- By Elizabeth, 21/09/2009
- Theme: Survival
- Location: Stoke & Staffs
91 yr old baby remembers memories about her past in which her late father David Burgess was killed in the Mini Pit Disaster 1918 at Halmerend colliery in North Stafordshire. The events were to have catastrophic consequences on so many local people in the areas surrounding the pit, as it killed 155 young men, even young children aged 14 yrs. It recalls the survival of such family growing up only to lose their mum of 54 yrs and be brought up by an elder sister and her husband in a terraced house. To survive growing up through the 2nd world war, work during air-raids and blackouts. Play tennis in her only spare time with cousins of her family, have picnics in local beauty spots because they could never have holidays. Money was tight, everything was rationed in those early days, times were extremely hard and difficult. Her only route to happiness was to meet a young soldier who was stationed at Barthomley in the Old Vicarage with his regiment. In 1943, they eventually married at Pennfields, Wolverhampton, and it is in Wolverhampton where she still lives. Ethel will never forget her roots and where she came from, the memories she has of those times will always remain with her, but at an age of 91, they are treasured memories of a distant past.
It was a typical January day in 1918, dad had gone off to work for his usual shift, mum was heavily pregnant and had said goodbye to her husband as he went off to work.
Dad was a family preacher, but he was also a collier down the pit. Dad was David Burgess, mum was Ethel Ann, at home looking after two young children, oh, and me, well I was the young unborn baby my name is Ethel, and I was born 6 weeks later on February 25th 1918. If anyone could have foreseen what events happened that January day and changed the lives of that family and so many other families in North Staffordshire, this is the story of a tragedy that was to change the lives of so many people as the Halmerend pit disaster took place killing 155 innocent people including that of my father David Burgess.
There was an explosion at the colliery on January 12th 1918, the pit was flooded and 18 months later the body of David Burgess was eventually found.
My mother was left to bring up a young baby, and two older children on 10/- per week, there were no handouts. Even when I was growing up, my mother suffered with ill health so much so she had breast cancer and at the age of 54 yrs old she too died.
I was brought up by my sister Eva and her husband Arthur, they had to get married very young, and bring up the young children themselves, because when their mother was so ill, the family doctor knew how poorly the mum was and asked if she could have the two children to bring up, denying them the chance of having any children themselves and this is what they agreed to do.
With so little money coming in, Eva was a seamstress and worked at home, they had no holidays, a day out in the local beauty spots with a bottle of water, or a bottle of milk off a local farmer with a sandwich, or a hotcross bun for a picnic.
Mum (Ethel) grew up in difficult times, she had to run errands for family relatives for 3d, saving up over the week only to give up most of it for Sunday chapel collection plate. She used to go and play tennis for her local tennis club along with her cousins in Bignall End. She used to go to the village of Barthomley and play in tournaments. She used to go in the White Lion Pub afterwards for a drink with her pals and it was here she met her boyfriend (Sid) he was a soldier and was stationed in the Old Vicarage at Barthomley with the South Staffs Regiment, during the 2nd world war.
They used to have to shelter from bombs dropping over nearby Crewe, Liverpool, Manchester in air-raid shelters, one was in the garden of a house in Ravens Lane, Bignall End which belonged to mum's aunty and uncle. They used to spend hours with the neighbours sitting in the dark until the all-clear used to sound.
It was a tight-knit community where everyone knew everybody, and nearly every family had someone who was lost in the mini-pit disaster at Halmerend.
As time went by, Ethel's relationship with Sid blossomed, he used to walk her back home to Ravens Lane from Barthomley through fields and then return back on foot to his headquarters.
Mum started work at a clothing factory in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, Enderley Mills where she made uniforms for soldiers, brigadiers, colonels for servicemen, it was while she was here the gaffer informed them they could no longer work at his factory and that they were going to have to do ammunitions work making bullets at the nearby Radway Green ammunitions factory. This was to be worked in shifts, Ethel reluctantly agreed to do this but she hated every minute of it. She had to travel by foot in all weathers because she had so little money for bus fares and if the weather was really bad, buses just didn't run, and if she couldn't walk to work she didn't get paid. It was while she was working at the ammunitions factory, sometimes air-raids would sound and they had to stop work, go to the shelters or even just sit in the dark until the all-clear sounded before it was safe enough for them to go home. Because of the nature of the work which she did, it was felt that life would be a lot better if she moved away to Wolverhampton, and stayed with her boyfriends family.
In 1943, Ethel married Sid at St Phillips Church, Pennfields, everything was rationed, so she couldn't have a wedding dress, so she bought a suit, and a handful of guests were available to attend and the reception was held at a relatives house in Penn, Wolverhampton.
It is from 1943 until the present day that Ethel still lives in Wolverhampton, 91 yrs later, but it is her old roots and where she came from that she always now looks back on and remembers how difficult those times were back then. She has had such a sad life, but she had also had some special moments too. Enjoying holidays in Cornwall that only cost £18 for two weeks in a caravan at Holywell Bay, staying in bed and breakfasts at Blackpool.
She has lost most of her family and recalls that she still tries to think of people connected with her life when she was younger. She has old photographs of her family taken before she was born but still does not know who some of the people are. She never knew a lot about her father's family, she only ever knew about relatives on her mother's side. The family was named Warburton.
Her aunt and uncle used to have a shop that sold animal foodstuffs, maise, flour and ingredients for breadmaking and she used to help out in the shop at Bignall End. She also had an aunt and uncle who had a bakery in Bignall End, their name was Warburton too, they were relatives of Ethel's mum. To this day we still don't know if there is a connection between the Warburton family and bakers of Bolton.
It is also known that Ethel used to play tennis with her cousin Les Burgess in tournaments, and also her other cousins John Ikin, famous cricketer, and Aaren Lockett who was a famous professional who played for Oldham during those early years. A lot of history is found in the local cricket club at Bignall End of where these local celebrities used to play, and their photographs are seen in the corridors of this once local place.
t conversations with her present family. Ethel's marriage to Sidney sadly finished in October 1984 when Sidney died at the age of 65 with kidney failure. Sadly, there have been too many sad moments in Ethel's life to mention but it has also been an extraordinary life, too many memories from a distant past, but she has lived an incredible long life to recall those times, some of which she will never forget, and some of which she will never know.
This extract has been put together as a result of several discussions and conversations with her present daughter Elizabeth Latham, aged 53 who lives in Wolverhampton.