The Wartime Memories of Bob Whitfield

Robert (“Bob”) William Whitfield was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1927, although he was brought up at Tantobie, near to Tanfield and Stanley in County Durham. He was approaching 12 years old when World War 2 started. At the end of the War, he was called up into the Royal Navy for just over 2 years of service.

His father was a miner. His mother had Bob when she was quite old, towards the end of her 30s, and she died early on in the War from breast cancer.

Bob went on to train to be a teacher and taught for most of his career in South Shields.

This transcript records his memories before and during World War 2 together with other experiences. Bob’s wife, Gill, attended the interview.

The transcript and the video are about 34 minutes long.

Recorded in Tynemouth, North Shields, Tyne & Wear on 19th March 2019.

Bob died peacefully at home on 13th October 2019.

[Pauses indicated by ….]

Time codes on film indicated by Hour:Minute:Second for ease of reference between transcript and film on YouTube.

Transcript: –

The interview started by Michael asking Bob about his parents.

Bob: They had me when my what my mother was 39 or 40, so that was quite late really. Dad was a miner. He wasn’t into love and happiness with his kid, but he was all right with me. It was my mother that had the great effect on me and that went on from when I was born 1927 …. and up to when she wasn’t well, in 1942-43 when the War had started, but up to there, I had a lovely life …. at school I was doing well, and everything was going well until one day I came in, my mother came in and she was weeping. She was preparing the lunch …. so that was a shock of my life …. and she just learned that she had cancer in the breast ….

Michael: Oh dear.

Bob: So, things very …. went down …. I was gonna say very slowly. It …. it seemed fast but it was probably just general …. it wasn’t quick but …. yeah and I knew then that my Dad wouldn’t be able to cope with what was needed for me.

Michael: Yes.

Bob: So, I had in my mind I determined that I had to look after myself without being too callous with other people and that’s how it worked out. It was hard going and particularly as I had to join the Navy ….

Michael:  Yes, what did your dad do?

Bob: He was a coal miner

Michael: Yes.

Bob: He worked at Dipton pit …. a huge coal …. was a hard life, very hard and there was no bathroom in the house where we first lived ….

Michael:  Yes

The Terrace in which Bob was brought up.

Bob: …. and he came, walked, they walked, there was more than him, walked down from Dipton down to Tantobie, where we were born …. wait no, no, where we lived, and they came down black with the coal dust and that’s …. my mother had the hot water in the zinc bath already waiting for him.

Michael: Did she? Yes ….

Bob: and that was his nightly scrub …. [laughing] So, yeah it was, it was not easy life, but the people were lovely, I did love them …. Oh yeah, Tantobie and the people that lived up there on the …. it’s a hillside village.

Tantobie in 2019.

Michael: Yes.

Bob: And …. they didn’t have a colliery actually, but there were all around and my father had to go. He worked at Dipton and he worked at Tanfield Lea, and …. There was plenty of work in the …. in the mines.

Michael:  All this is, this is near Stanley, isn’t it?

Bob: It is, Michael, that’s right. Eventually, it got him down …. my mother’s poor health ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: He kept awake …. slept with it, well slept in the same room with her, and in the end, he had to give up and go into something else.

Michael: So, what did he do?

Bob: After he gave up?

Michael: Yes.

Bob: He collected money for the council out of the meters.

Michael: Oh right.

Bob: Yes, that’s the only one I can remember, he might have done something else, Michael, but I do remember him going, collecting money.

Michael: Yes, yes, so you were brought, you were born actually in Tantobie?

Bob: No, I was born in Newcastle ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob:  I came …. I did live straight away in Tantobie ….

Michael: Yes, so that was where you’re your early life was spent in Tantobie ….

Bob: It was, yea ….

Michael: Yes, and you went to school?

Bob: Yes, at Tantobie Junior School …. Oh, I loved that one and …. I was fairly bright, so I, you know, I quite enjoyed it all. And then, I went to the grammar school at Stanley and …. then my mother had died by the time ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. Then, so I couldn’t think of going on to university ….

Michael: Just going back to the junior school …. I mean, that what can you, do you have any sort of specific memories, do you think, of things that happened there, people who taught you ….

