The Journal of the life of
Anthony (Tony) Munley
From his birth on 16th May 1912 to his marriage in Canada in 1954
My earliest memory was as a seven year old Anty, making my First Holy Communion at St Bede’s Catholic Church and the tea party afterwards in the school. It was the first time that I ate fancy cakes bought from a baker’s shop.
September 3rd, 1919 was the day of my mother’s funeral and I was wearing a sailor suit. People were standing by as the mourners walked past. A girl that I knew at school made a face at me. I still remember the name of that girl, Mary Lynsky
My home town, Bedlington in Northumberland, England, was well known for it’s ironworks and coalmines in the Industrial Revolution. St Bede’s School was built after the Penal Laws were repealed in 1829 and was the first school in the town. Ashington, Blyth, Annitsford and Morpeth, all townships about five miles from Bedlington, were served by Benedictine priests from Douai Abbey, so called after the Seminary in Europe where Catholic men were trained for the priesthood after the Reformation in the 16th Century.
The River Blyth meandered past Bedlington to the sea at the coal port of Blyth. Nearly two miles west of the town was Hartford Bridge which separated a large area of woodland and river which was freely used by the local people. The other area was privately owned and out of bounds to the public. The owner was a Major Burden who employed quite a large staff of domestic servants plus a gamekeeper and a pack of foxhounds. The entrance to the Hall grounds was barred with a high and ornate wrought iron pair of gates. With black and gold lacquer they looked very impressive to small and not so small boys. A high stone wall circumvented the large estate coupled with the fact that the gamekeeper, Charlie Lightning, was a huge man ensured that the private estate stayed private.
In the free woods, one could gather blackberries, raspberries, wild strawberries in due season and watercress from the river. The river furnished two bathing spots, the Sandy Cove and the Ford. The first was shallow and used by the smaller lads who scorned the use of swimming togs. However, once dark pubic hair became visible, by custom and tradition such boys had to use G-strings or costume and move to the Ford. They were initiated by being thrown into the deep water. Incidentally, girls were never seen in these parts of the woods. A wood fire saved using towels and the smell of wood smoke is among many happy memories of those halcyon days when we manufactured our own entertainment and being without money gave us less to worry over.
St Bede’s School was a two storey brick building with the senior pupils upstairs although no class had the luxury of their own rood although screens did give a semblance of privacy. Outside, girls and boys were segregated with a concreted playground and toilets separated by a brick wall about five feet high. The Church and Presbytery were close by with a garden enclosed with a high fence. Cloakrooms were inside the school and heating was by means of free standing coke stoves.
The teaching staff was all female in my days and maybe some did not have the paper credentials of today’s world but teach they could and did. Miss Greenwood was the head teacher and hailed from Harrogate and was very strict. She may have had good reason. She also wore a wig which was always a source of wonder to me as my father was always cutting my hair and it soon grew again. The oldest teacher was Miss O’Grady who tried to teach us music among other subjects. She was often taking a sip of water from a tumbler during a music lesson. I was not over keen on semi-quavers etc. and she often cuffed my ears. Miss Mullen was middle aged but very pleasant and kind to all and sundry and I think we all behaved better in her class. Mrs Wells had two children at school and that I could not understand for along time, especially as she had a husband working. In those days mothers had more than enough to do without going out to work. I think of the old saying that God could not do everything and so made Mothers. However, Mrs Wells was a good teacher although I thought her son was a big fat lump.
For the infant classes we had a succession of pupil teachers who were sixteen year olds with enough talent to take up the teaching profession, and with parents who could afford that sort of higher education. The other teacher was one who could instil into us that we were fortunate to be part of God’s creation and also to be taught by her. On the other hand, by a look or a word from her, we were beyond the pale. She found many6 faults in us but we could not fault her and both boys and girls loved and respected her. Margaret Loughran was her name and like Margaret Thatcher she was an outstand person of her day. When she first arrived at school from Morpeth, and driving a BSA motor cycle with sidecar, she started the first fan club that I have been a member of. The senior girls were taught by her, as my sister Cath can testify, after school hours the rudiments of ballroom dancing. Sixty five years ago this was heady stuff.
I played for the school at soccer and games were arranged with the other Catholic schools in the area. These were played on a Saturday and having no game on, most of the team was at the cinema matinee when a message flashed on the screen to the effect that members of St Bede’s team were asked to be available to play against St Aidan’s and leave the cinema at once. We haggled with the Manager and received our penny back. We played and
won and Miss Loughran was so pleased with us and treated us to a cup of Oxo at Moscardini’s Temperance Bar.
Quite a number of pupils at school were obliged to bring lunch in the form of jam and bread or sandwiches and a tin can full of tea. Just before noon, the
Monitor of each class would be allowed to bring in the tea cans and place them on the hot stove. I was very pleased that I lived near enough to go home each day.
Discipline was kept by the use of the cane. Putting the hair of a white horse’s tail on your palm before the cane descended never did me any good. Any boy who did not respond to this treatment was sent over to see Father Baines. He was an old man then, but he certainly solved the problem of acceptable behaviour. He retired to Douai Abbey and our next Parish Priest was Father Brietzki who was of polish descent and he influenced my later life.
Among others, my favourite hymn was “Bring flowers the fairest, Bring blossoms the rarest, from woodland and hillside and dale etc.” I would go to the woods to gather the first primroses and forget-me-nots to bring home and one day I took a bunch to the Presbytery. The Housekeeper, Miss Mailey, was very gracious and said that she would place them on Our Lady’s altar and would I continue to bring them, which I did for very many years and also saw that the Presbytery received plenty of blackberries. I must confess that many of the berries and flowers came from the private woods as well as the public.
