MY EARLY DAYS AT POCKLINGTON
or RANDOM THOUGHTS and REFLECTIONS
by Herbert Johnson
About 100 years ago an event occurred in the form of a great fire which started in the Victorian Hall and engulfed English's Mill which adjoined it and threatened some further cottages, the town had no fire engine at that time so help was sent from York. I have read by horseback and some say was sent from the railway station. I well remember dad saying that wet sheets and blankets were hung over the windows on the houses opposite, some still cracked although some little distance away, the heat being so great. The outcome was. as many had feared, resulting in Pocklington Council acquiring the first fire engine.
Approximately 100 years previous a steeplejack who had the name of "the flying man" attempted to walk a tight rope extended from the top of the church tower and anchored in the yard of the Feathers Hotel, but unfortunately fell on the battlements of the church and was killed. A stone plaque recording that event is fixed on the church side.
In my early days in the twenties there were ten or twelve pubs in the town also two breweries both in Chapmangate. The two most popular pubs were the 'Feathers' and the 'Buck' latter now closed along with four or five others.
I was 21 the year being 1931 when I left Pocklington, so it was only characters l remember in my immediate circle and of one was old Topsy Sellers who went up every Sunday morning to my Aunt Nellies and his son Uncle Willy where she gave him a weekly sixpence which would get him a few pence on a horse and a few pence for a twist of tobacco although not a smoker he was a great one for chewing or as he called it a bit in lip. At that time most houses (except humble cottages) had a small front garden enclosed with iron railings and gates, and on his way up would close all the iron gates left open muttering and calling people for leaving their "damned gates open", incidentally it was his custom to wind the old grandfather clock which stood in their living room every Sunday night when it struck 9 o'clock. His son my uncle a very good tradesman was foreman joiner at Allison's eventually leaving and starting on his own and with his eldest son built up a very successful firm. He was a grand little fellow who would help anyone, indeed his daughter-in-law wrote a poem endorsing his character.
I owe many thanks for his help and advice in numerous ways. As an apprentice I often worked with a bricklayer by the name of Bill Spray, a man of wide experience and therefore a good craftsman, of a jovial nature and from him I learned much of all aspects of the trade. There was Bill (Ginger) Grainger a good natured farm labourer who started hauling coal with a horse and cart and with his two sons built up a reputable haulage business. He became the second oldest man in the town, exemplifying my own theory and belief that work is the best medicine of all. but was tragically killed in a road accident whilst riding in his son's expensive car. I can recall a Mr. Rippon who lived up our terrace who was the lamplighter of the town going round with a long pole with a contraption on the end. His daughter married Bill Siman a cockney man who generally got drunk on a Saturday after getting paid, but was never rowdy. And a lad somewhat older than myself gifted with a great sense of dry humour and with and a quiet chuckle which I have never known it surpassed, and to me was always interesting and entertaining.
I suppose dad could be called a character of the town, everybody knew him and being a nature lover. I remember on two occasions brought up a young thrush and blackbird both noted songsters and when coming home from work when a little distance from our house would whistle a few notes of a tune upon which the bird would answer from his cage hung outside the back door, also when mother was doing the fireplace with a small clatter of the fire irons the bird would set up an excited chatter. The gasworks as kids we viewed with certain awe and fascination with its maze of pipes and retorts etc.. where one could go in winter and get a bag of cinders for a shilling and a bucket of tar for 3d or 6d I forget, I went many times with my little barrow, (the period approx. 1921).
'OWN LIFE STORY'
(Authors Note: I have not always written these lines in sequence, as sometimes one incident triggers off memories of another which has lain dormant in the mind, so claim the readers indulgence).
I once read that every man should write his own autobiography. So hence these writings.
One of my earliest recollections is of riding on my dad's back. He had been for a walk on Sunday as was customary in those days and I was sat on his walking stick which was a knotted holly stick which, he being a painter had varnished and topped with a rounded cap. I remember seeing that same stick some scores of years later in his shed riddled with woodworm which probably brought back the little incident to my mind. The area in which we were travelling I cannot recall but the fact outstanding in my memory is that we passed some pools of water, very dark sinister and mysterious to me then, and I must have been comforted to be on my dad's back. I would have been aged about three at the most and I remember hearing mother say she took me to school when I was three. I think the starting age was five but things were not so formal in those days and cannot remember ever running back home.
Miss Tinson. the infant teacher, was a kindly soul and was a member of the Tinson building family in one of the houses facing National school. Ours was the Council school and we were proud of it. The head teacher of the infant school was a Miss Gee who lived in Richmond Terrace which was above our terrace. I remember when she retired we contributed to a present and she said a few well chosen words, among them which I still remember "Never say die. Never tell a lie. and Never put your finger in someone else's pie". The Headmaster was a Mr Lamb, a Victorian type of teacher, but good humoured. He lived at Yapham Mill, about a mile out of the town. I recall him wheeling his bike through the school gates as we held it open for him, and Tim Woods said "You've got a puncture Sir". Where, where?" he asked and Tim replied "April fool Sir", upon which he roared with laughter as did we all. and it was rather presumptuous of Tim as we held the teachers in awe at that time.
His sudden death was announced to the whole school by Mr Thomas who was much moved and could hardly speak but manfully did. but more of him later. The new headmaster was Mr Craven, who was a great man, the old school tie. play the game, be a man type with also a good sense of humour. It was the custom that the last few minutes on Friday were given to each Pupil going out and telling a joke, which we obtained from comics. Mr Craven would sit back in his chair relaxed and chuckle and laugh along with us.
Many years later I was having a drink with Arthur Warters who said dramatically "Craven transformed Pock". "Well." I replied, "he certainly transformed Council school". We had no piano at the school so he set about organising a concert for the piano fund. Most of the school took part and with endless practice and rehearsal, and much enthusiasm which he instilled in us. We all sold tickets and of course the concert was a huge success, with the hall packed. We got the piano, which I think cost £60. A small incident occurred one day while he was moving it. He got it unbalanced and it fell over on his foot with a tremendous clang. All us head boys rushed to lift it off his foot and he was in much pain: he was off for some time but came back to wish us all a merry Christmas and jocularly pointed to his bandaged foot and said "I've got my Christmas present". He was a pipe smoker and when he walked to school (never hands in pocket) he always knocked his pipe out at the school gates. He was strict, but fair, and when he smiled his whole face lit up. He was a great believer in sport and soon had football and cricket gear organised, which we paid for. not much above a penny each.
