Douglas Weatherall

British Civilian

If you can tell me your name, when and where you were born.

Right, Im Douglas Weatherall I was born in Seaham Harbour County Durham in September 1932 and I’ve been associated with the north-east for a long, long time particularly as a newspaperman.

Can you tell me about your parents?

My father for 25 years worked down the colliery as a coal miner. He had passed for the grammar school but he didn’t get into the school as he was an orphan. He left school at 14 and went down the pits but he had the intelligence to do anything.  He eventually became a rent collector for the local council.  I’m one of 3 children.

Did any of your family serve in the First War?

Yes, My Grandfather.  He was a regular soldier and his service included the First War.

Did you have a happy childhood?

I had a terrific childhood.  I loved sport all my life. In season we’d play cricket and football. I still love sport as an interest even at 84.

Can you remember the build-up for War? 

My first real memory of the war was my dad who was deputy head warden for Seaham.  He had the white helmets like you see on “Dad’s Army”.  I remember going to the council with him as war was threatened and listening to Mr Chamberlain saying that war had been declared. I wasn’t quite 7 years old but I remember that vividly.  My next real memory of the war was the Anderson shelters being delivered.  My older brother was very handy and he dug the hole 4 feet down and put the Anderson shelter in the garden and covered it with earth and flowers. I use to sleep in it quite regularly.  When the air raids started my Mum decided that I should be evacuated and my sister, Jean, who was 4 years older than me, she and I went to Stratford upon Avon.  I was picturing thatched roofed cottages but it was a terrace.  Our council house back home was palatial compared to that. My idea of Stratford upon Avon was ruined.  I stayed there for 3 weeks but was so homesick.  My mum kept a letter I had written in pencil which said I wanted to come home and face the bombs again. I’ve still got that letter in my loft.  My memories of Stratford upon Avon were the Wings for Victory collections.  I remember being in the children’s choir and I attended the school but I was glad to get back to Deneside Junior Mixed.

Did any of your family join the Armed Forces and serve?

My Dad when the war broke out had the chance to go back to the pits but he disliked them so much and preferred to go into the Army.  He was in the Royal Artillery.  He served most of his time on the South coast with heavy Ack Ack’s, trying to shoot down German bombers and then later the doodle bugs.

Was anyone in the family in the Home Guard?

No, like I said my Dad was a warden.  Our Jack joined the Army cadets but was never called up because he was a shipwright in the yards at Sunderland, that was his job.

Do you remember the Battle of Britain at all?

Oh I remember all the raids as I say, when they were at the height me Mam just used to prepare my bed in the shelter and we’d go down there and that’s where I spent most of my nights in the Anderson shelter and actually I can remember the landmines dropping very near us, we lived on the avenue of Deneside, Seaham and then one of the farmers’ fields this enormous bomb had dropped and left this enormous crater that eventually filled up with water and one of my playmates Jimmy Latham who lived out the back of where I lived, he was drowned in that, he had been trying to get on a raft and actually drowned in there.

Was the outbreak of war a shock to the system, what changes did it have for you as a child?

It wasn’t a shock as such, we used to draw the aeroplanes and things like that and if there had been a raid we would go and pick the bits of shrapnel and that type of thing and it was mainly like a normal boyhood, I still loved playing football and cricket and as I said earlier I have liked that sort of thing all my life, eventually I was to write about football and cricket.  Incidentally I remember when my dad was in the army I used to write letters to him and mainly tell him about how Sunderland had played in the wartime matches and he used to write back, it was like reading the Sunderland Football Echo.  Eventually I used to work for the football like and the Sunderland Echo that’s where I started my journalistic career.  He was well before his time he forecast Boro would be down before…

Did you ever worry about what might happen?

I don’t think I did you know, as a boy it was… I still did boyish things and even after raids we would go around picking up bits of shrapnel and whatnot you know, one gets used to these things.

What about the threat of invasion, I’ve spoke to a few people who said they were always aware of the constant threat that Hitler might arrive.

