James Otterson (1920-2021)

Jim Otterson, age 100
Photo: Courtesy Sunderland Echo

James Otterson (Born 1920)

  • Born Sunderland, Durham, England
  • Married in Sunderland to:

Irene Rowe (1919-1985)

  • Born Sunderland, Durham, England
  • Married 1942
  • Died Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England
  • One son

Dorothy Sarah Powell (1952-)

  • Born County Durham, England
  • Married 1996

Born in 1920 as the last of six children in a Sunderland family with a long coal mining tradition, Jim Otterson attended a colliery school, and was only 18 when World War 2 broke out. He joined the Royal Air Force as a volunteer the following year.  After the war ended, he was an eye witness and participant in what became known as the RAF "mutiny" in India. And when he returned home to England to a severe housing and job shortage, he became one of the first squatters in Sunderland to face down city council officials, local police and a bureaucracy seemingly unresponsive to the critical needs of ex-servicemen. Jim celebrated his 100th birthday in October, 2020, and passed away the following February.  

Photo: Michael Otterson
Photo: Michael Otterson

Right:  Jim as a boy with dog, Peggy.

Above:  Chilton Street, Sunderland. These houses were originally owned by Monkwearmouth colliery. The end house on the left was where Jim Otterson lived as a boy, the youngest of six children. The house still stands, but the pictures, below, taken between 2009 and 2019, show how the house was renovated and converted into "Fenwick House" apartments, with the outside rendered like some others in the street.

Below right: This corner shop in Toward Road, Sunderland, was once a bread shop, with a bakery situated at the rear. Jim was an errand boy here for a time. The shop is also associated with the Dix family.

Jim Otterson as a boy with dog, Peg
Photo: Otterson family album
Photo: Michael Otterson
Photo: Michael Otterson
Chilton Street, Sunderland, home of Ottersons
Photo: Michael Otterson
Corner shop, Toward Road, Sunderland
Photo: Ruth Otterson Roberts

Below: Jim's class at Wearmouth Colliery School, late 1920s. Jim is marked with the red dot.

Jim Otterson's school class, about 1830
Photo: Otterson family album

Jim Otterson was just five years old when he started at the small Wearmouth Colliery School, nestled on the corner of what used to be Wreath Quay Road and Southwick Road, Sunderland. The school had been opened by the nearby colliery owners more than 60 years earlier.

It was a time when coal mining and shipbuilding dominated Sunderland's industries. Times were tough in 1925, but they would get a great deal tougher in the depression years of the 1930s.

In an interview with the Sunderland Echo in April 2013, Jim recalled: "I was one of the lucky ones, as my father was in work, but more than one boy had no boots or shoes. I remember them running home in bare feet.  If they were lucky, they might be given a pair of boots from the police, but only after the uppers had holes punched all around..."  That ensured that the boys' parents would not trade them in at the pawnbroker's for desperately needed cash.

Despite its size, the classrooms, heated with coal fires, appeared large and airy to the young boys. Six years later, the school closed and the pupils were moved to a new school nearby called Grange Park Elementary. It was a significant improvement.

The old colliery school, Sunderland, now light industry
Photo credit: Google Maps

Above: The former Wearmouth Colliery School. The original building still stands, but has been absorbed into local light industry. 

Below: Grange Park Primary School, opened in 1931 in the Depression years.

Grange Park School, built 1931, Sunderland
Photo credit: Google Maps

Jim told the Sunderland Echo:  "We carried the classroom gear up to the new school. We were amazed at the change in environment - rows of windows completing the whole of one wall. We could actually see outside from our desks, and there was central heating with radiators in the ceiling."  The school, now known as Grange Road Primary School,  still stands, with "1931" prominently displayed over the portico.

Jim's best-remembered teacher at Grange Park was George Hedley, who instilled in him a life-long love of books and poetry.  “I have always given him credit for my love of books and poetry. He was also a dyed-in-the-wool Sunderland football supporter and often related incidents from home games," he said.  “We played football with the school once a week, up at Mossie’s Field, and we had a football song as well - although the lyrics were not too classical.”