Mr Thomas as I have mentioned was 4th form teacher, an academic who was always studying. I recall at playtime he would walk round the playground engrossed in some book or pamphlet. Obviously he was destined for somewhat greater position than 4th form, and in due course was appointed Headmaster of a school at Howden I think. I like to think he was helped by the good recommendation of Mr Craven who certainly appreciated his potential. I was a good average scholar; they say I was a' rum lad, but I was definitely above average in getting the cane and one incident springs to my mind. I was sitting at desk with a lad who we called Champer Simpson who when we marched into classroom, always struck himself in the chest as if with a dagger and then slumped dramatically into the desk.
One day full of devilment I got to desk first and planted a drawing pin on his seat. He came in and performed his usual antics and dropped down to jump up with a great scream rubbing his backside and pointing to me. All the other lads and lasses laughing their heads off. knowing what Champer was. so it was the cane that day before lessons started and didn't he bring it down! After Mr Craven came he divided the school into "Houses" in which we competed with each other with sport being prominent, which I much enjoyed, and could throw a cricket ball further than anyone. In winter when snow was on the ground we had snow fights with the National school.
We went to Sunday School morning and afternoon also Band of Hope where we enjoyed a good sing, along with occasional Magic Lantern Shows. All through my life music has had a governing influence and colouring on it. How true it is to say that life is 'nothing without music' and how many times have I wept over the sheer beauty of it or to what has appealed to me or emotionally moved me. I recall one Sunday morning my elder brother Frank, who sang in a Quartet, was singing in the front room. I went out and sat on the garden path and cried, they were very good and won many prizes at music festivals, I don't think I have heard better, certainly none better balanced. Maybe the beauty of that sunny morn helped.
God was in his heaven and all was well with the world that day. My father who was a great party singer gifted with a lovely tone was called upon by both church and chapel to help on special singing occasions. He also sang in a Quartet party and both parties went out Christmas singing to certain people's homes which was traditional at that period and sometimes both parties would meet at the Jubilee Camp on Christmas Eve midnight and sing "Hail Smiling Morn", for the sheer joy of singing. Wonderful happy times - memories that can never be spent and never given away - to coin a phrase and so very true.
I digress to Sunday School, which once held a singing contest but I was always too shy to enter but on learning that we had to sing behind a curtain I entered and won it. Shortly after, a concert was given in which I sang solo and won that too. although I did not sing as well in front of an audience, my cursed shyness preventing me from giving my best or even my "normal". That episode ends on a rather disquieting note for the chapel choir had introduced ajunior section, which was made up of the sons of the upper crust of the chapel. I was not invited even though I was a better singer. It didn't seem to bother me at the time but since I have never forgot or forgiven such snobiness. One of my pals, Fred Steels, was in that section and he invited me to the choir supper and social. The most memorable thing for me was the sight of great lumps of ham on the tables at which a man at the head carved as much as you wanted, along with other delicacies. I was a good trencherman never having seen such a spread before and did it full justice. I was much impressed by a tenor singer by the name of McCartney who I heard for the first time singing "My Pretty Jane" an old English ballad which is still one of my favourites but alas not heard much nowadays.
1918 AND ONWARDS
About that period after medical exams at school it was found that my tonsils had to be done. I dreaded having to go into hospital of course, and eventually the blow fell and my mother took me on the train to York Hospital and the feeling of loneliness as she left me for the first time away from home. The next thing I remember was having to drink what appeared to be a full glass of castor oil (the worst in the world). However I manfully swallowed it and then had an enema which I didn't like at all. The next day they took me to another room and put a mask over my face which seemed to bring funny lights to my eyes. When I woke up in bed I had a dreadful sore throat. The next day we were allowed out in the hospital garden for a short while, and a girl in our ward had a desire to hold my arm and despite my protestations this little madam would insist on walking up and down arm in arm, I remember feeling very silly, the maternal instinct must have been very strong in her, or maybe it was two kindred souls having had the same operation.
As I write, little details come flooding back as if opening a memory chest and letting them out.
Of the first world war I remember very little, being only four when it started. One recollection was when my dad took me to York (that great metropolis as it seemed then) to see a tank and other guns which were on exhibition there. The thing that stands out in my memory is that amongst the crowds of people I had lost my dad, and just as I was about to burst into tears he appeared, and got hold of my hand much to my great relief and comfort. There was an army camp up the Mile in Pocklington. One sunny day during the summer holidays (the sun always seemed to shine then) one of us found sixpence, we went to the camp canteen and bought a good treat of sweets; a sixpence went a long way at that time.
We also learnt from some of our knowledgeable friends that if we raised our caps to Mrs. English she would give us a penny (English's kept Mile Farm and were "well to do"). We spotted Mrs. English coming and scrambling up the bank and stood on the pavement three or four of us, the story went round that I and another lad had no cap on so not to be outdone raised our front forelock of hair, however we all got our penny much to our satisfaction. I don't think it was done out of snobbishness by Mrs English but from kindness of heart and to encourage the young to respect their elders, and probably knowing that not one of us had a penny. None of us had any money at all.
We got our Saturday penny and were content with that and never looked or asked for anything else. Our lives were filled with healthy and simple pursuits and of course the best things in life are free. But Mrs English may have had second thoughts had she known we used to pinch her pears which grew on the front house wall. Shrubs and small trees grew from the road up to a path width from the house and consequently we found it easy to sneak through the bushes after dusk and with some whispering would make a dash across the path and help ourselves, (they were luscious pears as all pinched pears are of course).
I also remember sneaking into a soldiers' concert in the Central Hall and heard for the first time a soldier singing very sentimentally "A long, long trail of winding", a popular ballad of the first war.
My Aunt Betsy who still lived at Grandma's, worked at Kilnwick Percy Hall and on dark nights, sometimes accompanied by Horace Sellers we went to meet her and a friend when they came home. One dark and dreary night we had with us a soldier friend of one of the girls. The soldier said "it's alright I have a revolver" and I felt safe and reassured but afterwards Horace said he was not so sure, as he was a complete stranger to us. I remember Aunt Betsy bringing home a recipe from the head cook for a Christmas cake. The recipe went the rounds of all the family, and indeed my wife used it and so our Christmas cake was just the same as the one adorning the 'gentry's' table. There was a vast class distinction between the 'landed gentry' and the workers in those days. Happily that has now gone. "Art thou rich yet is thy mind perplexed, Art thou poor yet has thou golden slumbers".
