‘My husband was away for four years and his ship was sunk – but we got through the war’

Ethel Green was one of the first people in Doncaster to get a telephone.

Monday, 4th February 2019, 07:34 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 16:16 pm
Ethel Green, pictured celebrating her 100th birthday. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-22-01-19-Green100th-1

Not a mobile – a traditional landline plugged into the wall.

That was back in the 1950s, when she and husband Bob moved into a house next to Yorkshire Main Colliery in Edlington.

It was fitted with a phone so that they could get hold of him in his role as one of the most senior engineers at the pit.

There was just one problem with having a phone – Ethel and her family had no one they could ring because none of their friends had one.

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It is one of countless changes that Ethel has seen, She has seen plenty of change, as she has just celebrated her 100th birthday.

Ethel was born on January 17, 1919 at Milners Yard in the town centre, close to where the Frenchgate Centre now stands.

Her father, Thomas Edgecombe, had only just returned from World War One. He had been a runner in the army taking messages around the trenches.

Mum Maggie was a housewife. They had seven children, but only two survived infancy, so Ethel grew up with only her older sister, also called Maggie.

After the war, her father worked as a guard on the LNER railway, and when she was seven, the family moved to Oliver Road, Balby.

She attended a Catholic primary school at Greyfriars, near what is now the North Bridge. where she was taught by nuns.

Naughty children had their fingertips rapped by another of the teachers.

After leaving school she got a job at Peglers in Balby, on a production line putting washers on bolts.

But her world was rocked at the age of 21 by the death of her mothers, Maggie, who was aged only 53 at the time, from peritonitis - an inflammation of the stomach lining. 

“It was something they would have been able to treat today,” said Ethel.

“It was terrible and I felt as though the world had come to an end.”

The same year, she married Bob Green, a diesel engineer at Yorkshire Main, who she had met at a dance at the drill hall in Edlington.

But soon afterwards, Bob was called up to the forces. World War Two had broken out, and the Royal Navy wanted him to plug a shortage of skilled mechanics.

So shortly after they had married, Bob was sent overseas, serving in the Mediterrean on HMS Ajax, HMS Hasty and HMS Quadrant.

Rising to become a petty officer, Bob was mentioned in dispatches for staying on board the sinking HMS Hasty in 1942 to take its guns off before it went down.

“Bob was away for four years,” said Ethel. “I only saw him twice in that time, when he was given leave. I remember he was back for a month when HMS Hasty went down.

“The war was a terrible time, and I remember the air raids. We lived in Balby at the time, and Balby got bombed.”

Ethel worked at Bembergs on Wheatley Hall Road during the war, in the building later known as Du Pont, which was demolished in 2000. As part of the war effort, the factory was making parachutes for air crews and airborne troops.

At the end of the war, she lived in Greenock, near Glasgow, for a year where Bob was based before he was demobilised, and then returned to Yorkshire Main, Bob rising up the colliery’s ranks as an engineer. 

After the war, the couple had four children – Pam, now aged 72, Pat, 71, Geoff, 69, and Julia, 60. They lost two children in infancy

She went on to have nine grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

At the age of 60, she took her driving test in 1979.

Ethel and Bob enjoyed their retirement together, taking many holidays in the UK and abroad, until Bob’s death in 2010 aged 93.

She has seen many changes in Docaster over the years. But she says the best shop the town had in the last 100 years was Hodgson and Hepworth on St Sepulchre Gate.

“It was a lovely shop. You used to queue up to get cheese, bacon and ham, and you could smell the fresh coffee there too. We were very sad to see it close, in the 1970s.”

Ethel celebrated her 100th birthday with a party attended by over 170 people at the Yorkshire Main Officials Club in Edlington, the village where she still lives.

Guests made donated to the charity Mary’s Meals instead of giving presents, which provides food and education for children in Malawi.

The money raised will feed 100 children for a year.