The Craxford Family Magazine Blue Pages

{$text['mgr_blue1']} Simpson 5

Me and my brothers. Chapter 1: The formative years

by Donald McDonald Simpson

An introduction to the Simpsons

A young Donald Simpson

Young Donald

Harry Simpson, my brother

A young Harry

We are a family of the North East of England and the Simpsons have had a long association with South Shields. My great grandfather, Robert, owned a printing business in the town. During their married life, my grandparents lived in Salmon Street.

Grandfather Joseph died in a fall down stairs in his forties when my father was only about 12 years old. Although he had wanted to be an architect he was sent to sea. He was very neat and meticulous in his handwriting and would have been a very good draftsman. Grandmother Simpson (Dorothy Anderson)'s father had been a Skipper but there hadn't been much of the sea in the family before that. They had a house in Allendale in Northumberland.

Grandfather Joseph Simpson


Dorothy Anderson (Grandma Simpson)


Donald McDonald


Aunt Jennie Anderson


Captain Cuthbert
Post card inscription noting the posthumous Lloyds Medal for ramming a German U boat

Capt. Alexander Cuthbert and the postcard inscription

Tragedy of one sort or another seemed to dog the Anderson family. I was named after Donald McDonald, the husband of Grandmother Simpson's sister, Jennie. She was tragically blinded soon after they were married when she leaned out of a railway carriage window on her way to her honeymoon and hot cinders blew back into her eyes. Then her sister Florence married sea captain Alexander Cuthbert in the early 1900s. He served in the merchant marine during the first world war. He met a heroic end after he had been attacked by a U-boat in 1914. Instead of trying to run away, he turned and rammed the U-boat leading to the sinking of both vessels. He was awarded the Lloyds Medal posthumously. I didn't know much about the rest of the family but my father seemed to have an inordinate number of aunts: auntie Tizzy, auntie Florrie, auntie Maggie amongst others.


Henry Leuliette Simpson
The Shields Diary June 1920
Dad meets Mum: Entries for June 8th and 9th 1920

Henry Simpson, his Shields Diary and the June 8th-9th pages

My father, Henry Simpson, met my mother in 1920 at a "Young 20s" church group. He was a quite shy man; the opposite of my mother who was a boistrous character. She wasn't interested in him to begin with. He left a little diary in which he wrote: "7am Arrived home, Breakfast No. Shields, Afternoon sleep, Queens; Met Nellie. Called Mile End Road to ask N to go to Marsden - nothing doing today. Afternoon A. Flo. Evening Daniels, Tynemouth with Elsie and Dolly". She had a boyfriend who was a skilled worker in the shipyard. Unfortunately he suffered a head injury when he fell from a ladder on board ship and after that he would have severe headaches and odd behaviour. As a result he broke off the engagement and after that Henry and Ellen got together. They got married in 1924 on a shoestring and had quite a lot of difficulties in the early days.

My mother: Ellen Welch

Ellen Welch

The engagement ring

Ellen's ring

Grants the Jeweller advertisement 1920

Grant's advert

They rented a house in St Vincent Street which was quite pleasant by the standards of the day, I think. In those days rent was so easy - a few shillings a week would get you a house and St Vincent Street was newly built. It did not have hot water or indoor sanitation. There was only one living room and we were all in there at the same time. The other two rooms were bedrooms. Over the next twelve years, they had four sons: Harry (1926), me (1928), Peter (1930) and Brian (1936).

Life afloat

Father worked his way up and became a Captain himself but spent his early life helping to support the family. He travelled extensively overseas although my mother often joked (at least I think it was a joke!) that he never learned to swim. His career came to an end when his ship from Hamburg, heavily laden with timber, foundered and sank. Fortunately the cargo floated and no-one was lost. After that he was based ashore.

Captain Henry Simpson takes a lunch break with the crew

Lunch with the crew

Celebrating crossing the equator

Crossing the equator

SS Sheaf Crest
SS Sheaf Water

Left: SS Sheaf Crest; Right: SS Sheaf Water (It was probably one of these vessels that sank)

Continued in column 2...

Life ashore

Kodak A1 Autographic Junior camera

Kodak camera

We were very hard up when my father lost his job as a skipper. However while he had money he was always buying gadgets and things for the house which were quite extravagant at the time. He was interested in photography and owned a Kodak folding camera which he had taken with him on many of his trips. We had a grammophone which stood on four legs and had a large speaker sticking out of it and Mother had an expensive K.B. radio. There was also a vacuum cleaner (not many people had them in those days) which stood in a big polished wooden box. When he was out of money he must have found it very difficult. I'm sure he did.

