A war baby

It was near the end of the 2nd year of World War 2, September 1941, and Britain had recently suffered a disastrous defeat at Dunkirk. The first American food ship arrived in Britain. Clothing and coal rationing were introduced. The weekly wage in Britain was about 5 pounds.  Penicillin was first used. On the wireless, Vera Lynn’s ‘White Cliffs of Dover’ and The Andrews Sisters’ ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ were at the top of the hit parade.

The ‘all clear’ had just finished echoing through the still autumn air when Mirry felt the first contraction on Saturday 19th September 1941. She was quite calm at that stage, but when the pain became increasingly more regular she knew it was time she sent her husband Thomas off on his bike to summons Peggy Sutcliffe who lived two streets away.

Peggy was the local midwife and had an impressive list of successful births to her credit. She had called the day before to check on the progress of the new brother or sister for Little Tommy, and her prediction was that Mirry would be nursing a new life within the next twenty-four hours.

Thomas was then despatched to his in-law’s house in Harrison Street, a five-minute walk away, to inform Mirry’s Mam. Ollie Maud Turner was practically stone deaf from birth and illiterate from lack of schooling. She had lived at 34 Harrison Street most of her married life and two of her sisters and a brother lived in adjoining streets.

Thirty-four was one of eighteen ‘two up two down’ houses in the terrace. Two down was a loose description, with a front room opening directly onto the street and a small kitchen that led to the back yard. Upstairs contained a reasonably sized front room and a small box room at the rear.

Glen Miller and his orchestra – ‘I got a Girl in Kalamazu’ 1942
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I got a gal in Kalamazoo
Don’t want to boast
But I know she’s the toast of

Ollie was sitting on a kitchen chair in front of the fire, stirring a huge pot of lentil soup that stood on the blackened hob. Jim, Ollie’s husband, was over at the Pennyman’s with a few of his work mates. They had just finished the 6 till 2 shift, unloading a valuable cargo of iron stone. Most of the workforce in the surrounding area either worked on the docks, the shipyards or the steel works. The Pennyman Arms was the favourite watering hole of the local wharfies.

Ollie did not turn her head when Thomas entered. Earlier in the day she had prematurely discarded the cumbersome hearing aid battery pack and ear piece that afforded her little improvement. He tapped her on the shoulder and she turned with a start.

“You’d better put your coat on Mam, Mirry’s having the baby!” he shouted.

“Is she aw’right?” she replied. She lifted the soot stained pot from the hob onto the hearth and reached for her coat that was hanging from a hook driven into the kitchen door. Tommy scribbled a quick note for his father-in-law before they left.

  Peggy Lee – ‘Where or When’  1941
One of Mirry’s favourites.
And so it seems that we have met before
And that we laughed before
Also loved before
But who knows where or when

“Freda’s up the street,” said Ollie, “Someone will have to tell her.” Freda was Mirry’s younger sister who had given birth to a daughter six weeks earlier. Mirry would be disappointed that Freda did not return to the house with them.

Freda was in fact standing in a long queue at the Co-Op, hoping to buy four ounces of butter and half a pound of sugar with her remaining coupons. Rationing had recently been expanded to include more and more of the essentials for living, however few people complained. Rationing was introduced in 1940 and remained many years after the war ended in 1945. Meat, tea, sugar, butter, eggs, milk and clothing were some of the items that were in short supply. Ration books had to be presented when shopping and the relevant coupons removed or stamped.

Our family were lucky because Granddad had a garden allotment which provided a good supply of fresh vegetables. He kept hens and a row of hutches, housing a variety of rabbits. We always had a good supply of eggs and an occasional hen or rabbit for dinner. Rationing ended eventually in 1954.

Freda’s husband Ronnie Wing was in the RAF serving as a Bomb Loader somewhere ‘Down South’. Accommodation was impossible to find so she was living at her mother’s house in Harrison Street.

Meanwhile, the bed at 61 Hymers Street had been prepared for the birth with layers of last week’s Sunday Pictorial and over that, an orange rubber sheet. As the free National Health Service was not introduced in England until 1948, Doctor Morgan would only be called upon if things became difficult. His surgery was ‘Up Town’ at the far end of Grange Road, quite a ride on his heavy Raleigh bicycle.

There were no complications however, and I arrived on Saturday 20th September 1941 at 5:15am with little fanfare, as was the way of the no-nonsense approach to life in the North East. Little Tommy was at last allowed to go up upstairs to see the new addition to the family: a brother for the three-year-old. Little Tommy slept in the ancient cast iron hospital bed in the box room above the stairs, while the baby slept with his Mam and Dad in the front bedroom.

The day of the christening was a happy day. A small gathering of family and friends congregated around the sandstone font of the North Ormesby Holy Trinity Parish Church. The baby was named Raymond, after my mother’s favourite film star of the day, Mexican, Ramon Novarro. Two days after the christening, Pearl Harbour was bombed by the Japanese, bringing America into the war. Air raids were becoming more frequent and the new arrival cried incessantly. Little sleep was enjoyed by anyone for many months.

Lullaby – ‘Golden Slumbers’
Golden slumbers
Fill your eyes
Smiles await you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling
Do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Next: Air raids July 1942

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