My Granddad was a cooper by trade. It was a good trade in those days, when a large proportion of goods came in wooden barrels as well as beer. He had a fall from a gantry at a brewery which left him blind. Originally from Selby with a fine voice and love of music, he sang in the Abbey choir in his young days and loved nothing better than to go to church when they were giving an oratorio such as the Messiah. He had a concertina which he played well, and often in the summer holidays would take a stool and sit against the wall in Kirkland Street, out of the hot sun and generally surrounded by children singing their songs and hymns of which he seemed to have an inexhaustible supply.
My brother Frank was a member of the town band, he and some of his colleagues would congregate at my grandma's, even the big drum! My grandma would clear them out, and sometimes two or three of us would create mischief, for devilment. Granddad would stand it so long then suddenly rise in his chair seize his stick and roar in a terrible voice what he would do to us as we dashed out. My Grandma was a little woman who was never known to be poorly, I have heard Aunt Betsy say she had no patience or sympathy for anybody if they felt off colour, but she had a heart of gold and would help anybody in trouble. She brought many children into the world and laid many people out for departing. They only had to ask for Granny Brown. I can see her now reading the evening paper to Granddad and sometimes when she came to a big word, she used to spell it out so Granddad could tell her how to say it.
To me they were "salt of the earth", and always seemed to have a lodger which was usual in those days when money was short. I well remember Smithy (as she called him) when he was getting washed in the back kitchen always sang "My Little Grey Home in the West". I have often thought what great pleasure Granddad would have got as he sat in his chair had there been wireless then. After he died it was decided by the family that my cousin Alec and I should sleep there as Grandma was on her own. We were both apprentices by then and she always had us up long before our time, a large fire burning on cold winter mornings in front of which we had our breakfasts.
An honest and true soul, she was my mother's mother, who was the same. The field facing the front of our terrace was known as the "Croft", was our games field. I think the Council must have owned it as we seemed to claim it and enjoyed many a good game of cricket in the summer, football and rugby in the winter although not always with a proper ball. I suppose needs made us more enterprising then for we would often go to J. Wilson's slaughterhouse, to beg a pig's bladder which we would blow up with our mouths and I well remember the fat round it! Earlier on there was a hedge round the croft with barbed wire as I remember cutting my mouth on it one night running away after playing a prank on H. Burk's doors. The scar is still there giving my mouth a somewhat downward expression. The front doors of our houses were close together and at odd times after dark we would tie two knobs loosely together and then knock on each door. The real idea was for one of the occupants to get their head round the edge of the door and then the other to yank theirs open although I can't recall ever witnessing that. In time the hedge disappeared and everybody used it as a short cut. The Croft which had played such an enjoyable part of those days was eventually built on. As an apprentice, I worked on the houses being built there.
In those early days I can only recall one motor car which was owned by Major Stewart who lived at Burnby Hall and created the lily ponds which became internationally known. I also remember an aeroplane coming down in a field up the Mile and of course we all had to run and see it. They were biplanes in those days with lots of wire and pleasant smells; they say the pilot was courting a girl of the town. About that time we had air raids, of which the people were forewarned by the gas going dim. and I remember us getting under the stairs when a bomb dropped, the house shaking and windows rattling. It came from a Zeppelin which dad said was like a "cigar in the sky". Usladswentto see the crater which was at Barmby Moor, it would be shortly after that when the war ended. I remember the church bells ringing out. as I stood near Steels butcher shop, and Guy Steels said peace was declared. The celebrations are all lost in the mists of time.
AGED 9 AND GROWING
When I was nine I got my first job which was to go errands for Mrs Frieke a dentist's wife, and one incident which stands out was when she asked me to fetch answers from Forth's paper shop. Not knowing what she meant. I was a bit panicky thinking what a fool I should feel in the shop asking for answers, I ran round home to ask my mother who told me it was a weekly magazine! I received sixpence a week and how proud I was to give my mother my wages. My father had a failing for drink which often kept mother short but nevertheless he had his own code of what was right and wrong. He was a worker and always doing odd jobs at night and was well respected in the town. My mother was my rock, my all. Nobody was quite like my mother. I always managed to save my coppers to buy her a present for Christmas and would spot something in the shops weeks before. She kept us decently clothed, going out and doing a hard day's washing and have heard my Aunt say earning only about a shilling and sixpence and spending it before she got home.
She was easily satisfied and a quarter of liquorice all sorts on a Saturday night and she was quite happy. I can picture her now ironing on the kitchen table at night singing such songs as "Holy City", "Lost Chord" and other old ballads. My Aunt Nellie who lived further down the terrace was more comfortably off but my mother was far richer in love and affection. I remember someone saying that a certain bairn was 'bonny'. My Mother replied "All bairns are bonny", but I could go on and on about my mother. "If I was hanged on the highest hill I know whose heart would follow me still Mother o' mine".
Sunday School was an important part of my life. After leaving Sunday School it was our custom to go for a walk, my brother Roy and one or two more. I had a sailor suit on one time and somehow got the collar dirty I decided to wash it in a wayside stream, which didn't make it better, needless to say. The result was a good hiding with father's belt of which I always seemed to get plenty more than the others, but I cannot remember feeling any resentment and soon forgot it.
I remember playing cricket in the backyard one day Roy was batting and I was balling, when crash the ball went through the window it seemed almost a tragedy at that time, mother saying "you'll catch it when your dad comes home", which I did off came his belt and I got the full treatment. Later on I became a reader and a lover of the written word, and would read anything even mother's weekly magazine, and it is still one of the remaining pleasures of my life. Syd Waters a nice and happy lad who also was a reader and a close mate would pass on to me adventure magazines (which his elder brother took), generally on a winter's day after Sunday School we would dash home to the warm kitchen happily for a good read.
Sometimes we would persuade mother to make some home made toffee and again we were happy. Another Sunday afternoon pastime was to go for a walk usually up Kilnwick road to have a look at the fishpond as we called it in the grounds of the mansion. On one occasion it was frozen over so I gently stepped onto it. Syd did the same and eventually reached the other side. I can't remember if we came back the same way or walked round. Our other mates called us for being daft. I suppose it was a bit of a dare. When this escapade came to Dad's ears I recall him saying "it's great wonder that you didn't end up in a watery grave". I don't think I got a hiding that time.
At Sunday School after assembly the older boys went into a smaller room for the lesson, a man named Mr. Cattle took us. This day. knowing he was interested in archaeology I asked him innocently if he had read of the discovery of Tutenkamun's tomb in Egypt which was being excavated at that time. The other lads quickly seeing my trend started asking him questions which launched him off into his favourite hobby, forgetting all about the religious theme until sometime later looked at his watch and said "Dear me it is time we were joining the others." I'm afraid we used to plague him at times until one Sunday he got so agitated that he picked up the poker and threatened us.
