By Mary Partington
I was born in 1920 on St Valentine’s Day. I was the second child of a family of nine – six boys and three girls. My parents owned a small farm in Northern Ireland. Times were hard in those years and we had very few luxuries but I had a very happy childhood. My parents were caring, considerate and loving.
The farm was self sufficient; we had almost all the basic necessities. We kept a couple of cows which produced the milk, butter and buttermilk (which we used to make the soda bread). We also had a few extra cattle which were sold at the fair. We had a horse and as there was no mechanical means of farming, the ploughing and harvesting were done by the plough and horses and the corn was cut by the scythe. We had hens for the egg production and chickens for cooking and any surplus were sold.
My father was a hard working and honest man. He did all the outdoor farm work. He grew potatoes, oats and all the vegetables we needed. The cattle grazed in the fields in the Summer months and there was straw for their Winter food. When the bullocks were fattened they were taken by foot to the market about 5 miles away. We kept pigs too and I remember them being slaughtered and cleaned at the front of the house. I did not like to hear the squeals. Then they were taken in a cart to market about 41/2 miles away. That would give my parents enough money to buy clothes etc.
The drinking water we had to carry from the ‘spring well’ over 1/2 mile away. The water was carried in large buckets, but we had a well at he bottom of the garden which was used for water for washing etc. We called this the ‘dirty well’. Then in later years my father sunk a pump in the barn and that gave us clear fresh spring drinking water.
The toilet was at the bottom of the garden. It was a hole in a wooden frame inside a little hut, and the toilet paper was just old newspaper cut into squares and hung by a piece of cord.
Coal was bought for the fire which was our only source of heating. The lighting was from oil lamps that hung from the ceiling and candles were used for lighting in the bedroom. Sometimes I had a sneak read of my book by candlelight!
Meat we would have a weekends and that combined with vegetables made very tasty meals. One of the family would wait for the butcher at the end of the lane and collect the meat. The butcher was a local man who kept his van and equipment so clean and the meat was always fresh – however he was a grumpy man and treated children as children!! In later years my brother married his daughter. We did not enjoy waiting for the butcher’s van to arrive but it was much worse if we missed the van for then we had to go to collect the meat from the butcher’s house and he would make us wait until he was ready to serve us.
We had very few toys but just used to play using our imagination. My friend and I used to build a little house with stones. There was a small river at the bottom of the garden and we would go down to play there. My father once brought me a doll from England and that was cherished until I left home. It was then passed to my younger sister and sad to say I never saw it again! My mother taught me to sew and i would make clothes for my doll – once even cutting a piece off my mother’s fur – she was not amused!!
My mother did all the baking and cooking and washing. Sometimes she would have time for a chat will her neighbour at the wall (ditch) between our gardens. The woman’s role was the housework and the washing and baking and the men’s’ work was outdoors. When I was older because of being the only girl my mum passed a lot of the indoor work to me – knitting, sewing, cleaning; wooden chairs and tables and the floors all had to be scrubbed. My mother did not really like housework so if the men were working in the fields she would have some respite and would walk down with the tea and bread for them.
The washing was done by her, clothes were boiled in a big pot on an open fire, rubbed on a corrugated washing board and then had a blue rinse and hung on the hedges to dry – that was my mother’s job and now I understand what hard work that was. When my mother was having her babies a local woman did the midwifery and looked after her as well and help would be given from the other families living nearby.
There was great comradeship among the locals and they would help with the sowing and cutting of the corn and setting and harvesting potatoes and any other jobs when help was needed. Then when it was their turn my father would help them. When the mill came to thresh the corn it was a big social occasion and the young girls would come and help butter the bread and make tea and having a bit of fun with the lads. In the Winter when the harvesting was done my dad went to England and got a job working at one time, on the Mersey tunnel. He was able to send my mum £1:00 per week so that helped. .
My parent’s source of recreation was a visit in the evening to friends and neighbours and sometimes I would be taken along – one visit I enjoyed was to a relative who had a shop and she would make a ‘poke’ from folded paper — -and fill it with sweets – a highlight!
My father’s relaxation was on a Sunday when he and a neighbouring man used to go hunting in the fields around. They each owned a greyhound and often came back with a rabbit. Once a year on New Year’s Day my father would go to Dundalk to his sister’s and I believe went to the dog races with his brother-in-law. My parents did not have a holiday (I don’t think they felt deprived!) until my first child was born and they came across from Ireland to visit us on Walney.
Women didn’t go into pubs those days but the neighbouring woman liked a ‘ drop of whiskey’ and when her family who were in America sent her some money she would ‘collar’ one of us who then had to go up to the pub in the village and get her a ‘noggin’ of whiskey. I only got the job once. My brother Arthur was usually the captive and I tell you it wasn’t his favourite task.
Our local school was about 1/2 a mile away so we walked there every morning and back at night. I was a studious child and did well at school. Ours was a mixed school and the headmaster was very strict and the cane was used quite a lot. He expected high standards and ‘woe betide’ anyone who did not co-operate. I was sad sometimes as I often thought the punishment was unfair as the circumstances were not always considered – but such were the times!
On Sunday all the family went to church and that was a day of relaxation – as far as possible – the boys played football and sometimes there were local sports in a nearby field or perhaps we would go for a walk in the countryside.
We were quite a sociable family and often we would have friends for the evening but it became quite a joke when we got older for at 10:00pm my father would wind up the ‘wag o the wall clock’ and that was a sign that the time had come for the visitors to go!
