The life of an ordinary working man...

PROTEST: trade unionists line up, with William Parsons on their right.

PROTEST: trade unionists line up, with William Parsons on their right. - Credit: Archant

Last week, in extracts from his autobiography, the late William Parsons recalled his childhood in Cobholm in the 1920s. Today he concludes with memories of his working life.

WHEN I started work, my mother sent me to the Nelson Road night-school so I could “better myself” by learning typing and shorthand, and I also took “the King’s English” which today would be called elocution lessons. Having great expectations of me, she was prepared to pay for my continuing education.

My first job was junior clerk at the building and decorating firm of Mr R S Johnson on Southtown Road, staying for one year, doing most of the clerical work plus helping to renovate old houses he bought cheaply at auctions.

He was Mother’s landlord, receiving 6s 8d (33p) a week rent. From my weekly wage of 3s 6d (17.5p) I had to give her 3s 3d (16p) so I had only 3d (1p) a week left for myself, leaving me unable to compete with my friends’ spending money.

When I dared to ask for a rise, I received an extra 1s 6d (7p) weekly, taking my wages to 5s (25p) when many of my friends were earning up to £1 a week making footwear at a South Denes factory. Mother refused to let me go there because she wanted something better for me than being a factory hand despite the considerable extra money it would have brought in.

My next job was at Smith’s bookstall at Vauxhall Station, delivering newspapers round Acle and Upton, an 18-mile round, earning a weekly 10s (50p); that job did not last long either.

Still 15, I worked in Stuart Mundford’s high-class grocery shop on Regent Road, again for 10s weekly. Although only the errand boy on a trade-cycle, I was very happy and sometimes served customers in both his main shop on Regent Road and his premises in the Marine Arcade, open only in summer.

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Being in holiday areas, his shops were dead for most of the year and soon after I began working for him, he went broke, his plight exacerbated by trying to emulate the lifestyles of his customers. Eventually he overcame his financial problems and moved to Lowestoft Road in Gorleston.

Because his business failed in summer, I was quickly employed again at Pat Collins’ Pleasure Beach, working for Joe Mucklow who ran several stalls. I became the barker on one, shouting to attract customers. My weekly wage was a fortune to me: £2 10s (£2.50). I had never been so well off. I was able to buy a bicycle, my first real treat.

But as it was only a seasonal job, I was unable to obtain unemployment benefit and would be very lucky to winter work. My unemployment did not deter Mother who had me out at six o’clock daily seeking work which was never likely to be there.

Years passed, and when I was 40 and needing work more permanent than my seasonal job at Birds Eye Foods, I successfully applied to become a porter at Great Yarmouth General Hospital - my longest post, lasting 25 years until I retired.

The work was extremely varied, with both pleasant and unpleasant sides. Christmas in the children’s ward was very rewarding, whereas tidying up after amputations was not for the squeamish!

Porters polished, cleaned, helped in the kitchen and manned the switchboard on Sundays. Matron Cunningham insisted that porters escorted nurses across the road to the nurses’ home when their shifts ended at 10pm.

In casualty department, wards and operating theatres porters seemed required to do anything except the operations! We removed and sometimes replaced plaster casts, shaved men before certain operations, calmed patients waiting for anaesthetics, and held them steady if they became restless before or during surgery.

Porters took amputated limbs for incineration and prepared corpses for autopsies. We lifted heavy patients in and out of ward beds. In summer, we wheeled recuperating patients to and from the rose garden lawn. I trimmed male patients’ hair and shaved them.

At Christmas we helped to decorate the wards, always a pleasure especially in the children’s ward. If I was on duty on Christmas Day I would often play Santa Claus, distributing gifts to patients. My special delight was seeing the children’s faces when Father Christmas arrived in their ward - one of the great non-monetary rewards of the job

Matron ensured her porters were well looked after. Breakfast goodies were delivered to the porters’ lodge daily. When porters helped in the kitchen, they were rewarded with a high tea.

When my friend Lew Saunders became head porter, I became his deputy; the numbers of porters rose and my duties changed considerably over my 25 years there. In fact, duties I undertook when I first became a porter were long gone by my retirement.

As deputy, I sorted mail and delivered it internally, prepared our duty rosters and, if a porter was absent without an explanatory message, I visited their homes to ascertain the problem. The necessary overtime enabled me to put my family on its feet financially again so my wife Dorothy and I could visit her mother in Sheffield, see friends and take an annual holiday.

After Dorothy died in 1964, I knew my work had to go on despite my deep grief, and I took on extra responsibilities to try and suppress my sorrow. I volunteered to be secretary for the hospital’s branch of the National Union of Public Employees NUPE); for a time, work and union duties meant I was at the hospital more than at home!

In 1979 I retired at 65. My retirement party was crammed, and I received an unbelievable number of gifts from colleagues. My picture and a report were in the Yarmouth Mercury. And receiving the Coronation Jubilee Medal from the Queen put the icing on the cake as far as anything related to my work at the hospital was concerned.

I also formed the Yarmouth branch of the National Health Service Retirement Fellowship, with the assistance of Mrs Garraway. Our monthly meetings programme enabled former colleagues to enjoy a chin-wag...but when the administration started to take over, I withdrew!