Remembering strong women in history

The book about Ellen Wilkinson.
The book about Ellen Wilkinson.

Strong women are the subject of an event due to be held in South Shields next month.

The event, which will feature talks and films from local people, will be held at the Customs House on Tuesday, March 8, to coincide with International Women’s Day.

Local writer Tom Kelly’s talk focuses on the 80th anniversary of the Jarrow March.

Fellow writer Paula Bartley will give an illustrated talk on her book about Ellen Wilkinson MP – From Red Suffragist to Government Minister.

This will be followed by a triple bill of films featuring “strong local women” by South Shields film-maker Gary Wilkinson.

The films are One Hundred Thousand Reasons (about the group The Dolly Mixtures who raised £100,000 for cancer charity in the 1970s); Wildflower (a documentary about South Shields-born Eileen Blair, wife of George Orwell) and Breaking Ground (which tells of Professor Dame Rosemary Cramp and the first Bede Dig in the 1970s at Bede’s World, Jarrow).

There will be two shows on the day, at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

Tickets, which cost £8 each, are available from The Customs House.

l Further to his fascinating account of his time with the Army during the Suez Canal crisis and the Cyprus “emergency”, former South Shields councillor Arthur Meeks has been back in touch to tell me of two light-hearted incidents which happened while he was serving with the Royal Engineers in Egypt in the 1950s – one of which he likens to the film Whisky Galore.

As 79-year-old Mr Meeks explains, he was serving on a motor launch on the Suez, where, on the banks nearby, was a large Johnnie Walker whisky warehouse.

“We were passing the warehouse one day when a French soldier waved us over,” he recalls.

“He asked us if we had any cigarettes, which we did.

“We always carried them with us for trade. We gave him a few, and he took us inside the warehouse, showed us all these crates of whisky and said ‘help yourselves’.

“We took about six to eight cases of whisky which we drank with our tea and coffee. It was like Whiskey Galore.”

Mr Meeks said they were still enjoying the whisky when a Royal Marine patrol boat joined them.

The marines were responsible for dropping anti-frogmen depth charges, and so preventing them from placing mines on ships and blowing them up.

Mr Meeks said his officer invited the marines on board and offered them some whisky.

Two ... three ... four whiskeys later, and one of the depth charges just happened to get thrown into the canal.

The resulting explosion lifted the patrol boat out of the water.

On another occasion (minus the whisky) Mr Meeks and his comrades were working on a barge which was moored alongside a jetty.

A forklift truck was employed to lower whatever was needed into the barge.

Unfortunately, at one point, the forklift truck misjudged the edge of the jetty and fell off it.

“The forklift fell onto the back-end of the barge, at the front of which stood an Army captain.

“When the truck hit the barge, which was below the jetty, it caused the Army captain to shoot up in the air like a jack-in-the-box before falling down again ... into the water.

“We all stood looking at each other to see who would jump in and fis Whisky Gale h him out.

“Eventually one of the lads did jump in the canal and pulled him out.”

Nobody was laughing when he got back on dry land.

l Do you have any 
funny anecdotes of your times in the services? If you have please get in touch so that I can share them with our readers.