January 1949 the winter weather took its grip on the little town of North Shields with snow drifts covering the windows on the houses. Ralph and his brother John were out with their shovels clearing paths. Ralph went over and cleared Mrs Armstrong’s for her then proceeded in asking neighbours if they wanted theirs done.
Ralph was able to make a few shillings to give his mother to help with the heating as again they had no coal and it was freezing in the house. Going up the lines each day Ralph scrounged the odd few lumps that helped to cook a meal.
It was amazing how they had gone from feast to famine in only a few weeks.
If this weather persisted Ralph would be going to Fisher’s to pawn his Dad’s suit.
They were all sitting around the fire in the scullery as the last of the coal burned away.’
“What are we going to do Jack, Hannah asked her husband?’
“What can we do love, There’s just no more money.’
“I’ve given you all that I have.’
“Well we cannot cook if we haven’t got heat and the kids need food Jack they only ate a slice of toast all day yesterday.’
Jack walked about the house with a heavy heart as the boys played on the floor with the soldiers he saw the wooden fort that he had made for his son then made a decision.
Ralph come here son I need to speak with you.’
“Yes Dad, what do you want?’
Look son we have no more coal in the house and I don’t have any more money until I get paid this Friday. Can we use the wooden fort that I made you to light a fire so that your mother can cook a meal for us? Otherwise we are going to have to go without again.’
Ralph thought for a moment as he looked down at his fort and the work that his father had gone to make it in the first place; all the pieces that were used and neatly cut and glued together. The wooden board that it sat on would keep the fire going long enough to make a small pan of broth. Jack had even painted the fort so that it looked just like the real thing.
Ralph asked John to help him as he bent down as they picked up a corner each and they brought it over to their father.
Jack carried the fort to the back yard and took out his hatchet. He was crying as he smashed the fort to pieces.
Ralph and John took their sledges and a saw they picked up the hatchet and went down to the fish quay. It was bitterly cold and the boys braved the snow as it came down in their faces and numbed both their hands and feet. They looked around for broken and damaged fish boxes that they could break up to use as fire wood.
They found one around the shed of the gut and began to chop it up.
“Hey what are you doing there said a man as he came around to see what they were doing.’
“We found this broken fish box and we were chopping it up to use as fire wood.
“Go on bugger off this doesn’t belong to you.’
Ralph and John walked away but when they turned around the man had taken some rope from his pocket and had tied the wood together and had taken it for himself.
They went to China town to the old house and climbed in. it was pitch black in there as they didn’t have their torches with them. The light from the ferry landing shone through the crack of the upstairs window as John began ripping up the floorboards.
If they were caught it would mean that they would have to face a judge for theft and trespassing. But the risk was worth it.