February 28, 2009

Bill Charlton: Bellingham memories. Dad's call up

Northumberland, history, humour, memories, wartime 1939-45

By Bill Charlton

Sgt. R. L. (Bob) Charlton (1939-46)

Dad’s call up

I can remember when 12 years old coming home from school and having to go into Hesleyside woods to collect my father’s gear and bait bag, as he had had an urgent phone call to report for duty to Wylam along with a few other men from Bellingham as they were all in the local Territorial Army.

This happened about a month before the war started, and their first task was to board the Polish cruise liner M.S. Pilsudski to take charge as the crew had mutinied. Next they were sent to France with motor bikes and sidecars to face the German tanks, ending up in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

After the Dunkirk evacuation
Returning home on leave after Dunkirk, Dad and quite a few other chaps from Bellingham were once again with their families. When they returned for duty, they got split up into different units and Dad was transferred into the Reconnaissance Corps, along with other chaps from the Village.

Their hat badge was also changed to an arrow flanked by streaks of lightning on either side, indicating it was a strike force. After a couple of moves around, they ended up at Langholm just over the Border, so Dad and one of the other chaps from the village would come home for the weekend every fortnight. So I used to pushbike down to the Fairshaw road end and leave the bike at the farm house on a Friday night, then I would catch Fosters Bus back home arriving 7.45pm.

Home by sharing the bike
Dad and his mate caught the train from Langholm to Carlisle, then the Newcastle train getting off at Fourstones and walking over to the Fairshaw road end farm to collect the bike. They would then take turns on the bike riding 4 telephone poles, and leave the bike so then his mate would then do likewise until he passed the walker. Then it was 4 poles and start walking again until they got to the Croft.

Preparing for D-day
This arrangement went on for while until they were moved down South as they were then attached to the Guards 3rd Armoured Division and preparing for landing back on to the Continent. They then moved up to Banff in Northern Scotland to practice landings with air support from Lossiemouth.

Then back they went down south again waiting for D-Day Once over the Channel they moved through France, Belgium , Holland, and finally Germany, ending up in the Krupps factories where Dad fitted his drivers with new tool kits. He did tell me that going through Holland, he saw the cows in the fields were drunk after eating apples from the orchards, as all the fences had been knocked down. Was was over and it was demob time for him and his mates.

Back to the Hesleyside estate
Dad was an ‘estate worker’ on the Hesleyside estate where the main work was in the woods and running the estate sawmill which sold timber in the district. After the war he went back to Hesleyside as the Forman on the estate. In later life he left Hesleyside and went to work for the Weightmans (Willie & John) at Lane Head who were joiners and undertakers.

When the Weightman’s retired, Dad just started off on his own until he retired a few years later. However, folk kept on coming to him with jobs. He started the ‘Pensioner’s Task Force’ in the village on projects like making the walk way from the Tyne bridge down to the river side to opening to the village.

He also restored the old Gingall gun outside the Town Hall. Two of the ‘old retainers’ of the village in those days were Geordie Dagg and Bob Robson (called Bugga Bob but not to his face!)

The refurbished gun 17 April 1975. Left to right, Rev Geoffrey Charles, Bob Charlton, Cnr Angela Allen and Cnr Margaret Murray at the opening of the restored gun

The plaque shows that the old gun had an interesting history. It had come a long way from Fort Taku in China to outside the Bellingham Town Hall. It's interesting that a Charlton was involved in its history, and his family ties with North Tyne must have influenced his presentation of the gun to the village.

Many generations of village laddies helped each other to climb over the iron railings and up on to the gun to imagine firing it. But you had to be on watch, not just for the enemy, but for Sergeant Geordie Fell the village bobby, whose deterrent to juvenile crime was a boot up the backside.

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