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{$text['mgr_blue1']} Simpson 8

Me and my brothers. Chapter 4: Graduation, Separation, Consolidation

by Donald McDonald Simpson

On to university and other things

Donald Simpson, graduate

Graduation, 1949

I told of my school time experiences and the events which led up to going to University in the third of these articles: (Chapter 3: Education! Education!! Education!!!)

I was accepted by Professor Stanley and went to the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. I enjoyed every day of it. I took a general teaching degree which included English, History and Philosophy. Strangely, Stanley thought I had an incipient lisp and suggested I should see a speech therapist. So for a whole term I visited this speech therapist at the most inconvenient time of 4 o'clock on a Friday afternoon!! Personally I think he had to justify having the Therapist on the staff and as he could not find anyone who had anything wrong with their speech he chose me to go along.

I had a reasonable income from the major county scholarship that I received (about £108 a year). Not bad as Harry and Peter earned about twenty one shillings a week as apprentices. I continued to live at home in North Shields. I couldn't do anything else as we had very little money. My social life was based there too and that was really full and enjoyable. Obviously I had to buy a lot of books and contribute to the family budget.

The University buildings, Newcastle upon Tyne

The University, Newcastle upon Tyne (1)

Every Christmas, Easter and Summer, I used to work in the Income Tax office to supplement my grant. I was there so much that several of them thought I was part of the permanent staff. I used to get three pounds a week for that of which I put half into my mother's purse because she was still supporting the family and I was still getting free lodging. I had breakfast at home but never had lunch. I was always hungry because the meals in the student union were terrible. So usually I would meet Irene at tea time and go to her house and have something that she would make and it couldn't have been better really. Then, every single night whatever the time was when Harry or Peter or I came home, Mother always left three mugs of coffee or cocoa and a sandwich on the bench in the kitchen and the kettle would be on the gas. Sometimes I'd already had fish and chips at Irene's mother's but that didn't matter, it was the thought as much as anything else. Irene even got my shoes soled for me.

I attended lectures regularly and I worked in the Library. On Saturday we would play tennis or go to the Theatre Royal to see a show or the City Hall for a concert. We had season tickets for the Halle Orchestra and at the People's Theatre. I made quite a number of friends at University. I remember a girl called Nooria from Baghdad who Irene was very friendly with at the time. We would meet for coffee and meals and chat with a couple of her friends, Iraqi youths who were studying engineering. She would tell us even then that the English had made such a mess of her country after the First World War that she could see a time coming when it would all break down. I don't know if Nooria is still alive but she certainly would be horrified with the way things have turned out. We lived a very, very full life.


Irene and I first started going out together in 1945. We belonged to a youth club called "The Fellowship of Young Congregationalists". All the congregational churches around Tyneside had a branch. There was an annual conference lasting four or five days which took over a small hotel and it was customary for each of the branches do a turn and we decided to put on a play. The heroine (Irene) was a fiery woman who had very left wing opinions about property and ownership. I played a university youth who believed the opposite. I can't remember the plot at all now apart from that we started off at daggers drawn and ended up as best friends. In the last scene when the young lady had won the argument we had to rushd across the stage into each others arms and kiss. Well, I was rather shy and timid and after three or four attempts, the minister, Ralph Bell, said to me: "Oh Don, surely you can put a bit more effort into that." There was still a blackout at night and the girls didn't go home by themselves. On this occasion I escorted Irene home. When we got there, I suggested that maybe we should have some more rehearsals. This was not entirely with the approval of her parents as she was three years older than I was; and I didn't have a skill. A degree in history or philosphy was considered a waste of time. Despite this we have been rehearsing now for 60 years.

