A Life in Letters

Edward (Ted) Smith’s Story, told by his great niece Vanessa Skarpari

The following Consett Story is a wonderful retelling of a life from letters, written by Edward from New Zealand to his great niece Vanessa. This is Vanessa’s work, and we are proud to showcase it here on the History of Consett Steelworks website:

Following a visit to England in 1976 Uncle Ted regularly corresponded with me and my aunty, his niece, Marie until his death in 1981.   He wrote airmail letters in tiny neat handwriting and enjoyed reminiscing about the past.  He emigrated to New Zealand when he was around 21 years old (before the 1921 slump) after finishing his apprenticeship.

His parents, my great grandparents were Charles Smith (1864-1938) and Esther Smith (nee Carpenter 1866-1939).  Charles Smith worked as an Iron Moulder; he had previously worked at Blaydon and Darlington. They married in 1892 and moved to Consett in around 1894 and had five children there, Edward was their only son.  Their eldest daughter, Dora Smith, was my grandmother.  Their other three daughters were Lily, Ellen and Annie.  [Dora and Annie (Nan) shown below]

They lived first in Sherburn Terrace and later at 7 Berry Edge Road, where they stayed until their deaths.

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Edward Smith was born on 15 March 1898 at 56 Sherburn Terrace, Consett.  Known as Ted he wrote about how he came by this nickname, and how Eddie:

“My Mother came from Darlington and people from there and Bishop Auckland were given to misplace their H’s.  My family name was Eddie so that I became `hower Heddie` which as the years went by annoyed me more and more.”  (letter 1 undated)

became Ted:

“My father’s elder brother, Uncle Bob, had a family of 5 the same as us, only all about 3 years older, but arranged the same: 2 girls, then a boy and then 2 girls.  Their mother, Aunty Lily, was a bit ambitious and thought they were just that little bit better than us, or so my mother felt.  Their son they called Ted, so I used their supposed superiority to get my mother to call me Ted, and Ted it has been ever since.  I don’t think she ever suspected my underhand trick and father did not care.”  … (letter 1 undated)

He wrote how his mother was a good baker of bread:

“My mother and my wife were both good, shall I say plain cooks.  My mother was a good bread baker, when almost everybody baked their own bread.  There was not a full time baker in Consett when people called bought bread, concertina bread.  If they went on holiday they took their bread with them, as it was the main staff of life.  My wife did not look for blarney, but she has said I did not say how much I had enjoyed my dinner, and I would say there is the best compliment I can pay you, a clean plate.  I have lost my appetite now I am afraid, but I have never left a clean plate here. “ (letter 10 – 1980)

In his first letter to me after his visit he wrote about life for his family in Consett before the World War I:

“There are people alive today who refer to the good old days, before the first world war.  The trouble is they were bad for some and just passable for others.  Booms and slumps in trade I suppose led to more misery than anything taking the country as a whole.  To deal with the Smith family might give you a good general idea. 

Esther Carpenter

My father, born in North Shields, whose parents moved to Swalwell when he was about 14.  He served his time as a moulder at Blaydon.  He spent some time in the London area and then worked his way back up country to Darlington, where he met Esther Carpenter and eventually married her.  He worked at Darlington Forge, where they made big castings for shipbuilding.  They were either working overtime or not working at all.  Booms and slumps, as I mentioned before.  He heard that Consett was a steady working place and so it proved to be.  It would be about 1906 when the wage rate for tradesmen, fitters, turners, moulders, plumbers and carpenters was 36 shillings a week, for all the NE Coast, the Clyde and London area was 2 pounds, because of the extra cost of living. 

The NE Railway Company were pretty tough and later the London N E Railway.  Because the work was steady they got men to work for as low as eighteen shillings in a small signal box or a junior porter got no more.  Now I am dealing with something your Mum will know about.  Some employees got a railway house for a small rent. 