Bob: Oh absolutely, I know them all ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob:  …. in my mind’s eye, yes, mainly ladies. There was a guy called Wells, eventually came and …. but I quite like the women teachers who had taught me and …. Yeah, that was, it was very good …. them …. some of them were tough …. tough nuts but if you kept yourself right, you didn’t stand on too many toes really.

Michael: I mean this is early thirties, early to mid-30s, you would have been there ….

Bob: Yeah.

Michael: Did you have any friends there that ….

Bob: Where, Michael?

Michael: At Tantobie, in the Junior School?

Bob: Oh yea, we played every night there. You know that’s …. that was …. it was a big thing at Tantobie …. your pals, at night time, you played running, games of all sorts ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. made up games or when the cricket season came on, you played cricket, certainly football, so it was all, it was a going concern, sport, yes.

Michael: Yes of course and then by the time you were 11, I guess, did you move on to the grammar school?

Bob: Yes, and that was when the War started ….

Michael: Pretty well in 1938 ….

Bob: …. and we didn’t attend for two or three weeks, then they got it sorted out, for how we should attend, not the War …. [Laughing] and it was a halting start for me, senior, senior education.

Michael: So, but before we talk about that, do you remember the War starting? Was there anything that …. can you remember what happened?

Bob:  There was nothing, I mean, down in the …. they started bombing the shipyards at Newcastle, not long after it started ….

Michael: That’s right.

Bob:  But that was about the first things, I remember ….

Michael: That was about 1940, I guess ….

Bob:  About there, yes …. Something like that ….

Michael: But in 1939, do you, do you remember the day that war started?

Bob: Oh yes, it was, everybody was solemn about that one ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: I do remember that, yes, and I thought God would be bombing us tomorrow, you know, that sort of thing and ….

Michael: That would have been a natural reaction.

Bob:  Yeah, it was and …. we sort of took a deep breath and all for the best really, Michael, and they had …. they’d already built air raid shelters ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. for when there were …. they were …. when they thought they were coming over when people who are out walking or something like …. At home, we had Anderson air raid shelters ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob:  I don’t think we had one. My mother was always …. had to be sure, she had a brick one built ….

Michael: Oh yes.

Bob:  …. three courses of brick ….

Michael: Oh yes.

Bob: No messing and that was in the back yard of the house we lived in, and there was a terrace and that was actually C.W.S. house. The Co-op were selling houses then ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. and we could, I suppose support there was …. but nothing ever really …. came persistently and in the end that air raid shelter was where my mother did the washing.

Michael: Yes, yes, so what sort of roof, did it have?

Bob: All concrete.

Michael: Wow ….  

Bob: Yeah.

Michael: …. that was pretty impressive ….

Bob: Oh yeah, it was, it was thick as well …. Wore …. But it had these three layers of brick underneath you know, and it took it.

Michael: Do you remember having to use it?

Bob: For, because of an air raid?

Michael: Yes.

Bob:  Maybe, twice only but I couldn’t, I don’t know for sure, Michael, no ….

Michael: I mean it wouldn’t, you were a fair distance away from, from Newcastle.

Bob: Oh yes, ten miles, yes, yes ….

Michael: So ….

Bob:  I remember, there was only one bomb dropped near Tantobie. It was just down the valley at Tanfield, and I could hear it coming down ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: That’s the only time I ever heard a bomb flying through the air ….

Michael: Really.

Bob: Yeah, and luckily it just went into a field look at you just went, and they were filled in time field so you at Tanfield.

Michael: So, you ….


Michael: …. Did you ever go into Newcastle itself?

Bob: Oh yes, I was …. Yeah, and life wasn’t too difficult really, Michael, no, no, I used to go to the cinema.

Michael: Really, so how would you travel there?

Bob: Bus ….

Michael: There was a bus from Tantobie?

Bob:  Oh yeah, yes. Well, from Stanley particularly ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob:  Stanley was the bigger village of the area ….

Michael: Yeah.

Bob: …. and if need be, I would go to Stanley. I was spoiled for choice really, Michael, yeah ….

Michael: Yes, and how did you keep up with things like the news? I suppose there was the cinema ….