I was inclined to be somewhat of a loner and spent many hours in the woods, free and otherwise. However, everyone had chores to do and there were no exceptions in our family. My father had made two wheelbarrows and each son, on reaching a certain age, inherited the smaller barrow and the chores that went with it. Taking pig manure to the allotment was a daily job but living in an age when very little was mechanised it was considered manly to pull your weight and a good and willing worker was the in thing. My father had a friend who opened up a fish and chip shop and he was offered the fish heads etc. for the compost and I had the job of collecting same twice a week. Even with sacking covering the smelly wheelbarrow, the journey to the allotment with a retinue of cats and jeers from some of my school mates was not my idea of fun.
When I was nine I took on a job which I did for the next five years. A widow living two doors away asked if I could collect half a pint of milk twice each day on weekdays at a farm nearly a quarter of a mile away. I received three pence weekly and sometimes the bonus of an apple. With my penny pocket money I had become almost a capitalist. I would sometimes be allowed to watch a cow being milked, by hand of course, and this was quite an experience as biology did not loom large at school. For an age where there was little privacy and large families the rule, we were never burdened with knowledge that we could well do without at that age.
We still managed many hours of play and without any written rules there would be a season for marbles in the two forms. Shooting Skinny was played with small marbles placed in a chalk circle with each player putting an equal number inside the ring. From a marked line each boy shot his marble between finger and thumb and aimed at the marbles in the ring. Any that he knocked out he claimed. The other game played was a continued game played with larger bowls of glass or steel. If you struck the opponent’s bowl he paid over one small marble. Some boys were so expert that they had large collections. Cigarette Cards were another sport. Pitching from between fingers, if one player partly covered his opponent’s card it became forfeit. Another version was dropping cards from a certain height to achieve the same result.
When electric light was introduced into streets and houses, another game, I Spy, was started at the hoardings where bills were stuck to advertise film shows. Playing soccer was the most popular past-time played with a small ball known as a bouncer. Cricket was played but only a crude form with improvised bats and underhand bowling. Apart from the few games with other schools at soccer, organised sport for children was unheard of. P.T. at school was minimal and most children kept fit by running and walking and looking after younger brothers and sisters. Many of my school mates had to walk over two miles each day which sometimes meant a pick-a-back for a smaller brother or sister.
The Co-operative Wholesale Society had branches in all areas and most people bought their provisions there. The Society paid an annual dividend on purchases made but nothing was delivered. With coal miners being paid every fortnight, housewives had to have credit or buy in bulk. I often had to take the wheelbarrow to bring home a week’s groceries as everyone baked their own bread and people preserved food as best they could in the absence of refrigerators.
Our family was fortunate in the fact that my father kept and bred pigs. He cured the bacon and there were always rolls hanging from hooks in the scullery. With a double allotment he also grew all manner of vegetables, potatoes and also, grudgingly, flowers. In addition he also had potatoes sown on farmland outside of the town. For a fee the farmer dug the crop, we, the family, gathered same and they were brought home to be placed in a clamp (potato pit) in our back garden at Doctor Terrace. This ensured that we have enough for our large family each year.
My father seemed to do most of his dealings at the weekends at the Black Bull or The Ex-Servicemen’s Club. In my turn I delivered bacon, cabbage, leek and beetroot plants to various people and even sold Wallflowers. With strikes and short time in the coal fields economy was a must and many families had to seek help from the Poor Law people. Although my father could not read or write he was a clever man and could, and did, turn his hand to almost anything. Mending boots and cutting hair was no bother and the latter was compulsory for all of his sons still at school.
I was able to help my father for many years with ordering seed from the catalogue sent each year to him by Stuart and Mein, Newcastle. Although he saved his own seed of most crops, it was good husbandry to change and have certified seed now and then.
After my mother died in 1919 my sister Mary took over her job and took on the task of looking after eleven children and my father. She was only eighteen years of age then and left her tailoress apprenticeship to manage the household, which she did until she died in 1974. Never has so much been done by one person for so many. Please God that she is receiving a richly deserved heavenly reward. Each year she managed a holiday at the Munnelly homestead in County Mayo, Ireland and Aunty Mary there saw that Mary had a good restful fortnight. Aunt Mary Lizzie Devlin came to Doctor Terrace as a relief housekeeper and she was very strict and had a heavy hand. Myself and another boy decided to play truant from school and came home at lunch time hungry and expecting my usual lunch thinking that my Aunt was unaware that I had missed school. I was denied lunch, had my ears boxed and had to turn the mangle in the washhouse for two hours, given some jam and bread and sent to bed. I never repeated this sort of escapade.
I was an avid reader and even before we had electric light installed I read everything that I could lay hand on. We had The Catholic Messenger, Dowry of Mary, Boys Own, Schoolgirls Own and John Bull. They were all weekly publications and my sister Mary would get books from The Mechanic’s Institute which had a lending library going. A candle gave a softer light and could also make shadows on the wall.
On Sunday mornings we lined up for inspection before we accompanied my father to 8.30 a.m. Mass. He used a pat of butter to oil our hair starting with the youngest, and wearing our Sunday clothes and shoes. We were ravenous when we came home for breakfast with fried bread, bacon and sometimes a fried egg. Father kept a few hens for a while but they ended in the pot when they ceased to lay and eggs were really a luxury. An old man used to come round the streets asking for rabbit skins in exchange for eggs. Rabbit Skin Geordie we used to call him.
