Coming home from school, I turned into our street to see a huge silver barage balloon wedged sideways in the street
I can remember roller-skating from school (at St. Columba’s) along the top of the High Street when the siren went. Our street was Charlotte Street, facing the Town Hall, so we had to go into the nearest shelter as quickly as possible. I managed to dive into the one we called Boroughfield – just past the Borough Picture House, it’s a car park now! There were no bombs dropping but I could hear the Pom-Pom guns going – that was normal life in those days.
Another time we had been in the shelter all night and us kids couldn’t wait for the siren to go for the ‘all clear’ so that we could get out on a hunt for shrapnel (which was sometimes still hot). As we sat there, Mrs Drinkwater from next door to us used to get very dramatic. She was a large woman with a heart of gold, but she revelled in doom and gloom. This particular night we could hear the bombs dropping and then we heard the whistle of one falling – Mrs Drinkwater kept saying “This one’s ours, this one’s ours!” She was convinced it was the end of all of us. When it landed it shook the shelter. As soon as the ‘all-clear’ went, we all ran out to see the damage. Lots of windows had been blown out in our street but miraculously it was still intact, as was Richardson Street and Northumberland Street – but further down it had landed in one of the Groves. A German bomb intended for the shipyards had gone astray and it was a strange sight! All the houses were intact except the last one, it was as if someone had sliced off the gable end with a knife leaving just a pile of rubble and bricks going to a point – on top of the pile was a complete bath balancing back and forth like a see-saw. Unfortunately, a family of four were killed.
On another occasion in the shelter, we kids were trying to get off to sleep on the hessian bunks when loud footsteps could be heard approaching the shelter. Mrs Drinkwater started to whisper (quite loudly) that it was most likely a German pilot who had parachuted down in our street. We all held our breath as the footsteps stopped outside our shelter. The door opened and the piece of hessian was pushed aside to reveal an English soldier home on leave, who had lost his way in the blackout. Our hearts stopped thumping as we realised that he was not the jack-booted, machine gun carrying Hun that we had imagined.
One day coming home from school, I turned into our street to see a huge silver barrage balloon wedged sideways in the street, complete with cables. It was huge – about twenty or thirty feet long by ten feet high. It brought about six chimneys down with it.
The local ‘bobby’ stepped forward. He was a mate of my grandad – big with a large red face and purple nose. He seemed to be ‘tiddly’ half the time and was rather pompous. He was shouting “Get back, get back. Poisonous gas!” It makes me laugh even now at the memory and of course there’s no way the gas would be poisonous! What an exciting day that was, it took ages for them to clear it away.
Yet another memory is of a ‘dog-fight’ between a spitfire and a German plane over our street. The German plane was shot down and it was later exhibited on Wallsend Green.
During this time we also had to live with rationing, even our sweets were rationed to a small amount each week. Sometimes we were given extra ‘coupons’ by a Gran or Auntie. That meant that any lad who still had pocket money left would want to be your best mate. This money and your coupons meant shared sweets. I can remember once stopping outside the High Street opposite Northumberland Street to ask my Mam what the machine on the wall was for. She explained that before rationing there were chocolate bars in there and one just had to put in money then pull the drawer out. I could only wonder whether anybody would steal them!
On Mondays we always had a special treat. My Mam would send me to Mrs Murray’s corner shop on Richardson Street to get our allowance of butter. She would tell me I could have the butter thick on my bread that day. Afterwards we would go to the pictures, that could have been the Ritz, the Tyne or the Queens. The Royal (or Ranch as we called it) only showed cowboy films.
I also remember going to the library to listen to someone reading to us from various books like ‘The Water Babies’ and Rudyard Kipling’s stories – I still love the tale of ‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’.