I don't think he came any more after that. We had to go upstairs in the old schoolroom and one Sunday, when leaving and rushing down the stairs, a teacher by the name of Mr Shipley nicknamed 'Hooky' because he had only one arm, the other being wooden with a hook at the end, had his bowler on and was just in front of me. Alec Sellers behind me leant over my shoulder and tipped "Hooky's" bowler off. he tnen promptly turned round and fetched me a swipe across the face. Shortly after that I was asked not to come to Sunday School any more. I suppose I received the "treatment" at home.
The highlight of Sunday School days was the annual trip to Bridlington by train. We used to save up for weeks before, collecting bottles, old rags. We enjoyed every minute of that day. they say the town was virtually empty.
I well remember my youngest brother coming on the scene. That morning mother said she wasn't feeling well, which I thought in my young mind was strange for her, but when we came home from school granny was there and said "you've got a little brother". When we were washed and ready for bed she said "Go and see your mother, and she will show you him". I can recall it clearly now as if it was yesterday, standing at the bedside and she showed him to us and we had to kiss him. I was aged ten at the time and as he grew a little older he always demanded to be with us in his baby way. He was a jolly, good natured bairn and we spoiled him, taking him everywhere. He had a push chair which I pushed from the front racing on the footpaths going errands and so forth. All my mates knew him and fussed him.
One day us lads decided to go to Feappy common brambling - quite an adventure as it was a fair distance and would be best part of a day's job we wanted to take Peter with us. and indeed he would not like to see us go without him. Eventually mother relented and let him go with us. He must have been fairly young as mother gave me some milk in a bottle to feed him as we had sandwiches, (it was just a little incident that flashed on that inward eye), they were great days looking back, halcyon days.
Dad had made me a barrow, a box on wheels more or less, in which I used to gather horse droppings in the Streets at that time (there were no motor cars just horses). At that time there was a coal strike, and as they were felling trees in Pocklington Wood the people were allowed to collect the branches (they seemed to be all fir trees), I went every night after school, developing a method in my own little way. short pieces in the bottom, four longer branches at each corner, the short pieces holding them in place with longer branches and a bag of chippings to top it off. A man watching me one day remarked "You've got the right idea lad". It was hard work pushing it up the muddy track onto the road, but I was healthy and full of energy. Mother was never short of fuel during that period. The kitchen fire was the focal point and nearly all things were cooked on that and in the side oven.
Mother bathed Peter every night in front of it; there was an old Uncle of Dad's who had retired and lived with my Aunt Ada who delighted to come and watch him laughing and splashing in the little tin bath, and used to say "My word Annie what a fine boy he is". I think he got as much enjoyment as our Peter. We lived at number twelve then and Mrs. Wilson who lived next door was another who enthused about him and persuaded mother to enter him in a baby contest in which he came second or third I forget which. This made mother feel very proud. He was destined along with Roy to more than leave his mark on the playing fields chiefly in that oldest of all English games, cricket.
Chapel Hill was a focal point for both young and old alike, a wonderful adventure ground in the summer holidays. From the top you had a wonderful panoramic view across the Vale of York and far horizons and daydreams. The reservoir which was covered with corrugated sheets, was situated about halfway, in a clump of trees. One year, reaching up from the cover. I got some wild plums or bullaces. In winter with snow on the ground we got a good lengthy sleigh run which we covered in a short time as we travelled pretty quickly on the packed snow and ice. I recall a man and his young wife watching us when one lad ran into them, and the lady laid on the snow showing her fancy garters. We had great times on frosty moonlit nights when the "moon had raised her lamp above" and would go home with glowing faces and sleep like a top. It is a sad reflection to see it now, when in days of yore it was such an enchanting place. The Grammar school also had a strange fascination for me reminding me of the schoolboy classic "Tom Brown"s Schooldays". The prefects when walking in the town sported walking sticks and seemed young gentlemen.
I wonder if they still wear boaters in the summer? I think the school was held in pretty good esteem. Pocklington had its own cadet section with its drum and bugle band, Fred Hall, an old labourer, used to remark on hearing them in the distance "Stegg Bands out". I don't know were that description came from, another recollection that flashed on my inward eye pertaining to the school was the song "Absence" which Guy Steele often sang whilst working and who claimed the song was composed by the school's music master there by the name of Metcalf. It is a grand old song of an appealing nature but seldom heard now. which brings to mind another song of a nautical flavour. "Tom Bowling" and of times during singing lessons at our school (a popular lesson for all) when the teacher would ask Arthur Warters to sing it.
Arthur had a clear and resonant voice and I cherish the memory of the high notes when poor "Tom had gone aloft" which ended the song. That reminded me of another song or hymn named "Yes Jesus loves me" at Sunday School. In our class was a lad who attended grammar school and we asked him what the words were in French, and when he started to sing it one or two of us started to bawl it out in French. However, back to Arthur who incidentally left school at the same time as I did; we were apprentices together, he and others used to bite their finger nails I mention this not to be derogatory but merely to explain that I noticed finger nails and could tell who was who just by looking at their finger nails (which I still can) a quirk of my nature I suppose.
Reading seemed to play an important part in people's lives at that time and most of the teachers could quote from the classics. Remember there was no wireless and no social distractions in the home except those lucky enough to own a gramophone. I can recall Mr. Craven regaling us with Shakespeare's "Henry V before Agincourt"; when quoting Burns he put on the accent. A great devotee of Dickens with great enthusiasm it was said it was his custom at Christmas for him to read "Tale of two Cities" and would relate to us how great that character Carton was, although a reprobate and drunkard who laid down his life for his friend, who was the husband of the woman he loved and quoted on the steps of the guillotine "It is a far better thing I do than I have ever done: It is a far far better rest I go to than I have ever known". Another teacher, Mr. Pratt, used to read Dickens "Christmas Carols".
He also had a pleasant voice and would often sing at Sunday night concerts. He was an accomplished pianist often playing at the cinema, I recall him singing "The Volga Boatman" during a silent Russian film. One day he was taking the top class and somehow got talking of love and the beauty of it in a romantic style, I think he had started courting a local girl and must have been very much in love. I don't know what Mr. Craven would have said if he had come in! About that time Mr. Craven went on holiday to Germany which was the fashion then among the intellectuals and Mrs. Craven who had been a teacher took the class. She wrote mine and another lad's name on the blackboard for future reference on Mr. Craven's return but I can't recall the outcome.
