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Preparing for War

Weeds were cleared off the quays and slipways, tools were unpacked and sharpened.

In the late thirties, rearmament started, Hitler was starting to threaten Europe. Those mines that were salvageable, reopened, the steelworks got orders, shipyards that hadn’t been dismantled, opened up again. Weeds were cleared off the quays and slipways, tools were unpacked and sharpened. My father got work at Vicker’s Naval Yard then, was made an Assistant Foreman. The money seemed to roll in. My mother could afford meringues and strawberry tarts for my brother and me; she bought a collection of plants for the back garden at Smurthwaite’s Nursery along Preston Road. I loved helping to carry the plants home and Smurthwaite’s had a very large brick pond full of large goldfish. Yes, some really were yellow-gold in colour. Great!

I liked munching their tomatoes, still warm from the sun, and their strawberries. These brought me out in “heat spots” but it was almost worth it. Smurthwaite’s wall was built of large steelworks cinders, each blue-black like a 2 cubic foot solid sponge. The headmaster’s garden at Tynemouth School (now the Kings School) had a similar wall.

The summer of 1939 was long and sunny and warm. My mother, brother and I were down on the beach with sardine and Nestles milk sandwiches (not mixed!) nearly every day, it was great. We made castles and canals in the wet sand, hunted for little green crabs and found quite a few and took them home in a bucket of seawater. They usually escaped and ran off across our lawn. I still vividly remember eating banana sandwiches on Tynemouth Pier on a hot sunny day that summer and watching the Virginia Reel in the Spanish City (it was a water slide with people in rotating tubs sliding down into a pond at the bottom) and Venetian Café ice cream, yum, yum.

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