- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Sarah Jane McCrickett (later Ritson) 'Sally', Edward McCrickett 'Ned', Cecilia McCrickett (née Savage), John McCrickett, Alice McCartney (later McCarten), Peter McCarten, Mr Sugar, Percy Silbertson, Mr King, Mrs King, Harry King, Mr Plumridge, Mrs Plumridge, Joseph Parkinson Ritson 'Joe', Cecilia Ritson (later Riden), Joseph Ritson. George Kinsella.
- Location of story:
- Cleator / Cleator Moor, Whitehaven (Cumberland / Cumbria).
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 December 2005
(Left to right): Alice McCartney (later McCarten) and Sally McCrickett (later Ritson) standing outside the factory of L. Silbertson and Sons at Cleator, Cumberland (Cumbria). Alice and Sally worked at Silbertson’s during the war, making uniforms. They operated a ‘Hoffman Press’. [Photograph from collection of Sally Ritson]
The following article has been submitted on behalf of Sally Ritson (née McCrickett), with the permission of Sally and her family. The terms of the “People’s War” have been read and understood.
Sally was born at Cleator Moor, Cumberland (now Cumbria) on 24 January 1927, the eldest child of Edward (Ned) McCrickett and Cecilia McCrickett (née Savage). When Sally was still a baby, her parents moved to Whitehaven, about 5 miles from Cleator Moor where her younger brother John was born. However, when Sally left school at the age of 14 in 1941, she started work at the uniform manufacturer of L. Silbertson and Sons Ltd at their factory at Cleator Mill.
L. Silbertson and Sons Ltd of Cleator
L. Silbertson and Sons had transferred to West Cumberland from the London area to avoid German bombing. It was further one of a number of manufacturing firms who relocated to West Cumberland from the London area to avoid the Blitz. According to Sally, the Silbertson family held the secret how to make the 'Busby' (bearskin headdress) worn by the Guards. They also made uniforms for the Army, Navy, and the Air Force, and employed about 500 people. Most of these were women and girls, who worked on the sewing machines and presses.
According to Sally, they always had an idea when there was going to be a big offensive because they always had a big order for 'hospital blue'. They also made tropical uniforms for the troops who were in Burma. As Sally lived a few miles away from the factory, as did a lot of the workforce, they used to catch the bus there and back. They still had to carry their gas mask with them when they went out.
Silbertson's was a very happy place to work. Everybody used to sing along while they worked, and this was encouraged by the as it made a friendly and happy workforce. They used to listen to the radio and sing along together to all the singers. Among Sally's favourite singers from the war years were Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. There was a programme called "Worker's Playtime" that used to go round the country broadcasting from different workplaces, and on one memorable occasion it came to Silbertson's at Cleator.
Mr Percy Silbertson was in charge of the factory, who had come up from London. Sally remembers there were two tailors who had come up with the firm from London called 'Mr Sugar', and these two were brothers. Others who Sally mentioned were Mr and Mrs Plumridge, who went to live in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia after the war and a Mr and Mrs King, who later ran their own shop in Whitehaven. Mr and Mrs King had originally been refugees from Austria. Their son Harry King, born during the war, later became a noted TV and radio producer and director and occasional presenter for both ITV and the BBC.
Sally and another good friend from Whitehaven called Alice McCartney were asked to operate a Hoffman Press to press the finished uniforms. Not everybody could work the Hoffman Press. It was physically very hard work. Alice met her future husband Peter McCarten at Silbertson's. They have always remained close friends with Sally, often talking over the times they worked at Silbertson's.
There were times when people heard family or friends had been killed in the war, or sometimes in a mining accident. Anybody who received word a family member had been killed in the war perhaps a father, brother or husband would be allowed to go home early. According to Sally this affected all of them because they were just like one big family.
Sally continued worked at Silbertson's until after she married Joe Ritson in June 1950. Afterwards, Sally became a housewife, and mother to her children Cecilia and Joseph. The family lived in at her mother and father's house in Whitehaven. Sally also cared for her own mother after a fall in 1950, which left Sally's mother unable to walk unaided. Someone else Sally looked after was her Great Uncle George Kinsella. Uncle George also lived at her parents' home from before the war years and he suffered ill health for many years.
Sally's husband Joe passed away in 1994, and Sally herself passed away quietly in 2005 following a couple of years of ill health. She always enjoyed listening to music and songs. I would like to dedicate this article to Sally's memory, and especially because Sally was my mother. Sally had a large circle of family and friends and a large funeral. Many of Sally's relatives and friends have told me their own wartime memories which I have posted to the BBC "People's War" website.
On the whole, Sally’s memories of working at Silbertson’s were always good ones. Although the work was hard, everybody always seemed to be very happy and this made the time at the factory most enjoyable.
"To the memory of Sally Ritson R.I.P., 1927 - 2005"
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.