, but more than that, Terry Mynett that Yorkshire tyke entered the life of this Geordie lad so many years ago and has never left, never will, not even now.

Little after-thought, when reminiscing with Terry in 1997 he said that his mother had died a few years before and up until she died she had over the years sometimes said to him " I wonder whatever happened to that little Gateshead lad and his sister "

Maureen & Noel Kelly ( Note Noel`s belt made of Army Cap Badges which he collected from soldiers who were on leave)

Noel Kelly

I was 14 when war was declared, Patrol leader in the St Luke's troop. We were asked to go after school to put up black out shutters in the wards of Sheffield Infirmary, sleeping over night in an empty ward ready to take the shutters down in the morning before biking back to school at Wisewood.

Watched the Sheffield blitz from the flat roof of the Hospital helping A.R.P.put incendiaries out by filling buckets with sand, no tin lid, shrapnel flying everywhere. Didn't realise the danger. Getting back to school the days following what a mess, trams in bits or their sides bodies every where, had to push the bike home.

Early '43 put a year on my age (I was 16) as they were taking 17 year olds for potential air crew. My brother Jack was flying Spitfires in 1940. Being under age dad wouldn't sign the form so I did. Given a years deferment I was surprised when I was called up a couple of weeks later (they had made a mistake).

Sent to a P.A.C.T Preliminary Air Crew Training Centre at Ealing Tech Collage for 6 months. The aptitude tests I had shown I would get dizzy so N.B.G. as a pilot and classified U.T.A.G.

D.Day at an I.T.W. in Hornchurch all the planes and R.A.F. Regiment vehicles acquired white strips over night, watching the buzz bombs fly over and seeing some of our fighter pilots tipping their wings to send them off course.

Decided the war was passing me by so transferred to become a Dispatch Rider, only to be stationed far away from the battle zone at Berwick on Tweed.Taking despatches all over in all weathers (Oh for E. Mail ?) Attached to an M.S.U.T, (Mobile Servicing Unit Torpedoes) with a Mosquito Squadron escorting this unit down country to Barnstaple in Devon, sampling as many ales as I could. V.E. day came, and demobbed.

What did you do during the war dad ?? Nothing.
Ken Bowskill

My Dad was recalled just before the war started. I remember the Sunday morning September 3, 1939 when war on Germany was declared. I was about 14 years old. My Mom cried all day. We 3 older kids cried too whenever we saw Mom crying. My younger sister was about 8 years old and she cried at the drop of a hat anyway. After a few days it was old hat to us and we had kind of stopped the crying jags, but Mom never did.

I remember one night when the German planes followed our planes in and started to bomb and strafe the area. I had to help Mom carry my younger brother and sister downstairs into a cupboard under the stairs.

I remember when they rationed food. We felt sure we would starve to death. We were issued ration books, ID cards and gas masks. We had to take them with us whenever we left the house.

The total blackout was scary. It was strictly adhered to.

I remember listening to Lord Haw Haw every night on the radio and quite often after listening to him we'd be afraid to go to sleep. And to think that traitor was from Darlington.

I remember sitting in the air raid shelter in the yard listening to my Grandma sing Salvation Army Songs and also listening for the German planes and hearing the ACK ACK guns.

I was still kid enough to think it was a huge joke. Our parents were the ones who suffered especially if the husband and father was in the service. The mother had a double dose of trouble. She was solely responsible for the care and safety of her children and also for making the dismal rations stretch enough so we didn't go hungry.

I can remember walking around bombed out buildings after the air raids and seeing the families of the area crying silently for their loved ones who ere hurt or killed.

We didn't have anything like they did in London but it was bad enough.

By having to help my Mom I think it helped me face the rough life I have had over here raising my 2 children alone.

Mary Constance (Connie) Smith nee Elsworth

During an early morning air raid, on going outside to watch the enemy planes, with a cigarette in hand, it became apparent how vital the black out was. The pilot spotted the light and dropped a high explosive bomb, which landed about 300 yards from my farm house. I was lucky in that it did not explode and had to be taken care of by the bomb disposal squad.
Nearly farms were not so lucky, one farm house was badly damaged when a bomb landed on the back door step. Another was lucky as a bomb fell into the muck midden and exploded. The manure took the force of the blast but the buildings were splattered with manure.
There were many bombs dropped in the area, ten miles or so north of the Industrial region of Teesside. It was said at the time that the Tees Valley was so heavily defended with Anti-Aircraft guns and barrage balloons, that some Germans were reluctant to complete their mission and dropped the bombs over the open farm land to the north. It may also have been due to the decoy systems in place to fool the enemy into thinking that they were over Teesside when in fact the were over open farm land. Billingham bottoms had an elaborate system of fires to simulate industry which was designed to lead the bombers away from the chemical works. There was also a dummy airfield on a farm near Wolviston.

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