Bob: Well, there was a story about this. When I was six? Seven. I got scarlet fever ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. and I took it badly and I took just as badly, I was separated from my mother at Langley Park Hospital, and in the end, they, she asked them if I could come home because they were dead worried. I wasn’t …. I was getting worse rather than better, and …. So, I came home and, what am I leading up to here, Gill?

Gill:  The radio, she bought you ….

Bob: Oh, yes …. and to keep my spirits up, they bought me a …. God ….

Michael: Would it be a crystal set or something like that?

Bob: No, no. It wasn’t, it was a wireless ….

Michael: A proper wireless ….

Gill: Rediffusion?

Bob:  No, Gill, no, no, it starts with a “D” …. Damn, I have forgotten its name ….

Michael: Right.

Bob:  and it was there in the kitchen when I came home. Well, that lifted my spirits, because I was in bed for about 12 weeks after that just, get, trying to get better ….

Michael: And that was during the War, itself ….

Bob: Yes, it was ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: No, was it not, Gill?

Gill: It was before the War ….

Michael: Was it?

Bob: Oh, yes, it was before the War, yes, yes, I was six or seven. I was …. that’s right, Michael, sorry ….

Michael: Yes, so …. So, you kept up with, it because the reason I asked that, if you go to the cinema, there would have been newsreels or things like that …. So, you would have seen that sort of thing ….

Bob: Oh yes, yes …. there was, we had three cinemas at Stanley ….

Michael: Did you?

Bob: Yeah, yeah, yeah, there were …. the local mining and the mining lads used to go, you know, the family ….it was the thing to do really ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: Yeah.

Michael: So, during the War itself, you were, you were by this time at the grammar school in Stanley ….

Bob: Yes.

Michael: What was that like?

Bob: It was good, it was mixed. Well, I had had a hard time, my mother wasn’t well, and they were actually dead worrying in case I didn’t pass the exam.

Michael: Yes.

Bob: No, I don’t mean the family, but the teachers were worried. My family as well, but the teachers were, and I got there, and I enjoyed it really. I was doing …. I was …. I was a competitor really and I knew I hadn’t done well …. and I had a talk. I had it all weighed up. When I got there, I was in the second class down.

Michael: Yes.

Bob: This is on ability. I thought, “No God, this is no good.” You know I wanted the top class …. So, I used to go …. and at the end of the first term, we had a general exam for the whole three classes. There were just three classes.

Michael: Yes.

Bob: There was one, a general one for the three classes and I knew I was close, and I used to go back in …. I used to go into the other, the top classes had their lists up and I used to see what the marks were.

Michael: Yeah.

Bob:  That way, you could get your way in, and I thought “God, I’ve come ….” It’s dodgy, this kind of thing, but, it worked, and I got into the top, top class, and I never stirred from there after that.

Michael: Right. Now, at that time, were there many teachers in the school?

Bob: Mainly women.

Michael: Mainly women, so any men had gone off to War, had they?

Bob: That’s right. One or two came back while I was there …. but by and …. Yes, it was, that was the reason, Michael ….

Michael: Yes, yes, indeed, so ….

Bob: …. and they couldn’t, they didn’t let, have married women, you know.

Michael: Yes.

Bob: There was my Latin teacher, I mean, she was, she was lovely. I liked her. I worked hard for her ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. and got good marks for her, but, but then she went and got married, so, that was farewell, you know.

Bob Whitfield as a young man.

Michael: Right, so, they, yeah, but she would have married a serviceman presumably ….

Bob: I don’t know, Michael, who she married …. No, I don’t know.

Michael: No. No, no. So, when, when did you finish at the at the Grammar School?

Bob: 1944.

Michael: And, and what, what exams did you pass for that?

Bob: GCSE …. no, no, no, no, no, School Certificate ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: The Oxford school certificate.

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. and I did all right on that one, but I knew I couldn’t stay on at school. My family said …. my bigger family, my mother’s side of the family, particularly the …. “He’s not to go down the mines ….” And, they wanted, they wanted him [his father] to see that I could stay on in school into the highers, and go on from there into university, but I knew that wasn’t fair, that I should go and earn some cash because he, he’d had a bad time and he wasn’t working very well. In fact, he had to give up for while ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: So, I went and started work on the railway …. at the office ….

