Wilhelmina (known as Ena) was born in 1911 to Wilhelmina and Peter Slater of North Shields. She was one of eight children raised in a very different Tyneside to the one we know today. At this time, King George V was crowned at Westminster Abbey and the ship ‘Titanic’ was still under construction.
Ena took an active part in helping her mother to care for a large family during times where there were no luxuries and only a limited amount of food to go around. In her late teens she went into service, working in London as a maid in a grand house, carrying out such duties as cleaning silver and the kitchen range and waitressing. She enjoyed earning her own wage and sent a proportion of it to her mother to help support her siblings.
On returning to the North East she met Victor Harvey, a merchant seaman, originally from Lowestoft. He was staying in the area with his sister and following a courtship, they married in 1935. Their marriage lasted over fifty years, surviving war and times of hardship. Ena and Vic had two children, John and Gladys, my Mam. While Vic served at sea during the war Ena looked after the children and skillfully made ends meet. During that time they moved to the safety of rural Ovingham and she often talked of living there in a gypsy caravan.
In later years, many happy holidays were shared on the Norfolk Broads, mopping the deck of motor boats and catering for us all. During the summer months we picnicked at Morpeth. They were such happy times.
Ena loved handicrafts and used to take knitting orders from the wool shop, producing beautiful baby clothes and shawls and sometimes staying up all night to finish a garment. This was the case when the family’s fox terrier chewed one of two shawls intended for a twin christening. As she would never let anyone down, the order was duly fulfilled.
She proudly told us that she and Vic had been everywhere in the country in their little green Hillman Imp but had ended up in unintentional places due to Vic’s haphazard driving and map reading skills. They went blackberry picking and enjoyed half a lager and lime in country pubs.
When Vic died in 1991 Ena showed great strength of character and carried on bravely, with family support. The name ‘Wilhelmina’ means determined and she was certainly that.
She was utterly selfless, always put everyone before herself and made bad situations much better by being practical and kind. She always managed to make you feel better and seemed to have an answer for everything. Her sharp-witted comments never failed to surprise and make you laugh. She kept an active interest in everyone and loved to be around young people, to keep in touch and maintain a modern outlook.
She unfortunately became ill in 2006. On the way to hospital she said, “I hope they don’t put me on the ward with the old people”, because she never thought of herself as being old. Perhaps this was part of her secret of living so long, though sadly falling just short of her 95th birthday. She will always be loved and fondly remembered by me.
© Angela Craddock 2021-08-01