From an early age, Jim showed an interest in scouts, and in later years would become an advocate for scouting and founder of a new Sunderland scout group.

Below: Jim with fellow scouts including two of his brothers with the Williamson Terrace group in 1936. From left to right, Bill Prentice, Will Otterson, Eric Brown, Alan Goldsborough, Tom Otterson, Jim Otterson and Bill Dickinson.

Washington Terrace scouting group, with 3 Otterson boys
Photo: Otterson family album
Robert Otterson with four sons
Photo: Otterson family album

Above: Jim with father and three brothers. From left, Jim, Will, father Robert, brothers Rob and Tom. Possibly taken at Rob's wedding, 1938.

RAF trainees at Blackppol, 1940
Photo: Otterson family album

Above: Jim Otterson with other RAF trainees at the No.10 Recruiting Centre, Blackpool

Jim Otterson
Photo: Otterson family album
Map of British Isles showing where Jim Otterson traveled
Image: Michael Otterson

In 1939, war broke out and the whole world changed. Jim Otterson was 19 years old when he volunteered with the Royal Air Force, and was sent to the Lancashire seaside town of Blackpool for training. 

"There was plenty of square bashing along the promenade," Jim wrote many years later, "but we started learning Morse code, other radio signaling methods and then mastering the relevant equipment. These included radios, tele-printers and code and cypher machines. We also had to know how to service and repair them."

Jim was sent to RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire to finish his training, and from there his first posting as a fully fledged wireless operator was to 220 Coastal Command at Wick in the far north of Scotland. The station flew patrols over the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean and made long-range meteorological and reconnaissance flights. It took Jim three days to get to the remote location, only to find that his regiment had been sent to Northern Ireland.

Equipped with new travel documents, he and others were ordered to find their way there. To travel from Wick to the Scottish port of Stranraer is to travel the entire length of Scotland, but it is the closest point to Northern Ireland. The crossing to the port of Larne was a rough one, but they were met on arrival after the tiring journey by "kind ladies at the bottom of the gangway with hot drinks and sandwiches."  They were very grateful.

From there, it was a train journey of several hours to his destination at Ballykelly on the north coast. He was on the  station platform nearing the town when the engine  driver leaned out of his cab and shouted:

"You…  Airman! Would you be going to the aerodrome?” 

“Yes”, Jim replied.

“Ok....this train goes past the end of the runway, so I'll stop and let you off. It will save you a couple of miles walk.”

Jim's most significant posting in England was to Plymouth, the major south coast naval and military base which was an attractive target for the German Luftwaffe. There, he worked in a huge underground facility which included Army and Navy personnel as well as the RAF. The photograph below shows RAF airmen marching down Union Street, with bomb damage evident along its length. Jim is identified by the red dot.

Jim described those times as sometimes "lonely and scary," but in June of 1942, while on leave, he traveled back to Sunderland and married his sweetheart, Irene Rowe (right), at Williamson Terrace Primitive Methodist chapel. (Just over a year later, the chapel was heavily damaged by German bombs).

"Soon after, life became much more pleasant when Irene travelled down to Plymouth," Jim wrote in his memoirs.  "She rented a room and got a job in the city post office."

Jim Otterson
Photo: Otterson family album
Irene Rowe
Photo: Otterson family album
RAF march in Plymouth, Jim Otterson
Photo: Otterson family album

By 1945, the war was entering its final year. German armies were in retreat everywhere, as were the Japanese in the Pacific theater.

"I  found myself waiting for a train to Liverpool to join a troop ship bound for India," Jim wrote.  "We were kitted out with khaki drill uniforms and magnificent white pith helmets. We thought this rather good and were quite excited at the thought of a trip to India."  Jim's love of books and poetry led him to think of Rudyard Kipling, and the exotic lure of the Asia. But those thoughts and expectations were soon to be squashed. 

After the long sea voyage on the troop ship to India, they docked at the port of Bombay - today's Mumbai - and lined up outside a large office block where the airmen were instructed to remove the leather strap from their pith helmets, which were then slung onto a big heap. The helmets were never seen again.

