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Memories of Life by Rene Phillips

As I was the oldest girl at home after my sister married, I left school at 15 and had to stay at home to help our mother.


I was born 16 November 1925. My name was Rene Phillips. My address was 12 East George Street, North Shields (East End of Shields). There were 11 children, 5 girls and 6 boys. I lived there until I married at 21 years of age and I moved to Belford Terrace, North Shields. The move was easy as it was furnished.

Our Father was a River Tyne Pilot. Mother was a tailoress before she was married, but did not work after that. Father was never out of work, because on the river in those days shipping was at its best, a very busy port.

I suppose our Mother was the one that looked after all of us and ran the household although the way of Father’s work meant that he was sometimes at home.

We all lived in a three-bedroomed house, there was a best room, living room and scullery. We had electric lights and lots of hot water. That was because there was a boiler at the back of the fire. There was still the bath under the bench in the scullery.

In the living room, there was a padded form at the back wall of the room, in front was a large table with chairs at sides and front. Under the window that looked into the back yard was mother’s sewing machine. At one side of the fireplace was a cupboard which kept all kinds of crockery and other things. On the other side of the fire was a bookcase which held lots of books. There was a full set of the History of the Great War, a set of books on animals and all wildlife – a set of Encyclopedia. On the bottom of that was another small cupboard which kept shoes and slippers. We all had chores to do. I looked after the younger children. Ironing on a Tuesday, I also helped with the cleaning. Boys did some shopping if mother was busy and also had to see that the coal was brought indoors.

Our parents were easy to talk to. They gave us respect and love and, I suppose, we gave them the respect they deserved. If any of us had some sort of problem and we asked them for help they listened and gave us what they thought but always told us to do what we thought was right on our own.

If we did something wrong we could be grounded, or if we came in late when we had been told the time we had to be home, our pocket money was stopped. I honestly say none of us were smacked, being told how disappointed they were, hurt more than anything else.

I can remember my Grandparents. They lived away at Allendale. I had lots of holidays there and, during mother’s illness, often had to take the younger children also. I loved it there.

Birthdays – there was always a special tea but, as you can imagine it, we would be a party on our own, although we could take a friend. We all got a present on our birthday.

My baby brother was killed on the railway at the age of three years old. The railway ran at the back of our house, and at the top of the street there was an opening which he got through with another two boys aged four years old. We did not go to the funeral as children did not go in those days.

My sister Ruth, who was the firstborn was the oldest sister. She was married at Christ Church. She married Nelson Gray; his father had the Rose Inn outside Smith’s Dock. The reception was in the big games room there.

Every Saturday I would go shopping with my mother. It was smashing. Sometimes we would go to South Shields to get material remnants and could she make some lovely dresses.

I was in the Girl Guides. I did not get pocket money until I left school but was allowed to go to the pictures once a week and I got the money off my father.

Meals were taken in the living room. Mother did most of the cooking, I suppose, in the oven in the living room and on the range in the scullery. Yes, different food most days. Yes bread day was twice a week; also jam. Yes we had meat or fish. When we were all young, our main meal was about 5 o’clock and we all sat down together. If you did not eat your meal you had to sit until everyone was finished.

As I was the oldest girl at home after my sister married, I left school at 15 and had to stay at home to help our mother. Then I did get pocket money. I did not need much to spend as mother made most of my clothes and, later on, when the war was on I had an Uncle George who was a captain in the navy; he sent me nylons from America.

1939 – I remember the day the sirens went off, I was out for a walk with my father so we hurried home to be beside our mother. I was fourteen when the war started. I was evacuated to Morpeth with my younger sisters and a younger brother. I was there until I was 15 years old.

All the street names and sign posts were taken down. Leaflets were put through everyone’s letter boxes, all about home defence, and blackout restrictions came into force. Windows were taped. Our Father was put in charge of the stirrup pump for fire fighting.

In May there were saving drives for anyone to hand in any utensils made of aluminium to help make into aircraft. Also, all railings and garden gates were taken down for metal salvage. Air Raid Shelters were delivered to homes. They were erected in people’s gardens. They were made of corrugated steel. There was soil placed on top, also sandbags.

Later on, Anthony Eden started the Home Guards. I know we laugh about it now but I suppose, at the time, it was taken seriously. There was nothing for them to drill with. They used walking sticks, golf clubs, broom handles. Some were lucky and had a gun. They kept a lookout along the coast, railways and at any public buildings.

One Sunday, the A.R.P. man came and said we had to leave home as an unexploded bomb was on the railway that ran at the back of us. Mother had just time to grab her handbag and the bag with all important papers and such. Our Father, who had been out to work, came home and found us gone. He had no idea what had happened. There was no one there to tell him.

Another night, the railway was on fire and most people were out fighting the fires – another night without sleep.

The night Wilkinson’s lemonade factory was hit, I had been away to my Grandma’s. The impact of that night did not hit me until I came home and they told me an aunt and cousin had been killed in the factory. Another sad moment in my life or I should say all our lives, was when a telegram came to say that my eldest brother had been lost at sea.

Then my sister was bombed out of her house in Balkwell Avenue.

But life had to go on. What an exciting day in May when Churchill broadcast to the nation that peace had come at last. All the ships sounded their sirens. Neighbours came out and hugged each other. That night the lights came on.

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