15 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. The Hostel

In 1949 I left home after Easter and travelled by bus and train from our Kidside home to South Shields. I had been supplied with travel warrants by the then Westmorland Education Department to get there and the address of the hostel.

I managed to get there in one piece and wondered on the journey how I would get on living away from home for the first time. I used to go and stay in the school holiday's with relatives and our good friends, the Proud's at their farm in Ainstable. I used to often get homesick on these holidays and I hoped I would not have a similar problem with homesickness when I arrived in South Shields. I was to be away from home for the whole 1st. term at South Shields and It was too far away to come home for weekends.

Fortunately homesickness did not happen, I was kept too busy.

The hostel was in the area of Westoe and was one of a number of old dilapidated large Victorian brick houses built around a square, green, open area. The 3-story hostel stood in its own grounds with accommodation for I would estimate 20 boys. We were mostly all new to the hostel and the first thing I noticed as far as I could tell they were all older than I. Only one other boy turned out to be 15 like myself. Most were at least 16 with a few 17 year olds. Another thing I learnt was that everyone with one exception was there to do pre-sea training as cadet Deck Officers also known as Apprentices. The only other trainee Radio Officer was a Scotsman from Berwick and he had been at the college for some time. He told me that the Radio Officer?s course was a minor department and the vast majority of the trainee's were for cadet Deck Officers. I was assigned to a bedroom with 3 others, one being the Scotsman.

Next morning we were wakened early by the sound of a clanging bell and a head came round the door shouting, "Wakey, wakey rise and shine, shake a leg". It was the hostel manager and it was 6.30 a.m. I was soon to get used to this regular morning procedure. Jock just across from me said "quick, get to the bathrooms, its a long wait if you don't". I found out later the last ones downstairs got the breakfast scrap ends. Weetabix left only and the sugar all gone. After cereal came a hot breakfast at the kitchen hatch usually egg, baked beans, sometimes a sausage and something that seemed to resemble bacon. My first introduction to tinned bacon... more about that later... all swimming in large shallow pans of hot fat and dripping into pools on our plates, as the hot breakfast was ladled out. Toast and large metal teapots were on the long tables and god-awful stewed coffee from an urn. One thing there was plenty of breakfast and one soon learnt to eat heartily in the mornings, it was a long time to the evening meal.

The first morning Jock grabbed me to show me the way to the lecture halls situated half a mile away. The marine Cadets all went in a different direction to Jock and I, they went through the Cut that I came to know well and we went down to busy Ocean Road a good half mile away in the city centre.

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