‘Thank you for making my dreams come true’ – a Sunderland man’s memory of a very special day

The Houghton youngsters on their trip to London which was organised by the Sunderland Echo.
The Houghton youngsters on their trip to London which was organised by the Sunderland Echo.

They got to Go With The Echo and they never forgot it.

We got a great response when we recently carried a Wearside Echoes story about a Sunderland Echo campaign which the paper ran in 1979.

Andrew Rowlands got to launch the SD 14 Thai Binh in 1979.

Andrew Rowlands got to launch the SD 14 Thai Binh in 1979.

Forty years ago this year, the Echo helped to make dreams come true for a number of people.

Among them were students from class 6 at Glebe School in Houghton who headed to London. Andrew McMahon remembers it well as he was one of them, and contacted us to reflect on a great trip.

He said: “We went down early in the morning and spent the day there.”

The itinerary was jam packed with highlights such as a visit to Downing Street, getting the Tube, and going to London Zoo.

Launching that ship made in Sunderland by Mackems makes me very proud I still have a metal ship and a book given by the Sunderland Echo. I would like to thank you and all the hard work you all done to make this dream come true. Thank you

Andrew Rowlands

The party also went to see Buckingham Palace. Our original story said “the children gazed in awe at the guards in red tunics and black busby hats – and searched in vain for the Queen to appear at the windows”.

Another highlight was a tour down Regent’s Canal on an old long boat which had once been used for cargo. But there was one highlight which wasn’t supposed to be on the agenda.

Andrew, now 53, remembered: “When we came back, the train got stuck at the south side of Durham bridge. We should have been due back at 7.30pm and it was 10pm when we arrived.”

Overall, though, it was a wonderful day and Andrew said: “For a young kid who had never been to London before, it was excellent, brilliant. I could not have had a better day.”

Andrew Rowlands pictured on his big day when he got to launch a ship.

Andrew Rowlands pictured on his big day when he got to launch a ship.

The Echo’s report at the time said: “None of the Houghton youngsters had been to London before and seeing the sights through their eyes was a great treat.”

“Part of the trip goes through the London Zoo and here animals, munching away, gazed at us as we – munching away at a delicious basket meals of salad – gazed back.”

“The long boat set down the intrepid travellers at a point near the zoo entrance and then it was on to Oxford Street using yet another form of London transport – this time the famous red bus.

“As the day’s proceedings came to a close, there was just enough time to feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square and to gaze up at Nelson’s Column.”

As well as Andrew, the party also included Stephen Gardner, Lesley Paul, David Robertson and Alison Sparks. The group also included Ian Kelley, Angela Rankin, Margaret Rowe, Wilfred Hall, Kevin Stoker and Keith Watters.

Completing the group were David Estell, Paul McClean, Gary Baines and not forgetting the two teachers who were on the trip – Ann Elliott and Maurice Alderson.

Andrew remembers them well and said: “It would be lovely to have a reunion.” To contact Andrew, email andrewcalvert45@yahoo.co.uk

Another of the Go With The Echo dreams-come-true involved Andrew Rowlands, from South Hylton, who got a very different experience.

He was only nine when he achieved his dream of launching a ship. He pressed the button to officially set the new SD 14 Thai Binh on her way from the Austin and Pickersgill yard.

It was a 15,000 ton cargo liner and the Echo made his dream come true when we got in touch with Austin and Pickersgill, whose chairman Derek Kimber offered every co-operation.

Derek also got the consent of the ship’s Vietnamese owners for Andrew to launch it.

Andrew was chauffeur-driven to the venue, met Austin and Pickersgill bosses and was fitted with his own yellow helmet before doing the duties of a VIP.

A 90-minute tour of the shipyard followed. Andrew emailed us recently to say: “Launching that ship made in Sunderland by Mackems makes me very proud I still have a metal ship and a book given by the Sunderland Echo. I would like to thank you and all the hard work you all done to make this dream come true. Thank you.

“It was a fantastic day for me and me dad. One day we will never forget, I still have a portfolio of pictures from that day.”

He described the whole experience as “a great honour.”

What are your memories of Wearside and County Durham in the late 1970s?

Get in touch and tell us more by emailing chris.cordner@jpimedia.co.uk. Let’s share memories.