To go back to the Smiths and 36 shillings, it was just about enough for what was termed as a comfortable living, without being able to save anything.  The few times over the years that father was away from work for more than a week with lumbago, things were getting a bit thin before the next pay day. 

From being around 9 years of age I always had a job, small though they were.  Some people up the street kept 5 or 6 cows.   I took milk to mostly their relatives for sixpence a week.  Sundays, their own son took it.  Years later when discussing wages, 5% or & ½% rise I have said that is nothing, I have had 50% rise before today.  When I have told them it was from 6d to 9d a week I risked getting a book or boot thrown at my head.  I did tell them I would not be back on Monday for 6d.  They said all right, but by dinner time they sent down to give me 9d.  At the same time I took tea cakes out to people on a Saturday afternoon for 6d and a teacake for myself from Mrs Cummings who lived farther up Sherburn Terrace.  My parents did not ask me to do these things, I just thought they would help. 

During these years board and lodgings was 14/- a week and that would be two men in sometimes a small room.  During this period things in Ireland, especially the west, must have been fairly poor if not `bad`.   The blast furnaces were run by practically all Irishmen on a 3 shift system.  When a blast furnace smelting iron ore to pig iron is started it goes continuously day and night, weekends and all.  That means the men worked 56 hours a week and to change the shift they worked right through on a Sunday, once in 3 weeks, from 6 in the morning until 10 at night, what they called the long turn.  Their wages could not have been very high, because they would come from Ireland with anything from 4 to 10 kids and live in what we called the company rows, that is they were rows of 2 roomed hovels built back to back, dry closets and midden down the centre of the back street.  No such things as a bath room or laundry and all water had to be carried from outside.  They were supplied with free coal the same as we were at Berry Edge Road. 

I must not forget to mention that tradesmen worked a 9 ½ hour day and 4 ½ on a Saturday morning right to 1916.  That is starting time was 6am, breakfast 8 to 8.30 am, dinner from 12 to 1pm and work to 5pm.  These conditions prevailed during the years you mention and not many years before tradesmen worked on Saturday afternoon too. 

Yet if you were around Consett on the first week of August you might think everybody was clearing out for a week’s holiday.  Bank holiday week they saved up during the year.

If I can go back to lodgings again, people who took lodgers could have the same ones for a lengthy period but when they had a vacancy they just hung a card in the window, Lodgers.  One was supposed to put up Lodgers taken in and done for.  I never heard if anybody responded.  When we shifted to Berry Edge Road, mother did not like the area much, but it was a company house for 7 shillings a week and free coal and there always seemed to be plenty of that, so it was not to be sneezed at. 

I got a job as a lather boy in a barbers shop.  Nearly every man used to be shaved by a barber in those days.  I got one shilling for working form 12 midday to 12 midnight.  Shops were open until 11 pm on a Saturday night and some business men would rush in to have a smooth face for Sunday.  Later I was promoted to 2/6 a week for 2 hours on Tuesdays and Fridays and all day Saturday.  He was a member of the Independent Labour Party. …

When I started work again after being discharged [from Royal Naval Division c. 1916], I worked some terribly long hours on apprenticeship wages.  I have even had more than a fortnights’ hours in for a week, that is counting double time for Sunday and so forth. 

As near as I can remember the Liberals were in power during the 1906 to 1914.  We had the same man in for NW Durham during that period, Mr Atherley-Jones, a Liberal.  My father did not seemed to be included to join any leftist party, but he was alert to the wiles of the Liberal and Tory parties.  I remember him saying Jones is just angling his way in for a judgeship and it was not long before he was Judge Atherley-Jones.   …

One of Asquith’s sons was in the Naval Division, Anson Battalion.  He got a transfer to the Hood because he did not like the tomfoolery of the Anson officers at dinner and after.  They were largely friends of friends of Winston Churchill.  He lost a leg on Gallipoli. ..

Where we lived in Sherburn Terrace was a main road, so we got our quota of beggars.  If Mother had anything to spare she would give it to what she thought a deserving case.  To one she said “I can’t help you today my canny man”.  “I’m no canny man” he huffily responded.