Other callers in the street were Miles Farrell the fishmonger and Josh Lyall who sold oil and carbide. Rington’s Tea had a fancy delivery van as had DCL yeast but the most popular with youngsters was on a Sunday afternoon when Jack Antonio sold ice cream. A penny for a wafer and two pence for an amount spooned into a tea cup or tumbler.
From 1919 until 1924 there were eleven of us and my father. Sunday dinner was usually roast beef or pork with potatoes, turnip, peas, cabbage or Brussel sprouts and Yorkshire pudding. Tapioca and rice were a choice with stewed rhubarb or milk to follow. Cold meat and left-over potatoes warmed up were usually served at teatime with bread and butter and homemade jams, plus scones and often apple tart. An odd custom of my father was to cut meat into cubes when he went to the Club on Sunday night and other Irish did likewise. They were put into a paper bag to chew whilst having a few beers. However, he always took some of us to Benediction at 6 p.m. and I often went to sleep during the service.
Monday was always washing day and fires were lit in the wash house to heat the soapy water which was then ladled into a wooden vat named a Poss Tub. The clothes were pummelled with a wooden tool called a Poss Stick and then put through the mangle before being put out on a clothes line. At night the ironing was done in the scullery with the aid of cast irons heated in the fire and using fire tongs, placed in the heavy hinged ironing case. It was hot work and starching was an added chore.
Any meat left from Monday was minced and served on Tuesday. On Wednesday it was often grilled liver or sausage with potatoes etc. and we were allowed to toast bread at the fire. Thursday was baking day and Mary would make as many as fourteen loaves, six tea cakes and a huge yeasty cake, commonly called “stotty cake”. Suet puddings were made on most days. They were encased in cloth and boiled in a cast iron pan whilst the potatoes were steamed in a vessel which fitted into the top of the pan. This was called a “tatty steamer”. Suet puddings could contain apple, rhubarb, treacle ir even leaks or just plain suet. It was very filling. Friday was fish day and not only for Catholics. My father used always to boil his fish and drink the water that the fish was boiled in. In season he would buy a huge quantity of herrings and preserve them in brine. Kippers too were very cheap and tasty. The only tinned food that was allowed into the house was salmon. On Saturday a huge pot of potato and vegetable soup was left simmering on the hob and any visitors were given a plateful. I could never understand the comings and goings at No 9 but I was quite happy in my own little world.
A big event in our lives was a pig killing day but I was nearly fourteen before I could witness the whole event. It was a bacon pig and about 250 pounds in weight. The man arrived at about 11 a.m. and my father had the other pids in another sty. Two thin ropes were around the pig’s snout to hold it still as the man felled it senseless with one blow of a heavy hammer and then cut it’s throat. My father and my sister Mary would collect the blood to make into black pudding later. The carcass would be rolled onto a timber stretcher and taken to the outside of the wash house. With the aid of block and tackle it would then be hung upside down on a beam projecting from the brick work of the wash house. I was shooed away whilst the entrails were removed and then the carcass was left overnight covered with a linen sheet. The pig killer arrived at the same time next morning and, with the help of my father, the carcass was cut into approximate portions, most of which my father place din his huge pickling box. Apart from the black pudding which was placed in large metal trays, my sister made sausages and brawn (potted meat). The pig’s trotters were another delicacy. Relatives and friends received some share of the meat and I had to help in the delivery of same. The pig killer received the customary fee of seven shillings and sixpence plus two bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale. Incidentally, our local butcher took over from that time, using a human killer and after 1935 new Health and Hygiene by-laws were passed and my father ceased to keep pigs. In fact, it was the beginning of an era when freshly killed meat was a rarity and the bulk of the population were fed on meat from the other side of the world.
I was very keen on boxing and joined the Boy Scouts for this end and had lessons from an ex-pro but the subscription of a penny each week was doubled. I did have one night camping with ten boys in a bell tent and it was too hot for much sleep, and then I ended my Scout career.
I reached standard seven at the age of thirteen and had to remain in that class until I could legally leave school at fourteen. Very few pupils went on to further education. At this time a new secondary school was being built at Bedlington Station but it was a secular institution and few Catholics would attend same. Teachers at Catholic schools were paid by the Education Board, materials also, but the buildings had to be paid for and maintained by Catholic parents. At that time the levy was two shillings per family, per fortnight.
Co-incidentally, the same amount was paid to the Doctor who had the family on his panel. Unlike today, all medicines then were in powder or liquid form. The nearest hospital was at Newcastle, thirteen miles away and it could have been on the moon as far as most people were concerned. Children were all born at home but I was much older before I was aware of this and other mysterious events.
In 1979 I returned, with my wife, to the UK and I tried to contact Mrs Margaret Warrior, nee Loughran, who was now an elderly widow but without success and she would be my last link with St Bede’s school. The building still stands and is used as a parish hall. A new school was built nearby with provision for infants, intermediate and senior pupils and with male teachers among the large staff.
Instead of sending me to the Coal Company office to be hired as a pit boy, my father surprised me by informing me that I was to start work as a bus conductor with Orange Brothers who ran a bus service to Newcastle from Bedlington Station. At this stage I must mention that my sister Mary had made all of my clothes to date and even starting work made no change to this state of affairs. The only difference now as that I wore a peaked cap (Cheese cutter) with my short trousers and long stockings. My wages to begin with were seven shillings and six pence per week of sixty hours, starting at 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. with two hours off for lunch. Wednesday was my day off and, of course, Sundays too. The firm owned three buses; two were twenty seaters with a Dennis engine. The other was a Lancia which held twenty four passengers. They also owned a Rolls Royce, used for weddings and also for funerals but now and then it had to double as a bus when one had broken down which happened often. The 14 mile journey took about thirty five minutes which gave a lengthy interval at each terminus. I was often sent to collect messages from shops in Newcastle. En route we sometimes delivered parcels to farms etc. and the usual fee was 4d which had to be shared with the driver.