In the house there were always books. Father had a bookcase full of interesting volumes, encyclopaedias and reference books which stretched from floor to ceiling in one corner of the living room. Our parents were very tolerant because they didn't expect us to be quiet through the day. I remember that Peter and I used to play under the dining room table sometimes and we would use it as a camp. Mother knew we were short of space and that was the only place we could play if we couldn't go outside. The one very strict rule was that seven o'clock was bedtime. We could read in bed but by then the house had to be quiet, so that she could sit and she could read her library book.

Our boyhood

The cover of Lilliput magazine about 1939
Illustration from Lilliput

Lilliput cover (1939) and illustration (1)

Every Saturday morning, for as long as I can remember, she took all of us to South Shields library and we all got books out. It was very old fashioned. When we went in we all had to show our hands to prove they were clean before they would let us take the books. So we all had plenty to read. One little bit of father's middle class aspect showed itself when we boys all went to the barber to get a hair cut. We didn't have any money ourselves but the man would take our names because he knew us and he would tell my father who would then pay for the three of us. I also recall a certain magazine called Lilliput which we found in the barber's place. This magazine had pictures of the opposite sex often wearing very few garments and whenever we went to have our hair cut we made straight for them. It was quite funny really but I think we must have had our hair cut more often than any of the other boys in South Shields.

The Simpson boys about 1933

Harry and Donald About 1933

Of the four brothers Harry was the most sociable and the most adventurous. He became friendly with another family of boys and used to go and play cards in their house. We all went to Sunday School. Harry and I were in St Michael's Church choir as we had reasonable singing voices. We especially enjoyed the big concerts that were given in Durham Cathedral. Harry got himself into the sea scouts and I was a cub. Many of Peter's activities were interrupted by the war.

Mother always insisted that we had a month's holiday in the summer. Although this sounds extravagant, a month could be taken very cheaply if you knew what you were doing. She would take a bus or a train two or three weeks beforehand to wherever she thought would be nice (Richmond, Hexham, Rothbury) and she would walk around until she found a house with a "Rooms Vacant" sign. She would then explain that she had these four sons and she was looking for two bedrooms and a living room. If the lady of the house would do the cooking she would go out every morning and buy the materials. She always managed to arrange something and we became friends with quite a lot of them exchanging Christmas cards with many of them for years. We always had that month's holiday and even during after the war she continued to do this with Peter and Brian. It became a family tradition.

Harry got through the eleven plus examination in 1937 and managed to get into South Shields High School. I'm not sure that he was very happy there but that was that! Anyway a couple of years later I took the eleven plus too and got in as well. That may have caused some dissent between us at the time because I was about eighteenth out of the thousand or so children in the area to have sat it. I would have gone into the top stream except that was when the war broke out ...

Footnote: Alexander Cuthbert

Master's certificate

Master's certificate

Alexander Cuthbert was born in the spring of 1878, the son of David Cuthbert and Maria Went. David was a clerk and the family lived with his widowed mother in law in Rudyerd Street, North Shields. In his teens, Alexander entered the Merchant Marine and rapidly progressed through the ranks, achieving his master's certificate in December 1902 at the age of 24 years. He married Florence May Anderson in 1904 and had a daughter, Rose, three years later.

During the war years, he was given command of the 3257 ton steam cargo ship Ethelinda, which had been built in 1911 by William Gray & Company of West Hartlepool. In mid January 1918, the vessel left the port of Bilbao on the north coast of Spain with a cargo of iron ore and a crew of 26 bound for Barrow in Furness in Cumbria. As it passed about 15 nautical miles north west of The Skerries, a group of small rocky islands off the coast of Anglesey, it was hit by a torpedo fired by German u-boat UC31. The Ethelinda sank with the loss of all hands.

Contrary to the family's belief, the submarine was not damaged. During the war it sank 38 allied vessels and was finally surrendered after the armistice on November 26th 1918. Alexander is commemorated on one of the panels of the Tower Hill Memorial, London. He was posthumously awarded the Mercantile Marine medal and the British War medal which were presented to Florence in February 1924.

Tower Hill

Tower Hill Memorial London, Ethelinda Panel, The Mercantile Marine Medal be continued


1. Lilliput Pocket Magazine: Inventory at eBay shops

Further reading


ME AND MY BROTHERS. Chapter 2: Evacuee!!
ME AND MY BROTHERS. Chapter 3: Education! Education!! Education!!!
ME AND MY BROTHERS. Chapter 4: Graduation, Separation, Consolidation
ME AND MY BROTHERS. Chapter 5: Ww all fall off the ladder sometime

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Page added June 10th 2007
Last modified: November 10th 2014

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