Michael: Right, okay, which railway was that?

Bob: The LNER. [London North Eastern Railway]

Michael: Yes and was that in Newcastle or was it ….?

Bob:  Oh, yeah, well, let’s see, Newcastle, oh, no, was that where I worked, you mean?

Michael: Yes.

Bob:   Yes, it was, Michael …. Gateshead ….

Michael: Oh, Gateshead ….

Bob: Yes, Gateshead ….

Michael: So, you had to commute in there every day ….

Bob: Yes, that’s by bus ….

Michael: By bus ….

Bob: …. from Tantobie, yes ….

Michael: Yeah, how long did that go on for?

Bob: Well that …. that was 44 and damn me, they called me up for the Forces.

Michael: Did they?

Bob: Oh, yeah, yeah …. [Gill laughing in background]

Michael: Well, what year was that?

Bob: 1945, I had to go in, but it continued after the War had finished ….

Michael: Yes, yes indeed. So, this wasn’t National Service, this was actual call up ….

Bob:  No, it was before National Service ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob:  National Service was the continuation of it ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: I forgot what the term was …. oh God I thought that was …. the shock of me life when I knew I had to go in the Forces.  God!

Michael: Yes.

Bob: I had had enough, my mother had died, I was working …. And I, God …. It was awful that, so, I spun a coin, and I went into the Navy.

Michael: Right. So, what was that like, tell me, take me through what happened when you joined up.

Bob: Well you sat Exams at the beginning ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. and if you did well, you’d probably ….

Michael: Where did they send you?

Bob: Skegness.

Michael: Right ….

Bob: And sat exams there …. and I got good marks, so they promoted me …. before, just as I completed me training and I became …. what was it, Gill? Oh, damn.

Michael: Would you be an Able Seaman or something?

Bob: Oh, hell, no, it was above that ….

Michael: Right

Bob: [Laughing] Oh no, no, that would have been, I would have awful about that. Laugh at that please, please laugh about it ….

Gill: Sub….

Bob: No, it doesn’t matter, sweet heart ….

Michael: Were you an officer?

Bob: No, no, no, no, no, I was …. I’m still trying to think what it was ….

Michael: But ….

Bob: It wasn’t a Petty Officer even, it was the one below Petty Officer …. [probably Leading Seaman]

Michael: Right ….

Bob: …. and that was just from my exam marks ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. not that I wanted to do terribly well in the Navy, to be quite honest.

Michael: So, did you see the sea? They say, “Join the Navy to see the Sea!”

Bob: I saw the sea. I went to Singapore ….

Michael: Did you?

Bob: Yeah, and the nicest part of the sea was when …. it was an Aircraft Carrier …. the Formidable …. and it was trooping, it wasn’t firing, it wasn’t …. it didn’t have aircraft any more ….

Michael: No.

Bob: …. and in the hangar space, was tiers of bed, four four four, four four four, together …. right down the hangar space …. and the trooping, bringing troops back from the Far East and that sort of thing ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob:  That was me, that was why I had this trip to Singapore, but coming back, HMS Formidable paid off. That means, it wasn’t …. it was out of action and it went …. and it came back in January, February to Portsmouth [in 1947], which was, which was where I was based, and it went from Portsmouth around Lands End, up the west coast into the Hebrides ….

Michael:  Yes.

Bob: …. and it was snow-covered. It was wonderful. That was the only time in the Navy, I thought, “This is great!” And this, because it was an aircraft carrier, we could play deck hockey as well ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. and if you’ve never played deck hockey in the Hebrides with snow on them, you’ve missed a lot. So, that was the best part of the Navy for me, Michael ….

Michael: Yes, yes. So how long were you in the Navy?

Bob: Oh, two and a bit, two years three months roughly ….

Michael: Yeap, so you didn’t sign up for any more after that!

Bob: [Laughing] No!

Michael: I guess the principal tasks of …. While you were in the Navy was actually bringing the troops back from the Far East, wasn’t it?

Bob: I was just a store keeper …. I looked after the stores ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. and trooping the men back, that was all, Michael, sure ….


Michael: Yeah, so you come back in about 1947, or thereabouts ….