There were other perks such as free fish and chips at Bedlington Station and because the shows at Newcastle Empire and Theatre Royal were advertised in the buses, free passes for the gallery were available. I never missed a show at the Theatre Royal for the next two years, either by attending the matinee or evening performance on each Wednesday. The bus was busy on the 8 a.m. run with office workers and college students but rather slack until they returned on the 5 p.m. bus. Saturday was busy and more ordinary folk used the bus service. With my perks I did not mind the custom of bringing all wages home and being given some pocket money. I often rode on the mudguard of the Lancia, flooding the carburettor to keep the motor going until we reached the garage at Bedlington.
We had three drivers, Len Wilson, Bob Thornton and Alec Murray. They all wore leather leggings, a peaked cap and a long white dust-coat. After about eighteen months Orange Brothers bought a new Guildford twenty seater bus to replace one of their older models. However, it was found to have something amiss in the differential and the makers asked for the buss to be returned to their works in London to have it put right. The brothers decided to advertise for passengers at thirty shillings return to London, staying two days in the capital. This novel and enterprising project was such a success that a weekly service was inaugurated and another Guildford bus obtained. After six months this pioneering service was sold to United Automobiles Company for £40,000. Another firm took over the local bus service and as they employed young women, Teddy Carter and I became redundant. My brother Septimus left school at the same time. We were sent to the Coal Company Office and had only to mention our name to be hired there and then.
After two years on the buses, my life style would now undergo a vast change. Sep and I were suitably rigged out and each were bought an acetylene lamp and started work in the fore shift which meant getting up at 1 a.m., a hasty snack and the mile walk to the Old Pit in the company of other boys who tried to take the mickey out of us rookies. Some of the boys were former school mates and made us welcome. They could remember me from when we rode the pit ponies for exercise when they were brought to the surface during the 1921 miner’s strike. If we rose early and went to the surface stables, we were given a bridle and a pony to exercise and were supposed to trot alongside the animal in one of the Company’s fields. Before the six weeks of the strike were over we were riding the ponies at a gallop, bareback like Indians and having a great time. We were sorry when the strike ended and the ponies were returned to the mine.
When we set off for work at about 1.30 a.m. we each carried a tin water bottle holding about a pint which we carried across a shoulder with a cord tied to two lugs on each side of the bottle. Also a cotton bag, called a “bait” bag containing some bread and butter and jam and a tin box (usually an Andrew’s Liver Salts tin) containing carbide. The bottom part of the lamp unscrewed and this was where the carbide was placed. Water was contained in the top and was allowed to drop to the carbide. The gas thus produced was ignited by a flint secured on the reflector of the lamp. One filling lasted about three hours. Boots were hob nailed, with heel plates and toe caps. It was quite a sensation going down into the bowels of the earth but the novelty soon wore off. There were electric lights at the shaft bottom but everywhere else one had to carry a light. One could buy a special cap, not unlike the present day baseball caps but with a holder for the handle of a lamp, thus freeing both hands for work.
The haulage system for getting the small wagons (tubs) filled with coal on the rails (2 ft 6 ins apart) to the shaft bottom was by means of an endless steel rope. The tubs were hung onto the rope by means of a steel jockey. Boys working on the haulage way, which extended for miles, were called “Hanger’s On”. Some boys with more experience were used to bring tubs from near the coal face to the haulage way in sets of sex drawn by ponies which were classed as Cons because they were bigger than the Galloway ponies.
This was my work for two years at the rate of 23 shillings per fortnight. I was quite happy and enjoyed more spare time than I had whilst working on the buses. I would reach home at about 10.30 a.m., get washed, have my dinner and be off to the woods by 11.30 a.m. swimming in the river or gathering flowers or blackberries. It seemed to be always summer in those days and I only came home to eat or got to bed. I shared a double bed with my brothers Septimus and James, both younger than I. That year, 1926, saw my sister Catherine going into domestic service in the south of England and my brother Patrick emigrated to Australia. My brother Martin emigrated to Canada in 1928 and I met up with him 26 years later. He played the violin and that kept him fed throughout the depression.
I was able to spend more time playing soccer and assigned on for St Bede’s football club, and enjoyed some success and was given a trial for another club which paid me 15 shillings per game. I did not last many games among grown men and my ankles hardly recovered from bruises between each game and so I went back to amateur status. About this time St Bede’s Men’s Guild was started and on land near to the new Catholic school, we built our clubrooms. We had a billiard table, card room, darts and chess which incorporated a small shop stock with tobacco and sweets etc. It was all done by voluntary labour and we employed a part-time caretaker who was handicapped by the loss of one arm. Playing billiards, dominoes and cards were part of my life from then on. In the winter months the Guild room was very popular and would be open after Mass on Sundays.
When I was nearly eighteen I was asked to be player/secretary for St Bede’s F.C. The Parish Priest, Father Breitzke, asked if I could arrange games with other parishes. This project was very successful and we played many matches, home and away and they grew into social outings. We would book a bus and boys and members of the Children of Mary would travel to another parish and after the game we would be given high tea followed by a dance before returning home. We would return the hospitality the following week. This activity was encouraged by the Parish Priest to avert the danger of mixed marriages.
