- Contributed by
- People in story:
- June Blair, Maurice Blair, Mrs. Wilson, Mr. Gregory, Charles Thompson, Bob Charlton, Ronnie Blair, Jimmy Wilson, Graham Blair, Leslie Thomas, and Hugh Wright
- Location of story:
- Newton-by-the-Sea, High Newton, Low Newton, Beadnell, Farne Islands, Brunton, Alnwick, Seahouses, Tughall, Christon Bank, and Northumberland
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 July 2005
The "White House" and "Joiners Arms" at High Newton. Note - Maurice Blair lived in the top house, left-hand side.
This story (Part 2 of two) was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from Northumberland on behalf of Mrs. June Blair, the widow of Maurice Blair, who related his recollections in August 2001. Mrs. Blair fully understands the site’s terms and conditions, and the story has been added to the site with her permission. The recollections are written in the first person.
When war broke out I was on the village green with a few villagers, next to the “White House”. They were listening to Mrs Wilson’s wireless in the “Joiner’s Arms” [the public house at High Newton], one of the few wirelesses in the two villages [High and Low Newton]. At 11 o’clock, war was declared. A lot of talk took place. We did not take too much notice but everyone seemed very tense.
Troops came to Newton in August 1940, or thereabouts. They came onto the links one Saturday night. My two cousins and I ran down. They wanted food. We raced back, got sandwiches and raced down again. They gave us money. We ran down to the “Ship Inn” [at Low Newton] where a little shop sold “Mars” bars and “Penguin” biscuits. Next morning we raced down to see the guns and ammunition they had but, as we ran along the beach, we were stopped and told to halt or we would be shot. So back we went onto the links. Barbed wire was put up, one row with iron stakes and three rolls of round barbed wire, two on the bottom and one on the top. Tank traps made of concrete went to every opening on the beach and pill-boxes went up on the links and some in the fields. Some are still preserved to this day. Also long poles were pile driven into the beach to stop enemy aircraft from landing.
Mines came ashore on the beach, so naval experts had to come and defuse them. They were brave men. Low Newton had to be evacuated twice when mines came into the gut. I remember Mr. Gregory and Mr. Thompson went down and secured one mine by its long cable, to the sewage pipe. The people all came up to the Women’s Institute hut for the day, all with little bags with money and jewellery. I recall a couple of ceilings falling down, and several houses suffered cracks in the walls when mines went off in the middle of the night.
More troops came. They took over “Newton House”, with two big tents in the paddock. They also slept in the granaries. At night, they used to charge over gardens and walls. Rifle and machine-gun fire could be seen and heard most days.
Minefields were laid, one at Beadnell burn. Two cows and one horse were killed after they got through the barbed-wire fence. Another minefield went almost down to “Link House” and went across the field and across the links to the beach. A third one started at Newton bog and went among the huts to the beach. Three or four men were badly injured when mines exploded when being laid. Soldiers took the mines up about 1944. One or two bungalows [wooden beach holiday chalets] were destroyed on the Low Newton links. Dogs or foxes straying under the wire set mines off. Miles of barbed wire were taken down and dumped over the rocks. It took years for it all to rot away.
Roadblocks were put up, made of stone and concrete with just room for a wagon or car to get past. There was one across from the school and one down from “The Willows”. One or two accidents happened when cars or wagons hit them in the dark. Everyone had to be blacked out at nights. Cars and wagons had shields on their lamps, so that very little light showed. When we walked along to the Farm Cottages we were stopped at “Newton House” gate and a soldier would hold his rifle, with bayonet fixed. We had to stop and give identity as to who we were.
When the bombing of Glasgow started, in 1941, we used to lie in bed and listen to the German aeroplanes. They used the Farne Islands to guide them. The engines had a drone quite different to our own planes. One night a lot of troops were in the village when three bombs were dropped. One second earlier and “Newton Hall” would have gone. A lot of windows were broken. Another time, incendiary bombs were dropped at Low Newton. They hit a lot of houses but none caught fire. At odd times, sitting in school, German aircraft flew over the top but did no damage. One man was machine-gunned on Kelso Hill but he didn’t get hit.
The Institute made sandwiches, cakes and pies for the troops at night. Local women did all of the work. After the Army trained at night with flares, to light everything up, we used to go onto the links and hunt for those flares that hadn’t gone off. We took the flare out and set it off — big light! Then we took the parachute out and took it home and used it as a big handkerchief. We stopped hunting for them when they used mortars, which were very much like the flares and sometimes they did not explode. Army experts used to blow them up.
