March 4, 2009

Bill Charlton: Bellingham memories of the 1940s

Northumberland, Bellingham, history, dialect, humour, childhood memories

By Bill Charlton

I was born in July 1927 and my father, Robert Lowther Charlton ( known as Bob) and mother Lilian ( known as Lily) named me Anthony William Charlton (to be known as Bill). I had a brother Cliff and a sister Joan. The family lived at the Croft on the outskirts of the Bellingham village on the road to Wark and Hexham.

The Croft, Bellingham

I went to the Church of England Reed’s School in Bellingham where the school teachers were Miss Turnbull in the infants, Jean Milburn in the Juniors, and Mr Greener in the seniors, later to be followed by Joe Lumley.

Working at age 14
I reached the magic leaving age of 14 in the middle of the war in 1941 and started working as an apprentice joiner to Bob & Jim Milburn in Bellingham. Rather than finish my time I left, planning to be called up for military service , as I was keen to join the Navy but was too young.

I got a job cutting timber in 1943 around the Bellingham Show field and on Hesleyside estate with a contractor Jimmy Dixon from Wolsingham. My boss was Alexander Grigor from Aberdeen and after finishing around Bellingham we moved out to Highgreen, living in a van which was a converted old bus.

We cut the timber at a place called Gimmerston - all Scotts Pine and Norway Spruce. Then off we went to a place called Etherley near Bishop Auckland, and after a few weeks there we were moved to Fir Tree near Crook in Country Durham.

Then on to South Moor, near Stanley, with a temporary move to Helmsley in Yorkshire to cut out some dangerous Beech trees in Duncombe Park. One had blown down and killed a Canadian soldier as they were billeted in Nissin huts in the Park.

German prisoners
We were in Lodgings in Sproxton, a small village near by, and after a couple weeks we returned to South Moor and had quite a few acres of trees to deal with, so my boss engaged six German Prisoners from a near by camp to help with the task.

They were all good workers and caused no trouble. They used to walk about half a mile each way to come to work, and return to catch the prison bus back to camp in the afternoon. That’s where I had my 18th birthday, and the prisoners gave me a big bunch of Foxgloves which they picked coming through the plantation to work that morning! They were all good hands at using an axe to dress the trees out after they had been felled and must have preferred that to being in the front line.

The Royal Navy calls
A couple of weeks later in 1945 I achieved my ambition and was called up for the Royal Navy where I trained to be a Air Mechanic with the Fleet Air Arm. I was posted to a squadron of Sea Fires and Sea Hurricanes to be sent out to Trincomalee in Ceylon. After having embarkation leave, on our return to Lee on Solent, we were told it had all been cancelled, so there we stayed until our demob when I walked away in a brand new ‘utility’ suit and hat.

Bill Charlton

Back to trees
Returning home I managed to get work cutting timber again with H.D. Ward of Wolsingham who happened to be working at Lee Hall near Wark in the North Tyne. But when the job finished I started on the Forestry Commission and spent a few years with the roving team from Bellingham working at Pundershaw, Chirdon, Highfield, Byrness, and out as far as Edges Green, up the Military Road, which was the far out post of the Wark Forest.

During the years with the Commission I married in 1951 to Mary Patricia (nee Haldane) and we setup house at Brookside Place in Bellingham for a while before moving to a council house in Westlands. We stayed there for a few years before moving to our own house at No 8, The Croft.

I was sick of trees so changed my job again driving for Hugh Thompson, Haulage Contractors in Bellingham where I stayed until we all emigrated to Australia in 1965.

Bill's passing
Bill died in Australia at Coff's Harbour in New South Wales where he lived with his wife and near his family  A seat was made and rests beside the Bellingham cemetery near the Croft where Bill was brought up.
The plaque reads - ' In Loving Memory of A W (Bill) 1927-2014. A Geordie Lad for Ever."

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