When I became 18 I started piece-work as a Putter. This meant taking tubs to the coal face and bringing filled tubs back to the junction to the drivers who in turn took them to the haulage way. I burnt my contract number on leather tokens and they were fastened to each full tub. I was paid about 2 shillings per score and earned about 70 shillings per fortnight. I used to collect my pony at the underground stables and lie on its back for the journey to the coal face. We were not supposed to ride the ponies but kept the 11th commandment. It was the custom then that wages were always handed over at home and some pocket money given. However, when a man started courting he could pay board instead so that he could save some money. Twenty five shillings was the fixed sum at this time. Two of my brothers, Michael and John were doing so and later got married. I got a bit big for my boots and asked if I could pay board also. My sister agreed and I had to learn the hard way as with short time and hard conditions I, at times, could barely pay my board.
To make extra money I would ask for unbroken ponies which I would train for £3 each. I would be allowed a lad to lead the pony for two weeks and I would complete the training in another four weeks. It was surprising how willing workers the ponies were and soon established a good relationship with man. Anyone who says that ponies were ill-treated down coal mines was talking nonsense according to my experiences.
At this time electric coal cutting machines were used and they were not unlike modern chain saws but much bigger. With a six foot cutting arm, they would cut away the stone at the base of the coal seem for a distance of approximately 300 feet. Two men manned the machine with a third shovelling out the stone dust and inserting timber chocks. The coal fillers would drill holes into the coal at an angle so that each holed out at the stone above the coal seam. Each explosive charge would collapse the coal into pieces to be filled into tubs. The following diagram would help to show the work of putters and coal fillers.
C O A L F A C E
East 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Main Gate 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 West
“ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “
“ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “
The coal face would extend 300 feet with 15 tracks leading to it, which gave each gateway 20 feet of coal face and empty tubs were places as near as possible to the face. They were filled with coal and driven to the main haulage way and away to the shaft bottom. The rate per ton would vary from 9 pence to 2 shillings and good men could earn up to £6 per fortnight after deductions. The rent for a Company house was 9 shillings and four pence per fortnight. I was 22 before I graduated to coal filling and joined up with my brothers John and Michael and also Tom O’Neil.
I learned ballroom dancing when I was past sixteen. Going to a weekly dance for 9 pence and the first hour was rotation. When the music ceased, one had to dance with the girl opposite and I was a keen pupil, and enjoyed dancing for ever afterwards.
In 1925 my Uncle Johnny in America sent a gold watch and £25 to my sister Mary. With the money she went on a pilgrimage to Rome in that Holy Year. She brought back many souvenirs for us all and some are still in existence.
We were allowed to drink at the age of 18 but most lads did not bother. I kept fit for sport and waited until I was twenty one when I joined the Working Men’s Club, but primarily to play billiards. I must confess that I disgraced myself on a few occasions and the self inflicted hangovers were a reward for this wrongdoing.
I belonged to a small debating group and also a book club. At a dance I met a Shetland girl who was teaching at Cambois which was about four miles from Bedlington. We became good friends and she was to influence my life in some ways. She stayed with another teacher and we made up foursomes for dances. Her home was in Edinburgh and we could take an excursion train from Morpeth for 6 shillings and have eight hours in Edinburgh and her step-father used to show me around the city. She eventually married a Shetlander, Dick Cooper, and I last visited them in Queensferry in 1951.
I also went to night classes and secured a fireman’s certificate and also first aid and home nursing. In 1936 I was invited down to Surrey to spend Derby week. My friend Chris Moat was to visit Dick at Chatham and so we arranged to travel together. This was a real adventure for me and on arriving at Kings Cross station at 6 a.m. it was a novelty to sit in a restaurant and enjoy bacon and eggs. My friend met me at Morden which was the terminus for the Underground. That week was something to talk about when I returned home from a world which was bigger than I had realised.
In this age of wall-to-wall carpet I should mention that floor coverings in most houses were linoleum and what were known as “clippie mats”. These were a joint effort and friends helped each other in the making. Old clothes were died black and cut into “clippens” of two by one inches and a smaller amount usually dyed red. Three trestles called “Cuddies” were used to support a wooden frame usually 6 foot by 3 foot. Hessian, with a design marked on it, was stretched tightly on the frame. A “progger” shaped like a modern biro, made of steel or copper, was used to force the clippen through the Hessian twice, keeping each clippen close to each other. Seated at each side as many as six women could soon make mats of various sizes and keep up with current news at the same time.
One of my former school friends, Jimmy Carey, had joined the Air Force and came home for a long leave before going to Iraq. He bought a bull nosed Morris car for £5 and sold it for £7 when his leave was up. I and others enjoyed some outings to dances etc. One other friend played in a local dance band and I often went to country dances with the band. Annual events were usually Whist 7-10 and the dance went on till 2 a.m. with supper at midnight, especially on Friday nights.
Pit-head baths were built at the Doctor Pit Yard and all employees were allowed to use them. It was a tonic to have a hot shower after years of a half pie bath in a zinc bath tin. In 1937, the centenary of the Company, all were given a day off with pay which made history as paid holidays were away in the distant future. Twelve retirement cottages were also built to mark the occasion.
When my youngest brother, James, left college there were no jobs going in that area and he was advised to travel to London to apply for a Commission in the Royal Air Force. He passed all the tests but was turned down because his father was only a coal miner. However, he joined the ranks in September 1936 at the age of 19 and we had a good camping holiday together in Seahouses before he was sent to Iraq. Shortly afterwards, in May 1937, my brother Septimus also enlisted and he was in India when the war started. My sister Mona had also left home in 1936, aged 16 years, to work in domestic service in Surrey. She later worked in County Durham at Leazes Hall. There were only Edward and I working for the Company and still at home as my father had retired. Pat went off to Australia in 1926 and John and Michael had married and there were only four of us at No 9.
