Peter grew up in about 1930 in a small mining village in Yorkshire. At the age of 9, he looked younger than other boys as he was thin and not especially tall. He was happiest playing football with his elder brother and playing chase in the streets. There wasn’t much to do in those days for kids growing up – no television, playstation or computer at home – so he spent his time outdoors. He enjoyed exploring and imagined himself travelling all over the world in a big ship, which was his way to daydream about exciting times ahead.
Peter was not always happy at school. He was often in trouble and would be told off by his father because of getting into so many fights with other boys at school! Teachers were very strict then with children and instead of just getting a detention as he would have nowadays, Peter was often caned on his hands and legs. He used to dread seeing a teacher getting the cane ready to strike him. At least there was always one special person he could come home and share his troubles with – and that was his mum.
Peter’s mum was a lovely, quiet lady whose whole life was focused on caring for her husband and her sons. She was a good cook and made family meals for the boys and their father from any food they had available at the time. Peter helped her with potato picking in the fields sometimes and did as many jobs as he could for her by carrying coal, wood and potatoes. She was not very strong and often felt tired, but always kept cheerful as she loved her whole family. She did not mind at all when relatives would turn up at the house and join in with their family meal. Luckily she always made more than enough food to share around.
Everyone knew each other in the village and looked out for one another. They even did jobs on the same days. Mondays were the wash days when the women would work hard all day long on the laundry. They used to scrub the outdoor steps too and keep their houses as clean as possible, which must have been hard when the miners came home dirty from the pit!
Peter lived amongst other mining families and he had so many aunties, uncles and cousins in the same village that he was never short of company. He got on well with all his friends and family and was happy to be with them. However, when he was 9, his mum became really ill and he hated returning from school and seeing her look so poorly. She had to stay in bed as she needed rest. The boys tried to make her feel better but gradually her health got worse until one day after school, she was no longer in bed resting. The small house was full of relatives and neighbours. Peter could not understand what was happening until he heard a cousin saying that his mother was finally at peace and no longer in pain.
He was upset and missed his mother for a very long time. Aunties used to cook meals for the boys as their father felt so sad that he would often come home late after work. It made Peter angrier at school and he no longer had his mum to listen to his problems. He missed her soft voice and gentle hugs so much that sometimes he wanted to stay at home and cook things for himself, just as she had taught him. He enjoyed cooking. Scallops were his favourite meal as they were tasty slices of potato fried in batter.
As his brother was growing up and spending more and more time away from him, Peter planned even harder to leave so he could travel to the far-off lands that he enjoyed reading about so much in his books.
After more time had passed, his father came home from work one day, more cheerful than usual and told Peter that he was going to get married again. Even though Peter was worried about having a step-mother, he knew that his father would feel much happier if he was no longer alone. His father’s new wife had a son of her own who was younger than Peter. The boys became good friends and the stepmother tried to fill the gap in Peter’s life.
She was also a very hard-working woman who cared for her family and Peter watched in amazement of how skilled she was in all kinds of crafts, especially rag rug making. He and his step-brother would help to prepare old, unwanted clothes from the family, which would be carefully re-used by cutting into strips ready to be made into floor coverings for the house. Peter would enjoy running his fingers through the shaggy texture of the rugs and saw what amazing things could be made simply by breaking off a side of a wooden clothes peg to prod material through hessian sacks.
The boys were able to take unwanted sacks from the local farm as they were free and they brought them home to be re-used for making the rugs, which when complete were put by the fireplace and in other rooms. It was a big improvement to standing on cold stone floors! When the rugs became dirty, they were taken outside for a good shaking and were bashed against the outside wall of the house until the dust blew away in grey puffs. Finally, when the rugs were past their best, they ended up on the compost heap in the garden and Peter’s step-mother would, by then, be busily starting another replacement rug.
Peter often thought of how creative his step-mother was in the home and how she could knit all sorts of things with wool from local mills that came in large skeins. The boys helped her to hold the wool in position between their thumbs and first fingers so that she could wind it around and around into balls. Peter enjoyed those happier times but never stopped missing his own mum. After leaving school at the age of 14, he went to work on the farm from where he got the hessian sacks and then later, he joined his brother and dad working down the pit.
His big chance came to start a new life when he joined the Royal Navy at the age of 17. He sailed to many places in the world but never forgot the small mining village in Yorkshire where he grew up. He could always picture in his mind the kitchen with its warm coal fire and the rag rug on the stone floor.