Now I will come back to Consett at the time of the Coronation of George V.  Our schoolmaster, George J Hyden, was ultra patriotic.  We were taught patriotic songs like, `What can I do for England? That’s done so much for me, One of her faithful children, I can and I will be.`   We were not in our Sunday best, but there was not one boy who was not decently dressed to march past and salute the flag.  The whole thing leading to the idea that everything was all right and likely to remain so.  We had an Empire then of course and were the British Isles.  A cartoonist during the 14-18 war by name [Bruce] Bairnsfather put out a cartoon of two men in a shell hole, Old Bill and his mate, who was grumbling about their conditions.  Old Bill says `Well if yer knows of a better ’ole, go to it`.  Well during that period, also a good many years before that, thousands of people emigrated to find a better ‘ole. 

It is strange the different things that give the impression that things are good or bad.  During all my childhood I did not see one child go barefoot because their parents did not have the money to buy shoes of some sort.  … So far as I was concerned I considered myself fortunate to dodge the 1921 slump in Britain.  From the time I was out of my apprenticeship at 21 years of age, I gave my mother my full weeks wage for board until I emigrated.   Out of overtime I built up my stock of clothes, 2 new suits, underclothes and overalls.   The fare to NZ and £20 had to be in the Bank of NZ before one was allowed to leave.  I was only in NZ a few months when I got word that father had been put on short time.  I was able to send them some from NZ fortunately.  1926 was another bad period of the big strike.  1929 was the Wall St Crash.   While that was America it affected a good part of the world.  The 1932 to 1935 slump was the worst in NZ. I had a job through the period, but had to accept 10% reduction in salary on Government instruction for a time.  “     (letter 1 undated)

Work

He makes refers to the Consett Iron Works, including the Germans building coke ovens in Consett in 1910:

 “Talking about the Germans sinking a mine shaft, I can remember Germans building the first Cetto Patent coke ovens at Templetown about 1910.  They were accepted in the pubs as good beer drinkers.  It would be interesting to know how much TNT got away to Germany to be fired back at us.  German bands used to get around the country glad to accept pennies, but later some were thought to be spies. “ (Letter 12 – 2 July 1978)

The Consett shops and his milk deliveries:

“Old Mrs Cockburn … was Mrs Buchan’s mother.  Cockburn ran a cycle shop in Middle St, just along from the Wesleyan Chapel.  In the back street Mrs Cockburn ran a small store and lolly shop.  She was the last call I had to make with Stokoe’s milk, she being a sister of Mrs Stokoe.  “You told me a lie Eddy Smith” to which I replied I had not as I did not tell lies.  “Oh yes you did, it is no use telling me that stuff”.   At which I was beginning to get angry and then she said “where is your hiccup?”  It had gone, but it a very difficult thing to apologise when you have been more or less made a fool of. “ (Letter 13 – 31 July 1978)

And working in the barbers, plus wages and working hours:

“…I worked in one.    Nearly every man of those days was shaved by a barber for thee-ha’pence a time and the majority would have a week’s grown on.  3d a haircut, so you understand that I did not get much as a lather boy.  For a start I went from noon on a Saturday to midnight for one shift. Later I was promoted and got 2/6 for all day Saturday, 2 hours on Tuesday and 3 hours on Friday.  Of course, the rate for most tradesmen on the North East Coast for several years before the first world war was 36 shillings a week.  Clyde and London area £2, some of the southern counties as low as 30 shillings.  The railways paid the poorest, 18 shillings for a junior porter or small signal box.  The hours of work were shocking too, 53 hours for tradesmen.  9 ½ day 5 ½ on Saturday morning, starting at 6am, breakfast, which you carried to work, 8am to 8.30 am and dinner 12 to 1 pm to finish at 5pm.”  (Letter 9 – 22 January 1980)