Yeah that was, well of course, through my Dad being a warden they were prepared with how to react if there was an invasion and all that sort of thing and of course I remember the LDV the Local Defence Volunteers who were the Home Guard I remember I used to see them doing their drill etc but the main things I remember were the air raids, the noise could be terrible and me Mam used to be upset as soon as she heard the sirens… woo the whining and then it was a different whine for the start of the raid and then there was a long one for when the raid was over, the threat was over and these things have stuck with my memory all my life.

Can you tell me what the camaraderie was like in your community?

It was, you’ve got to remember it was a mining community and miners have wonderful camaraderie anyway and incidentally to go off at a tangent there used to be the broadcasts about how to save things and make the most of things and how not to waste any food and that sort of thing.  Me Mam would listen to that and say ‘Hey, we’ve been doing that our whole live’, because we weren’t that well off, hardly anybody in Seaham Harbour was well off, I mean blimey there just used to be a few cars in the whole town, now you can’t get stirred from them.  I never thought I would see which I saw eventually loads of cars at every colliery where the miners would come to work.  They used to get the pit busses when I was a lad.

What were the day to day conditions like?

As I say it was, I was a boy and I enjoyed doing boyish things and sometimes you would see some of the stuff on the news when we went to the cinema at Seaham Colliery and you’d see some of the raids and the effects of the raids but of course a lot of that was hushed up for morale among the population and even in those days I realised we might not be getting the full truth, I can remember chaps coming back to Seaham after Dunkirk for instance and all that sort of thing and being greeted at home, back for a short while then they were of again to war.

What were the changes to schooling?

Well of course that was another thing, they had a shelter built at school at Deneside, my Mam used to complain because we used to play football in the school yard and they built a brick shelter just at the bottom of the schoolyard and that had soil on it but you can imagine what it was like when it rained, all muddy and that and my Mam used to get me turned out beautifully for school and I’d come back hackey as they say in County Durham, all muddy me shoes were all mucked up from playing football in the mud stained playground.  Things like that I remember in that sense, the happy memories not sort of forbidding ones shall I say.

Can you remember when rationing came in, what was the food like and what did you miss?

I can remember everything seemed to be short, Warehills was a bread shop and the word would go around ‘Warehills have biscuits in’, it was great to be able to get a biscuit now and again, there was a shortage of everything mind you, as I said me Mam or Dad would make do and mend all our lives really although we always fed well, we didn’t have much money but we always fed well and we seemed to have managed all right.  I can still remember lovely smells of my Mam’s cooking, Sunday dinners we still managed to get some sort of roast.

Can you remember any funny incidents from the time?

In the main a boy’s life was fun I mean I started watching Sunderland when I was 9 years old.  I can still remember the very first game I saw at Roker Park, it was Sunderland vs Leeds Utd and of course in those days a lot of the players were in the forces and it just so happened that Raich Carter the wonderful inside forward of Sunderland, he had gone on leave and was playing for Sunderland the very first time I saw them and I saw him get a hat trick and one of his goals I can picture now.  I was standing in the Clock Stand and this wonderful left foot shot from the angle of the penalty area and he shot inside the far post, I was 9 years old and it’s still there.

What was it like going to the matches in wartime?

Well it was thrilling, I used to love Saturdays if Sunderland were playing at home and if they weren’t playing at home I’d go and see Seaham Colliery Welfare play or Dalton Colliery Welfare. I was later to play for Dalton Colliery Welfare Juniors and of course I mean in the wartime, during the war I passed my 11 plus and went to Ryhope Grammar School, the school that had rejected my Dad because he was an orphan.  A bit politically minded on that sort of thing!  I like to think I have a sense of fairness and I thought that was unfair anyway I got in the school and we had the most successful team in Ryhope Grammar school that the North-East have ever known and it’s still a record.  We entered 8 competitions and won 7.  And of course, that was just after the war in the 46-47 season but of course I was there from 1943 and that was wartime.  I remember we used to have gas masks and as the war got on we didn’t seem to carry our gas masks as often as we previously carried them because we were then in the process of winning the war and the threat wasn’t that great.

