First-hand tales from a town during wartime
The people who told me the following stories have all passed away. These are some of the things they told me.
Dorothy Daglish’s father was a postman. The Morpeth Herald of July 18, 1941, says: “The news of the death of Mr John Patterson Daglish, of Granby Buildings, Morpeth, which took place with tragic suddenness while on parade with the local Home Guard, came as a great shock to many residents of Morpeth.”
His parents were greengrocers in Newgate Street and he went to the St James’s Church Schools: “His schooldays over (he) entered the Post Office as an auxiliary post boy and did duty during holiday periods and on special rush occasions for a number of years.”
His position was evidently what we now call a ‘zero hours contract’, only getting work when there was any, so he also worked as "second man" at Morpeth Social Club.
He was in France and Belgium in the First World War with the Royal Engineers, and was wounded.
“Returning to civil life, he again joined the Morpeth Postal staff, and after being stationed at Acklington for a year-and-a-half did the Pegswood and St George’s Hospital round for 14 years, before being transferred to the Nunnykirk and Netherwitton round.
“With the introduction of motor transport (he) was given a town round, and his familiar figure could often be seen going from door to door and shop to shop.”
Dorothy remembered her father cycling up to St George’s twice a day. He did errands for it and the matron used to send her presents occasionally, which she greatly appreciated.
When war began in 1939, Mr Daglish joined the Home Guard Post Office Section "and was out on duty with his own contingent last Sunday morning when he collapsed and died”.
Dorothy’s account of her father’s death differed from the Herald’s. It was not a parade. The Company was on exercise in full kit in July. Mr Daglish collapsed and died while crossing a bridge between Mitford and Morpeth.
His coffin was carried by six members of the Home Guard Post Office Section. The Herald lists over 30 family, friends and others who were at the funeral, as well as all the wreaths. One was from “Neighbours in Granby Buildings”.
At the AGM of the Morpeth Branch in November, the Herald reported: “They would all remember Mr ‘Pat’ Daglish and his unfailing attendance to duty on matters concerning the British Legion.”
In 1939 Nora Cuthbert, of Burnside, was a GPO telephonist in London. Post Office Telephones was a Government department and all staff were civil servants. She worked at a large exchange that served Government offices and other important buildings.
Soon after war was declared, the staff were taken down to a basement that they never knew existed; it was a complete duplicate of the telephone exchange above.
One day two girls on the manager’s secretarial staff showed off a lot of new clothes they had bought. Clothes rationing came in the next day. It was obvious to Nora that their boss had given them a tip-off.
When I visited Dublin some years ago, I noticed that garden walls in the older parts still had cast iron railings. In England, most were taken away during the war to be made into steel.
James Mackay, who was for many years the proprietor and editor of this newspaper, told me that there was also an appeal for aluminium for making aeroplanes. People duly brought saucepans and other things and put them in a heap in the Market Place. Nothing happened. They just stayed there.
Jim was well placed to observe what went on because he was a messenger with the Civil Defence in the Town Hall. After a time, he said, you would see people coming up to the heap and turning things over. If they saw something they wanted, like a kettle or saucepan, they would glance round in case anybody was looking and walk off with it. The temptation was great because there was a shortage of everything.
Keith MacGregor, who was later engineer to Morpeth Rural District Council, first came to Morpeth during the early part of the war. He was in the Royal Engineers and as part of an exercise in which the Germans were assumed to have landed on the coast, he and his party had to mine Telford Bridge.
Their orders were to prepare the bridge for demolition, but to wait for a British battalion — I think either a Scots or Yorkshire regiment — to cross before demolishing it. If they didn’t appear by a certain time, they were to blow it up anyway.
The friendly forces did not appear so they reluctantly detonated the charge. Nothing happened of course, but for the purposes of the exercise Telford Bridge now lay in rubble on the river bed.
Then the friendly forces arrived and, said Keith, you should have heard the swearing when they discovered that they couldn’t cross the bridge.
The Early Christian Landscape of the Wansbeck Valley, 48 pages, illustrated, is now on sale at Newgate News and Morpeth TIC, price £6.