In 1944 I was fourteen.
I had no education. My education consisted of surviving school. I got my
first job when I was thirteen and started it on my fourteenth birthday.
I went to work in the steelworks in Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire, and I was
still just a girl really and all I knew was the three R's. I could read
a bit, I could write a bit and I could do arithmetic a bit.
So I started at Lycite Steelworks. My Dad worked there, my brother worked there and we all worked with this foul stuff called..., out here they call it `basic' which is a byproduct of steel, it's the dust from the slag. I was what they called a `barrow girl', you know like a porter's barrow, one of them, well there was, ooh, lots of us kids all fourteen, maybe some were fifteen, used to go to work at half past seven in the morning; we all got on the works bus in our overalls, you know the dungerees with your napsack on your back with your bottle of cold tea and your baked bean sandwiches if you were lucky (if you weren't you had just bread and dripping, stuff like, uhmm.. you know, you never had an apple or anything like that).
Anyway you get on this bus with all these other kids, half past seven in the morning, and then you got the bus at half past five at night to come home. Difference was when you come home you were covered in this dust. It was up your nasals. It was in your eyes. Your hair was stiff and black with it and it was all in the corners of your mouth. In your earholes, everywhere, wherever there was a hole it was in there. And of course when you got home there wasn't all this water that just come out of taps like (for more information on my home, click here). You didn't,like, get in the bath, have a shower and wash your hair, or anything, you just give your hair a good brush. And before you went out that night to meet your mates you'd give yourself a good sloosh in a basin of water. Uuhmm... we got thirty bob a week and my dad used to give me half a crown and that; I was lucky really though, some of my mates had a bad time from their Mams and Dads.
Work? Blimey. If you can imagine this immense, a vast area, like a concrete area, and along side of it was like railway lines and these trucks, and in those trucks, were two blokes because that's where my big brother worked, he was a loader. On t'other side there was the shute and, like, coming out of this air vent was this pipe coming from heaven with a big clip. The shute worker would put a sack on to this pipe, clip it on, pull a lever and all this hot stinking disgusting slag dust would fill this sack and then us barrow girls would come up with our barrow, hook it under this sack, undo the clip, pull it onto the barrow, run it down this concrete ramp. Oh, and sometimes the bloody sack used to fall off when it were half full and this stuff, the air was full of it; the sacks were made of hessian and the dust used to ooze out of them.
There was ten, twelve of us kids doing this. Yeah... thirty bob a week we got. I could pick one of these sacks up, but I couldn't carry it. Half-hundred-weight, fifty-six pounds I would say it weighed. We would line them up along this cement thing, then these older ladies, mature people, some of them nearly thirty years old. They would have these big needles on this string and they would hook through the top and you would finish up with like two ears on this sack. Then the barrow girls would come and pick one up and go to where there was a ramp up onto the side of the wagon and we pushed this barrow up this ramp and the bloke in the wagon would take it off onto his shoulder and he would stack them and when that wagon was full we'd go onto the next one. Day in; day out; all day; all week.
If you want to know what I did when I finally got out of the steel-works, click here.
3 May, 1996
Dot has written other stories about her childhood :