Back in civvy street

Tom didn’t write any narrative about his time after the war – indeed much of what he did write about his exploits were the result of some nagging by his daughter Jill. She was running a creative writing course and told her dad she needed “just one more student” to make the course viable, and reluctantly he obliged. This story of his return to civilian life and to his beloved Whitby is based on his diaries, and begins in January 1946.

The first day of the new year was also Tom’s last in the RAF. He really felt the cold that morning as he made his way to Scunthorpe railway station after a long weekend with his family who had moved to the Lincolnshire town from Whitby when he enlisted. The demob was to take place at RAF Cardington, in Bedfordshire, a place that would become familiar to many national servicemen in the 1950s.

The formalities meant that it was 5 p.m. before Tom was able to leave the RAF base, no longer Corporal Ashworth, but plain Mr. Clearly this wasn’t a good time to begin a long cross country journey at a time when trains were slow and infrequent – he didn’t arrive back in Lincolnshire until 4.30 a.m the following morning.

A couple of weeks later he was on the move again, this time to Cheltenham to visit his mother before heading North to Whitby for the weekend to visit friends including the Ropers, and then the 35 miles further on to Middlesbrough to successfully reclaim his job as a reporter on the Evening Gazette. It must have been a good moment as he walked up the stairway and down the corridor to first floor newsroom and no doubt to the Editor’s office to discuss the detail. He left with a start date February 4th!

After the regimentation of four years in the forces Tom probably enjoyed the domesticity of the following days.

“Wednesday January 23rd: Got builder to come and plaster the bedroom. Pictures with Jill to see Tarzan,” records his diary. “Thursday 24th helped Pa whitewash bedroom. Played cards with Jill……Friday 25th got light fixed in bedroom….Saturday 26th, Took Jill to dancing class in the morning….pictures in the afternoon…club with Pa at night”.

As February dawned Tom was back off to Middlesbrough and his new lodgings with the Wood Family; there were domestic things to do like changing his address with the Food Office to ensure his ration books came to the right place but the theatre and the pub were calling too: he managed a pantomime at the Empire, in Corporation Road, Middlesbrough before a Sunday lunchtime pub crawl with a friend. It must have been a stressful day all round – he’d decided to give up smoking!

His first week back at work appeared routine: police court, juvenile court, interview a man awarded the British Empire Medal, the South Bank Brewster Sessions (which dealt with pub and club licensing matters) and a church fair, although on Saturday February 9th there was drama.

The River Tees tug the George Robinson, owned by the Tees Towing Company, collided with the s.s. Imperial Valley and sank in the River Tees. Tom was in the Middlesbrough office when the news came through and managed the coverage from there. Later he joined a colleague on the riverside to gather more about the story. Five men lost their lives in the incident.

s.s. Imperial Valley (Photograph by Walter E. Frost)

At this stage there was no mention of him returning to Whitby, and after a week working from the Borough Road offices of the Gazette he was despatched to cover the happenings in Bishop Auckland in County Durham although at this stage travelling every day and covering relatively ordinary news stories and, as well, no doubt justifying his regular cinema trips, by writing film reviews. He spent a lot of time covering the courts where coal theft, drunkenness and assaults seemed to take up most of the magistrates’ time.

Back in the Boro, The Westminster Hotel in Parliament Road, Middlesbrough seemed to be Tom’s regular watering hole and his drinking companion was often his Landlord, Mr. Wood. A keen gardener, Mr Wood had an allotment nearby and Tom often helped with a spot of digging though they always seem to end up at the pub afterwards.

In the middle of March Tom was transferred to the Stockton office where there were even more courts to cover – four in his first day and six in the first week. No doubt Tom was delighted to spend the night at Thornaby Carnival and Drama Festival though it meant a long day finishing at half past nine. In fact life in Stockton seemed to be altogether more busy with a morning police court, an afternoon grammar school speech day and an evening function at the town hall. Fortunately his Stockton stint lasted just a month and with digs now sorted in Bishop Auckland he moved to live and work there.

It is clear that Whitby remained a place he’d like to be. “I am to go to Whitby on Sunday!” he exclaims emphatically in one diary entry and indeed later records how he arrives in the town in time to have tea with his wife’s Aunt Lizzie and later a game of darts with Ernie and Ana Roper. The following day he goes to Castle Park for a long chat with Billy Slater (a reporter on the Whitby Gazette, many years later to become the Editor). He’s at the Cutty Sark pub on New Quay Road and then the Spa later that night and heading back to Teesside the next day.

Tom’s diary doesn’t record how his move to Whitby came about but in the middle of May he notes that he has received a letter confirming that he would be moving to the town. In later years he recalled that he was offered the full time post in Bishop Auckland but noticed that the Whitby reporter’s job hadn’t been filled since he left it early in the war. “Who,” he asked his boss, “is doing the Whitby job now?” “I don’t know,” was the answer. “It was me,” said Tom. It was to his sheer delight that his boss replied: “Well you’d best get back there then” – after all he would much rather be beside the seaside.

On Monday May 27th – the Spring Bank Holiday – he was back and found rather grand digs with a Mrs Sutherland at 16 St Hilda’s Terrace. It was his last job move. He remained in Whitby faithfully reporting its affairs for the Gazette until his retirement in the early winter of 1981, and for some years after that.

By then he lived in a two room flat in a large house in Hanover Terrace owned by Miss Millie Milne. When she died the property was sold to be re developed and this, and his gradual failing health prompted him to move to Scunthorpe be near his daughter and her family after over half a century in the town.