By that time, our growing older under the guidance and influence of such teachers, we became gradually aware of the feeling of the beauty of music, books, poetry and a host of other things. An illustration of this awareness brings to mind one morning in April or May in a field on Garth End, the sky very blue and clear and there high up was a lark singing his song of praise to the day, the whole world made more beautiful by that small handful of birdlife "The snails on the thorn, The larks on the wing, God's in his heaven. All's well with the world", wrote Browning and so perhaps it was such a morning, when "April airs were abroad"-. To me there was a feeling in the air which I was unable to describe, but I console myself that my feelings are just as strong as those gifted people who can write and describe those same feelings and awareness. But on to the morning we found a bird's nest and one of my mates Norman Barnes said the eggs are good for you so we blew them and he seemed to enjoy it but I recall it took some swallowing!
WALKING IN AND AROUND POCKLINGTON
Around Pocklington were some lovely walks and was always good and entertaining to roam around. The purple colouring of Pocklington wood on the hillside contrasts with the rich colour of the golden fields of corn. I recall walking round the Barmby Moor area one Sunday evening and as it was very hot someone suggested having a dip in a Marl hole a large round pool. I seem to think some lasses were with us (can't remember who) and we all stripped off and jumped in the water, had a good swim and frolic and then ran around to get dry It was that kind of evening of magic.
Another little incident just surfaced from the vaults of the mind as I was in our backyard and ripe for mischief and looking up thought I could climb out of the back bedroom window and drop onto the roof of the back kitchen as nobody was in no sooner thought than done, it was not without hazard and never knowing of it been done before, but I was always climbing and would not be very old then.
In my young days I recall the HurdyGurdy organ which was on two wheels pushed by the mysterious characters (which I viewed with apprehension) from town to town and the scissors and knife sharpener complete with his contraption with only one wheel which he used for the dual purpose of transportation as well as the motive power for turning the emery wheel, with a leather strap attached with the contrivance turned on end of course. I used to think it very ingenious and still wonder how those travellers or tinkers made a living, but their wants would be simple and they seemed quite content if they had a full belly at the end of the day, a simple philosophy of life. In summertime we had iron hoops or "boolers" as we called them.
I recall one of us lads hadn't one so one day decided to go to a iron foundry which was owned by a man called Danny Richardson. Knowing him to be kind hearted made us bold we asked if he would make one for us. He went to one of the forges and being a blacksmith himself made it. The girls had wooden hoops. The shop in Kirkland Street was our "goody shop" kept by Mrs Burkes where we could obtain halfpenny gob stoppers.
At threshing time in Meynell's yard and us lads were there catching the mice and when the machine was slowing down for lunch , I had to put my hand on a chain of course which when it stopped, trapped my hand in a cog wheel and Harry Burkes shouting out an old fashioned phrase "Damn your picture" with the engine man rushing to turn the machine to release my finger which is still bent today. My father also had some old fashioned sayings. If we had been in any trouble he would say "You young hang gallows" stemming I suppose from the days of the gallows. Another was "You'll get me transported".
Another incident pertaining to Dad. one night my mate and I decided to have a smoke of my Dad's pipe so we scraped all the dregs and residue out of his five or six pipes into one and went into the shed with a candle and matches and indulged in a good puff. When we heard footsteps we blew out the candle and Pag 10 immediately funny lights appeared before our eyes and we felt dizzy. When the footsteps died away we went outside and were sick. That residue was certainly strong stuff.
But "Tempis Fugis" and in the fullness of time I became an errand boy at Layfields greengrocers and gardeners, continuing for a short time after I left school before I went to be an apprentice bricklayer. It was there that I fell in love for the first time. I suppose she went to the National School and left at the same time as I did. She was graceful and lovely and as Shakespeare tells us "Beauty dwells with kindness" as it did indeed with her, I with my cursed shyness could only worship her from afar. One of my jobs was to take a wheelbarrow to a blacksmith close to the gardens to collect the horse droppings and hoof cuttings when they shod horses. The blacksmith badly wanted me to be an apprentice and remember him saying "I'll make a man of you". I was sorely tempted but my mind was set on being a bricklayer, which I have not regretted.
A short time later I was asked to join the town band which I took to "like a duck to water". It helped open out my musical leanings. I was given a cornet and the fingering to play an octave and told to come back when I could do that. Jim Wilson was the leader not a man of great musical talent but of good organising ability. Had I had the proper tuition and grounding I may have become a more successful cornet player than I became later on.
LOOKING BACK WITH NOSTALGIA
When writing your autobiography one assumes it to be read by the family and friends and not published. Looking back one is filled with nostalgia (what a wonderful word that is and all it conveys) this is only natural because one is looking back on younger days "memories of the past come stealing" and many treasured. I mentioned earlier that I joined the town band, but more of that anon.
1924 AND ONWARDS
I started my apprenticeship at Allisons and taking more interest in all in life, and in particular my trade, with a healthy thirst for knowledge, the feeling of which I was unaware at that time. There were a number of apprentices at the firm in different trades and as lads got up to all kinds of tricks and pranks when we could as the bosses were pretty strict then. I remember once we altered a chemist's shop and found some bottles of wine in the cellar and planted them out of sight and went back after tea with some more pals and had a good drink in the dark. One of the lads seemed to get tipsy, so we got hold of him and walked him home. Their front door opened onto the street, we opened it and bundled him in and ran for it. I don't recall anything afterwards. Another incident occurred on the same job; the cellar ran under the adjoining draper's shop which had a few cracks in the floor which were stuffed with paper. Gradually we removed the paper and when the lasses were standing nearby got a good eyeful. They soon reacted to the situation and covered the holes with a mat and that was that.
The firm did a fair amount of work out of town and I recall lodging at a cottage at Holme. I think it was with a labourer and the bed we had consisted of some kind of straw chaff the inhabitants of which became pretty lively when they got warmed up. It was our habit when getting washed at the stone sink in the back kitchen to burst into song. Percy the labourer would strike up with "Pilgrims of the Night" and the landlady would shout through "I like the good old hymns the best", and we would laugh and murmur "Little does she know which pilgrims we are referring to".