After a couple of weeks in a billet in Bombay they began the three-day train journey to Karachi in the northwest of India. In a few more years, this whole region would be carved into the new nation of Pakistan. But in 1945 Karachi was home to one of the largest armed forces maintenance units in India.

Drigh Road RAF base, Karachi
Photo: Public domain

Above: The RAF base at Drigh Road, Karachi, in the 1940s.

Below: Jim and a young Australian serviceman with an Indian boy, location not identified.

Map of India showing Karachi and Bombay locations
Image: Michael Otterson
With Australian soldier, Karachi
Photo: Otterson family album

"About the second day on the train," Jim recalls, "a respectable young man in a white coat came down the carriage asking if anyone wanted water or a meal at the next station. We signed up and paid the money. Put it down to a learning experience, but we never saw the meal or the white coat again."

Their destination was the base at Drigh Road, six miles from Karachi. Events at this depot would later be the trigger for what became known as the the RAF Mutiny of 1946.

"Our accommodation consisted of barrack blocks," Jim, wrote, "each housing about 30 men with wooden frame beds criss-crossed with rope. We would stand the four bed legs in tins of water to try and prevent the ants and other insects crawling up. Some of the men were billeted in dilapidated bell tents on a concrete base.

"We were further educated when we went to the hangar for a meal.  The food was an unidentifiable mush and tasted awful. I didn’t think a dog would eat it. We would come out of the hangar and tip our plate of rubbish into large swill bins.  There would be the rush of wings as the awaiting kite hawks would swoop down to grab the discarded food. A few yards from the hanger a ‘fruit waller’ would be waiting to sell us bananas, oranges and other fruit. We then used to dip it in a pink liquid, we called it ‘pinky parny’, which was supposed to disinfect it."

Life was unpleasant. The condition of the latrines didn’t help. They were no more than a series of holes, side by side, in a large wooden raised platform. Many of the men became sick and had to go to the base hospital.  Prickly heat was a particular problem, especially when it became infected. In these conditions, the men had to work long hours in the oppressive heat, constantly swatting away the flies and mosquitoes. 

Soldiers can put up with a lot. But when the war ended and the months dragged on, the men's thoughts turned to home and their loved ones. There was no sign of them being demobilized, however. News from England was all about the hundreds of thousands of armed forces personnel returning home, and jobs and housing being difficult to find. Meanwhile, the "top brass" was largely uncommunicative about the men's future.

"Discontent became widespread," Jim wrote, "because we could not understand the delay. We had joined the services to fight a war. That war was over. Why were we still kept out in India?"

About six months after the end of the war, things came to a head. Orders were issued for the whole station to parade in "full best blue" - a woolen uniform - followed by a kit inspection. Disciplinary action was threatened for any man not having his kit in order. Everyone knew that such a requirement was impossible. Because of the way they had been living for months, items had been lost or discarded. This event, and the developments that followed, have been the subject of memoirs, at least one TV documentary and one meticulously researched book by a leading participant, Sunderland-born David Duncan. 

After the order for a full dress parade was issued for the following day, word was circulated that there was to be a meeting that night on the football field for those who wished to mount some kind of response. Jim Otterson was certain that he would be joining that meeting. 

By 7:30pm, some 800-900 men had assembled at the Drigh Road base football field. It was already dark, well after sunset, and there was no moon. It was so dark that it was almost impossible to recognize the man standing alongside.

"When I got there it was very, very dark but you could tell it was a large crowd," Jim recalls.  "Someone shouted out that we should show no lights and not try to identify anyone near you. There was more shouting and some confusion until this mass meeting was brought to order by one man, who I now believe was Arthur Attwood."

In his 1998 book, David Duncan's account matches precisely Jim Otterson's recollections.

