Recalling school friends and fallen RAF pilots

Andrew Grant's mam Anna.
Andrew Grant's mam Anna.

Local history enthusiast Andrew Grant, who you will remember from previous articles, has been researching his mother’s family tree.

And he has unearthed some fascinating facts, including links with Benito Mussolini and Benazir Bhutto!

“My mother was Anna Phyllis Charlton, whose name changed to Grant when she married my father Lewis Grant, at St Michaels’ Church, in Westoe Road, South Shields, in 1954,“ explains Andrew.

“She was born in 1919 at 214 Chichester Road, Westoe, South Shields, and educated at Westoe Infants and Secondary Schools.

“Her best friend was a woman by the name of Sadie Moses, who was Jewish.

“My mother revealed that Sadie was excluded attendance at the school’s religious education lessons out of respect for her faith.”

Andrew explained that the school educated the boys and girls separately.

“In the boy’s school was a friend of my mother’s, John MacDonald, who, one day, was asked by a teacher why did he go to school with no shoes.

“He replied: ‘Because sir, I have no shoes.

“This was common when my mother was young, for children of both sexes went to school in their bare feet.”

Andrew said his mother told him of the time she was asked to compose an essay, in which she used the word pinny.

“Her teacher, Miss Hook, corrected her work and instead wrote the word pinafore, which she said was the correct grammatical term to use in this case.

“Miss Hook said the word pinny was a North Eastern word which should not be written as it was bad grammar and unacceptable in an essay.”

Despite this rebuke, Andrew said his mother was, in fact, a good scholar, and was especially good at Maths and English (“her writing being quite beautiful”).

“She left school, as was the case, at the age of 14.

“Her first job was at the Co-operative Society, at Westoe, in South Shields, which thankfully was not too far for her to travel.

“The work involved doing the accounts for the department she worked for; collecting the money at the counter from the customers and dealing with customer orders and incomes.”

However, just two years later, she was made redundant.

Fortunately she found another job soon afterwards in the office of the Victoria Bottling Company in the town’s Green Lane.

“Mother’s duties were again doing accounts, dealing with the customer orders and inquiries, and giving the drivers their instructions for their day’s work.

“In 1939 my mother was called up, and posted to the Air Ministry in Worcester.

“Despite being away from home for the first time in her life, she eventually adapted to her new surroundings.

“She enjoyed her work and made new friends, as well meeting a number of RAF pilots who visited the Ministry.

“Many of the pilots, who were only 19 and 20 year old boys, were killed even before they had a chance to live.”

Later, Andrew’s mother was transferred to Cumberland where she continued her work for the war effort.

After the end of the Second World War, she returned to her old job at the bottling company offices.

“In 1951 my mother left the Victoria Bottling Company to work in the office of the engineering department at the old South Shields Corporation, at the Town Hall.

“She said this was the best job she had ever had, with good wages and conditions, and very good colleagues.

“She worked in the engineering department until 1954, when she married my father, Lewis Grant, at St Michael’s Church at Westoe Road, in South Shields.

“My uncle, George Glenn, who was my mother’s brother-in-law, was a Merchant Navy Officer, who came from a working class background.

“He visited a number of countries, and in 1920 went to New York.

“He heard Enrico Caruso, the great Italian opera singer, perform at the Metropolitan Opera House.”

Later on, uncle George took very ill in Italy, and a family there showed him great kindness.

“His hosts were quite wealthy and their daughters were school teachers by profession.

“We eventually discovered that the head of the family was the leading speech writer for the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

“My uncle George later became friends with a Russian Merchant Navy Officer who he met on one of his overseas journeys.

“He visited Russia in the 1930s, staying in Archangel, one of that country’s main ports, where he enjoyed the culture and the people.

* Tomorrow Andrew tells us about other members of his family.