Memories of my Auntie Alvinza Riddoch
By Walker,Andy. on March 10th,2015 at the Service in memory of Miss Alvinza Riddoch,May 3rd,1914-Feb.19th,2015.
Auntie couldn’t wait get started on her 100+ years, she was born prematurely at home in Jarrow in May 1914, no incubator unit or hospital for her, she was placed on a pillow next to the fire, and I’m afraid the Doctor didn’t have high hopes of her surviving.
Auntie has been given a few names over the years but Alvinza was never meant to be one of them. Her Father, Tommy Riddoch was sent to registry office, but when asked for the child’s name, he could only recall his wife’s name, Alvinza. Alvinza is actually an old Westmoorland name which had come down the maternal line of the family.
Auntie was obviously a fighter and survived the first few weeks and was baptized at the end of May, in the Presbyterian Church, Ellison Street Jarrow.
Sisters Jean and Helen followed in 1915 and 1918. Alvinza might have been the smallest of the three sisters but she was definitely the brains of the operation. Their Mother helped out in a bakery and had a side line in fancy cakes, Father was a Merchant Seaman who worked the beef run to Buenos Aries.
Money was always tight but things took a turn for the worse when Tommy in a hurry to get home jumped ship at Jarrow rather than staying on for the unloading at Newcastle quayside, landing badly he damaged his ankle – that was the end of his sea going days. He was out of work for some time but did manage to find a labouring job at Palmers ship yard.
They moved into the Countryside near Bolden Colliery and lived in an ex-army bell tent. Father would cycle to work every day. This move was partially for Alvinza’s health, they had almost lost her to Scarlet fever and she was found to be lacto intolerant and here they could keep a goat to provide milk.
Some conversations I had with Auntie would take the most unexpected turns, like the time I mentioned my Son and his girl friend were coming up from London to attend a wedding at Jesmond house near Jesmond Dean in Newcastle. A very grand affair - ‘Oh yes, I know the house’ says Auntie as children we used to stay there during the Summer holidays and that’s where Jean and I learned to swear.
Well I certainly didn’t see that coming, turns out that Alvinza’s Aunt Sarah was the cook& house keeper for the Sheriff of Newcastle and when the family were abroad Alvinza and her sisters would go and stay with Aunt Sarah and amuse themselves by chasing the families parrot around the house who obviously had picked up some salty language in its lifetime.
Alvinza had a great desire to travel and see beyond Jarrow. Church outings progressed to day trips to Marsdon sands and one Birthday her only wish was to be allowed to go unescorted on a day trip to Lake Windermere by coach.
She was encouraged to take her youngest sister Helen youth hostelling and trusted to visit relatives in Liverpool.
Alvinza went on from school to Sixth form college and then onto teacher training college, travelling by bus from Jarrow to Kenton Bank Foot, everyday. While there she played tennis for the County.
She qualified as a teacher, but at the time it was very rare for women to actually end up with a teaching job, these were generally given to men. Auntie was only one of three women from her year group who were offered a post. Alvinza became a supply teacher in North Northumberland working in Scremaston, Tweedmouth, Norham and Ford.
In 1936 A post specifically for a female teacher came up in Jarrow and Auntie jumped at the chance, just as well, she had also been approached to join the International brigade as a nurse in the Spanish civil war.
In October of that year Auntie took a group of school children down to wave the men off who were taking part in the Jarrow March. Most everyone has a mental picture of cloth capped men marching to London beneath a banner with Jarrow Crusade emblazoned across it. What people won’t see is Auntie left behind trying to find the correct homes for the men’s dogs left tied to the church railings, after the men had been told their pets were not welcome on the march.
The start of the Second World War saw Auntie still teaching but questioning her life’s direction and found it wasn’t enough, so in 1941 she enrolled at Carey Hall in the Midlands.
Missionary studies through the day and fire watch through the night on the college roof, watching the German bombers wreak havoc on Coventry.
After graduating from College, she was sent to Liverpool to work with families from Bootle and then on to London and Regent Square church in London.
Auntie was also a warden in a 1000 man night shelter in Tavistock Square.
Unfortunately Auntie was caught in one of the very last V2 bomb attacks which scored a direct hit on the church. Buried up to her armpits in fallen masonry she tried to get out to the street but the rubble prevented the doors from opening. Auntie made her way to the pay telephone located in what was left of the vestibule and was delighted to find the small column of penny’s behind the telephone still standing and the phone still working, she was able to call the minister to inform him his church had been destroyed.
In April 1946 just before her 35th birthday Alvinza set sail on the SS Priam a Blue Funnel Steamer from Liverpool, bound for Shanghai via New York Panama and San Francisco and the start of her new life as a Missionary in the far east.