Bob: No, before that …. I came …. I think I came back in ‘44 ….

Michael: No, no ….

Bob: No, no, sorry, sorry ….

Michael: Because if you went into the Navy in ‘45 ….

Bob: 45, I came out in …. ’48 ….

Michael: I would say about ‘48, was it?  

Bob: Beginning of ’48, yes ….

Michael: Because you were born in November of ’27, so, so, yeap, that’s right. So, ’48 …. 1948, you come back to this country ….

Bob: Yes.

Michael: What happens next? You’re out of the Navy ….

Bob: Oh, I knew what had done, I knew I was …. I couldn’t think of anything other than teaching ….

Michael: Right.

Bob: …. Yeah, and I knew I didn’t want to go back into a railway office and just fill the forms in and that sort of stuff. I needed some sort of …. like I …. Well, academic challenge of some kind ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob:  Use your brains and so on, and then, I was preparing to …. get into teacher training college, while I was in the Navy ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. and I went on, when I came home on leave, I did, had me interviews, so that come 1948, I was ready to go to Bede’s College, Durham.

Michael: Right, so you go to college, and how long are you there?

Bob: Two years, only. They wanted me to do a three-year course, but I didn’t, I just wanted to get me certificate and get out and make me way, you know ….

Michael: Yes, quite.  I mean, what was your father doing all this time? I mean, was he on his own?

Bob: No, no, he had a housekeeper ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: He married her, didn’t he, Gill, that’s right. So, I was pleased about that. He was in Tantobie.

Michael: Yes, yes, so, you, you, you finish at college. Where do you go from there?

Bob: South Shields.

Michael: Right. That’s, that’s quite a move from Tantobie, isn’t it?

Bob:  Oh yes, it was it, was, it was. I did …. when I was at college, I did my first training …. Me first teaching practice was at South Shields, Ocean Road.

Michael: Yes.

Bob: South Shields. I did other, three practices after that, but I always remembered that one and when I came out, I applied for South Shields ….

Michael: Did you?

Bob: …. a job in South Shields, and that’s how I got there, Michael, so ….

Michael:  Yes, and did you live in the South Shields area?

Bob: Yes. I went and lived there, and I think, had I got married, Gill?

Gill: Yes ….

Bob: Yea, my first wife …. we’d got married in the August [1950], I think it was, and we started in South Shields in the September.

Michael: Right, and never looked back with the teaching in those days ….

Bob: Oh, no, no, I liked teaching and I wasn’t, when I think about it, I wasn’t too …. I wasn’t too fussy about education, that seems stupid …. I was fussy about teaching though, and how to do the damn thing well, you know, when I really set my mind to it, and you know, sort of satisfaction, I enjoyed, you know.

Michael: I mean, what was the major drive? Was it making sure you did your best to …. to educate your pupils ….

Bob: Oh yes, I was that kind of bloke ….

Michael: Yes ….

Bob: …. Was ever entering anything, had to do me best ….

Michael: Yes, yes, so and then that that became your career from there on in, basically.

Bob: Yes, it did, yeah, yeah ….

Michael: One thing I didn’t ask is, did you have any brothers or sisters?

Bob: No, no, I was the only child ….

Michael: The only child, yeah yeah. One of the things, I like to ask about the War, is whether there was for you any legacy, anything that happened that influenced the rest of your life. Now, this is not the easiest two questions to answer to be honest.

Bob: No, no ….

Michael: I mean, you were brought up first of all in, just outside Newcastle. You go, you’re educated, War comes to an end and yours, your …. but clearly from what I …. from what you’ve said, the actual business of War itself probably didn’t affect you too much.

Bob: It didn’t, no …. No ….

Michael: …. because you, you might, you might have seen the results of bombing ….

Bob: Yes.

Michael: …. but you never saw it, just …. apart from the one bomb landing in a field …. and so on.

Bob: That’s right, yes, Michael ….

Michael: If you went into Newcastle, did you see any sort of damage, particularly?

Bob: I can’t remember but I bet there was.

Michael: There would have been there would have been, around the docks ….

Bob: I really can’t remember, Michael ….

Michael: …. Certainly.

Bob: Oh yeah, in the …. Yeah, yeah ….

