I stood proudly behind the windscreen heedless of the cold spray cascading round me...
I was very proud of my office boy status in Cleland’s (Successors) Ltd., of Willington Quay, Wallsend.
In 1938 the little shipyard which carried out shipbuilding and ship-repairing in a happy family sort of atmosphere did indeed employ whole families in the yard. In fact, I myself had been ‘spoken for’ by my brother, the Head Timekeeper, a practice that was actively encouraged by the owners who often canvassed amongst their employees when vacancies occurred. Of course, in my case it was a double-edged sword, not only did I have to answer to my brother (a martinet) for irregularities but also to my father at home (an even stricter martinet). However, on a happier note, I was called to the General Manager’s office that very morning and given a large sealed envelope and instructed to proceed with all possible speed to Jarrow Town Hall.
I was being entrusted to deliver the all-important tender for the Jarrow Ferry overhaul contract and, what was even more exciting, I was to be taken there in the firm’s personal motor launch – not right to the Town Hall of course, but to Jarrow Ferry landing.
This was heady stuff and I drew myself up to my full four feet six inches, as the Head Timekeeper impressed upon me the importance of reaching Jarrow Corporation, the ferry owners, before the fateful time limit, for tenders closed at 11 a.m. With my usual high sense of the dramatic, I stood proudly behind the windscreen of the powerful motor launch, heedless of the cold spray cascading around me, as we headed down-river on my perilous mission to the ferry landing.
Once there, I disembarked and respectful officials escorted me past the many curious onlookers waiting for the next Howdon ferry. It wasn’t quite so glamorous panting up Ferry Street and along Grange Road to deliver the tender to a Town Hall official who confirmed the success of my efforts. I partially raced back down to the ferry landing, in gleeful anticipation, to my personal river transport only to have the glamour stripped completely away. An offhand ferry official informed me that the Cleland’s Shipyard motor launch had been instructed to report immediately to Newcastle Quayside and I was to make my own way back to the office. How are the mighty fallen? as I stood amongst the waiting ferry passengers in the gently falling rain, they didn’t seem to appreciate that they had, in their company, an important, trusted courier who normally travelled in his own personal motor launch.
Clelands did eventually obtain the ferry contract and the A.B. Gowan was thoroughly overhauled in front of my eyes on No. 1 slipway. I frequently inspected her, perched up high on the slipway, and walked about her deck with an air of professional involvement but it was no use – my moment of glory on the world stage had gone and I never really received the proper appreciation due for my part in the affair.
As a postscript, I recall that many years later, in 1951 in fact, I was witnessing the opening of the new Tyne pedestrian tunnel. My friend was enthusing, like many others, at the wonder of it all when my eyes misted over and I remarked, “It’ll nivvor be the same as the ould Jarrow Ferry”.