I was born in Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1930. It was a working class area
and regarded as a slum. The famous Scotswood Road ran the whole length of
Elswick. We were a mixed community comprising families of Indian, Irish, Jews,
Gypsies, Italians and, of course, true British. Unemployment was very high but we all
lived quite happily together because there were no rich families, only poor. Power
supply was gas only, no electricity. We couldn't store food so each household used
the corner grocery shops to buy food for each meal. Education was classed as
elementary. Only 1 boy in our school passed the 11 plus, known as a scholarship in
those days. He could not attend grammar school because his parents had no money
to spare to buy a uniform.
Not much change took place until the 3rd September 1939 when war with Germany
was declared and we were all issued with gas masks. The next big event was the
evacuation of school children to country places to be safe from air raids by German
aircraft. Our school was sent to Aspatria in Cumberland. When we arrived we were
lined up like slaves and each local family took their pick. We were immediately
homesick and nearly everyday there were pupils missing from school who had
decided to run away back to Newcastle, approximately 90 miles. I tried it once myself
but I couldn't work out which train went to Newcastle so, like everyone else, I failed.
The change from city life was quite difficult to adjust to. The locals did teach us to
hunt, to catch fish without use of rods, also wild rabbits with snares and we picked
wild fruits such as plums, apples, pears, brambles and gooseberries. Hazelnuts were
picked in October to ripen for Christmas.
After 2 years in Aspatria I did manage to persuade my mother to take me back home
to Newcastle permanently. Call me mad but the sound of anti-aircraft guns and
bombs falling was much more acceptable than the total quiet countryside life. Three
years after the war, at 18 years of age, I was called up for national service in the
Royal Airforce. I was posted to 14MU, Carlisle, 20 miles from Aspatria. I made a
return visit to Aspatria and was greeted like a long lost hero by the locals. Little did
they realise how unhappy I was during the wartime evacuation and it has since put
me off ever living in the countryside.