Name: Sheila Checksfield
Year of birth: 1946
Place of birth: Stonehaven, Scotland
Place of residence: Kingsdown, near Deal, Kent
Occupation/s: Head Waiter for P&O Ferries
Sheila has lived in Kingsdown (near Deal in Kent) for 72 years. She moved to her current home on Kings Close in 1973.
When Sheila was born in 1946, her father was a bosun in the Royal Navy. Her mother went home to Scotland to have Sheila, they returned to Kent six months later. They were housed in Leeside on Coronation Road in Kingsdown, which is now Oldstairs Road. It was an ‘Admiralty Hiring’ – the building contained a number of flats, housing families of those in the armed forces.
‘I grew up spending every waking hour on the beach’
Sheila’s father was also a fisherman – his boat is still on the beach today. He also had a beach hut and a fish shop, near the present day Rising Sun pub. That road also had a café, a boot menders and a nursery school in the back half of Flint Cottage.
‘There were no freezers back then, so Dad would carry square blocks of ice home, on the front of his bicycle, for the ice box in the shop. It sounds terrible now, but those boxes were lead lined. We didn’t think anything of it.’
When Sheila’s daughter was aged around 14 or 15, she and her brother both had paper rounds. But one morning, in 1977 or thereabouts, they returned from the paper shop (in the same location as it is now, on Upper Street) to say that there were no papers to deliver. There had been such a storm the night before, none had been delivered to the newsagents. Sheila remembers that previous night:
‘My dad came round and asked my husband to help him tie the boat up, to the trees on the beach. After he came back, my husband slept the whole way through the storm, But I remember seeing a tree roll all the way down the road.’
‘Half the beach washed away. There was only one beach hut left standing, and that was my dad’s. It was covered in shingle.’
‘We went to see if we could help anyone in South Road. Every cellar was flooded. Their carpets were floating. It was horrible. We took them flasks of hot water. I felt so sorry for them. Awful.’
EARNING A CRUST
Sheila also remembers working as an entertainer at Kingsdown Holiday Camp. Now visitors can stay in home-from-home chalets, but in those days:
‘It was like Hi-de-Hi! They were garden sheds with sinks. They had no toilets, there was a toilet block.’
As a child, Sheila worked as a waitress in The Captain’s Table, a B&B in the village that became Kitty’s Tearooms – where Up The Road Theatre’s Artistic Director Nicola had a Saturday job many years later!
Sheila was the first female signed on as Head Waiter with P&O Ferries, working in the Silver Service restaurants across different ships. ‘I started as a stewardess for a season, then left 17 years later!’
Sheila remembers one event, a year or so after the Big Storm in the late 1980s. The weather was so rough, the ferry she was on had to lie off Dungeness as Dover Port had been closed. They had a lot of foot passengers onboard; one woman fell over and broke her leg. Sheila was sent to talk to the Captain, who said they could either beg to be let into port or get the casualty airlifted off the ship. When Sheila referred to the high winds the Captain replied, ‘Well, yes, there is that!’ Eventually, they were able to get into the port and get the paramedics onboard, without their ambulance. The ship went back to sea, much to the dread of the passengers.
‘Things were flying about all over the place. We couldn’t serve hot food as we couldn’t put the fryers on.’