Irene had worked right through the war for firms in Newcastle on the Quayside servicing and provisioning ships of the merchant navy. As the men were called up, she got promoted and she had a very good job. Of course eventually the men came back and naturally they wanted their jobs back. So she joined the Civil Service, made progress and became a supervisor. Her father had insisted that she should have a skill and she started doing shorthand and typing. He said it was all very well to have a variety of qualifications that may not be needed but the skill was something you would always be able to sell. After the war she found an advertisement advising that people who had done war work could go to college. So she applied, went for the tests and enrolled in 1948.

My wedding day April 1950

Donald and Irene: Wedding Day

In 1947 we announced to our startled parents that we were going on holiday together and fortunately they took it with a little smile. They must have thought that whatever we do when we were away we could easily well do at home. We had a marvellous holiday to the Lake District and walked for miles.

I graduated in 1949. Irene and I got engaged in the Summer of that year: on my parent's silver wedding I think it was. And then on August 4th 1949 I was called up into the Army. We got married on April 1st 1950. We didn't choose to be married on April 1st, we were offered it as the only possible date by the Army who seemed to think it was a big joke, but it didn't matter. We had about six days honeymoon then I was away again for 18 months. So it was quite a long separation.

Life goes on around us

A family group

Families; brothers and wives

Harry didn't do any National Service because apprentices weren't called up until they had finished their time. He had volunteered for air crew but they wouldn't take him because they said his eyesight was defective. Mother was delighted because 52,000 young men were killed as air crew in the War and I haven't the slightest doubt that if Harry had been in he would have been one of them. I remember meeting one young man from Percy Main when he was on leave who obviously didn't want to go back but could not let the rest of his crew down.

Harry served his four years at Smith's Dock where he earned 21 shillings a week as an apprentice of which he gave mother half. After that he went to sea. He was always lucky. He had only been at sea a short time when the Chief Engineer became ill and was taken off the ship. Harry was made Acting Chief Engineer. He was still in his early 20s when he was established as the Chief Engineer. He married Dorothy Nessworthy in 1948 and they settled in South Shields initially.

I mentioned previously that as a youngster Peter had seen Harry enjoying life as an engineer and coming home with his pockets full of money and initially wanted to follow him to sea. Harry was a generous lad and would pay for them to go to the pictures. There were also lavish things that he did that I would never have dreamed of. For instance I remember coming over on the ferry with him on one occasion and getting a taxi each - one for him and one for me - and we raced the taxis back to the house at the dockside. Nobody would believe me afterwards when I told this story. Reality for Peter proved otherwise and he hated his apprenticeship. With his Higher Nationals he became a draftsman and worked for several firms designing desalination plants. He had a good salary but did not find the work satisfying. He married Lilian in 1954 and about the same time gave up that job to become a teacher. He went to college in Huddersfield and taught Mathematics and Technical Drawing.

Continued in column 2...

You're in the Army now

Donald Simpson at camp

Donald (far right) at camp

I started my basic training with the Rifle Brigade in Winchester. At the end of six months they decided that I might be less of a danger to the British Army if I were to teach boys who had chosen to come into the Army (many from Borstal and other institutions) but who couldn't read or write. This involved three months training to become an Army "Schoolie" and on qualification I was given Sergeant's stripes. I also had membership of the Mess, so that instead of queuing for your grub you were waited on. At breakfast they would ask: "Your usual Sergeant Simpson?". The 'usual' was 2 eggs and 7 rashers of bacon, whereas at home we were rationed to one egg per week! I loved the Mess.

After a couple of months it was decided that I was mature enough to have an independent command and, at the tender age of 21, I was sent to a huge barracks called Old Park Fives in Dover. It had started off as the Headquarters of the Royal Army Service Corps and at the time it housed 1000 men. I was told by the Commander that I was going to organise education there. Well I managed to build up a reasonable number of people wanting to be taught but then the Service Corps moved. After that everything changed every few weeks. Buses came in; buses went out. Regiments arrived, mainly from abroad. The men needed a complete change of kit from their tropical gear and then they were given leave. Then they came back and got on with actual army training. Each time this happened I was told: "Please, Schoolie, just go and find somewhere quiet where you can read and enjoy yourself and we'll call on you when necessary". You can imagine when you have this sort of situation, you begin to feel unwanted. Anyway I was able to develop a Library. I sent away for books and I was given this huge room next to the classrooms where shelving was installed. I opened the Library every day from 10am till 4pm and then most evenings happily lending books to the wives of soldiers and it was quite well used. Many days though I spent with my feet up working my way religiously through this Library.