Michael: So, would I be right in saying that, actually, you are lucky enough in a way to be able to live through the War and not be too influenced by it?

Bob: That’s right …. Yeah.

Michael: And maybe the Navy influenced you more than anything, afterwards?

Bob:  Well, it did, yeah ….

Michael: I mean, your reaction to going into it and you obviously didn’t like it much ….

Bob: Oh, no, God, no ….

Michael: What was it you didn’t like about the Navy?

Gill: The lack of freedom ….

Bob: What, Gill?

Gill: Lack of freedom ….

Bob: Oh, the lack of freedom, oh, God, yes ….

Michael: Really?

Bob: Yeah, yeah, I could see that why they did it, the way they did it of course …. was that there were loads of dopes …. joined the Navy or had to join the Navy, you know.

Michael: Yes.

Bob: So, you had to be tough …. to get them into a line, but the guys like me that, we just wanted to do the job and get out …. they didn’t have to be tough with me they get a man into line …. I can tell you.

Michael: Yeah [laughing] …. So, eventually you find what? Best just to do what you told and get on with it ….

Bob: Oh yeah, oh yeah, then wait for …. Well, me number, I had a demob number …. I’ve forgotten what it was, do you know, my dear? And I used to think, “Oh, I’m getting close, I’m getting close to my demob number ….”

Michael: Yes.

Bob: And it came up, and that was the beginning of the year, it came up, and I was able to get out in the April.

Michael: Yes.

Bob: That was lovely, yes.

Michael: So, where were you when you were demobbed?

Bob:  Where was I when I was demobbed?

Michael: Yes.

Gill: Portsmouth?

Bob: Oh, you mean from the Navy?

Michael: Yes.

Bob: Oh yeah, Portsmouth, yes, yes.

Michael: So, essentially …. Suddenly, you find yourself, you’re out of your uniform …. did you have a debob suit?

Bob: Oh yes, I got a demob suit, yes …. Yes ….

Michael: What was that like?

Bob:  It was all right ….

Michael: Okay. [Laughing]

Bob: I wore it, I didn’t mind wearing that just, to get me out the place.

Michael: Yes, yes, and then how did you get home from there?

Bob: Oh, you to get passes from the Navy, you know ….

Michael: Yeah.

Bob: …. and I came from Portsmouth to Waterloo, King’s Cross to Newcastle ….

Michael: Yeah and …. you get home. Was home still Tantobie at that time?

Bob: Yes, it was, yes ….

Michael: Okay. Going back into the War itself, did you have any idea about rationing, things like that?

Bob:  Oh, yea ….

Michael: The availability of food?

Bob:  Yea, absolutely ….

Michael: Were you influenced by that?

Bob: Oh yes, yeah, you know you had to be careful, Michael ….

Michael: Yes, do you have any recollections of things like queues, or scarcity, things?

Bob:  Yes, I do, yes yeah. You used to go and see about the rations. The shops got certain rations in today, you know?

Michael: Yeah.

Bob: And people would go and get what they could ….

Michael: Mad scramble ….

Bob: Yeah, they would have to produce something from the ration book like ….

Michael: Yeah.

Bob: You couldn’t just go down and say, “Come on, give us me whatever ….” Well, you could but you had to give them little stamps out of your Ration book.

Michael: Yes. And, and I whether, what, what were the things which were scarcest, would you say? I mean, bananas? Did you ever see a banana during the War?

Bob:  Oh, yes, saw bananas, I think, yes ….  I am trying to think what was scarcest …. Butter ….

Michael: Oranges, butter, yes.

Bob: Butter oh yes, what was that, sweetheart?

Gill: Meat ….

Bob: Oh, meat, yeah meat, yeah, and the butchers were strict ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: Yeah.

Michael: Yeah …. I guess most people would have been influenced, unless you lived in somewhere like the north of Scotland where there seemed to be no shortage of food at all …. but being back, near a port, of course, you would have probably had more opportunity. Newcastle would probably have had more opportunity for food coming in and so on ….

Bob: Possibly, I can’t, I wouldn’t like to say, Michael, no.

Michael: Okay.

Gill: Your Dad had an allotment, so you ….

