Martin’s Memories – A Wartime Childhood

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The Martin’s Memories series has been reproduced with the very kind permission of Tony Martin from his posts on the Old Blaydon and Old Winlaton Facebook group.

OLD Blaydon and OLD Winlaton | MARTIN’S MEMORIES 3 | Facebook

I was born on 22nd April 1942 at the Richard Murray Memorial Hospital at Blackhill. It was felt that it was safer than Newcastle which is debatable because the hospital was illuminated by Consett Ironworks which could be considered a sitting target for the Luftwaffe. Fortunately I was not born two days earlier – the birthday of Adolf Hitler – that would have gone down like a lead balloon in 1942.

My earliest memories are sounds – the sounds of air raid sirens – and they continued to be used after the war as a buzzer to mark the start and finishing times for the local factories. The sound of miners coming off the shift at Blaydon Burn and making their way home along Widdrington Road and through the Dene Cut to the council estate beyond and the sound of horses and carts going about their normal business.

The avenues had been damaged by bombing before I arrived on the scene and I cannot remember using the air raid shelter apart from spending time in it as a type of play house. It was indeed a sad day when the council removed it. But at birth, I was issued with a Mickey Mouse gas mask, which, thankfully, was never needed. I had a National Identity card, a ration book and the days appeared to be longer, despite the black-out. I was put to bed and it was still light and I woke up to daylight. I later learned that this mystery was due to the fact that we had “summer time” all year round and in the summer, we put our clocks forward yet another hour.

Almost everything I had to play with as achild was home made. The exception was my teddy bear, whom I later named Rupert after the series which appeared daily in the Daily Express. This was a present from my paternal grandmother at Christmas 1942. My mother told me that, at first, I was scared of it because it was about twice my size !! Uncle Stephen made me a horse to help me to walk and later made me a barrow so I could be put to some use in the garden…the days of child labour. Both are shown in the photographs at the end of this piece. The clothes I am wearing with the barrow were made by Aunt Nell, who had trained as a dressmaker.

The house in Park Avenue had a bay window – the watchtower as my Dad called it because Mam spent a lot of time there keeping an eye not only on the street, but also who was going through the Dene Cut. For me, it was a place where I could see across to the western outskirts of Newcastle and also keep an eye on the barrage balloon at the southern end of Scotswood Bridge.

The air raid shelter built against the wall of Rydal Dene.
A studio photo taken in October 1942.
In the garden of 3 Park Avenue 1945.
A colour photo at Jeromes in Newcastle in April 1945.
Me and my horse in the garden of 8 Park Avenue 1943. Note that the garage at Rydal Mount has a damaged roof. The houses had also been damaged but it was only dwelling houses and productive capacity that could be repaired until after 1945.
A better picture of the horse. With my Mam.