Former Hartlepool man recalls days of potato picking and shipyards

Joe pictured during one of his welding jobs. He restored the statue of Paddy Hannan,  the person who first discovered gold in West Australia about 150 years ago.

Joe pictured during one of his welding jobs. He restored the statue of Paddy Hannan, the person who first discovered gold in West Australia about 150 years ago.

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Joe Richmond has already shared stories of his childhood growing up in Hartlepool.

Earlier this week, we told how the former town man witnessed Hartlepool during the war years and remembered being whisked in the middle of the night into an Anderson air raid shelter as German bombers approached.

A photograph of Joe at around the time he left Hartlepool.

A photograph of Joe at around the time he left Hartlepool.

Today, the man who is now living in Western Australia and loving it, shares more about his youthful days.

As Joe reached his teenage years, he got to enjoy one of Hartlepool’s more traditional treats.

“As soon as you were 13 you got leave from Dyke House School to go ‘spud picking’,” he recalled.

It wasn’t a job to be sniffed at. It may have been hard work but it was good money for a growing young man.

This was great, 8 till 5 on hands and knees, picking up spuds then bagging them. And you got 5 bob (25p) a day for doing it

Joe Richmond

“This was great, 8 till 5 on hands and knees, picking up spuds then bagging them.

“And you got 5 bob (25p) a day for doing it,”

That was an introduction to the world of work. Then came the real thing. He was out of school at 15 “into cold, noisy, dirty, shipyards, to serve an apprenticeship as a welder on 25 bob a week”.

“But as soon as you were able you went on production and made your own money, that is you got paid for the EXACT amount of work you did, no work, no pay, rain, go home unpaid. Ah the good old days, eh.”

Then came his call-up papers. “Then just as you started earning real money, a letter from HM requesting I join her Army. So eight weeks training in Oswestry, (back on 25 bob a week).

“I was a Gunner, joined the 2nd Royal Horse Artillery and was soon on the troopship Nevassa, bound for Singapore.

“Five weeks later, after one-week jungle warfare training, I was in a place called Tampin in Southern Malaya.”

By 1957, Joe’s time overseas was at an end and he was on his way home. It was back into the shipyards, and “just about the time our Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, was telling us all ‘we had never had it so good’.

“They closed down both shipyards.”

Once again, Joe was looking for work but fate smiled on him when he got a job on the North Yorkshire Moors building a BMEWS(Ballistic Missile Early Warning Station).

“This was the last of three, one in Alaska, another in Greenland, and the last in Whitby, supposedly to give us all a four-minute warning of approaching missiles sent from Eastern Europe, though what a four-minute warning would do was a mystery.

“Then I had the best stroke of luck ever, John Brown (shipbuilders) were laying a pipeline near Scarborough.”

He was sent to a training school to “learn the latest in pipe welding, passed out in a week, then sent to Southampton to work on a pipeline from the Esso refinery to London airport, delivering aviation spirit.

“This was hitting the jackpot, fast, good, 100% x-rays of every weld, meant lots of lovely money, I worked all over the UK and by the time I was 28 I had paid off my mortgage, bought a Renault 12, and had a few bob in the bank.

“So I then took up the ‘Life of Riley’, working 9-5, five days a week, like being retired after the previous 20 years.”

Joe was offered a job as a welding instructor in Perth, Western Australia.

“We took ages to decide to go or not,” he said. “So I promised Pat my wife, if she didn’t like it, after six months we would come ‘home’. After seeing the beaches, sunshine every day, her mind was made up after two days. It was 33 years ago.