When I turned twenty one I was invited to join the Knights of St Columba, which I did. I was a member for thirty years. Our meetings were monthly and held in many different parishes in Northumberland. I joined in the activities of this international organisation with zest. When war was declared I handed in two weeks notice and tried in vain to join up. Many lads had the same idea and at 27 years plus I was not accepted. I could not imagine myself down a coal mine with a war going on and I went down to London and tried again. My money was almost gone and so I took a job in the foundry at Callender’s Cable Works. Thanks to the Knight’s I was found lodgings with Mrs Bertha and Mr Jack Smith at St. Francis Street in Erith, Kent. St. Fidelis Catholic church was only twenty yards away. At work I was asked if I would accept some training for a job in another department. For the next six and a half years I was to tin copper wire for de-gaussing and buoyancy cables. In turn I had to train others as the need was so great that two shifts had to be worked despite air raids and blackout. My landlady proved to be a wonderful woman and like a mother to me. She is still alive at 93 years of age, and wrote to me last month, September 1987. Thanks to her I was able to save money and also send some to my sister Mary. Quite a few of my friends in the Services spent some time in my lodgings, although they were far from keen on the nightly air raids.
I worked alternate weeks on nightshift and learned Latin from Fr Malachy, OFM, Cap, so that I could serve Holy Mass at St Fidelis at weekends and every other weekday. Being so near London most schoolchildren were evacuated to safer areas. I spent a great deal of time at the Friary and became very involved in parish affairs and also with the Knights of Southward Province. We were lobbying MP’s about the new Education Bill and I was secretary of Erith Catholic Parents and Electors Association. When the Bill was passed Catholics were to pay 50% of building costs instead of 75%. I also joined the Home Guard and have to grin when I remember having a Sten gun at my digs and my friend Miles had the ammunition two miles away.
The player-coach of Callender’s Football Club was Ronny Westcott who had played with Arsenal and also Wolverhampton. He persuaded me to turn out for them and I played all during the war and also for South East Home Guard. Once per month I would have the weekend off work and some sometimes visit my sister Catherine or my Aunt Sarah in Hertfordshire. The KSC had a hostel for Servicemen on leave in Eaton Square, W.1. It was 2 shillings for bed and breakfast and a real home from home for many. Many Irishmen used to come and leave their uniforms with the hostel as Eire was supposed to be neutral. I spent two weeks holiday there helping out and met many men of various nationalities.
My brother James came home from Iraq and I arranged to meet my sister Cath and her baby son, Thomas, at Kings Cross Railway Station and we took the train to Newcastle in order to welcome James home. Due to air raids and blackout we were too late for the bus to Bedlington. We walked over four miles to a friend’s home in Jesmond only to find that he and his family had already gone to Bedlington. His neighbour kindly put us up for the night and we were able to catch a bus next morning.
One of my team mates at Callenders was very keen for me to buy a semi-detached bungalow which he reckoned was a real bargain. It meant taking over the mortgage as the owner, a widow, wanted to marry again. I finally agreed and had enough cash to clinch the deal. Not long afterwards, my father was asked to vacate his Company house as he had no family at home working for the Company. After 40 years of service to be treated so was very hard to bear. Thank God I could write to Mary and have the family move down to No 2 Methuen Road, Belvedere, Kent, which they did in 1943. Apart from a blast which damaged the roof, the house survived many air raids. I well remember the sight of Mary, my father, my sister Mona (now Mrs Storey) with baby Christine and Kim, a nice collie, approaching No 2. Edward soon joined the family and secured a light job at Callenders as did Tommy Storey when he was finally demobbed. Sep and James, both Sergeants now, were both welcomed home. James was also a fitter and rigger and worked at BOAC in Croyden. He studied hard and was accepted into the Ministry of Pensions. In 1947 he married Denise O’Brien, also a WAAF Sergeant and they moved to Cardiff where he began a career in the Civil Service. They raised a family of three girls and two boys before James died suddenly of a heart attack in Leeds in 1964.
Septimus had learned the carpentry trade but could not settle down in civvy street and rejoined the Air Force for another two years. Meanwhile Mona and Tommy Storey had secured a new pre-fab near to Mary. My father settled very well and found that gardening in the South was somewhat different from the North but he was very happy to be able to grow lots of tomatoes outdoors. He even took an allotment near home and surprised some to the neighbours with free vegetables at times.
During the war my sister Mona spent time with her sister Cath who had married Tom Thornton in 1940 in Haslemere in Surrey, and was a big help as they had five children all born while the family was living at Owslebury in Hampshire. I enjoyed many happy times there when the children were small. Sep finally came out of the Air Force and worked as a carpenter from No 2.