The Tantobie allotments as they are in 2019.

Bob: Oh yeah, blimey …. So, that got me onto the, yeah, my Dad had allotment garden and he produced food ….

Michael: Did he?

Bob: Yes, and he, when he was poorly, I felt …. I should continue it ….

Michael: Yeah.

Bob: …. and I started growing for this, well for him …. Because he kept, it was an allotment which was quite big. I kind of, look, there’s nothing here, I couldn’ half describe it, but it, I knew, if it just go left, it would just get ruined or just left for rubbish, so, I did the turning over and put potatoes in for him really, Michael.

Michael: Yes.

Bob: …. because that was easy, and I didn’t have to know too much. I borrowed them, and yeah ….

Michael: So, did that influence you later on in life?

Bob: Yes, it did ….

Michael: Till, do you have an allotment of your own?

Bob: Yeah, it did, you are right, yeah ….

Michael: Yeah.

Bob:  It was, yeah, it did, I mean I started one off when I when I first got married. It was a new house that was built and there were fields out the back ….

Michael:  Yes.

Bob: …. of these houses and then there were the allotments, were going to be there so I had this …. The guy lived next door, we agreed we would work together, I didn’t want the full allotment, because they were pretty big. He decided to do half and I would do half as well, and I got this, we took this sod, the grass sods off first ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob:  …. lined, it made a wall of grass sods. I turned them over, and they would gradually break down ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: I could use them, and once, once you’ve got them, that off the top, you turned it over and put your spuds in or whatever else it was, Michael.

Michael: Yes. So, you relied on a good crop of those ….

Bob:  Oh, yeah, right.

Michael: Did other people have a look at what you were doing and say, “Let’s barter …. Let’s …. if you give us ….”

Bob:  No, the guys that were there were pitmen [referring back to Tantobie] …. they were in there, they were in the allotments. They had good allotments ….

Michael: Yes. So, they looked after their families ….

Bob: Oh, not half …. Not half, yeah …. They used to enter shows, vegetable shows, you know ….

Michael: Yeah.

Bob: Yeah.

Michael: And that was during the War itself?

Bob: No, this was after it ended, I think. It was, yes.

Michael: Yeah.

Bob: Was it not, Gill?

Gill: Yes, in Tantobie village ….

Bob: Oh, that was my Dad’s ….

Michael: Yes.

Bob: But I had one down in South Shields as well, Michael, sorry ….

Michael: Yes, yes, okay …. If you were …. You’ve enjoyed a quite an interesting life. You’ve, you’ve spent a lot of your time teaching. Presumably, and being in contact with young people. If you were to give advice to young people today, have you any thoughts as to what advice you might give them?  It’s quite a tricky one this and not everyone has an answer for it.

Bob: Just get good qualifications, Michael ….

Michael: Yes ….

Gill: Be happy, be happy ….

Bob: Or, Gill, be happy ….

Michael: Be happy, get good qualifications ….

Bob: Yes, Yes.

Michael: Work hard ….

Bob: Oh yeah, get your qualifications if you work hard, Michael, sure ….

Michael: Indeed …. Okay, well I think we’re just about drawing to a close ….

Bob: Are we? Okay.

Michael: …. unless there is something, unless there is anything that you’re bursting to tell me but ….

Bob: I don’t think there is, no, no ….

Michael:  Bob, thank you very much for ….

Bob: Oh, it’s been good to have you ….

Michael: …. for allowing us in …. it has been a very interesting talk ….

Bob: I enjoyed you being here ….

Michael: Okay.

Bob: You can just leave everything if you like [Laughing].

Photograph taken by Bob’s wife, Gill, during the interview.

[Bob was referring to the filming equipment]

Michael: Okay, right, thank you very much.

Interview recorded by Michael Thompson, Hardy Productions UK, Manchester, for WarGen. Transcription by Michael Thompson.

In memory of Bob Whitfield – 10 November 1927 to 13 October 2019

Caliban, The Tempest Act 3 Scene 3

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.


Author: mjthompson2017

Since retiring from Civil Engineering some years ago, I took up film making professionally. Now, I have retired from that but will continue to work with WarGen filming War Memories as long as I can, even though I am in my 70s.

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