Muriel Marshbanks finished her shift at George Patterson’s kipper factory at eight o’clock that evening having started at six thirty that morning. It was hard work and the money very little; Muriel earned just eight shillings a week. She had worked there since leaving Kettlewell School at the age of fourteen. The school was set up for orphans and poor children. Now that she was twenty she earned eight shillings a week. There were many kipper houses on the Fish quay in those day’s she would often tell folks. There were some one hundred and thirty herring boats at North Shields and it was like a non stop conveyor belt of fish being gutted split to make kippers or salted and cured for the foreign markets. Tyne brand another factory not only processed fish but processed a large range of other foods too. They did tins of boneless chickens, mince, Irish stew, and tomato sauce. The plant had been open since 1899 and its work force was the biggest on the fish quay at that time. The Scottish girls stood for hours on end as a never ending supply of herring waited to be gutted. It had to be done quickly or the herring would spoil and go soft. This was no good to make kippers with they were usually pickled and sent to Scandinavian countries to eat. All the girls wore a head square tied either like a bandanna or tied in a bow at the front. Herring were a messy fish to work with. The blood and guts went everywhere and the girls wore rubber overalls and wellington boots whilst working. The girls all sang songs as they worked to a steady rhythm. Barrel after barrel of herring would be sent by wagon up the bank where the herring would be distributed all over the country. The smell of coal from the boats mixed with the smell of herring being made into kippers.
Muriel walked along the quayside looking over the river towards South Shields wondering if they had it any better there. Life was just one endless chain of work as when she got in she would have to quickly wash then help her mother in the scullery.
Her father worked in the shipyards like the many in North Shields, her two brothers Jimmy and Craig worked there too, and they would be coming in soon so Muriel’s mother Annabella had been slaving away all day to get a decent meal on the table.
Tonight their mother had made a stew with scragg end of mutton, corner puddings made from suet and flour done in the oven until they went golden brown.
“Mother we’re home shouted Robert Marshbanks as they walked up the small passage way of their house on Trinity Street. The house although small had done them all growing up. There had been eight of them; Michael, Thomas, and Robert, were all killed in World War 1 in the fields of Flanders by German machine guns.
Killed in action read the citation but Robert had heard different. They went over the top of the trenches and were mowed down before they got two hundred yards into the enemy lines; they hadn’t even fired a shot. Michael and Thomas enlisted in the Durham light infantry first; then young Robert who lied about his age joined them. He was just a boy of seventeen. They were all kept together at that time they trained together and went to war together. Tommy who was just nineteen was the army lightweight boxing champion he had ambitions of turning professional but on the morning of the 8th August 1914 the whistles were blown to signal the men to climb the ladders and go over the top.’
All three of them were killed within two minutes of leaving the trenches. There bodies hung on the barbed wire riddled with bullets. They never stood a chance; 34.725 men were slaughtered during the conflict.