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Two Rooms And A View: 29 - Peace At Last

...John and I also went to Sunday School in the afternoon. The highlight of the year for most Schools, was the Annual Recitation Service. This was a special evening service when every pupil, dressed in their Sunday best, was expected to stand up in front of the congregation and recite a piece of religious literature. The event always filled the Chapel to capacity, as families made once a year visits to hear their offspring 'say their piece'.

It therefore caused a major shock when I said I didn't want to conform. My mother wasn't bothered but I'm sure the School Superintendent only excused me because I was a townie. I was confident enough to complete the task, but I just wanted to be different...

Robert Owen recalls wartime chapel going - and the ending of World War Two.

For more of Robert's detailed and engrossing life story please click on Two Rooms And A View in the menu on this page.

Throughout our stay at Fence Houses my mother used to go to Lambton Primitive Methodist Chapel every Sunday evening with John's Aunt Annie. John and I were also forced to attend. There was no regular minister and I recall some of the demonstrative visiting preachers, who put the fear of God into us.

John and I also went to Sunday School in the afternoon. The highlight of the year for most Schools, was the Annual Recitation Service. This was a special evening service when every pupil, dressed in their Sunday best, was expected to stand up in front of the congregation and recite a piece of religious literature. The event always filled the Chapel to capacity, as families made once a year visits to hear their offspring 'say their piece'.

It therefore caused a major shock when I said I didn't want to conform. My mother wasn't bothered but I'm sure the School Superintendent only excused me because I was a townie. I was confident enough to complete the task, but I just wanted to be different.

Every year, I recollect being taken to other local Chapels and Churches to hear their pupils 'say their piece'. It was a competitive-like environment to see which institution could produce the best Recitation Service. Wherever we went I was always asked, "Have you said your piece?" When I answered, "No", they looked at my mother in disgust.

During the later years of the war, the Chapel organised annual bus trips to such places as Seaburn, Whitley Bay, Scarborough and Bridlington. These took place during the week, when the men were at work. I remember the trip to Scarborough and Bridlington for unpleasant reasons.

On the way there, we passed the new and famous Billy Butlin Holiday Camp at Filey. We were told it was the largest in the world. I read many years later that Filey U.D.C. had given planning permission in 1939 and in spite of the war, it was completed in 1941. To Billy Butlin's dismay, the Ministry of Defence immediately confiscated the site and filled it with 5,000 RAF personnel until the war was over.

When in Scarborough, I again demonstrated my independent wanderlust spirit by getting lost. The bus was delayed while everybody looked for me. When found, I was reprimanded and hustled into the bus. Then it happened.

John and I sat together and we had agreed to share the window seat. He would have it for the outward journey and I would occupy it for the return journey. This was okay until, following me getting into trouble for my late return to the bus, I found John sitting beside the window in 'my seat'. I asked him to move but he refused and added that I had lost the seat by being late. I must have been in a temper because without any hesitation, I took a swing and put my fist in his face.

Anyone passing would have thought World War III had started. John howled as his nose poured with blood, his aunt shrieked, my mother shouted at me, and many people in the bus talked loudly about this 'rough townie behaviour'. I thought we were going to be asked to leave. When the noise eventually quietened down, it was a very subdued journey back to Fence Houses. I got a good telling off and my seat beside the window, as John was moved to safer accommodation.

The YMCA was and still is situated just over where the main Sunderland to Durham railway was in Fence Houses. During the war years, many people made active use of the varied social facilities offered by the YMCA in their wooden building. However, when contacted recently, no record could be found of a major incident that took place near the end of the war.

It all began when we were returning from Chapel at about seven thirty on a Sunday evening. We were on the cut between Lambton and Fence Houses when we saw a large glow in the sky coming from the direction of the railway station. There had been no sirens or air-raids for years, so John and I detatched ourselves from the adults and went to investigate.

Was it the Northern Lights? We followed the glow up Gill Crescent and discovered the YMCA building, well alight! We watched, excitedly as the fire-service fought the flames and the police controlled the growing crowd of onlookers. It was the first real fire either of us had ever seen. We watched it for hours, talked about it at school for days, but never did discover the cause.

I will always remember the morning of 6th June, 1944. The school was holding its normal morning assembly when a parent came in and spoke quietly to the Headteacher. It seemed very important. The Headteacher then told the rest of the teachers and then explained to us that it had just been announced that British and Allied troops had invaded France. She said, "This is a day we will remember in history." It was, of course, D-Day.

The German answer to D Day was the VI and V2 flying bomb attacks on Greater London. These were really unmanned rockets that fell in an unpredictable way, once the engine had run out of fuel. They caused massive damage and loss of life. My mother commented again how fortunate it was that we didn't stay in London in 1935.

During 1945 as allied troops neared Berlin, the German leader, Hitler, committed suicide in an underground bunker. Also, as prisoners of war were released, the true extent of German war crimes became apparent. I remember how everybody was shocked by the skeleton-like figures of prisoners that appeared on the Pathe News at the local cinema.

Germany surrendered unconditionally on 8th May, 1945, and this became known as V.E.or Victory in Europe Day. I believe wild celebrations took place throughout the country. At Sixth Pit, we rejoiced with a street party in the back lane of High Row. Long tables and chairs were borrowed from the nearby Welfare, and families contributed food and drink for a children's sit-down tea. The back lane was decorated, paper hats were made and street games were played. The six year war was over!

Shortly after these festivities, a General Election was declared to take place on 5th July. This was completely new to me and I was keen to understand how it worked. Bob Charlton was again my able tutor. He explained about the different political parties, how the election was organised and how the government was formed. Sixth Pit was in the Chester-le-Street constituency, but the other end of Fence Houses was in the Houghton-le-Spring constituency. The family took pride in telling me that the Labour candidate for Houghton was Bill Blyton, a South Shields councillor and miner from Harton Colliery. If I recall correctly, Labour won both seats with majorities of well over 20,000, and a Labour Government was returned with a huge majority.

Something I could never understand at the time was why Winston Churchill, who had led the country so successfully during the war, was thrown out only eight weeks after the end of hostilities. It seemed a gross ingratitude by the English people. My mother tried to explain this by saying Churchill was a good wartime leader, but unsuitable for peace time. I later learned that she never forgave Churchill for the infamous Dardanelles tragedy of World War I, when her brother-in-law, Edward and thousands of others were killed following a debatable war-time decision by Churchill.

A month later atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The Daily Express headline the following day read, "The Bomb that Changed the World." It certainly did! The Japanese surrendered days later.

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