JOSEPH Armstrong was the life and soul of the party – and a war hero and nursing pioneer.
Family members of the 92-year-old, of The Ridgeway in Cleadon Park, South Shields, say he’ll be sorely missed.
Mr Armstrong was born in Robinson Street, South Shields on March 1, 1921. He was the oldest of four siblings.
Mr Armstrong left school with no qualifications at the age of 14, and went to work as a butcher’s boy. His nephew, Michael Peacock, said: “His job was to go around the town on a bicycle delivering the meat, but he didn’t like it.”
When Mr Armstrong turned 17, he signed up for the Royal Navy as a boy sailor.
Over the next 10 years, he served as a petty officer on a number of ships, including HMS Caledonia, HMS Pembroke, HMS Eskimo and HMS Dragon.
Mr Peacock said: “He served all through the Second World War, seeing action in many far flung theatres of naval warfare, from the Indian Ocean to the frozen Arctic.
“During this time, he mostly served on Tribal Class destroyers such as HMS Eskimo.
“He was torpedoed on two occasions. Joseph was injured and received several medals.
“Shortly before his death, he applied for the Arctic Star medal for service in the wartime arctic convoys, but sadly this arrived after he died.”
Mr Armstrong met his wife, Doris, a private in the Women’s Royal Army Corps, in Maynard’s sweet shop, Ocean Road, in 1943, after they were introduced by a friend. They tied the knot at St Michael’s Church in South Shields on May 12, 1945.
Mrs Armstrong, who served in the Women’s Royal Army Corps from 1942 to 1945, passed away in 2002.
Mr Armstrong was invalided out of the Navy with a perforated ulcer in 1947 and shortly afterwards decided to train as a nurse.
Male nurses were so unheard of at the time, that Mr Armstrong’s pre-printed certificate from South Shields General Hospital read: “This certificate is awarded to Joseph Henry Armstrong who has been trained as a nurse in the above hospital for the past three years, during which time she has had practical experience in the wards, and has attended the lectures prescribed.”
The news of a male nurse was even covered in the London Gazette, and Mr Armstrong became a regular face in the Shields Gazette.
Mr Armstrong worked as a nurse until he retired at the age of 65, and in 1954 was presented with the hospital’s Rouse Prize for being “the best all-round nurse”.
His career included a stint in the medical centre at Harton Colliery and saw him become a Sister in the late 1970s.
Mr Peacock said: “I’m very proud of everything my uncle Joe achieved and I have very fond memories of holidays as a child with him and Doris.
“He was always laughing and cracking jokes and he was always the life and soul of the party. He’d always help you out if you needed it too. He’ll be missed a lot.”
Mr Armstrong passed away on May 7 after a short illness.