- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Tom Peacock
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 July 2004
This story was submitted to the BBC People's War website by Tim Ford on behalf of Tom Peacock and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the BBC Peoples War Project and it's aim to create the largest online archive of stories of a nation at war.
There are so many things that evoke memories of the war and I think about the signs that were common at the time, for example
“Careless Talk Costs Lives”:- so important because German agents were at large.
“Coughs And Sneezes Spread Diseases”:- It was important for everyone to attend work and avoid ill-health.
“Dig For Victory”:- it was amazing how flower gardens were turned into vegetable plots and allotments developed to provide extra food — people did literally dig for victory.
“Make Do And Mend”:- this was essential as clothing was in very short supply.
In September 1939 40,000 people were evacuated from Tyneside but some children were evacuated to local areas, many children moved from Newcastle to Ponteland and to other farming areas of Northumberland.
Then in October 1939, although war was very much in evidence, 11,000 of those children returned back to their homes on Tyneside to be with their families.
FOOD AND RATIONING
Food was in short supply and you were limited to e.g. 2oz of butter, 2 oz sugar, 1 egg per person per week. You received 32 points a month for food beyond the essential. 32 points would only buy you one tin of peaches. Fruit was a luxury at the time. Spam became available from the US and it was considered a luxury everyone enjoyed. Dried egg was used in cooking and could also be fried. Tea and coffee was limited and people used Camp coffee which tasted of chicory and was very bitter. It was quite unpopular.
More unusual foods that became available were Rook Pie. I recall eating rook and if I hadn’t been told what it was I possibly could have enjoyed it. Horse flesh was eaten and I recall it being quite pleasant to eat. Seagull eggs were also eaten and I remember on a visit to London eating at Lyons Corner House which was a favourite eating place at the time and having seagull’s eggs. The taste was very different to hen’s eggs.
It was amazing how much activity took place on the Black Market for food stuffs and sweets.
1n 1943 a typical week for me comprised of being a fire watcher for the firm I was employed by this could be anything from 10pm until dawn; I was in the Home Guard, obviously courting was an interest, and football. It was in 1943 that I had my first trial for Newcastle United and I signed on amateur books Stan Seymour who was a director at the time. I mention this because I was quite proud at the time.
I’d always been a keen footballer. I was captain of the school team and football meant everything to me. There were three of us chosen after the trials, one was in front of me and one followed. The fellow in front of me still had his Navy uniform on, he had a slim build and I remember thinking to myself “Well Tom if he can make the grade I will”. In fact that was Ernie Taylor who was one of the greatest players Newcastle ever had and he went on to play for England. The man behind me was Charlie Crewer who played in the cup finals of the early 1950’s and so it was that I was the one that didn’t make it and those two did.
HOME GUARD EXPERIENCES
I was 15 when the war began but everyone was keen to join the forces even people who weren’t old enough or were too unwell also tried to enlist. When I tried to join the Air Force I was very disappointed to be told that I would not be accepted because I worked for a mining machinery company closely allied to the mining industry and therefore I was in a reserved occupation.
That had an amazing impact on me as a person because everybody my age that I knew was away. Even after the war I always felt we should have been given a badge to show that we were exempt. I travelled each day by bus to the Team Valley and many people must have seen me and wondered why I was not away at war when really I had not been allowed to go.
However I was very active within the firm I worked for and their home guard. I have some humorous memories of the important job we undertook. There were quite some similarities to “Dads Army”. One night we were on manoeuvres and we sent two men out onto the Ravensworth Estate which is quite a wooded area and we had to go and find them. We never did find them. When the platoon returned to the works we had to wait a further hour and a half for the two men to return.One of them was a very big man, he was actually the foreman blacksmith, I remember the Lieutenant saying to him “Right then, Private Brancher, I want you to report on what you’ve heard”. He said “Well Sir, I heard nothing in the woods except the twittering of birds and we could hear the twittering of Colonel Kelly laughing in the background”. That was his report and it was quite amazing — I could hear Pike saying that in Dads Army.
In the same situation we used to go on manoeuvres and I can remember the 20th AFP which was a massive arms unit, of the regular army, coming down from Scotland when we were based on Team Valley. We all had to take turns on guard watching for the unit to ensure everyone was alerted when it arrived. Well one of them must have been missing and this was a lad named McGregor who worked in the welding department. First thing in the morning the Colonel addressed us and Said “Well it seems as though the AFP are not coming our way” McGregor was standing at the back and he says “Ah don’t kna what yer talking about Sir, there’s thousands o’ them passed 20 minutes ago”. We’d been there all night looking for them and we’d missed them.
I transferred from Team Valley to the Westerhope Home Guard. It was strange some of the things they did. There was a tennis court behind the Methodist Church. It was away from the main road and they destroyed that tennis court to make trenches so that they could defend themselves if the Germans came. Now imagine it, it was at the back of the church and they would never be used for that purpose.
My brother and I were on manoeuvres one day in the grounds of the Newbiggin Hall. We separated into to platoons one went in advance and we were to follow, each to report on the other. I remember my brother and |I crawling along this hedge, when we came across other people and we were crawling along with them. Suddenly I realised we were crawling along with the enemy!
My brother and I were in the same platoon and we took our rifles home. We were fortunate to have rifles. In the early stages of the war they were actually using broomsticks to practice for drill. Equipment wasn’t always available and when available it was always the best quality.
We all had to look after our rifles and we each had a “pull through” which was used to keep the barrel clean. It was a metal rod with a cord on the end and you pushed this through. So Stan and I, my brother, each tried to do this and we couldn’t get it through. We got the pull through stuck and couldn’t budge it. I suggested he pull on the rifle while I stood on the cord. Stan pulled and sure enough it came away, but in doing that the rifle plunged right through and shattered the old light fitting in our home that my mum had had ever since they moved in so many years ago.
Worse was to follow. When I tried to release mine it was jammed and fearful of what the consequences would be tried to remove it. Anyone who has been in the army would be absolutely horrified by what we did. In order to get it out we poured mentholated spirits down the barrel and set fire to it. It cleared it alright but we would have been cleared if anyone got to know about it — we would have been on a charge there’d be no question about that!
Finally I can never understand, and I'm being political now, why it is that we can't have Identity Cards for everybody. At the end of the war we each had identity cards. We used them for years with out problem.
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