Men and women were called up for national service. The Home Guard was formed. All men who could not go to war had to join. They trained on Wednesdays and Sundays. Most had no guns at the start and they used broom shanks or anything they could get hold of until guns were supplied. Older men joined the Coastguard. My Grandfather and Uncle had to walk to Embleton burn to a little hut. They did six-hour shifts on their own. Six to eight men took turns. Another two men walked the beaches looking for mines or anything from sunken ships.
Charles Thompson and Bob Charlton were the official Air Raid Wardens, these being two of the few people who had telephones. When an air raid was imminent they received a call from Brunton [a nearby airfield]. They had to warn everyone in the village, making sure no lights were showing. Air raid shelters were delivered to all houses. These were made of steel with steel mesh down the sides. They were very hard on your knees when you bumped into them. They were about ten feet by five feet. Some people used them as hen houses and pigsties.
Brunton Aerodrome was started in 1941. A Wellington bomber came down one Saturday before it was finished. The first aeroplane we saw crash was a Blenheim. It crashed across at the “Long Nanny” [a stream draining into Beadnell Bay], along “Link House” way. Overnight it had been to Norway and had been so low that two to three feet of the mast from the beach was still embedded in the front of it. One man was badly injured. He lay a long time as no ambulance could be got. There was one at Embleton but it was only for civilian use. At last he was taken to Alnwick but he died the next day. After the runways and buildings had been finished, Hurricanes and Spitfires came. They used to fire at long drags towed by Lysander aeroplanes. Some crashed into the sea and were picked up by the local fishermen, and they all celebrated in the “Ship Inn”.
Once, during school dinnertime, an aeroplane called a Typhoon crashed at Low Newton. It skidded across the shore field and into “Boatman’s Hill”. It caught fire. The Gregory’s had one or two fire extinguishers and tried hard to get the pilot out as he was still alive but exploding ammunition drove them back, so he died trapped in his cockpit. Two or three days later, experts found that a jet was blocked.
Lots of fields were ploughed out. Some had never been ploughed before. We used to walk up and down the field alongside the furrowed plough with two horses before getting a ride back home. Little tractors started to appear. They had two furrowed ploughs. Lots of corn stacks were built, twelve in the “Kiln Pond” and fifteen to twenty in the “Longairs”. Dozens were all over the countryside. We loved to follow the steam engine and thresher down the road and, at night times, we used to carry straw bunches into the barns. Dozens of rats used to be in the stacks. If rats were in the stacks no mice would be there, and vice-versa. Dogs and stick forks were used to kill them.
Late on in the war, I got off school to go onto the binder, which put sheaves into rows. One night after cutting round and round the bog field, we had all of the rabbits in the middle. A good few villagers came and we caught over two hundred and fifty. The rabbit catcher put them into his Austin Seven car after giving one to everyone there. Then, him and Mr Gregory, the farmer, went to the “Ship Inn”, got drunk, went home to Seahouses and forgot to take them out. In the morning they had lost most of them!
We used to help the men and women stook [stack] the corn into rows with eight bunches of corn, head to head. We would see who could make the straightest row, and we had to run thirty to fifty yards to be the first to move the sheaves.
To get cattle to Alnwick mart meant they had to be walked all the way. They used to start at 6 o’clock in the morning. Tughall [a nearby farming community] would join with Newton then Christon Bank [a nearby village] and everyone would join all the way to Alnwick. Sheep were taken by a little wagon. Not so many cattle and sheep went to mart, as most of the grass fields were ploughed out. You can imagine letting five or six cattle out of the shed in darkness. They would race for the first half-mile or so but by the time they got to Alnwick they were pretty tired out. Also a wee bit thinner!
On Saturday mornings, two or three of us went down to “Link House” where Bob Charlton farmed, and he let us clean out his hen houses. He gave us six [old] pence sometimes [worth, perhaps, £0.70 today]. We often gave him a hand with his corn. He had two Land Army girls. They lived next door to him. No such comfort in the two end houses. No water, no light and no inside toilets.
Towards the end of the war, horses were few and far between. Tractors were taking over. “Bonny”, “Meg”, “Tommy”, “Sandy”, “Kate”, “Bobbie”, “Beauty” and “Jack” were some of the horses that worked on High Newton and Low Newton farms. Tractors were run on paraffin but started on petrol. Mostly, they had spud wheels and wood and steel rims were put onto the spuds, to let them travel on the road.