"For a few seconds there was absolute silence, and then a great hubbub began. It was clear that whoever had called the meeting had no procedure in mind, no plan to propose, and apparently no intention of playing any further part in the proceedings. Men were obviously very angry about both the parade and the kit inspection, but the meeting was becoming chaotic as several men shouted against one another, some protesting about grievances, others suggesting different remedies.

At this point Arthur Attwood made himself heard. He intervened because, of all the hundreds there, he was the only one who had both the nous to know what to do and the guts to do it. His voice boomed out above all the others. I cannot remember his exact words, but he said, in effect, “We won’t get anywhere like this, lads. We need a chairman to see that there’s one speaker at a time. Does anyone object if I do the job?” There were murmurs of approval and no opposition, so Arthur took charge of the meeting. He saw to it that only one man spoke at a time; he gave to the meeting the gist of anything said by a speaker in too quiet a voice; and he made sure that everyone was aware of the issue before a vote was taken.

Various suggestions were put forward, ranging from a full-scale strike, starting the next day, to a deputation to the CO, but consensus was reached in a surprisingly short time, and the whole meeting was over in not much more than half an hour.

Unanimously, we resolved that on the Saturday morning:

    • We would not prepare any kit for inspection
    • We would go to the parade ground at the scheduled time, but wearing khaki drill, not best blue, and we would refuse to parade
    • Anyone who had the opportunity to talk to the commanding officer would make it clear that we had strong grievances which we wanted to put to higher authority."

And so began what history has termed the "RAF mutiny of 1946."

Jim wrote: "My barracks were unanimous in support but I was relieved the next day when the whole camp turned out at the parade ground, but in their khakis. 

At first none of the officers showed up but then the CO came out. A small number of men were elected to speak to him on an individual basis to hear our complaints. He agreed and the outcome was us returning to work with there being the reassurance that our grievances would be taken to a higher level and also there would be no victimisation.  News of our stand spread like wildfire and within days there were strikes throughout India, Singapore and most of the Far East."

In his book, Duncan writes "These incidents, some lasting only a few hours, others up to four days, all took place within eleven days of the initial protest at Drigh Road. It was the biggest single act of mass defiance in the history of the British armed forces."

The men were encouraged to write home to their MPs, and Jim Otterson was one who did so, also signing a petition that was sent directly to British Prime Minister Clement Attlee.

"We had set the ball rolling and it had worked," Jim wrote.  "Within a few weeks I was on a boat back to England to be demobbed."

Ultimately, of 50,000 strikers, only four were court martialed, including Attwood who was charged with "incitement to mutiny."  Some served jail sentences, but after a vigorous campaign in Britain, all were released. David Duncan, in his book, asserts that none of the men at Drigh Road considered themselves guilty of mutiny, and that "a collective act of defiance" is a more appropriate term. There was never any violence, saluting of officers was strictly maintained, and protests focussed on conditions and the stalled process of demobilization. 

In his own memoir, Jim Otterson wrote: 

My memory of this part of my life was jogged when in 2003 I read a newspaper article by one David Duncan.  He had been a member of the ‘strike committee’ with Arthur Attwood who I had heard speaking at Drigh Road. He was writing a book on the subject and asking if anyone would contact him if they had been there.  We corresponded with a number of letters and phone calls and he asked if he could come up from Middlesbrough where he lived and see me.  We agreed on a day but I was surprised he didn’t turn up. A couple of days later I decided to ring his home to find out why he had not come. I rang asking for David, explaining who I was and the man answering said, “I’m sorry, my dad died two days ago with a heart attack."  I went to his funeral.

After the War - Liberty Villas

"Next morning, a collection of police, council officials and a reporter came calling. Did I realize what I was doing? No water laid on, no electricity. A real nuisance.  I remarked it wasn’t as big a nuisance as serving six years in the forces."

Jim had been not quite 20 years old when he joined the RAF early in the war, and was 26 when he was demobilized. Back in England, he had no job, nowhere to live, and a wife and two-year-old son to care for.