In the evenings when the boys were around my father taught us to play cards. There was always a local dance on Sunday evening and occasionally I was allowed to go with older girls, but my parents were very protective of me. Although the boys did not have to ask permission I had to do so and when refused I felt Very badly done to’, The dance hall was about three miles away and we walked there and back. This was not a problem as there were always quite a few young people going there and it was an opportunity for a bit of fun and a chatter. I made my own dresses for the occasion.
However time went on and my time at the ‘elementary school’ ended. I got a scholarship to the convent in Newry. My mother was very far-sighted for that time as she valued learning. Whilst other local girls went to work as servants I was allowed to go on to further my education. It must have been quite a sacrifice for my parents. I went by bus to the convent school but the nuns paid my bus fare I remember being embarrassed when I knew my brother had to get a job at the ‘hiring fair’ where he was hired for six months. He worked hard for very little money and the farmers treated the farm hands very badly. However that period passed . I was very privileged. I enjoyed my school days and most of the nuns and the teachers were fair and hard-working. I stayed at school until I was 18 years old and passed the ‘Senior Leaving Certificate of Northern Ireland, which was the equivalent to ‘A ‘levels.
Then it was time to go out into the big wide world! 1 knew there was no chance of me going to University – that was the privilege of the rich so I decided to go nursing. I applied to Walton Hospital in Liverpool and was accepted. That was in 1938 and I stayed there until I completed my training. I was quite naive but enjoyed my time there and learned to adapt. There were strict rules then. All the trainees lived in the hospital accommodation. We had good times together and lots of laughs and romances, but also sad times.
War broke out and looking back we took awful risks. We would go to the cinema and dances and were supposed to be in at a certain time and if we weren’t we had to see the matron the following morning. It was quite a major affair to be confronted by her. There was a lot of bombing by the German planes, mostly at night but we were young and fearless. I remember being at the pictures and had to go down to the basement whilst the worst of the bombing occurred and then when it was all clear we had to walk home as the train lines were up and we had to duck into the doorways whilst the shrapnel was flying around. It was a very dangerous time, Liverpool was heavily bombed and there were a lot of people killed, even the air-raid shelters did not escape.
Walton was an emergency military hospital and casualties from the war zone were taken there, had emergency treatment before being transferred to a military hospital. When that happened all the staff came back on duty having already done a full day’s work and worked until we were no longer required -no overtime and no complaints! It was heart breaking to see some of the casualties.
I had a uncle living in Liverpool and on my days off I would go there to visit but the bombing got so bad that he and his family moved back to Ireland. I missed them but by that time I was established. There was a time when I was not even allowed to go to Ireland for my holiday – security reasons I suppose -my family and I were so very upset. However my friend and I went to Blackpool for a week instead.
I continued my nursing training, happy and sad times too. As students we had to cope with the whims of the sister who would be all powerful! The food was quite satisfactory and we got a piece of fruit each day after dinner at a time when most people had to queue to buy such luxuries.
When I finished my general nursing training, I decided I would do midwifery. At that time Liverpool was a very dangerous place so for safety of the mothers and babies they were nursed at Southport and each pupil midwife had to go to Southport to look after them. I was based in a beautiful house on the outskirts and then we walked into Southport for lectures.
Whilst I was there it was Christmas time and very peaceful and the matron decided to give us a party. I was on night duty but one of my fellow nurses offered to work my shift. The staff nurse invited three merchant navy men to the party and so I met and married one of them and she married the other one and my friend who introduced us had a relationship with the third one but married someone else eventually. We had a very romantic courtship -remember we would not see one another for perhaps 5 or 6 months – letters were censored and I could only have a letter when the ship arrived in port. We wrote to each other every day! It was a very dangerous life for the merchant seamen as they were the escorts for the troopships and I had one or two scares. I maintain the merchant navy doesn’t get the acclaim it deserves.
In the meantime I continued nursing. I did not complete my midwifery course which was a 12 month course but returned to Walton Hospital in Liverpool after 6 months. I became a staff nurse first on a TB ward when TB was rife and then on a ward where tropical diseases were treated. The sister and I worked well together and as the specialist in tropical medicine wanted to open a unit in Smithdown Road Hospital (now Sefton Park) she asked me to go with her. I went there as a junior sister. That was a very happy time – the patients were all young men who were able to get around and were delighted to be home from Burma etc. Malaria, dysentery and other obscure tropical diseases were treated and though many had psychological problems as well, they were cheerful and glad to be alive. We also trained young nurses who were to travel abroad to undertake missionary work. We worked with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine testing tablets for them.
My romance continued. George remained at sea. It was difficult to get time off when he came home and although the matron was always agreeable, I felt guilty as I was giving the staff extra work.
In 1946 George and I planned to marry quietly but the nurses found out and were there in church! I continued nursing, and once the war was over we got two rooms in Selfton Park. I had visited my in-laws in Walney and once we were married I stayed with them. I got a part time job in High Carley but when I was expecting my first child I left work. I continued to live with my in-laws, who were always very kind and supportive to me, until I’d bought a house on Walney.
I was very impressed with Walney Island. It was safe and tranquil – the sun seemed always to shine!! – a very pleasant and happy place to bring up our children. I have done various trips with my husband and all in all I’ve had a good life. George stayed in the merchant navy until he took early retirement and died in 1987. I am still on living on Walney in the home we bought around 50 years ago.
My family have been wanting me to write my story for some time but Alice it was your encouragement that finally prompted me to do so