Shortly after that episode we were working at Bridlington. When we went out at night Percy would go for a drink and for the rest of the week he would be broke. When he came in he would be rather garrulous and started telling the landlady about the "Pilgrims of the night" at Holme and went on to say very seriously that he would be mixing some skimming plaster in a bucket and felt something on his leg. Upon lifting his trouser the pilgrim leapt out and knocked the bucket over then roar with drunken laughter. He was entertaining when he had a drink and could tell a tale well.
There were some real characters on the firm who encouraged my universal interest in everything and in general everybody around me. There were some good crafstmen amongst them: Bill Spray being about the best, was my hero in my growing up years. One of the important and significant happenings to me was the advent of the public library, opening for me the world of books and the written word and still the second greatest pleasure this world has to offer, the first being the love of music. I cannot claim a great knowledge of music but do claim a great feeling for it. Examples which spring to mind are the great harmonious balanced singing of the Glasgow Orpheous choir and the lyrical and melodic beauty of arias from Puccini's Operas and others.
The majesty and beauty of the tonal colour of the symphony orchestra, and organ-like tone of the brass band, male voice choir, and so many, many others all have their own fascination and appeal, some of which pulls at the heartstrings. My love of music came from my father who loved singing in harmony, and to him I am eternally grateful, and also my grandfather Brown who was the possessor of a fine tenor voice.
Most songs and music in general are associated with some happening or person but the most magical moments have been when everything else has been in harmony and "just right". Whatever it is then it does enhance that particular music, feeling and awareness which is heaven sent and a picture flashes on that inward eye and my heart with pleasure fills again, but I lack that flame of inspiration to express. "There's music in the sighing of a reel, there's music in the gushing of a mill stream, there's music in all things, if only men had ears".
I once heard of a pianist to whom the beauty of four or five notes in the Idiighetto movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony had such an influence in making his decision to become a concert pianist. I have also experienced the same magic and have no doubt whatsoever I could quote that same entrancing passage.
In my early apprentice days I never had anything in my pocket, not that I was unduly bothered and I never knew anything different except maybe the fact that I was growing older. I invariably helped Dad as he was always doing jobs at night, both of us having a natural capacity for work and as work is the very salt of life, giving it tone and flavour, mine was satisfyingly full. However after two or three years at the trade I started doing small jobs on my own initially through Dad. and from that time was never short of a bob.
BROTHER ROY'S WIRELESS, WAS FOR SHARING
About that time my brother Roy had started work and was given a small wireless set and a pair of earphones so we split the earphones so that two could share the enjoyment. As in the case of the library, the wireless opened to me the world of music. The reader must remember there was no music in Pocklington apart from the band and the odd Sunday night concert and of course the chapel. At Market Weighton, I recall hearing and playing for the first time a "Serenato" by Toselli a small melodic number which still gives me pleasure to hear. I also went to my first conceit with them at Hessle. the place I was to make my home in the coming years. Life is composed of such incidents.
I remember one occasion with Pocklington band in the market square when the number we were to play wasn't made quite clear, the result being the cornets striking up with one piece and the rest of the band with another with 12 much laughter amongst us youngsters; that brings to mind another fiasco which occurred with another band years later; in this case we had two small books in which the national anthem was in different keys. When the conductor rapped on his stand for the King the result was some playing in G and some in B flat. I leave to the imagination the discordant sounds emanating and was glad to sneak away for a good laugh. Another amusing incident told to me by an old friend who played in one of the army bands which was playing at a big industrial exhibition. In one of the concertswas a number named "Mill in the date" a disciple overture in which the birds singing comes in. The percussionist had forgotten to fill his bird warbler and knew he would be on a charge next morning, so being a resourceful type squatted down behind his drums etc.. plants and ferns adorning the huge stage, and urinated into the warbler and thought all was well until when it came to his cue.
He certainly got the bird song but streams of bubbles as well, much to the relish of his fellow bandsmen and afterwards when he came into the bandroom his mates used to strike up with "I'm forever blowing bubbles". In my younger days in the band I remember playing at Seaton Ross Show I think it was where they brought out a pint of beer for each member of the band, I still remember that pint seemed like a bucket and tasted horrible! As I grew older I became more proficient in my instrument. I was helping Weighton band at an engagement and a little incident occurred when we were playing an operatic selection. One of the movements was marked in cut common tempo which I as top man played it as such, it was rather tricky and they had been accustomed to playing it four in a bar or common time but I was unaware of that and played it twice as quick.
Around about that period my friends and I formed a sports club. In the small field close by which my uncle had bought and eventually built on was an old dilapidated stable which he said we could have if we cared to do it up and as three or four of us apprentices were in the building trade we soon had it completed. We spent all our nights winter and summer in boxing and jitsu and all other forms of healthy activities we had joined the "Health and Strength league" and went to all the contests at York and elsewhere. I continued with that interesting and absorbing period right up to my leaving Pocklington and was very healthy and fit. It seems to me in hindsight that the building of that good health I have carried throughout my days coupled with a natural tendency for a moderation in all things. Although I had a certain capacity for work I have also had an interest for other things: the beauty of anything or everything has a great appeal to me although I can't see any beauty in a pile of brick rubbish or pieces of twisted wire that students and idealists can, I can only add "good luck to them", while bearing in mind the old adage that "beauty lies in the eye of the beholder".
As I continued my youthful and apprentice days I recall falling through the first floor joists but was unhurt, at a job in Barmby Moor. I also fell at Stamford Bridge when a lintel gave way; that could have been serious as tons of brick work fell with me, but again I was luckily unhurt. I remember I had my eye on a girl in the village who was lovely in form and feature but I was too shy to pursue her, which brings to mind another incident about a girl called Phyllis Johnson who had gone to our school. I was working at her parents' house with a bricklayer by the name of Harry Steels, and when we were leaving at night it being Christmas Eve.
A NEW EXPERIENCE
Phyllis gave me such a look with eyes that I can only describe as "come to bed eyes" as they say I had never experienced anything like it before or since. Harry who observed what passed said "by gum you'll be alright tonight". At night however I had forgotten her and was absorbed with the band or something or was not interested. One Saturday I can't remember where we were working but we called in the gravel pit yard at Barmby. There was a huge heap of second rate cinders and Alf. the boss said "If any of you fancy riddling some you are welcome". Me being a young apprentice thought that applied to me so after dinner
I got the wheelbarrow and went to Barmby and riddled three sackfulls and set off back about one and a half miles but found it hard going. Dad who had set off to meet me asked some women who had previously passed me and they told him I was about exhausted. When he saw me he soon realised what the trouble was. I had loaded with too much weight on my hands, so when he adjusted the sacks with the weight over the wheel it was comparatively easy; a lesson learnt the hard way but never forgotten. Alec my cousin and friend had been to his aunts in Hull and brought some sneezing powder back and on going to the cinema we blew it in the air and set all around sneezing.