In the October holidays we all helped to pick the potatoes, with help from most of the villagers. A lot or arguments took place when someone moved the stick and you got a longer length. Best time was payday on Saturday mornings. Mr. Gregory, the farmer, held a ceilidh [an informal gathering for music and dancing] in the Institute after the harvest was in. All the men and women were invited. This was in 1944 or 1945. It took everyone to help, young and old as three parts of the farm was under cultivation. All the corn went on little wagons or by rail. It had to be led up to Christon Bank and off-loaded onto wagons in the sidings. Potatoes mostly went up to Embleton CWS store [Cooperative Wholesale Stores].
We shifted along to Number 5 Farm Cottages in 1942. We had to make a new garden, which was a big job as the field was all little stones from the quarry. We had water but no light. The man who was in the house before us would not allow anyone in to install electricity, so it was back to candles and oil lamps. My cousins, Ronnie and Leslie Blair, and I used to build my Meccano set at nights. Part of it was my uncle’s so it must have been a big age. He used to cut all our hair which saved money and bus fares. We used to go with our mothers into the woods for firewood with an old pram. I think coal was rationed to so many bags per week.
In January 1940 a big snowstorm started. No children came from Low Newton. A trawler, the “William Ivy”, came ashore on the rocks. The life-saving cart was out but no one was on board. It had been machine-gunned off the Farne Islands but all the men had been saved. During the night the Coastguards were called out again as lights were seen on board but it was water getting into the batteries which caused the lights. Parts of the boat can still be seen today.
One day, we were standing on the school wall when a big cargo boat called “Samali” came close in. It was heading north, being towed by the Holy Island lifeboat. We heard that it had been bombed off the Tyne. Racehorses and bales of cotton were taken off. At dinner- time, when I was up in the garden, the boat blew up with a big bang. Next day, thousands of cigarettes came ashore right along the coast. A lot got wet but the tins that held fifty were all right. The big crates were wet outside but inside they were all right. Ronnie found a good few wet packets, dried them and made them into cigarettes with paper. We soon made ourselves sick of them and tossed a lot away. Houses at Low Newton had them stacked in lofts, under floorboards and up unused chimneys. After the war was over, packets were still found on the paths. We could tell by the name, “Players” for home and “Players Magnum” for export. Tyres, tennis balls, Chinese money, as the ship had been on its way to China, and candles were all found. Ronnie and I walked onto the beach one Saturday morning and a big case had just come ashore. They lasted us nearly until the end of the war. Medicine and lots of bits of wood were also washed up.
A dance was held on Friday nights at the Institute, and sometimes a concert was held on a Sunday night. We used to go round on a Saturday morning looking for bottles. Sometimes we would find a half one hidden in the wall and we would sample it! When the girls went to Friday and Saturday night dances they curled their hair using tongs which they put in the fire, heated them up and then tried them on pieces of paper, to see if they were hot enough. A single tong or a double one did a good job. A lot of times while testing, the paper would catch fire and it had to be thrown up the chimney. A pencil was used to put a seam down the back of their legs, as stockings were hard to get. Gravy browning was also used to dye their legs a light brown colour. The only fault with that was that dogs used to come and lick it off, or the rain washed it off on a wet night. Soot was used for eyebrows. There were some funny sights if it rained!
At night we went to the pictures at Brunton. It was a long walk there and back.
People during the war years helped each other more than they do today. Any event in the village was always well attended. The Institute had twenty, or so, members. Bring and buy sales on August Bank Holidays were big dos. They used to have a men’s night when the women invited the men to a supper and dance. Whist Drives were held every Christmas. When weddings were held in the village, Grandfather used to fire a shotgun to celebrate the do. The “Best Man” would throw pennies and halfpennies out of the car window. What a scramble! Once, a two shilling piece (ten new pence) was thrown out. My cousin got it and off she went. We tried to catch her but she got into her house safely! The Women’s Institute served tea and sandwiches during most of the war years. At the end of the war a “Welcome Home” party was held with a tea and dance at the Institute Hall. A big bonfire was made when the war ended. Celebrations were held in both pubs.
Jimmy Wilson was found on the roadside on a New Year’s morning across from “Newton Hall”. He was in the Royal Air Force. No one has been charged up to this day. Graham Blair died during the war as did Leslie Thompson and Hugh Wright who both served with the Royal Navy. The war years were very sad times.
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