Joining the Engineers Union in 1916 and the blacklisting which had occurred in the past:

“When I was ‘read in’ to the Engineers Union in 1916 by the President of the branch, it was done with great pathos as both he and the secretary remembered only too well when they were on the blacklist in the ‘Black Book’ for taking part in a union strike.  That meant they were not able to get a job anywhere on Tyneside and much farther afield.  The Black Book had been against the law for many years before I came on the scene.”  (Letter 12 – 21 December 1980)

School

He writes his recollections of his school days and lessons in handwriting and compositions:

 “We had a teacher called Tommy Shotton, who had a mania for children to all write the same hand.  We had to do 10 minutes copying his writing from strips of paper with slogans like “All that glitters is not gold” or “Honesty is the best policy” on them.  For several weeks he looked at my copy and called out “Backhand” and I got a smack on my hand from his cane, which he carried with him round the class of 60.  It eventually dawned on me what he was talking about, but I have never really what you might call a forehand, although it might prove a quick hand. …   (letter 1 undated)

“.. I will tell you a silly tale.  I suppose you have heard of George J Hyden, our schoolmaster.  Well he used to mark all the exam compositions himself, of the higher standards and we had to write on the history of Consett.  I imagined I had made a good job of it with my best writing (much better than now) on foolscap paper, all properly paragraphed and a subject I was interested in.  When I get my essay back, what should I see but one dirty big red line through the phrase a “lot of people”, the only red mark on the paper.  I can see it to this day.  As each new department was started up they would get a manager or foremen from some other iron works and they would bring men whom they knew could do the job, even from as far away as Port Talbot.  A “lot of people” came in groups of that sort.  Over the years whenever I thought a person had a high opinion of themselves and used it, and I had the time, I would write to them.   The last one was Sir Bernard Ferguson, when he was Governor General of NZ “.  (Letter 16 – 7 May  1981)

The celebrations for the Coronation of George V (1911) during his school days:

“The coronation of George 5th was the big event in my school days.  Our schoolmaster, George J Hyden was an ultra patriotic old bird and we had to learn songs like “What can we do for England, That’s done so much for us, One of her faithful children, I can and always be”.  Rule Britannia and so forth was the order of the day.  Ragtime was popular then and  a few of the teachers dressed up as clowns and made a paper and comb band and lightened things a little.”  (Letter 4 – 1977)

And the end of school exams before starting work at 14 years of age (around 1912):

“Whatever O levels are I wouldn’t know.  A round O just means nothing.  Most of our exam papers were marked excellent, very good, good, fair and poor.  Arithmetic, of course, went by the number or proportion of sums that were right.  The term mathematics was used only for geometrical or even what little astronomical problems we got.  The general standard of education was lower of course, the great majority starting work at 14 years of age, of which I was one.  I was in ex 7 as it was termed from August to my birthday in March, going over practically the same stuff as standard 7 with the same teacher.  Two boys out of a class of 60 passed the examination for two years tuition free at the Technical College.   I tried to get two hours off two nights a night-shift week to go to night class at the Tech but was turned down.  One can hardly believe it today, to discourage a boy trying to do his best.” (Letter 14 – 21 July 1981)

Leisure

He also wrote about his leisure time, including long walks from the age of 12 (around 1910):

“It gives me itchy feet when you mention Hexham and Monkwearmouth.  Father & I walked to Hexham when I was about 12 years of age.  I walked to Newcastle and back on Saturday after working from 6 in the morning until 12.  I had done Durham and back not long before at 14 years of age.  The Rechabites used to run a trip each year to Cullercoats, Whitley Bay, Roker or Monkwearmouth.”   (Letter 3 – 27 April 1975)

Swimming in the Derwent at Allensford:

“I am not much of a swimmer and one of the reasons is that I used to get a hiding for going down to the Derwent at Allensford.  I still remember Sid Skelton, a Sunday School teaching, informing on me and the belt waiting for me when I got home.  There might been be a swimming pool at Consett now and not before time to help washing some of the Consett dust away.”  (Letter 7 – Sept 1978)

And snow ball fights:

 “I did not mind the snow as a boy when we used to have snow ball fights with RC boys.  We would call after them, ‘Holy Mary Mother of God, Pray for me and Nanny Todd`.  That was good enough for a ding dong battle anytime.  Nanny Todd was an old tramp woman who came from a more or less respectable family in the Swalwell area.  When the police wanted a bit of mending done I think they used to gather her in and clean her up”.  (Letter 6 – 14 May 1978)

A memory of visiting Eddis Bridge farm (in the Muggleswick/Derwent Reservoir area):

 “Even when we visited Muggleswick Churchyard, Eddis Bridge did not occur to me.  When I saw it in print I had a very pleasant reminiscence.  Gordon Milburn, who lived at No 2 Berry Edge Road, had relatives on a farm at Eddis Bridge.  Well, one Good Friday the three of us (Sid Irwin from No 4, the other boy) went walking round that way just as a very efficient girl of about 16 years was bringing hot cross buns out of the oven.  Can you imagine 3 hungry boys smelling buns made with milk and farm butter on them?  What an attack; the result being she had to turn round and make some more for her folks coming home. “   (Letter 10 -10 May 1977)

And memories of music in Consett:

“I suppose another symptom of old age is that my memory flashes back to childhood on pieces of music say.  The first time I heard The Skaters Waltz, The Blue Danube or the Merry Widow Waltz was on the steam organ of Murphy’s roundabouts.  The pit lads and their lasses used to try to waltz on the `rec`, a rather difficult dance floor.  The overtures to William Tell, Il Trovatore or Mignon will bring a flash back to a band in Consett Park on Sunday afternoons.  Handle’s Largo will bring back Mr Stelling on a pre-service piece on the Wesleyan Chapel organ. “ (Letter 12 – 2 July 1978)

The cinema in Blackhill and taking his first girlfriend, Jean Dickenson, which he wrote to me and my aunty about separately:

  “As I never go to the cinema and hardly ever look at TV I can only give you a bit of comparison with what they used to be, when I was your age.  First the price of admission, 2d, 4d and 6d, when you talk of the low price of £1.  Shocking.  The Blackhill pictures were the best and when they first started the 6d seats were in front and as there was a fair amount of flickering (in fact one of the nicknames used to be the `flicks`) the front couple or so were hard to fill.  So then they made the front rows 2d but it was not just a transfer of the people at the back to the front as some of the class conscious people from the back did not want to be seen in front.  The class of picture too was different from todays.  A Charlie Chaplin say for the first half and after a ten minute interval a Mary Pickford picture or one taken from a well-known novel like Charles Dickens.  One Saturday night I took my first sweetheart to the pictures after I had been working three long shifts on end, Friday, all Friday night and all day Saturday.  As soon as I got rested in the warm atmosphere I went right off to sleep.  She was a nice girl and did not try to wake me up but it was not a good start for a love story. 

A little later on a Sunday afternoon it began to look like rain and being near our houseplace I thought I would go in for a rain coat and introduce my partner.  My mother nearly froze her in the process of protecting her only son.  She need not have worried, I lost her anyway, but I will always remember Jean Dickenson.  I hope she was or is happy with her Vancouver farmer. “ (Letter 14 – 21 July 1981)

 “Talking of long hours, even when I returned from the war I had to carry on working overtime on apprenticeship wages.  One instance will stick in my mind to the bitter end.  I had worked all day on the Friday, all night (not just 8 hours) on Friday night and all day on the Saturday.  On the Saturday night I look my girl, Jean Dickinson to the pictures at Blackhill.  No soon had a I got settled in the warm atmosphere than I went immediately to sleep.  No wonder I lost my first love.”  (Letter 13 – 31 July 1978)

And the fish and chip shop:

“That is one we thing we did have, a good fish and chip shop, Bridgewaters.  A penny fish and penn’orth of chips, salt and pepper and a sprinkling of vinegar, all on the counter and you had a feed not be despised.  In my father’s day there was a woman on Newcastle quayside who sold fish and chips who used to call out “Warm yer hands and fill yer belly, arl fer a penny”. (Letter 9 –  22 January 1980)

World War I service August 1914 – 26 February 1916:

In August 1914 Uncle Ted, then working as an apprentice fitter and turner in the locomotive and steam crane repair shop of the Consett Iron Company, enlisted in the Northumberland Fusiliers aged 16 years (under age enlistment).   As the numbers enlisting exceeded the ability of the authorities to cope with them, he was sent home after a few days.   His father threatened to tell the authorities but he was determined and joined the Royal Naval Division Anson Battalion as an Able Seaman.   He omits the reference to his father in his letter written in July 1979 but included it in a longer 12 page account he subsequently sent to a military historian, Peter Liddell, and which is held in the Leeds University archives.

He writes the following in the archived document about his signing up:

 “In August 1914 I was an apprentice fitter and turner in the locomotive and steam crane repair shop of the Consett Iron Company and my father was an iron moulder for the same firm.  In fact there was hardly anywhere else you could work.  We lived in a company house and the company owned most of the town and the people in it.   I was 16 years of age and had gone through work on drilling machines, shaping machine, wheel lathe and was then on a smaller lathe.  Towards the end of August with a good many others I decided to join up.  I told the local recruiting sergeant I was eighteen and he said ’you’re a big fine chap, you had better say you are 19’.  The lie did not seem so bad then, so 19 I was. … I joined the Northumberland Fusiliers and was sent down to Newcastle.  They had neither uniforms or barracks for us, so we were allowed to sleep in railway carriages down at the station, where even the luggage rack was better than nothing.  At the week-end we were told we could go home free of charge as they were glad to get rid of us.  My father told me he was going to the authorities and tell them my age.  I could only tell him I would go somewhere else and he would not know where I had joined up from.  Then it turned out that Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty at that time had taken over the Crystal Palace and called it HMS Victory, so they asked for volunteers for the Royal Naval Division at 1/3 a day, when we had joined up for a shilling a day.  The response was almost universal, but there again they were not prepared for us ….”

In his letter detailing his enlistment and experience in Gallipoli he writes:

“You certainly started off a reminiscence of many years ago when you mentioned the Town Moor and Gallipoli.  You will wonder whatever connection they could have, so I will tell you.  You refer to it as history, so I must have lived a long time. 

In August 1914 a few of the chaps from the Templeton Engine Sheds were joining up so I thought I would too.  The recruiting sergeant asked my age and I said 18 when I was only 16, so he said, “You are a fine big chap, you had better say you are 19”, so 19 I was, the biggest lie I have told in my life. 

We joined the Northumberland Fusiliers, so had to report to headquarters in Newcastle.  For the immense number of `patriots` joining up they did not have uniforms, rifles, barracks, food or anything.  We paraded on the Town Moor and did some crude drill under volunteer corporals and sergeants. One of them told us to “Aroond aboot turn”.  For about 10 days we slept in railway carriages or anywhere we could doss down. 

Then it happened.  They asked for volunteers for the Royal Naval Division[1] at one shilling and threepence a day.  You will find it hard to imagine we joined up for 1/- (a bob) a day then.  Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty then and decided to make the Naval Brigade into a division.  The first brigade was the Anson, Hood, Howe and Nelson.  I was appointed to C Company, Anson.  Churchill took over the Crystal Palace and called it HMS Victory and on arrival there no sleeping arrangements had been made either, but Lyons the caterers gave us food and carried on for the 3 months we were there.  Monday’s dinner I never liked, curry stew and apple dumpling with cloves in.  The first 3 nights at the Palace I slept up in the organ loft.  There had been an exhibition some years before there and temporary buildings for each of the colonies or dominions were scattered about the grounds.  There were holes in the walls, but the roof was sound for a good job. They built frames to hang hammocks to in naval style.