I remember an occasion when Bill Wilson was sitting in front of us and must have got the full treatment and could hardly puff his pipe for sneezing, muttering to his wife "it's them damn lads at the back", all good fun! it was the custom then to go for walks on Sunday winter and summer; my two friends and I generally walked on the Kilnwick road, the most picturesque of all the roads around Pocklington and one winter's day as we dropped down the hill into Warter Priory gates we saw a sight which was unbelievable. The trees, which in summer formed a vast canopy over the road were now encased with a light covering of snow which had frozen on the branches. Every little twig was picked out daintily with the white mantle lending a scene of fairyland, a freak combination of nature which gave a picture of sheer magic I have seen in woodlands in winter but never the like of that which is still vivid in my mind.
Another humorous incident happened one Sunday as we walked along. A man called Jack Hill was riding his bike slowly along, contentedly puffing his pipe, when he and another farm lad. a bit dimwitted I think, coming down into Pocklington. converged at a corner. Instead of one going one way and one the other, they both kept going in the same direction and came off on the opposite sides of the road. It was like something out of "Comic Cuts". "The silly B............." remarked Jack as he picked up his pipe". I still have a good laugh as I recall this picture after all those years. We would walk for miles shrugging off the weather almost contemptuously, but such is youth. Surmounting Kilnwick Hill we would pass a well built spacious villa known as "Coffee Tommys", as he was involved with the Band of Hope temperance class and where we went for our Summer treat playing cricket and other games and a good sumptuous tea; opposite his house I recall was one of those iron railinged pinfold in which they put stray cattle in the old days.
Some years later I was to tread these same ways accompanied by a young lady who later became my wife and we would pick the almost hidden violets with their lovely colouring and so sweet a fragrance, and they became our flower. For years after I always tried to obtain some of the sweetest of all flowers, with which I always associate her. On the aspects of nature, a day out years later with one of the family in the Dales country , the most lovely and fascinating part of Yorkshire, brings to mind one of God's good days, we had pulled up somewhere, people were strolling about in the cool of the evening there was stretch of water and two old men sat on a bank gazing across the lake at the sunset beyond - countrymen undoubtedly with their rugged faces and knotted sticks.
As I stood and looked at the beautiful setting with the greenery all around I could not help noticing the two old boys sitting there, not talking just looking and drinking in the scene before their eyes. A fleeting feeling of envy ran across my mind: what could they see that I could not? It reminding me of Wordsworth's poem as he gazed at the show of daffodils, but little thought of thejoy it had brought for often when he laid on his couch, the scene would flash on his inner eye filling his heart with pleasure again. My father would sometimes gaze up at the sky on a calm and peaceful moonlit night puffing his pipe, and come in singing a few strains of "Lovely Night Oh Lovely Night" an old Victorian song. I am glad that he had eyes for that kind of thing and was in his way a romantic, as my brother Roy would observe. Which brings me to another picture of a day at Millington Springs as we sat in the hot sun two young men (possibly students) nearby started to sing in part harmony that lovely country song of "Linden Lea" the beauty of the day and the beauty of the surrounding countryside probably prompted them to burst into song. I shall never know but whenever I hear that song that incident of so long ago flashes on the inner eye. God was in his heaven and all was well with the world that day. (The reader will note that I only write of the good which lives longer in the memory thankfully).
In my early apprentice days, around about Christmas time I met up with some lads from down street and as none of us had anything and for want of something to do someone suggested going to a village and playing carols. No sooner said than acted on and getting our bikes went to Bishop Wilton and played round the village I think we even got some mince pies at one place and also had something in our pockets sharing with those who couldn't play.
Such was the enterprise of youth in those days to help themselves. As time went on Roy said if he added another valve to the wireless we could have a loudspeaker so we prevailed upon Dad to finance it. We all clubbed up as best we could I think mother giving the lion's share. However we got it with mutual pleasure all round. As time went on musically one or two with zeal went to help Market Weighton band and I recall missing the bus and setting off to walk, no mean task really.
Such setbacks were taken in our stride. The point about that visit was that one of the members had won a goose, and not being married wanted money more than the goose. He raffled it among us a shilling a time. I won it. and remember the pleasure I derived from it as I handed it to mother. It always gave me pleasure to give or do things for my mother, later on I was to treat her to Blackpool for a week with her brother and his wife. I thought nothing of it, but others did. much to my embarrassment at times. She was never known to turn anyone away from her door. Gypsies and tramps alike often buying pegs when she did not need them. Her philosophy and faith being held she would never want herself, and happily she never did.
Pocklington station was a very busy thoroughfare with passengers, goods, coal and timber yards and memories of the steam trains with their warm smells. I recollect once as apprentices we had to unload a truck load of plaster laths, hundreds of bundles. The driver of the lorry was a young tearaway named Terry We wanted the lorry moving on a bit, so I said "I'll move it". He told me what to do so I got in and set off with a great roar of the engine.
Fortunately the handbrake was on or the result could have been severe! Another incident with Terry was when I and another apprentice were clearing a site with a handcart, at Barmby road I think when Terry came past and said "I'm going to yard and I'll pull it for you", so we sat at back with the shaft of the laden handcart and of course Terry putting on speed together with the bumps in the road, paint, kettles, buckets etc went flying and scattering all over the road. Terry laughed his head off in the cab, but it was all good fun. The other apprentice with me. a grand lad called Lou Waudby was very humorous with a hearty laugh which was most infectious and set all around laughing when telling a humorous incident.
On completing our apprenticeship we went our various ways and later met up again, to became lifelong friends, a man with his heart in the right place, as the saying goes. Which all epitomises the reality of life with all uncertainties and reveals an amazing diversity of human affairs.
TRAIN OF THOUGHT
Loosening another train of thought when I look back. I cannot but offer my sincere thanks to the high Gods for the gift of existence. I am reminded of Winston Churchill "Religion of Healthy Mindedness" to live an honourable life as best you can. do your duty and be faithful to friends and not unkind to the weak and poor. It did not matter much what you believed or disbelieved and it was not necessary to go habitually or ritually to Church. He also wrote of the questionable procedure of teachers and professors who try to stuff into scholars and students subjects in which they have no interest, and can see no use for. Indeed Churchill with his aggressive nature challenged in his youth as to what use it is, and was told he would be punished for his impertinence, later formed an alliance with a fellow student who was clever at Latin translations but weak with English which one of Churchill's better subjects which in later years was shown so vividly in his famous wartime speeches. But the relevant point in all this is the fact that I too have had that selfsame experience, and the subjects that have held no interest for me have been no practical use throughout my life and am. like Churchill quite content to leave it to these clever people. Churchill himself readily admits to his shortcomings and only scraped into Sandhurst at his third attempt after a grammar course, but in the fullness of time was to emerge as one of the greatest figures in English history.