Old Barracks, Dover, Kent

The Dover Barracks (2)

Officer's Mess at Dover Castle

The Officers Mess (3)

While I was there the Army Council decided that all Warrant Officers, Sergeants and Corporals must have a certificate. I had to organise the classes for these people who had suddenly become quite enthusiastic about learning because they knew if they didn't pass these examinations they wouldn't be able to keep their rank. This was held in a camp at Dover Castle where I had a long room with a balcony at the end . I was told that Winston Churchill had stood there looking out over the Channel during the War so I quite enjoyed that.

My end came quite suddenly. I had about 15 months on this job and I had worked it out that I would be leaving on August 4th. One afternoon as I walked past the Captain, he said "Ah Sergeant, you're due to be demobbed aren't you? When did you come in?" I said "August 4th 1949". He said "Oh, yes I was reading an order about you. You've been given a fortnight's leave for demobilisation and a week in lieu of other leave. Come to my office in an hour's time. You can go". Just like that. I couldn't believe it. So I went back to the room, packed everything up, locked the Library and gave the keys to the quartermaster.

By mid-afternoon I was on my way home

Civvy Street ...?

Irene had managed to get a two room flat in Hotspur Street, Tynemouth for 8 shillings a week and that's where we started our married life. There was no other preparation for me. I didn't get a demob suit but I was given a fortnight's pay. At the time a Sergeant's pay was about £6 a week; very good when you consider my father was only earning £7. We had £360 saved up so we bought a site on a grassy field and found a builder to build us a house for £2,250. We have a mortgage of £11 16 shillings & 6 pence a week.

I had to go back to University for a year because I had come to an understanding with Brian Stanley before I joined the Army. I hadn't need to, because if you had a degree then you were allowed to teach without a Diploma in Education. Anyway he had chided me with: "Now, come on, I wouldn't like to think that we were sending out people to teach half trained..." So I said "Well, I'll come back then". I got a marriage allowance, an ex-Army allowance and a teachers training allowance. I was getting grants, and money and lump sums but it meant that we had a very good few years. I had a very good life.

But that wasn't the end of my association with the Army. At that time when you came out you had to do four or five years as a Territorial. Every weekend I had to get rigged up as a Territorial Sergeant and get myself out to camp. It was unfortunate but they didn't want education, and there was nothing there for me to do. I couldn't have fired a gun to save my life. All I did was to take the pay and come home. On the nights when we had parades I used to take an arm full of exercise books and sit and do marking. I didn't get on terribly well with the Adjutant - a regular Army bloke - and, although sergeants got away with a lot, we had a few words from time to time. On one occasion he said "Sergeant Simpson, I want the history of the regiment done for Sunday at 4 o'clock and that's where you'll get the information from". He hurled this great old book on the desk. It was one of those where there was a resume at the beginning of each chapter. This was absolutely marvellous as I just sat down and used this shortened form. And I knew that no one would read it anyway. So I was able to put my feet up, read the newspaper and thoroughly enjoyed the weekend while he thought he was giving me something terribly difficult to do.

...... to be continued

The next episode: ME AND MY BROTHERS: Chapter 5: We all fall off the ladder some time


1. The University, Newcastle upon Tyne: Wikipedia
2. Old Park Barracks, Dover (1959): From an old postcard
3. Dover Castle: Officers' Mess: Shambrooks Image Gallery

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Added: July 31st 2007
Last updated: March 22nd 2012

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