Was there ever a time you had to use them?

No, I’ve never known gas thank God, I mean they used to have practices putting them on but never the real thing thanks goodness.

Were there any tragic incidents befell your family?

I lost 2 uncles, I remember I was sitting one night listening to the wireless we didn’t have television, my Ma was doing her hookie mat, you know the hookie mats and there was a knock on the front door of the Avenue, Deneside, Seaham and it was a policeman to tell us my uncle Harry my Mams brother had been killed.  We never used to worry about him because he was based in this country but would you believe, he was a motorcyclist dispatch rider a motorcyclist in the Royal Engineers, he was a Sergeant and he was killed on the A1 between Ripon and Darlington by some vehicle which was on the wrong side of the road.  The ones we worried about were my Uncle Eddie and my Uncle Jack, they were both in the Royal Navy, the next time we got bad news it was Uncle Eddie had gone down on the submarine Snapper, that’s how he lost his life and by the way his son, my cousin Danny is very well known, the people in that type of music will know all about him, Danny Thompson, he is a brilliant double bass player, he is in his 70’s now and of course he doesn’t remember his Dad, he was just a baby when his Dad was killed.  He was declared missing presumed dead and of course he was… down the bottom of some ocean.

How did people cope with the fear?

With fear?  You see I can’t remember people being frightened.  It’s funny you get used to an environment and the environment was we were at war, we didn’t want to be at war but somehow the British spirit we coped. I would guess perhaps I was too young to be fearful?

Whereas me Mam was always, especially after losing two brothers she was always fearful, the next knock on the door.  What’s it going to be?  What news is it going to be?  My Dad didn’t get out of this country as a soldier until just after the war when he, towards the end of the war he was stationed very briefly in Germany but by then we had won.

Where were you the day it was announced the war was over and what can you remember about it?

What I can remember was the street parties and that sort of thing, they were lovely and it was, one of my great memories actually and perhaps you don’t know this but I love music and I can remember the BBC was celebrating by going right round Britain and what was happening and I will never forget hearing the people in Cardiff singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah and I’ve always loved music, my Dad was a good singer, he used to sing Messiah and it was if someone was conducting them.  This great celebration, you’ve heard about the Welsh being great singers.  I can vouch they were great when the war was one, I remember them singing and celebrating by singing the Hallelujah Chorus in the streets.  It was a very happy time and it was lovely as the fellas came back from the war you know, it was a very emotional time that.  I think the whole nation had showed wonderful spirit during the war but there was a great sense of relief afterwards.

Did it take long for your father to come back?

Well my Dad was de-mobbed and he returned to what he done before the war, he was working for Seaham Council again.

Do you often think back to that time?

Funny enough not all that much really.  I mean it’s a long time ago and a lot has happened in my life since then, Sunderland even won the cup, they’d won it in ’37.  My Dad had his first trip to Wembley in 1937, this is 2 years before war was declared and my memory of that funnily enough was he brought me back a weapon of war… a toy sword and that was my first memory of football really.

Can you tell us a little about your life after the war?

Well I went to the school where my Dad didn’t get in and I advanced forward to the 5th form at Ryhope Grammar School and the prefect tapped me on the shoulder and said the gaffer wants to see you, and that meant the headmaster but oh what have I done now?  It was known for me to have to visit the headmaster, anyway I go to see him wondering what he has to say to me and he says ‘Oh Weatherall’, they never call you by your first name.  ‘You’ll be leaving school after you sit your school certificate won’t you?’.  I said ‘Oh yes’, he said ‘Well what do you fancy becoming?’.  ‘Oh well, I was thinking, I was pretty poor at the sciences but pretty good at the arts and English and Latin and that sort of thing so I was thinking I might get a job at one of the offices at the three Collieries in Seaham Harbour or possibly in one of the offices of the Co-Ops.  That was until about 3 weeks ago, but my Dad who was reading the Daily Herald at home said, this sounds like you, he was reading a feature by Dudley Barker with whom I was later to work about how to become a reporter.  So, my Dad said this sounds like you, good at English, interested in current affairs, what goes on in life.  He says this sounds like you so I told Mr Graham the headmaster about that and he says well I’ve had a call from the reporter at Seaham office of the Sunderland Echo and he wants his first Junior reporter so would you be interested.  I said oh yes, I saw Mick Browne, Mr Browne with an ‘e’ finally that night.  I saw Tommy Holden the editor of the Sunderland Echo the following day and then I knew what I would be doing when I left school.  In fact, when Tommy Holden said to me ‘When can you start?’… I was thinking I could get out of sitting my exams.  I said straight away, well he said I think you better go back in case you don’t like it or we don’t like you.

