A Quiet Place

At this time Trimdon was a quiet place, there were virtually no cars and traffic was almost non-existent. There were scheduled bus services which picked up at the adjacent villages and the final destinations were the towns of Durham, Hartlepool, Darlington and Sunderland. Special buses carried the miners to and from the pits for the various shifts. None of this traffic passed through the area in which we lived, west of the cross roads, so the streets were the playground..

There were very few children of my age in the neighbourhood, they were more the age of my brothers Harry and Jim. The Davison family lived two doors away and their children, Raymond and older sister Nora were the closest friends I had. Their dad Jimmy always was a puzzle since he never seemed to go out to work. I found out later that he was a “Bookie’s Runner” who collected local bets for a Bookie, which was highly illegal at that time, but an open secret.

Village politics were quite interesting, anyone living west of the Manor House were considered outsiders and there was little fraternisation. A further divide was along religious lines, Catholics under the firm hand of the priest had to attend church and their children had to go to the Catholic School. Inter-mixing and even playing with the protestants was strongly discouraged.

We tagged along with the older children and tried to participate in their games of football and cricket. There were no playing fields and they had to sneak onto a farmer’s field at the end of Broadway Avenue. The local policeman Hutchinson would come and chase them away, to stop them playing in this field. One day he issued them summonses and took them to court in Castle Eden, where they were all fined. By chance or design, his own children were not there that day.

Brothers Jim and Harry were very mechanically inclined and were always fixing things. They were very adept at making toys out of scrap material and I followed the same trait. Jim tells me that when I was quite young, I worked on an old gun they had found and restored it to a working condition. I have no recollection of this. These were the times when people made their own entertainment. We did listen to the radio and occasionally see a film at the “Alhambra Picture House” in Fishburn (always walking there and back). Mother always told us stories and read from books when we were young. We also played simple card games around the kitchen table, usually on Sunday nights after mother came back from the evening service.

Walking was a pleasure that most people enjoyed, there were lots of public footpaths through the farmer’s fields and round trips could be taken. We would walk down the Village pass the “Devils” stone, along Cherry Wapping, cross the field to the “dog” pond, then onto “Charity Lands” a swampy area on the river Skerne (here just a little stream) where there lots of birds. To round the trip, walk up Horse Close Lane back to the village. Another favourite trip was a walk to “Carrs Pond” a larger body of open water where there were all kind of ducks, geese and swans.

World War 2

I clearly remember the time when World War II started. The government anticipating the likelihood of war started organising the civilian population in 1937. The Germans had used mustard gas in the First World War and they did not want the population to be caught with their pants down. Several measures were in place before the war was declared on September 3rd, 1939. The Air Raid Protection (ARP) was formed to patrol their local areas to be first responders in the event of bombing or gas attacks. They also monitored the communities to ensure a complete blackout at night by patrolling the area mostly by foot patrols. From memory they wore their ordinary clothes with an arm band, tin hat and a whistle. All members of the population were issued with a gas mask, babies had an unusual design which looked like the cartoon character Mickey Mouse.

The Home Guard was formed for local defence against attack on the ground. This group had some military training given locally and eventually wore an army uniform and had rifles. Initially they trained using wooden rifles. Barricades made from telegraph (hydro) poles were positioned at the sides of the roads leading into The Village. These positions were guarded every night and anyone using the roads coming into the village were challenged. Behind the hedges near the barricades, they had buried a metal garbage can with a hinged lid with a hasp and lock. These contained petrol bombs (Molotov Cocktails) with a wick ready for lighting, to be thrown at enemy vehicles, in the event of an invasion. These were useful as if we got tar on our clothes or hands, as children we could reach into the bins with our small hands and get sufficient petrol to clean ourselves up.

In this pre-war period the government stepped up the manufacture of ammunition, the nearest factory was in Aycliffe and a lot of women in the community worked there on a shift basis, including our mother. They had special buses which picked the workers up from the villages. They also started a program to build bomb shelters (Anderson Shelter). These were made from pre-bent corrugated galvanised steel and usually assembled by the recipient. We all participated in digging a hole in the back garden and building the shelter. The dirt removed from the hole was used to cover the steel. They were not too large and had bench seats along the sides. I do not believe that many people installed these in The Village, most people would shelter under the stairs or sturdy kitchen tables.

For any male in the proper age bracket, not in a reserved occupation, the government started a mandatory six months of military training in 1939. Conscription did not occur until after the outbreak of war. Because mining and farming were the prime industries in the area, very few were called up for service. In fact if you were in one of these industries you were not allowed to leave your job. I do not recall all of the men who were conscripted or joined the forces. I believe they had a choice as to which service they entered. The people I remember were:

Don Burton one of the school teachers, who lived across the road from us, he joined the navy.

Ralph Richards, my brother Billy’s friend who was a tail gunner in the RAF.

Jack Goodbody, Elsie’s brother, in the navy on HMS Hood.

My brother Billy, also in the navy, a petty officer electrical.

Jim Robinson, cousin, who lived in Cleveland Ave.

Two uncles, Harry Kell, (born Trimdon Colliery) retail worker Co-op Thornley, R.E.M.E., and Alec Burton, butcher Penrith Cumberland.

Ralph, Jack and uncle Harry lost their lives. Alec and Jim were captured at Dunkirk and spent the war years in a German prisoner of war camp. Don survived and returned to teaching after the war. Billy returned and got a job in electrical research and sub-sequentially graduated from Durham University.