Marine colour sergeants[2] knocked a bit of discipline into us before going to Blandford Camp[3] .  After 3 months there we were considered fit enough to meet anybody or anything, so we `entrained` to Avonmouth to join the troopship Grantully Castle. 

We were told the ones who would not be vaccinated would not get ashore at Malta.  When we got there nobody got ashore.  After coaling, done by poor Maltese carrying it up a gangway in baskets, we went on to Port Said, where we left the Grantully Castle[4]  to camp in the desert for a fortnight .  From there we went by train to Alexandria and after a night camped in the open, we went aboard the SS Caledonia.  On her the food was worse, for one thing a hold full of potatoes went bad.   I pitied the crew getting rid of them, but it meant our introduction to bully beef and biscuits. 

Next, we anchored in Lemnos harbour where there were dozens of troopships and warships.[5] What a picnic bombers would have had if they had done that in the last war.  While waiting for the Day we used to clamour down rope ladders into the ships cutters and row ashore and attack the hill as training for the Landing.  The night before the landing my company was transferred to a minesweeper on whose iron deck, chequered plate, we lay until daybreak. 

At 5 o’clock a steam pinnace[6] towed 6 cutters as far as it could near the shore, then they were rowed us as far as they dared among the rocks, but even then the water was up to my waist when I jumped out.  The tragedy was the cook on the minesweeper gave me a small loaf of bread and I had no where else to put it except my overcoat pocket.  When I got time to think about it later, what a mess.  A few of us were hit in the boats, but the 1st Lancashires on our right on the beach got far worse.  90 of them were left on the barbed wire.    Once we got under the cliff they could not hit us without exposing themselves.  This was at Cape Tekka which is part of Cape Hellas, if you like to refer to your map.  Later on when I got a machine gun bullet through my foot, was when my troubles really started.  Just being a minor wound a doctor never saw it until I got to Malta, when it was swollen about as big as my head with septic poison.  There were only two Indian doctors for a ship load of badly wounded men, so that they were going day and night on amputations.  It was not a hospital ship either, so that mine was rapidly coming to amputation stage.  Even in Malta it was only an army barracks being used as a temporary hospital, but after two operations things started to look better, only to be knocked back again when I contracted Maltese fever, a virulent type of typhus.  However, after very nearly kicking the bucket and being transferred to the naval hospital, I survived to tell the tale.”

The archive document concludes with his discharge from the Royal Naval Division on 26 February 1916 and his return to Consett:

“They had no other choice now than to discharge me, on the 26th February 1916.  There was not much other choice now but to go back home to Consett and the shop I left 18 months before and finish my apprenticeship, which did not end until I was 21 years of age.  By working overtime on Saturdays and Sundays and often all night on a Friday night, I more than made up for lost time.  

… all those anti – germ injections must have done some good.  In my last job as shift engineer at Dunedin Hospital for 20 years and 9 months, I had one day off sick.  It was my foot that finally made me give up in 1962 when I was 64 years of age.”

1980 closing of Consett works

He wrote several times reacting to the economic decline and closing of the Consett works:

 “ …as far as Consett is concerned I would not wish my worst enemy to be condemned to live there for the rest of their lives.  It was bad enough when I was brought up there, but the dust from the works is far worse now.  I was very sorry to see the Co-operative Wholesale Society Store gone.  They could have adopted some of the self-service store ideas, but to let a flourishing business slip out of their hands, I would consider a bad lapse.  I suppose if everyone did as I did and got out of it as soon as I could there would be no Consett at all.  The surrounding countryside is quite pleasant, but once you come within sight of the slag heaps you are back to dirty Consett again.”   (Letter 9 – 22 January 1980)    

And:

 “Consett closing! Unthinkable!  Windy, dirty Consett closing down! Beyond the imagination.  All that expansion they did down Templetown nearly to the Gill Wood, right up Berry Edge Road must be comparatively new plant.  Yet on the other hand I have wondered some times where they were getting rid of their produce.  In my youth a big train load of angles and plates used to leave Consett every day, to all the shipyards on the Tyne and Wear and down the coast. …

Back in 1892 my father went to Consett from Darlington because it was one of the steadiest working places in England at that time, not subject to booms and slumps like so many places.  Their first house was in Leadgate and mother hated that, but when they got to Sherburn Terrace things seemed to sail along more pleasantly, especially as it was not far from Crookhall foundry.  Sir Walter Runciman was a bit of a dark horse.  He was on the directorate of the CIC (Chairman one time) and also owned a shipyard.  He went to Germany to see Hitler for Neville Chamberlain, but did not achieve much, except perhaps that Consett was never bombed, although the glare from the hell of a blast furnace could be seen 10 miles away.  In the first war Krupps of Germany and the CIC were both getting their iron ore through Bilbao in Spain.  The CIC’s two ships were not mined or torpedoed in the first war but one was accidently damaged in the second. 

I suppose iron ore is one of the troubles now.  When they lifted the railway line through Waskerley I presumed the limestone at Stanhope must be finished.  The local coal mines are worked out or the best of the coal gone.  It will still be a tremendous shock for the town as there is practically nothing else there.”   (Letter 14 – 19 February 1980)

And:

“The tragedy of Consett is beyond my imagination, but evidently Port Talbot in Wales is worse, on a bigger scale.  There were quite a number of people in Consett belonged to Port Talbot, come I suppose to show the local men their job.  They are making more noise about being laid off now anyhow.  I don’t think Mrs Thatcher will be visiting there for a while …”   (Letter 15 – 28 December 1980)


[1] http://www.gallipoli-association.org/content/men-of-gallipoli – the Royal Naval Division included:

1st Naval Brigade:   Drake Battalion, Nelson Battalion, Hawke Battalion, Hood Battalion
2nd Naval Brigade: 1st Battalion Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI), 2nd Battalion Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI), Howe Battalion, Anson Battalion

[2] MARINE COLOUR SERGEANTS:  non commissioned above sergeant and below warrant officer.  Introduced during Napoleonic Wars, by WWI it had given way to Company Sergeant Major and Company Quartermaster, but was reintroduced (Wikipedia)

[3] BLANDFORD CAMP:  World War I – Royal Naval Division: With the outbreak of the First World War a large number of Royal Naval reservists were called for full-time service, in excess of the numbers required to man ships. It was therefore decided that a Royal Naval Division would be formed to augment the army divisions. After its initial action in the front line in Belgium, the Division returned to the UK and established a base depot and training camp at Blandford. A German POW camp was also set up alongside it.    The RN Division had battalions named after the former naval officers Drake, Nelson, Benbow, Hawke, Hood, Howe, Anson and Collingwood, and the various encampments at Blandford took these names. Instruction on trench construction and trench warfare was carried out within the camp area and traces of the Royal Naval Division trenches can still be seen in the area beyond Drake East Lines.    The men of the Division left Blandford Camp to embark on the ill-fated Gallipoli operation. A memorial now stands at Collingwood Corner, on the main A354 Blandford Forum to Salisbury road, dedicated to the men of the Collingwood Battalion who lost their lives in the Third Battle of Krithia at Gallipoli on 4 June 1915 (Wikipedia)

[4] GRANTULLY CASTLE:   http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=93026; GRANTULLY CASTLE – PHOTO http://www.flickr.com/photos/42117802@N06/6158062445/in/photostream/; http://www.maritimequest.com/liners/grantully_castle_1910_page_1.htm

[5] Order of battle April 1915: http://www.gallipoli-association.org/content/order-of-battle/order-of-battle-april-1915

[6] Steam pinnace:

http://forum.gallipoli-association.org/uploads/509/MLH2-p20-005-small.jpg