My Dad wouldn’t have let me leave school before getting qualifications anyway so I went back to school and from then on, the lads were calling me ‘Scoop’ because I was going to be a reporter and I was actually reporting before I left school.  I was reporting cricket at Seaham Harbour for the Sunderland Echo and I started for the Sunderland Echo in July when I left and I’ve been a journalist all my life and I still write for the Sunderland Football Match Programme that’s my only main writing nowadays but I’m always grateful to Mr S. B Graham for picking me out, I mean he didn’t know about my journalistic interest then but I tell you this we didn’t have career masters or advisors then, Didn’t need one and he was as perceptive as that, made a wonderful change to my life and I have loved being a reporter and if I were well of I would have done it for free.

Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you would want to talk about?

I think I’ve covered things pretty well, I haven’t mentioned that I was in the army.  I did my National Service.  At the age of 18 Im working at the Sunderland Echo but of course in those days there was National Service Conscription, I knew I would get called up and sure enough I was 18 on September and then in the February I got to go to Fort George Inverness to train with the Highland Brigade and I did 10 weeks basic training.  I was with the Highland Regiment but I was badged under the Royal Army Educational Corps, that’s what I put down as a preference because of my wonderful school certificate, somehow, I managed to persuade them that I should be given a chance in the Royal Army Educational Corps.

I had a 3-month course and somehow, I got through and I was expected to be a teacher in the Army teaching lads how to read and write and that type of thing.  Those who qualified on that course, if I failed that course I could have gone to Korea and had to fight in Korea with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders or in Malaya with the Gordon Highlanders.  Anyway, I got through and there were lads who wanted an overseas posting, the postings were put in an Army beret and we had to pick out our posting and I picked out BTA and the young Lt who was our instructor said you’re a lucky so and so, I said oh where am I going and he says oh you’re going to Austria, British Troops Austria.  BTA.  Anyway, I travelled on the ship from Harwich then got a train down to (?) in Austria to (?) and I get of this lorry and the first person I see is someone I recognise.

Tony Davidson from Seaham, he was in the year above me at Ryhope Grammar school.  He says first question have you got your boots and he didn’t mean army boots he meant football boots.  I was like yeah, I’ve got them and he says you’re playing tomorrow.  He had seen the postings and knew I was going to arrive and I was literally playing the next day and he said I will show you to the billet and he showed me the Sgt quarters and says Hey I’ve got a canny joke for you, I said what’s that Tony.  He says you will be running the army newspaper.  I could have cuddled him you know.  I was dreading having to teach because I was hopeless teaching but somehow, I had managed to get through that course but anyway I was producing the Army Newspaper for the British Troops in Austria weekly journal.  BTA weekly journal.  I still have all the copies that I produced in a folder up in the loft and so I enjoyed my time in Austria.  I was there last year actually I went back with my younger daughter and saw the barracks where I was billeted and I enjoyed myself.

In season I played football twice a week I played cricket twice a week as well as producing this newspaper.  I saw England win in the Prada Stadium, Vienna, we beat a very good team Austria 3-2.  Nat Lofthouse got the winning goal.  Nat Lofthouse dubbed in the Daily Express as the Lion of Vienna.  I was there and I’ve talked about that sort of thing with the late Nat Lofthouse.

Interview Ends

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