His wife’s parents took him into their two-bedroom colliery house. "It was very kind of them," Jim said. "My father-in-law, Bill Rowe, was a very good man, a pitman, off work permanently because of injury in the pit."  It was just as well, because Jim was told there was no room in his own parents' house. His older brother, Will, who had also recently been demobilized from the Army, was already living there. It was also a colliery house, which would be taken over by the owners when his father retired.

Jim got a job in a butcher’s shop and his wife, Irene, went out to work in a grocer’s store so he didn’t need to depend on unemployment benefit. Good jobs were not easily found, and he had no apprenticeship to offer to prospective employers. One evening, Jim came home to find a story in the local Sunderland Echo. It was headlined: "Sunderland’s First squatter.”

Jim told Irene: “I’m going to be the second.” He rode his bike over the few miles to Grindon, a village to the west of Sunderland where there was a now-closed army base, and where, according to the newspaper, Squatter No. 1 had taken residence. The place was secured by a high fence and a locked gate. The officer's mess immediately inside the gate had been occupied by the first squatter. As Jim was looking through the gate, a sturdy-looking watchman came over and asked what he was doing. Jim responded that he was "just looking." The watchman walked away without reply, but then turned and said, "I’m leaving here in 15 minutes.” That was all the encouragement Jim needed. He rode his bike home, and after discussion with Irene, he went to a garage in nearby Southwick and rented a small wagon with a driver.

In his written recollections of the time, Jim wrote:

"We picked up a little furniture and drove back up to Grindon. The driver, a lad about my age, said, 'When we get there, you open the gate and I’ll drive straight in.' We took the few pieces of furniture and deposited them in a large room attached to the officers’ mess.

"There was a piano in the room. Unexpectedly, a number of Land Army girls coming back from work would call in and have a sing song around the piano. They agreed to look after my gear while I went home to tell my wife what was happening.  I then cycled back and waited at the camp until the bubble burst. Next morning, a collection of police, council officials and a reporter came calling. Did I realize what I was doing? No water laid on, no electricity. A real nuisance. I remarked it wasn’t as big a nuisance as serving six years in the forces."

Luckily, one of the group was a man who knew Jim. He had instructed him at night classes for three years, studying food and meat inspection before the war. The man smiled and shook Jim's hand. It seems that this might have eased the situation. Jim had just closed the door when his former night class instructor came back to tell him there was an even better place, formerly used by the NAAFI manageress.

"I took his advice and moved up," Jim wrote. "The large wooden hut consisted of a large room and a store in the middle with a small kitchen and wash basin at one end. There was also a bathroom with a copper tank for the hot water. And another little room off the kitchen with a hot water stove. It was the best accommodation I’d seen in many years."

Next day, a reporter from the Sunderland Echo arrived and took a photograph of Jim with his small son. That night, the story appeared in the evening newspaper, and it seemed the ink was barely dry when "a string of people" showed up, looking to move in to the camp. Such was the desperate need for housing.

The Army declined to eject the squatters - most of them were ex-servicemen, after all, and the site wasn't being used. Arrangements were made with the local government council to pay rent for electricity and water, and so the Otterson family remained in relatively comfortable circumstances for four years, with some other families who became lasting friends. They named the place "Liberty Villas."

Occasionally, improvisation was needed. The families were always short of wood for the log fire. They had utilized some wooden posts from one part of the site, but there was a telegraph pole without wires close by their accommodation. Jim and a friend cut it down and sawed it up for use. Several weeks later a wagon pulled up and four men got out, evidently looked for it, then got back in their vehicle and drove off. Jim and his friend got a couple of shovels, dug up the stump and filled in the hole.  They heard no more about it. 

Finally, after four years, the family was given a city council-owned apartment in the Sunderland suburb of Springwell. Jim and his wife saved hard and eventually were able to make a deposit on a house in a newer estate called Seaburn Dene. It was now 1956.

Jim's brother, Tom, an accountant, had a contact at Saturn Oxygen Company, and had managed to get Jim a job in the workshop repairing and making oxyacetylene regulators and welding and cutting equipment. All that time, he rode his bike to and from Liberty Villas at Grindon. Later, he changed his job and joined Edison Swan radio and television valve making factory. The company had just moved up from the London area, and Jim was given the job of quality control.

