Early in the war, mother applied for Harry, Jim and myself to be sent to relatives in Australia. This program was cancelled while we were waiting for an available ship. However as part of the process we had to have an extensive medical evaluation. I recall Hannah taking me to Houghton-le-Spring by bus for the medical exam. I also had to have some teeth filled and she took me to a dentist in Thornley. This was the first visit to a dentist’s office and was a frightening experience. They did not use any anaesthetic and the drill was a treadle operated device with lots of pulleys and belts. Hannah told me that I screamed so much that the people in the waiting room fled the dentist’s office.
Travel was not easy due to restricted service in wartime but we were able to visit aunty Jenny in Nunthorpe, Yorks. and aunty Olive in Penrith Cumberland for a few days holiday. Very few people in Trimdon Village had cars, maybe a dozen, so everyone relied on the bus service to get around. The beaches which were visited before the war were closed to the public and guarded with pill boxes, anti-tank devices and barbed wire. The one place we could go was to the Fish Sands in Old Hartlepool. This area was inside the harbour by the old fish quay. A sandy area was exposed between high tides and accessed through a portal in the old town wall. Going to the fish sands was a real treat, a bus ride to Hartlepool, transferring to the double deck electric bus (Trackless) between the Hartlepools, riding on the top deck in the front seat.
Moms Aunt Minnie lived in a flat right on the sea wall next to the Fish Sands. Mother always made a visit for a cup of tea and a chat. The real treat was a visit to a British Restaurant called “The Haven” a block from the town wall. These restaurants were established by the government to provide a cheap and nutritious meal for workers. They were also open to the general public. Ration books were not required when using this facility.
There were always lots of things to see while at the Fish Sands, the ship channel into the harbour ran parallel with the beach, there was a lot of traffic of cargo ships, mostly coal carriers, coming and going. Similarly fishing was a large industry and these smaller boats were also in and out of the harbour. There was a dredger working to keep the channel open most of the time. There was a ferry by the lifeboat station that ferried workers across the shipping channel from Old Hartlepool to Middleton where the factories were that made ships engines and built ships. The ferry was a large open row boat, the ferryman stood in the stern and sculled his way across the channel. For adults the fare was one penny each way, children a halfpenny. We were always thrilled to make a round trip on the ferry for a penny.
Penrith was a bus ride to Darlington and then take the train across the Pennines stopping at many small towns and villages along the way. The train chugged its way up to the Stainmore summit almost slowing to walking pace and then seem to race down the other side. It was along walk from Penrith station to Aunty Olive’s house. Cousin Gordon was a champion swimmer and his pool was the river Eden. I never liked the water and used to turn blue after a few minutes in this river. Gordon kept this skill throughout his life and would assist in deep water recovery through his late seventies. A favourite spot of mothers’ was also on the Eden, Nunnery Walks. We would walk along the river and look at the waterfalls. Present day this walk is now closed to the public. Another hike was up through the forest to the Beacon, high above Penrith.
Aunt Jennie lived in Nunthorpe in a large house near the Station. They owned a garage and petrol station over the tracks from the station which was closed for the duration of the war. Her husband had deserted her and moved to London leaving her with his son Peter from a previous marriage and Peter’s granny, together with their own four children. What I remember about these visits was that she had lots of patience, especially dealing with Peter and his demanding Granny. We could roam through the woods, play in the garage, and hike up Roseberry Topping. The most memorable thing I remember was walking across the fields to Marton Moor Church on Sunday mornings. On one visit, the army were doing a simulated attack through the village and into the woods. They were using blank ammunition and thunder flashes (loud explosion). Peter and I went around picking up spent brass cartridge cases after the exercise but also found some live blanks and thunder sticks. Not knowing anything better, we took these apart to get the gunpowder out without realising how dangerous this could be. Aunt Jennie was very angry with us when she found out what we had done.
Early in the war there was an exercise to test the civil defense capabilities of The Village. There was a mock attack by the army on the water tower at the top of The Village. The home guard were out in strength defending the tower and the army crept stealthily along the hedgerows in full camouflage kit. They ignored us children who watched all the activity with interest. Simultaneously, to test The Village emergency preparedness, the village was bombed with bags of whitewash by an RAF plane flying low over the houses. A makeshift hospital and kitchen was set up in the school, fire wardens and other voluntary groups were put to work on simulated casualties and bomb damage. People were taken from the bombed streets and buildings, assigned injuries and taken to the school for treatment.