In 1946 I finally obtained my release from Calenders and with the war being over I did not fancy spending the rest of my working life in a factory. I had an interview with Chimney’s Ltd. In London, who specialised in building brick chimneys. I could assure them that I was not afraid of depths so that heights would not worry me. I was given a travel warrant and told to report to Reg Hose at the Marsden Brick Company at Ridgemont, Buckinghamshire. I was the first of six labourers to join Reg and Cyril, his younger brother, who were bricklayers. The job was to erect three chimney stacks to the height of 150 feet. One had been started and left at 70 feet when the war broke out. I will try and outline the method of construction. The stacks were circular and built with a slight batter which slightly reduced the size at the top. Step-irons were built into the brickwork every 21 inches so one could climb up inside. A scaffold rested on 4 inch pipes flattened at each end and made so that one could be inserted into the other to increase or reduce and the ends entered into cut-away brickwork. Two pairs of these were needed and Oregan planks were cut into half moon shapes, four in all, two overlapping and leaving a two foot square opening in the centre. A ten foot pole, six inches in diameter, was placed through the step-irons, secured with wedges and scaffold cord. An inch diameter bolt was secured in the centre of top and a cathead was placed over the bolt so that it pivoted in any direction. Two pulley wheels were placed at each end. The winch, electric or petrol, was secured at ground level and a steel bond led from the winch through a pulley wheel and up to a pulley on cathead, and down over another pulley down through a square hole in the scaffold. A very heavy bullhead and hook was attached to the end of the bond. Bricks were stacked on pallets, wheeled into the chimney bottom, and a chain put around the thirty bricks and fastened to the bull weight and thus lifted up to the scaffold. The winch driver had string fastened to the bond to indicate when to stop, and when the bricks were directed through the hole, the lander would swing the stack to whichever part of the scaffold they were handy. The motor, Blue Lias Lime and sand, gauged with Portland cement was brought up in half beer barrels fitted with steel bond to hang on the bull weight. Chimney bond was one header and then three stretchers and they were shaped and called radial face bricks. Cyril laid the header course and Reg followed with the three stretchers, plumbing and checking the diameter of the stack. Rather than climb up on the step irons Reg and Cyril each rode up by putting their feet in a chain and hanging onto the bond whilst touching step irons to stop from spinning. I was game to do likewise which is why I became the lander and learned the bricklaying trade.
Reg taught me much in the next two years. Besides regulating the flow of materials I found time to lay the common bricks used behind the face work. The three of us all lodged at the Ridgemont Arms with Mr and Mrs Gilbert. The winter of 1947 was very severe and we hung around for two weeks before being sent home and we were paid for 32 hours per week until the thaw arrived. This was the first time I had ever received money without working. We were paid £2 lodging allowance which was tax free and a travel warrant every six weeks. On jobs nearer home we were paid travel money and I was very satisfied with my lifestyle at this time.
I made new friends and was able to attend KSC meetings in various parts of England. When we finished the three stacks, the next job was at London Colney, a few miles north of London. I was soon fed up with two trains and a bus to get to work and I decided to camp on the job. As they had a good works canteen I was quite content for the few weeks that the job lasted. The next job was on a 300 footer at Wadden Marsh, East Croydon and I stayed at home and travelled each day. This lasted almost a year and then I was sent with another foreman, Charley Best, to a series of small jobs and he hired local labourers where needed. We worked in Abbot’s Bromley, Staffordshire, Swindon, Bristol, Oxford and Lexden near Colchester. We also had a few jobs in London and Woolwich when I could live at home. Our Mary had done voluntary work at a Welfare Clinic in Peckham for some years and she was eventually given a position with a salary. This made history as she had never before been paid money for her labours. I must confess that I also took her goodness for granted and, looking back over her life, I realise how fortunate we were to have her example.
In 1950 I was sent to a job at Immingham, near Grimsby and then to York for a chimney stack at Rowntrees Chocolate Factory. The KSC had a good club there and I made some good friends. We were still on food rationing and I used to use my sweet coupons to buy Black Magic, which was mainly for export, and that would be a treat for those at home. Whilst playing football I had damaged my knee and the cartilage became loose and would come out at the most awkward occasions, such as a dance or at work. It became very painful and swollen until put back.
1950 was a Holy Year and I arranged to go to Rome with the KSC pilgrimage in early September. There were six hundred of us, men and women, and we left London on the boat train and landed in France. There we transferred to another train and went through Switzerland and Italy to Rome. Although I went to Rome for the good of my soul, I never realised how it would change my life. With saying the Rosary and having meals on the train we soon became friendly with each other and among so many good people I met Mrs Julia Connelly and her younger sister Helen Murphy who, in the fullness of time, became my wife. We all attended Masses in the four Basilicas of Rome and went to the Catacombs and the Coliseum. We saw His Holiness at Castle Gandolfo. We went to two open air operas at the Terme de Carracalla and saw the many grand sights in the Eternal City. A visit to Turin and Rapallo were other highlights and getting to know Helen was a bonus in every way and Julia was and became a very special person to me in later years. All good things must end and I escorted Helen and Julia to the KSC club in London for afternoon tea before they returned to Edinburgh.
On my return to work my first job was to help put an extra twelve feet of brickwork on the old shot-tower at Waterloo for pigeons to nest during the Festival pf Britain to be held in 1951. Whilst on this job I was informed that I had to report at the Miller Hospital in Greenwich to have my cartilage removed. After the operation and a week in hospital I went to Scotland for two weeks convalescence at Lochgilphead with Helen and her sister Anne. Anne was a District Nurse and in her duty car we all visited many placed in that area. Those two weeks did more than my knee good and when I reported for work I was sent to Aberdeen in Scotland. The job was three nitration towers and I was put in charge of the labourers, mainly local lads. I had good lodgings and I enjoyed my time there which was over a year. I visited Helen in Hawick where she was District Nursing and also met her colleague Ruth Young. Bernard Connelly and Eddie Culinan also visited and stayed overnight at my digs. They were to become brother-in-laws. Helen also came down south and stayed at No 2 Methuen Road. We also stayed with my sister Cath and the children in Hampshire.
