“I WAS THE YOUNGEST AYCLIFFE ANGEL”
This article was written by Eric Welsh about May 2011
It’s true. My claim to fame is that I was the youngest Aycliffe Angel. In 1944, aged 14, I left Ramshaw School and my mam, Eva, got me a job at the Munitions Factory at Aycliffe. Mam and my sister Norah already worked there and other members of our family were doing their bit for the war effort – my uncles Thomas, Bob and Harry joined the Army. Uncle “Tot” died in December 1942 having contracted meningitis while serving with the RASC and Harry was wounded in April 1945. My auntie Norah was in the ARP. My mother was one of “the canaries” – her complexion was yellow as a result of working with the explosive chemicals. And there were accidents – 4 workers were killed by an explosion in February 1942 and 8 in May 1945. It was dangerous work.
I worked in the entertainments department as the messenger boy and helped the E.N.S.A. staff (Entertainments National Service Association). Mrs. Davidson was the boss, Olive Graham was second in command I think, Bert Elliott was the pianist, Jennie Conlon the Soprano, Margaret Duncan and Carmen Powney films, Violet Topp broadcasting, Mary Watkins was the poster artist. I often worked with Mary.
1945: Aycliffe E.N.S.A. staff
Back: Eric Welsh; Olive Graham; Carmen Powney; Jennie Conlon
Front: Mary Watkins; Violet Topp; Marion Davidson; Margaret Duncan;
The comedy programme, “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” was written about an ENSA party providing entertainment for the troops in India and Burma. “Every Night Something Awful” was the title the great British public gave to the ENSA war effort! In an attempt to boost morale, the BBC launched the “Workers’ Playtime” radio programme which was a lunch time variety show held on location at works canteens throughout the UK. ENSA parties performed at the Aycliffe works canteen, the 10G canteen which had a stage. It was huge, about 4 times the size of Evenwood Club concert room, capable of holding about 1000 people. A young Betty Driver of Coronation Street fame once appeared and sang for the girls. I used to help with the props and might have been called a “stage-hand” if I was in Hollywood. One day, I was given the job of opening and closing the stage curtains. Apparently the rope and pulley mechanism was broken and the curtains had to be dragged together to close them. At the end of the performance, I took one curtain and Olive Graham the other. The audience applauded wildly as we walked behind the curtains and met in the middle of the stage. Olive walked off. I waited expecting to be told to open the curtains again for the encore. Suddenly, the curtains opened, miraculously, the pulleys worked. There I was, centre stage receiving the applause of the whole canteen.
“Give us a song Eric” shouted the girls.
Highly embarrassed, 14 years old Eric slunk off – “Exit, Stage Right!”