"No one seemed to have heard of quality control in those days," Jim said, "so I had a free hand and work went quite well as I started different systems. Sadly, resistors were replacing valves and after several years the factory closed down and I moved to the Pallion factory making television tubes. I introduced quality control to that factory. However, firms like Mallards were making tubes cheaper so that was the end of that factory and once again I was out of work." Altogether, Jim had been with the firm for over 20 years.

He wasn't out of work for long, however. Circumstances were now far better than right after the war. A friend told Jim of a job at Austin and Pickersgill shipyard for a storeman. He quickly applied and was accepted. It was lower wages, but it was steady work while his son, Jim, was studying to be a pharmacist.

At the time of writing, Jim Otterson is a few weeks past his 100th birthday. He speaks affectionately of his own family - his son, Jim, a retired pharmacist, and his wife, Meg, and their own children Sarah and Simon, both of whom are teachers. Jim's three great grandchildren have maintained the family's scouting links.

A Love for Scouting

No summary of Jim Otterson's long life would be complete without including his scouting and church service.

Jim became a wolfcub in 1928 when he joined Dora’s Lighthouse troop. One theory for the odd-sounding name was that one of the large lamps hung from the Wearmouth Bridge at night to help guide masted shipping, was given this nickname, and the cub pack, which met nearby, adopted it.

Scouting was in the family. Jim's elder brother, Tom, was the scout leader of a troop connected to Williamson Terrace Methodist church and at eleven, Jim joined them. Tom Otterson later became Sunderland scout’s district commissioner.

Just 16 years old, Jim attended a scout jamboree at Raby Castle and met the man who founded scouting - Baden Powell.

After the war, when Jim and Irene bought their first house  on Seaburn Dene estate, they soon became involved with  the fledgling Seaburn Dene, 26th Sunderland group.  The couple became leading lights over the next decades in building the most successful scout group in the town. The cubs won so many trophies that some said it was "almost embarrassing."

Several of the boys' parents helped run the group, and spent many hours with the boys, walking the Cheviot Hills along the England-Scottish border, and the hills of the Lake District. Sometimes the adults undertook the hikes without the boys, simply as good friends.

There were innumerable weekend camps in Sharply Woods, an area given to Sunderland District Scout Association for the use of camping activities, where large numbers of boys learned their camping skills and cooking skills.

Sadly, Irene died of cancer in 1985 at the age of 66, and Jim was a widower for 11 years.

Jim introduced the boys to the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. This program had similarities to scouting but was more tailored to personal development. The scheme was coordinated locally by Dorothy Powell, who worked from an office next to the scout headquarters in Stockton Road.  In 1996, Jim and Dorothy married. Despite the age difference of over 30 years, the couple remained happily married.

Among the highlights of Jim's Duke of Edinburgh and scouting service were invitations to Windsor Castle to accompany some of the Venture Scouts to be presented with their Queen Scout Awards. Other Venture Scouts were invited to Buckingham Palace to be presented with their Duke of Edinburgh certificates for gaining the DoE gold award. The certificates were presented by the Duke himself in the throne room. "That was quite an experience for the lads and also for me." Jim recalled.

The scout group flourished for over 30 years. They saved up and bought their own headquarters on the council-owned field next to Seaburn Dene school.

When Jim had his  90th birthday some scouting friends arranged a special reunion in his honour. His son, also Jim,  recalls how touched he was and somewhat overwhelmed by the number of people during the evening who had a quiet word with him, saying  how important he and Irene had been to them in their lives. The older ones credited them with the start of lifelong friendships and the younger ones, by now successful business and family men themselves, acknowledged the crucial role the couple had played in their development as decent citizens, more often than not with a love of the outdoor life.

When he was closing in on his 100th birthday, and thinking of those happy and productive times, Jim wrote: "All good things come to an end. Lads grew up and left to go to university and so on. Consequently we ran short of leaders with no one to replace them. End of 26th Sunderland Scout Group."

