Fate helped me survive air raid, says evacuee Kathleem

Hartlepool woman Kathleen Borrett, who has penned her wartime memories.
Hartlepool woman Kathleen Borrett, who has penned her wartime memories.

KATHLEEN Borrett can thank the hand of fortune for being here today.

The life of the Hartlepool 80-year-old almost ended 73 years ago.

Kathleen as a young girl during the Second World War.

Kathleen as a young girl during the Second World War.

But she survived thanks to a twist of fate.

Chris Cordner tells more in the first of two parts.

Kathleen Borrett has lived a fascinating life.

But it could have all ended when she was just seven years old. Kathleen, nee Gilfoyle, was a child living during the Second World War with her mum Mary, dad Teddy and five siblings.

Pilgrim Street in Hartlepool was her home but it was poverty-stricken.

“We were pretty poor,” she said. “There was no work. The shipyards had closed and it was war.”

Then came a moment which changed her life. German air raids were a constant threat.

Usually, the Gilfoyles would head for cover in the cellar of a nearby fish and chip shop, along with many other Pilgrim Street residents.

But for some reason, the Gilfoyles used a different shelter further up the street one particular night - the very night the Germans managed a direct hit on the fish shop.

“Nine people were killed. One was a schoolfriend of mine called Gladys Scarbrough,” said Kathleen.

“She was a beautiful girl with long golden ringlets.”

The deadly incident persuaded Teddy and Mary that Pilgrim Street was too dangerous for their children and the family was evacuated to North Yorkshire. Dad Terry was the only one to stay at home.

After an unhappy first posting to a farmhouse - where bread and treacle were the only meals - Kathleen was eventually moved to the quaintly named Flowery Hill in Broughton, North Yorkshire.

She was placed with Arthur Seaberry Ford (a master tailor) and his daughter Renee. “These people were absolute saints,” said Kathleen.

“We had the best of everything. The suet puddings were to die for, with home-grown fruits in them.”

Kathleen soon learned how to milk goats, feed chicken and pigs, and grow fruit and vegetables.

Home-made jams and chutneys would often fill the house and fresh bread added to the aroma.

A delightful memory was of Mr Ford in his own shed where he sat cross-legged “like an elf” and made hacking jackets out of tweeds, in a shed with “wall-to-wall cobwebs.”

“Rationing? We knew nothing about it,” said Kathleen. Eggs, bacon and pork galore were available.

One of the few indications of the 1940s was no running water in the house. Instead, there was a communal tap in the street.

But life wasnt all a bed of roses. Kathleen continued her education at a Wesleyan Chapel, and was selected from all the children at her school to sing one day to the injured troops.

She still remembers they were all dressed in the same bright blue uniforms - and were all in a pitiful state as she sang Vera Lynn songs and the Rose of Tralee to them.

She recalled: “They suffered from all sorts of conditions including shell shock, loss of limbs, eyesight and hearing problems.”

l Next time - a close encounter with the Luftwaffe.