Wearside Echoes: Trip ends in rescue

Jonathan O'Shaughnassey
Jonathan O'Shaughnassey
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A WARTIME trip to the coast is vividly etched in the memory of Doreen Richardson.

For the visit to Seaburn proved rather more eventful than planned – after her pitman father ended up rescuing two children.

“I was about 11 when my parents decided to take me to the coast that day,” recalls Doreen of Marsden Close, Houghton.

“I can’t remember exactly when it was, but the war must have still been going on as there was barbed wire all along the promenade.”

Doreen and her parents, Jonathan and Mary O’Shaughnessy, had just arrived by tram at Seaburn when events took a turn for the worse.

“We noticed a crowd gathering around the paddling pool and walked over to see what was happening,” she said.

“There we found lots of people watching a very small boy struggling in the pool. He was drowning, and no-one was helping. They just stood around.

“My dad pushed his way to the edge, knelt down and pulled the child out. He had to work on him for several minutes to bring him round.”

Yorkshire-born Jonathan O’Shaughnessy had learned his life-saving skills during World War One, when he served with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

His medical training took him to Africa and Turkey during the conflict, and he only returned to Wearside once peace was declared.

“Dad moved to Houghton with his family as a child, where his father, my grandfather, ran a bicycle repair shop in Newbottle Street,” said Doreen.

“He and his brothers later went to work at the pit. Two of his brothers, as well as a nephew, were killed at the colliery over the years.

“When war broke out, dad lied about his age to join the army a year early. Lots of young men did that, as they wanted to serve their country.”

The young boy in the Seaburn paddling pool had every reason to appreciate that lie – as it saved his life.

“Dad was angry no-one else tried to help. I still remember all the water pouring out of the boy’s mouth as my dad pumped his chest,” recalls Doreen. “It seemed to take quite a while before he started to come around. But he was lucky, very lucky, that dad got off the tram just at the right time.

“I believe the boy was with his sisters and, when dad was sure he was all right, he asked them to take him straight home as he was soaking wet.”

Once the lucky young lad was on his way, the O’Shaughnessy family decided to talk a walk along the coast to Roker.

Just a few minutes later, however, Jonathan came across yet another youngster in distress.

“We were sauntering along when we came upon an older boy, who was stuck fast in the barbed wire which was all along the sea front,” said Doreen.

“He seemed to be on his own, so dad managed to get him out. The boy wasn’t harmed, so he went on his way after dad helped him.

“After all these happenings, though, my parents decided it was time to head back home to Houghton. It certainly was a very eventful day.”

It may be almost 70 years since the rescues took place, but the memories remain as clear as ever for Doreen.

“I do sometimes wonder what happened to the little boy my dad saved from drowning. It is entirely possible he is alive and well still,” she said.

“He was very small when the incident happened but, even if he doesn’t remember that day, I would have thought his older sisters might.

“Perhaps one of them might see this story. It would be lovely to know what happened to that little boy afterwards.”

l Were you the little lad rescued by Jonathan?

 Contact Doreen c/o Sarah Stoner at: Sunderland Echo, Pennywell, Sunderland, SR4 9ER or e-mail sarah.stoner@northeast-press.co.uk