In March 2018 I chanced across this photo on the social media of local artist Pete McKee.
He posted it in celebration of International Women's Day, it depicts a group of Sheffield buffer girls, the Diamonds in Brown Paper as they are now dubbed, for good reason.
It was a filthy job, and very hard work, as I am sure you can imagine, the only protection from the flying polishing crud generally an overall called a buff-brat, a scarf and brown paper. The buffers were big-hearted, independent women, renowned for their bawdy behaviour, they had a fearsome reputation.
Although I had never seen that photo before, totally oblivious to its existence, I was amazed to discover that the lady to the right, in the headscarf and spectacles, is Mary Murphy, my mum's mum, my grandmother.
Mary was born in 1922, at the age of 15 she started work alongside her own grandmother, Theresa, at George Bisby & Sons, both buffers. She had only been there a couple of years when war broke out, at that time she left Bisbys and went to work at Mappin & Webb, she already had aunts who worked there, her mother did too but as Mary started, she left to look after the family, including my mother and her siblings.
John, who was to be Mary's husband, also had a brief stint at Bisbys, he worked in the forge where his Uncle Cliff was the foreman, he left though and joined the Royal Navy, whilst Mary spent her war years buffing, John served on HMS Ark Royal.
Wartime was a busy time for the buffer girls, working weeks were a minimum of 48hrs, as well as cutlery and flatware there was always a plentiful supply of parachute buckles to work on. There was money around to be earned. The flip side of that are the stories of early morning walks to work, between the buildings still ablaze following the air raids of the previous night, burning bodies in plain sight. That in mind, if during any one month period any of the buffers were 'quarted' (late for work), they would lose any and all bonus that had been accrued during that month, no exceptions and no excuses.
The lads in the US forces would write to the buffers at Mappin & Webb, thanking them for the great work that they were doing, these letters were pinned around the clocking in clock, for all the lasses to read and enjoy. On occasion US troops, stationed here and on leave, called into the buffing 'shop, taking along cigarettes and chewing gum, many a relationship was struck up as a result.
That buffing 'shop was 86 strong at this time, and full pelt, that must have been quite some sight and experience. At one point, my mother, young Mary as she was dubbed, Mary wasn't her name but that didn't matter, could go along to that works and amongst the workers there were her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, great aunts and aunts.
Even when occasionally seeing the buffers in later life, my mother was always young Mary!