The Black Middens

A story of love and struggle to bring up three children during the war years.
Joe Donnelly, a coble fisherman from cullercoats meets the girl of his dreams when Emily Rose Higgins crashes into him on her bicycle whilst out with her sister Mary Jane. Joe and his brother George, a captain in the British Army ask the two girls out to a dance at the plaza in Tynemouth and they both fall in love. Alan Donnelly the youngest of the brothers is in the Northumberland Fusiliers. it is not long before they all get married. Emily Rose has two children but there are complications during the birth of her third child and she dies leaving Joe to bring up Marina, George, and Helen the newborn child.
After some attempts to try and hire a nanny come house keeper Joe hires a dutch girl called Alina Classen whose parents were both killed by the Germans in the first world war.
Not speaking much English Alina works very hard and teaches the children to speak Dutch and they in turn teach her English. What dev


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“Nice; Joe washed the plates and glasses in the sink then scrubbed out the pans with a Brillo pad.”

“You go sit down Alina you have never stopped this day.”

“Thank you so much for your help.” I didn’t think I was going to get through today really you know with Emily Rose not being here.”

“Ja I understand this; time passes and it gets easier to go on.”

“Can I ask you something?

“Yes Joo; you can ask me anything.”

“How long was it after the death of your parents before you were able to go through a day without feeling like you want to cry?

“A long time Joo and even today I think about my Moeder en Vader.”

“It is time like now and birthday, and Niewjaar.”

“You have to be strong Joo; you have children’s who need you.





For the next two years Joe went about his job Marina was now ten years old, little George eight, and Helen two. She cried after her daddy every time he left the house.

Britain was now at war with Germany after they invaded Poland. They quickly took France as well. Joe had gone to enlist but as soon as he told them his occupation they told him to go away he was needed for food supplies to the nation. He came home feeling utterly useless. The Germans were sinking vessels in the North Sea either with submarines, aircraft or with mines.

Many of the trawl boats were converted into mine sweepers. They were fitted with machine guns to stave off the attack by German submarines; that surfaced and then killed everyone on board with machine gun fire. At the start of the war there were 388 vessels that went out to fish and clear mines. They were reduced to just 66 vessels by the end of 1941. Joe made sure he went out most days he blew up several mines. As he checked his pots then ventured further and further out.

He was lucky one afternoon when a German Messerschmitt 109 fighter aircraft fired over his bow. He dived under the boat until it disappeared.

The price of fish quadrupled and Joe was making a lot of money which he put away. Then Joe heard the news on the radio of Dunkirk where thousands of men were trapped after the “Battle of France, British, French, and Belgian troops fought against seven divisions of the German Army including three armoured divisions. There was a lull in the battle which gave the troops time to escape to Dunkirk “Operation Dynamo” had begun and every available sea worthy vessels were called upon to get the 343, 226 men to safety. Winston Churchill gave one of his famous speeches when he said that “We will go on to the end, we shall fight in France, and we shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our Island whatever the cost maybe. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing ground. We shall fight them in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight them in the hills. We shall never surrender.”


Joe packed his bag with food and he carried metal cups and two large containers with fresh water. Alina and the children came down to the pier to see him off it was 7am 

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