Wartime Childhood of an Exiled Geordie Who Became a Boro Supporter

Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England), April 4, 2009 | Go to article overview

Wartime Childhood of an Exiled Geordie Who Became a Boro Supporter


Byline: Jack Martin

A RECENT request for stories involving motorcycle sport prompted Jack Martin to write about his experiences on Teesside and occasions when his motorcycle activities also involved a famous football star.

Jack, now aged 81 and living at Blaydon, on his native Tyneside, writes: Around 1937 my family moved from Tyneside to Emerald Street, South Bank, when I was 10 years old. It was quite a culture shock for me.

The change in accent and dialect were totally different from what I was used to, even though the Tyne and Tees are less than 40 miles apart. The massive steel works surrounding the town.

Bullets became candies, people didn't fall to the ground, it was the floor, and many other idiosyncrasies. There was also nowhere to sledge in winter! Some of the things I got up to with other local kids became one adventure after another.

On school holidays we used to walk to the "Slems" and pick cockles. On another occasion these friends decided to take me to pick bilberries. I had never heard of anyone picking bilberries before, on Tyneside its blackberries, which still abound in the hedgerows and, until recently, I collected when taking the dogs out for their daily exercise.

Equipped with a Hindhaughs flour bag each (these were made of fine cotton and held, I suppose, about 2lbs of flour), off we set and walked to Eston and then climbed to the top of the hills where I was introduced to bilberry picking.

It was a warm sunny day and when we decided to make our way home we had half a bagful each. By the time we reached Normanby the bags were beginning to drip. One of the lads swiped one of the others across the face with his dripping bag. You can imagine what happened then, a fun fight developed among us, sloshing each other with dripping bags until all that the bags contained was a handful of useless bilberry skins.

Arriving home, my mother went berserk; I was purple from head to toe and she added to the colour of my backside. Out came the tin bath and the scrubbing brush. She never got me properly clean and my clothes bore traces of purple for weeks. My dad, however, was quite blas about the whole thing and I sometimes wonder if he had had a similar experience, because he spent some years of his childhood in South Bank.

When the war started we had moved out to Ormesby, which was just a little village then.

By coincidence the village took a lot of evacuees from Low Fell, Gateshead. We also had billeted in the village some Jewish children who had apparently fled from the Nazis. They were very well behaved and spoke excellent English.

They stayed only a short while then moved away, to wheref I know not..

Things were pretty chaotic in the early days of the war and we didn't get much schooling, which suited us kids fine but did nothing for our education.

When school eventually got started, if I remember rightly, it was only for three half days a week in the village hall, convenient because we lived in the Hall Close (No 14)..

As time went by my sister Gloria and I ended up being taught at South Eston Grange, the mansion house at the foot of the Eston Hills.

On Whit Monday, 1940 or 4l, when we had a day's holiday, a German bomber, without any warning, dropped three bombs aimed at the building. Of the three bombs, two straddled it and the other went plumb through the roof but did not explode. The first one had exploded and part of the bomb, I believe it was the flight, took out the whole window sill against which was a desk where Eric Grainger and I sat for lessons. The Whit holiday that year undoubtedly saved our lives.

I had another lucky escape later in the war when a similar bomber attack made a mess of Middlesbrough station.

The Newcastle train, standing at the platform was wrecked; the engine driver and his fireman, with several passengers, were killed. …

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