The old hut is still there, now used by the adjacent school.

EBB23D9E-9BA0-473E-8F7A-BAA8BE355D22_1_201_a
Home of Jim and Dorothy Otterson, Fulwell, Sunderland
Photo: Michael Otterson

Above left: Jim Otterson, reading a message from the Queen, on his 100th birthday. Above right: Jim and Dorothy's Sunderland home.

Below: Reproduced from the newsletter of the Seaburn Dene New Church News, 2 Nov 2020, a week after Jim Otterson's 100th birthday.

Seaburn Dene’s Centenarian - Jim Otterson 

Revd Bruce Jarvis reports:

On 25th October James (Jim) Otterson passed the wonderful milestone of his 100th birthday. COVID-19 restrictions meant that it was not possible for any kind of party or gathering to be held, which was a shame, but yet another casualty of this pandemic. The best that could be done was for local family members and some close friends of Jim and Dorothy to go through the garage into the back garden, suitably masked and a maximum of six at a time, where we could spend a few minutes with the man himself. Jim and his wife sat in their conservatory, while visitors stood or sat outside. Fortunately, it was a dry and sunny, if breezy, October Sunday morning.

Jim, or Skip as he is widely known, has had a long association with Seaburn Dene New Church, right from its inception in 1956. Revd. Eustace and Mrs Jean Goldsack lived in a house just down the road from our present building, and they generously made their living room and garage available to the infant congregation until the community hall became available. Jim, along with his brothers, had long been involved with the Scouting movement, and when he and Irene bought their first home on the new estate in 1956, they quickly found themselves forming the 26th Sunderland (Seaburn) Scout Group, ably supported by Ted Bottomley from Keighley, who, with Marjorie, had moved to the NorthEast to work for the Shields Gazette. Ted and his brothers were also keen Scouters.

The estate was occupied by young marrieds with families, so it didn’t take long for the group to grow, and eventually to have their own Scout headquarters. Jim was in charge of the Scouts, and Irene was Akela of the Cub Pack. Eventually increasing numbers created a need for additional leaders and packs, all supported by an active parents’ group. While never formally a Church group, a close link was retained, with attendance at parade services, and assistance with fundraising activities like the Christmas Fayres.

When I arrived at Seaburn Dene New Church in 1985 I found a vibrant group of boys and leaders, and would visit them in their Scout Hut. The major festival services were a crowded affair with the boys and the girls of the Guides and Brownie groups (who held their meetings in the Church building) crammed in with the adults, many of the youngsters sitting on the floor. In the mid-70s the congregation had moved into their own premises on the edge of the estate.

Sadly, Jim’s wife, Irene, died just before Christmas that year. Recently retired, Skip continued with his scouting activities until eventually he had to retire from the leadership. He passed on the mantle, but retained his active connection with the Group. Along with his interest in and support for the Church, he also became involved in work for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, encouraging many young people to spread their wings and develop personal and practical skills. It was in this sphere that he met Dorothy Powell, who was later to become his wife, and they have enjoyed much happiness. Together they have faithfully served the congregation in various ways. Jim took over care of the Church garden, and they both served on the Council until quite recently.

So there is much to celebrate. For many people, Jim is the “perfect gentleman”. For many, many others, he is a wonderful link with their youth, establishing values and attitudes that have remained with them. We rejoice that Jim has made it to his centenary, and wish him and Dorothy happiness together in the months to come.

OTTERSON ROOTS

OTTERSON ROOTS
Relationship of James Otterson to Webmaster 
              (James Otterson is the uncle of Michael Otterson)

Nicholas Otterson (born 1783) md. Jane Middlemas  
                                    |
  Nicholas Otterson (born 1825) md. Hannah Calvert
                                    |       
       John Otterson (born 1845) md. Jane Storey
                                    | 
  Robert Otterson (born 1881) md. Lizzie Abernethy
                                    | ---------------------------------------|
Robert Otterson (b. 1911) md. Doris Dix         James Otterson                      
                                    | -----
Michael Otterson (living) - Webmaster