In 1952 we decided that we should go our separate ways and I decided to emigrate to Canada. The firm allowed me to work nearer home whilst I made my travel arrangements. My sister Mary had kept in touch with my brother Martin in Ontario and I informed him of my plans. I was very sad saying my goodbyes, especially to my father as he was eighty three by then. My luggage went by sea but I flew to Montreal and travelled on the Canadian Pacific Railway to Garson in Northern Ontario. My brother and his wife were there to meet me and only then did I know that Emily, his wife, was totally blind and had been since the age of six. They had four daughters at home and still at school and a son, William Anthony, was away in Toronto working. I was made very welcome and spent the first week bringing them up to date with other members of the Munley clan. Martin worked as a security guard at Falconbridge Nickel Mine and Smelter and talked me into applying for a job there. I spent the next nine months repairing converters and furnaces and other new units. It was a very mixed workforce with men of many nationalities. Martin and Emily had many hospitable friends in the township. I had transferred from the KSC in the UK to Sudbury Council and was soon involved in parish affairs. The parish priest had to be bi-lingual as French was widely spoken. Because of pollution from the smelter, the vegetation was killed in an area of twenty square miles. Astronauts were to use the area later for training as the experts thought the moon’s surface was similar. Later, chimney stacks of 1,000 feet cured this problem as I was to witness when returning to the area in 1975. Emily was the most remarkable woman that I had ever met and the house hold ran like clockwork. She even demonstrated bread making in the township and even appeared on local television.
My wages were high compared to the UK and as food rationing was still going, Canada was the land of plenty. Somehow I was unsettled and decided to try my luck in Toronto, 310 miles distant. The building trade was Union organised and all operatives had to register and they secured your first job for you when the season began. Winter temperatures were 25 degrees below in the long winter and building would not start until June. Unlike in the k, one could not get board and lodgings but rented a room and ate at restaurants. My name did not seem to move on the register and I decided to try for another job. I learnt later that a 10 dollar bill helped the movement of you name on the register.
A position in the Toronto Star was advertised for someone with experience of youth work, photography and recreational hobbies. My cousin John Barron had got me interested in photography in 1940 and so I decided to apply. The Superintendent was a former British Army Nurse and was very interested in my character references as they were not fashionable in Canada. He Home for Incurable Children, better known as “The House of Happiness” was on Bloor Street, Toronto. It was a two storey brick building and accommodated 20 boys and 20 girls. It also housed domestic staff. A nurse’s home was situated in the large ground. The children were spastic, had muscular dystrophy, spina bifida or other serious disorders. My heart sank when I first saw these children and though I was offered the position the Superintendent told me to think about my decision. I did and also prayed about it and decided that someone had to do this work. Why not me? I thank God that I did and even if the salary was lower than in bricklaying I was a happy man helping these dear children to enjoy their often short lives.
I had a self-contained apartment and had my meals with the domestic staff. Canada was accepting a quota of Europeans in the post war years and many were the nationalities in Toronto. We had a Bulgarian and an English nurse in charge of each floor and nurse aides to do the work. A schoolteacher and two physiotherapists and all together forty three persons were employed and the Home had many voluntary helpers. There was also a janitor and two Chinese people who worked in the laundry. Some of the boys with muscular dystrophy because very heavy at one stage of their condition and I helped to get them up from bed and into their wheelchairs. A hydraulic hoist was used to get them to and from the bath. I used to help the teacher with the lessons of children confined to bed.
The head of a large brewery firm supplied an articulated truck and coach body for the many outings and Service clubs also helped in this way. With a nurse aide to each child we attended baseball, soccer, basketball and the Trade Fairs and Circuses. I even managed to get thirteen boys and girls to Niagara Falls on the paddle steamer “Cluga” and all had a memorable day. We took some of the children to a swimming pool at the Sick Children’s Hospital each week and they enjoyed that. Bell Telephone Company supplied a 16 mm film each week which I projected on Saturday afternoons and as these were often current films many of the staff would attend. As well as a projector we had a 16 mm camera and so I could film some of the activities at the Home. I also had some help to take some of the children to Mass on Sunday morning at Our Lady of Lourdes church. With one thing and another I was kept busy and enjoyed my life. Father Ginac was the chaplain for the Home and we became good friends. Soon after I took the job, a new Superintendent, Miss Jenkins, was appointed and she gave me lots of encouragement to do new activities and any celebrities visiting Toronto were encouraged to visit the home.
My father died in December 1953 and my brother Edward died six months later in June 1954. I applied for leave to go home the same year. The Board also gave me $50 and I sailed from Quebec on SS Johan Van Bardonveld. It was nice to be home although saddened by the family bereavements. I was in touch with Helen again and I took my niece Christine with me to Edinburgh to visit her. We also went to Dundee and visited the mother of one of the nurse aides at the Home and also stayed in Bedlington. Helen decided to take leave from the District Nursing Association and visit Canada and we travelled together on “The Groot Bear” to Quebec and then on by train to Toronto. An order of nuns ran a hostel for young women and Helen was allowed to stay for a time and as it was next to the Home this arrangement suited me. The Superintendent wanted Helen to work at the Home but she declined and eventually worked at Mt Sinai Hospital. We were married on November 13th 1954 at Our Lady of Lourdes, Church Street, Toronto and had a short honeymoon at Niagara Falls. The Superintendent said that we could continue to live in the apartment and Helen also became a member of “The House of Happiness”.
My last job in England in 1952 was in Leeds and my Father asked me if I could locate a kinsman of his. Munnelley is not a common name and with some help from the Parish Priest I met up with this old gentleman in a nursing home. He had his Rosary in his hands which told me volumes. He had left County Mayo before my father. When I finally left for Canada, a tearful farewell it was too, I was told of another Munnelley in New York. In 1953 I was invited to spend two weeks in Brooklyn by a couple who had formerly lived in Bedlington. I went by Greyhound bus and that was quite an experience. Tom and Maggie Noonan met me at the terminus and gave me a grand holiday. Two weeks is not long to judge a country and its people and I had the impression of being in an artificial world with too many inhabitants. I learned later that the Munnelley in question owned a hotel.