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Lewthwaite Family - Difficult times for young people

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posted on 2024-06-05, 19:09 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Doreen Lewthwaite (née Robertson) was born in 1922. She started work at 14 as was normal and work in Crofton's shop. When the war broke out she was 17 and she then was required to do war work, she worked in Reyrolles Hebburn, a local munitions factory. She worked 12 hour shifts, seven in the morning till seven at night, she would also need to travel there and back each day. She worked on a machine turning brass nuts. Some of the brass turnings would end up as splinters in her fingers and twice nightly she would have to go to the medical room to get these brass splinters removed.

Doreen had a wartime romance with a Welsh Royal Marine called Harold Evans who was based on the HMS Edinburgh which was built on the River Tyne. HMS Edinburgh came back to the Tyne for a long refit and Doreen may have got engaged to Harold about this period. Doreen often mentioned the difficulties of climbing up a rope ladder to board a ship, possibly HMS Edinburgh, whist trying to prevent the wind lifting her skirt.

Whether it was the grief of losing Harold, the relentless nature of the work or the horrors of war, Doreen had a nervous breakdown. She was taken away in a straitjacket, taken to Stannington Mental Hospital placed in a padded cell and given electroconvulsive treatment (ECT).

Doreen later returned home and then started working in the stores department at Wares Ironmongers in South Shields she married Ernest Lewthwaite shortly after the war.

For the rest of her life Doreen had a terror of doctors and hospitals and she would never admit to being ill because of the horrendous memories of this period and how in those circumstances doctors could have total control of your life.

Ernest Lewthwaite was born in 1923 and was 16 when the war started. He was working as an electrical apprentice at Wares Ironmongers. He received his call-up papers but failed the medical because of his poor eyesight. So he joined the Royal Artillery Home Guard based at Frenchman's Fort in South Shields and would attend there two nights per week after work. He also attended the Marine School two nights a week studying as part of his apprenticeship and was a fire watcher two nights a week.

He was engaged in fire watching on the roof top of his employers A J Wares in King Street South Shields. His mother lived close by at 4 Ferry Street near the Market with his younger brother. In September and October 1941 the Market area was heavily bombed. As he was on the roof top of Wares close by he would have seen all the bombing happening in the Market and he would have known his mother and brother would be there and he would have seen every bomb fall onto the area. After the bombing ceased he asked permission from a superior to see his mam and he rushed along Union Alley towards the Market. Union Alley was the scene of heavy bombing leaving huge craters, fires and rubble everywhere which he would have to clamber over and carefully avoid all the fires. Ernest was only 19 and must have been terrified of the bombing with it being so close. Jean said about her father Ernest "he'd never tried to get into concrete before, but that night he tried to get inside of concrete" the worry must have been enormous"whether his mam was alive and he had to cross the market to go down Dean Street to get to her, what he must have seen that night!" Fortunately his mam and brother had not gone into either of the marketplace shelters which were destroyed but they were both safe.

Jean commented, "But you think these young kids at home, they saw a lot and lived through a lot as well!"


Item list and details

1 Doreen Lewthwaite 2 Ernest Lewthwaite 3 Home Guard in South Shields

Person the story/items relate to

Doreen and Ernest Lewthwaite

Person who shared the story/items

Jean Stokes

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor


Type of submission

Shared at Ocean Road Community Centre, Tyne and Wear on 18 November 2023. The event was organised by South Shields Local History Group.

Record ID

110222 | SSH040