At the Lodge in Blackhill & Consett Park, after the MADE OF STEEL shows, Marie McNally gave me this reminiscence of her uncle Philip Reilly who was born in 1920.
In September 2003 I asked Uncle Philip (mam’s brother) if he could record any memories he had. Between then and his death in April 2004 he recorded a few memories. The tape is in my file. I have tried to write his words here.Marie McNally
Philip Reilly (1920-2004)
We lived in an upstairs flat in Dobson Street, two bedrooms, kitchen. Pantry, stairs down front and back. A cold water tap. Open hearth fire.
Mother baked teacakes-these were a treat for Fridays.
Dad was a watchmaker and repairer. His shop was the pantry. The passageway into the pantry had long shelves.
He mended an old wind up gramophone. Took the mainspring out using a screwdriver. It would shoot along the pantry floor. He’d examine it for any breaks, cut them out, put the spring back. Then it would not play as long as before as the spring was shorter.
My teenage years: I left St Mary’s and my first job was messenger and back boy at Walter Wilson’s, Blackhill. I weighed the flour and sugar, bagged it and put it on the shelves.
Had to load a hand-cart up- a big barrow-bigger than me. Take groceries to different parts of the district, as far as Shotley Bridge and up to Blackfyne.
After two weeks, I was fed up doing the job. One reason-other shops’ messenger boys had bicycles with carriers attached. Halfway through the second week I went to the manager and said, “Please supply a push bike for the deliveries.” The sarcastic reply was that they were too many banks. I replied, “The banks I’ve got to push up are the ones I’d have to ride down.” When he refused to get a bike I told him I was no longer staying at the shop and the best thing he could do was to get a Galloway (or pony) to fit in the shafts of the hand cart and do the work I was doing. With that I left the shop and went home.
The following Monday I started work at Lancaster’s paper shop (today this is the shop on the left before Bessemer Street, Blackhill). For 3 shillings a week, less than the Walter Wilson’s 8 shillings. Now 5 shillings (in today’s money) is worth five pence.
I started early. Go to Blackhill Station 5.30 to 6.00 am and collect papers from the train. (The station was at the bottom of Bessemer Street, now an open space). I’d take the papers to the shop and sort out the orders for each area. My district was Shotley Bridge. Finish at 9 o’clock. Then mother would give me a cup of tea and slice of bread and jam for breakfast. Then I’d go to the coal depot. The horses and carts were going in . The carts would be filled with coal. Me and me friend would follow them to where the coals was dumped. We’d knock on the door and ask if they wanted us to haul the coal in. If they said yes, we’d get 6 pence between us (worth two and a half pence today). We’d shovel all the coal into the bunk hole which went straight into the coal house. Sometimes 2 or 3 loads a day. After that I’d go home and get washed and have a quick drink of tea. Then back to the paper shop for the evening papers. I’d pick up the papers up and do the same round as I’d done in the morning. Then I’d return home and mam would give us tea or a bit dinner.
At the end of the week Mr Lancaster would give me the princely sum of 5 shillings. I’d go straight home and hand it over to me mother. She’d give me one shilling back. I kept it til Saturday and I’d go to Newcastle from Blackhill Station. It was 9 pence return (about 5 pence in today’s money). We’d go to St James Hall to see all the wrestling and then catch the train back to Blackhill.
I was on the papers for about 9 months. 3 days a week I’d go up to the ‘Works’ to see the gaffers (the bosses) and ask if there was any chance of making a start. In 1934, New Year’s Day (actually 1935) my dad died. He had written a letter, gave it to me in an envelope and told me to go and see Mr Hutchins, the manager in the Test House, which I did after he died. After about 2 months after, when I was standing at the Old gate, he came down and saw me with the papers. He stopped and said, “Start work in the morning at 7 o’clock.” I jumped for glee. I went back to the shop and told them I was leaving there and then. I went home and told my mother. She was over the moon. That was the start of my working life at Consett Iron Works. I worked 7.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. with a break of one hour for dinner. On Saturday I worked 8 a.m. to 12 noon.
I left the Test House when I was 16. From here I was transferred to the Plate Mill where I worked the shift system: 6 til 2, 2 til 10, ten til 6, 5 days a week. Employment was bad til 1937. Then worked picked up. In 1939 my largest wage was 30 shillings a week. (£1.50 in today’s money).
In 1939 I went in the Royal Navy. I’d only been there 6 months when World War 2 began. Our Instructor was looking after us and said, “Before Christmas some of you will be feeding the fish.” How right he was. Some of the lads I trained with were sent to a different ship. I go the right ship, they got the wrong one.
The first ship I was on was ‘The Revenge’ battleship. We escorted merchant shipping from Canada to Britain. This lasted from 1939 to February 1941. We were granted 2 weeks leave. I came home and there was a blackout throughout the country. After two weeks I returned to the Barracks and was drafted to ‘HMS Berwick’. We picked up in Scotland and sailed on Russian convoys up to the Artic. Dropped anchor at Sadie’s Fjord. There for 5 months escorting merchant ships to Russia, alternating between Mansk and Archangel. These duties spread over 2 years 5 months. Never allowed off the ship. Then got off at Sadies Fjord which was high bleak cliffs. There was a large hut put out to cater for our couple of hours ashore. We’d got a couple of bottles of beer. They were so cold no-one could drink it until the bottles were placed on top of the combustion stove and defrosted them. Then we’d enjoy ourselves.
After 2 years 5 months we returned to barracks and I made an application for promotion. When I completed my course, I then went to an aircraft carrier.
In April 1944, sailed to the Middle East. After a couple of days at sea, the weather was very rough. The ship was badly buckled by the heavy seas crashing down. The flight deck was crumpled back like corrugated sheet. There was so much damage, we altered course and set sail for America and we arrived at Newport Virginia.
End of tape.
What a story! Well done to Marie for recording only part of Philip Reilly’s life that would have been lost. You just want to hear more.
If there are any mistakes. My re-typing of Marie’s work is to blame.
The Battleship ‘Revenge’ WW2
The story is particulary apt: