Depressions come and go - prosperity will return

DOROTHY Robertson has lived through some of the toughest periods of the 20th century – the Depression and the Second World War.

As a child in South Shields, she wasn't aware of the harsh conditions blighting the world after the Wall Street crash in 1929.

But she was 14 when war broke out and 19 by the time it finished, so she dealt with rationing and the 'make do and mend' culture.

It was something that stood her in good stead when she married, and she is now passing on pearls of wisdom to her grown-up grand-daughter.

She said: "I grew up in the Depression years. My father went to sea and he was made redundant, but you took it all as a way of life.

"You, as a child, weren't aware of the Depression."

If anything, she said, it was a happy time, spending pocket money in Woolworths in Prince Edward Road, and playing with toys made by her father.

She and her sister, eight years her junior, lived with their parents on the Lawe Top before the family moved to Cleadon.

She had what she described as a "normal" upbringing, attending infant and junior schools before going to an all-girl secondary school.

The girls always had a pillowcase full of toys each at Christmas and enjoyed family holidays on a farm in Allendale, Northumberland.

She said: "My father was very handy with woodwork and I remember him making all sorts of different things you would want as a child, such as doll houses."

On leaving school, she studied shorthand and typing at a commercial school in Sunderland.

When she married in 1947, aged 22, she was working as a shorthand typist and bookkeeper, earning 3 a week.

"The girls I knew thought I was very well-paid," she said. "I always used to get an annual bonus – that could be up to 25, which was a small fortune."

Her husband had been a prisoner of war for five-and-a-half years, so he got some extra food items, as rationing lasted into the early 1950s.

"I suppose people were resourceful and I am sure it would happen today," she said.

"It was amazing how we managed. It was a case of make do and mend.

"You had your best clothes for Sunday and, if you were lucky enough to replace them, they became Saturday things.

"Even to this day, even if it's something I have been working in, I will put a jumper on my hanger and my trousers on a hanger.

"I won't put them on a chair because you had to look after your things. You became a hoarder as well."

Mrs Robertson had her first son, Jim, in 1948, and noticed a difference in the economic climate when her second son, Ken, arrived six years later.

"I did a lot of sewing and I was able to go down to the market and buy material to make quilts for the cot and things, which I hadn't been able to do in 1948," she said.

"I used to make clothes for the boys and myself."

Now, it is just as cheap to buy them from budget chains like Primark and Matalan, she said. Although she can’t resist a sale, Mrs Robertson is always careful never to fall into debt.

“When I was young, we didn’t have things like credit cards and bank loans,” she said.

“Obviously there were money lenders in those days, which was illegal, but now people are so used to such a different standard. It is the norm to have credit cards.

“I have a card that I put my petrol on, but that card is clear at the end of the month. It is bred in you all of your life – you don’t get into debt.

“I think it is much harder for people today to accept the situation because the people that it’s affecting, the younger people, are so used to having all these facilities.

“They don’t see it as anything wrong, they see it as the norm, that is the way life is.”

Mrs Robertson now relies on her pension, supplemented by savings that have been hit by the fall in interest rates, but she is used to highs and lows.

“I think the credit crunch has been blown out of proportion somewhat and the media can frighten people,” she said. “Things will get better.”

Her philosophy is similar to that

of American industrialist and philanthropist, John D Rockefeller, who

said shortly after the Wall Street crash: “These are days when many are discouraged.

“In the 93 years of my life, depressions have come and gone. Prosperity has always returned and will again.”

angela.reed@northeast-press.co.uk