It was reading Churchill that opened out these thoughts to my mind. Where have all our virtues gone, such as an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. and to be able to see and much more accept the other mans point of view, for it could be better than one's own. I once read that this once great nation was wordily acclaimed for its lofty ideals and human decency; now alas, with its corruption and human greed and envy, one can only hope that some great person or happening can lift it to its former glory. The world is now becoming overstuffed with hundreds of means of annihilating time and distance. "So many Gods, so many creeds, so many paths that wind and wind, while just the art of being kind is all the sad world needs".
THE END OF MY APPRENTICESHIP
When I was coming to the end of my apprenticeship days. I mentioned the fact to Alf (one of the bosses) who said "The quality of your work is good but I would like a bit more quantity". That was a left handed compliment to my mind as quality is the important factor, and it is true to say that aim has stood me in good stead throughout my working life. But my ways weren't Allison's ways and when coming out of my time they did not offer full money which I considered an insult. I don't remember if that was their system to all apprentices, but it was one which I was determined not to accept. Up a little late one morning the following week I claimed it as an excuse and got changed and went on the 'bus to York and got a job and lodgings too. quite prepared and eager to seek pastures new. and the challenge of life.
GLOVES ON WITH PALS
I palled up with a young fellow about the same age who was a boxer. He came over to Pocklington one Sunday and we all had the gloves on with him. and needless to say he gave us all a good trouncing. Shortly after Aunt Nellie said I was a bit of a loss to mother financially, so I went back home and travelled to York daily. It meant being up early but mother always got up to get my breakfast ready. The job itself was a large housing estate employing about 50 bricklayers, and although I was a bit green and made little mistakes as all young inexperienced bricklayers do. the foreman, although a hard man was very fair with me and helped a lot. probably more than he himself realised.
Although he was much occupied with such a large project with little time for personnel. I Pag 16 can only assume he had taken a liking to "that lad from Pock". When eventually the job was coming to a close and the first sackings came I was not amongst them much to my surprise. I had evidently worked to his satisfaction which gave me more confidence in both my work and self.
About that time I read one or two books by P. C. Wren concerning the French Foreign Legion which at that time was the toughest and most efficient military unit in the world, which so fired my imagination that I toyed with the idea of joining. I was too busy working and keeping fit and so that became just another dream.
One of the bricklayers who came from Selby or somewhere and travelled daily asked a labourer if he would get him some music at night and hummed the tune which was popular at that time, one of the serenades I think. When he came next morning, much perturbed, he demanded never to be sent on a fool's errand again and went on to say when he asked for Serenade, they wanted to know which one!
Of course he had no knowledge and was asked to sing it. and declared what a complete fool he felt standing in the shop singing the tune and was glad to get out of the shop! The picture of him standing in the shop singing so tickled my sense of humour I had a good laugh, which he solemnly remarked was no laughing matter, upon which I found it more so. Eventually the job finished. At that time it was 2 hours notice for both man and boss. I worked for one or two firms including a country firm for a short time and was then out of work for a week or so. the only time in my life as it happens. Work was very precarious, mainly due to the nature of the trade governed by the weather: busy in summer and slack in winter.
One day with a mate we got on our bikes. He was a joiner and was out of work, it must have been springtime, because I have always had itching feet at that time of year, wanting to be off, a yearning to see and feel things new. which would no doubt be the same with the French Foreign Legion affair. I cannot remember much about our wanderings but we eventually landed up at Anlaby. a village close to Hull where I got a start. My mate was not successful. I asked a workman about lodgings, which I got: the foreman was a fine craftsman whom I greatly admired and in the following years became a friend. He was a fine figure of a man with certain code of honour. He had been in the Coldstream Guards in the first war and married a girl of that town, an efficient Scots lady.
Later on when I became a more or less regular on the firm, he told me they lived in a small terrace house off Hessle Road. One Sunday morning set out on his bike and spotted a plot of land near the village of Willerby which they bought and thereon he built a fine bungalow in his spare time and weekends. What a challenge and what an achievement, to have moved from a terrace house in town to a resplendent bungalow in the country all by their own efforts! It certainly fired my imagination and I would have loved to have done something in like manner. I was lodging in Anlaby with a homely woman with a great sense of humour. She was a good provider and I being a good trencherman was well content. I joined Hessle band and when asked what I played told them in my modest way second cornet but was soon transferred to the, stand. My dedication to Brass Bands I think was due to the fact that it was the only way I knew of participating in making music and had I been in a male voice choir or other form of music making my zeal and enthusiasm would have been the same. I soon became known as a fair cornet player and as there were a number of bands in Hull at that time I did quite a fair amount of freelancing with one band or another.
I was purely self taught and had I had professional tuition no doubt I could have gone to greater lengths, being gifted with a very good tone. In later years I was told many times by greater men than I "if only I had your tone". In my teenage years I had not bothered much with girls being of a shy disposition and blushing easily, but had other interests and would sooner go boxing or footballing as go with a lass. It was only as I grew a little older that I became aware of the fairer sex. But as I went out with a few different girls. I was to discover that feminine company was better than male company. But it was all in a light hearted fashion and most entertaining, although one red headed beauty became quite serious. Looking back I recall having known some very nice girls but I was not quite ready to be tied and permanent.
I still had a bit more free living to do. I was asked to join Anlaby football club, but declined as I went came home very often at weekends, although later on I often wish I had joined, it would have been good, game of soccer in the winter time. I cannot recollect much of that period of interest. I always had money, good digs and I suppose, was well content. The landlady who was a widow got married again to a farm foreman and I was asked to be best man. I had a mate with me, a bricklayer who played rugby with Kingston Rovers. The high note of that day was when the groom fell out of bed. About that time the landlady's niece came to stay for a while. She had been married and parted and although a bit gushing. I was wot interested, and went on my way smoothly riding the crest of time. But the hand or force of destiny that was soon to take a hand in my life or affairs was strangely enough at "Pock".
"LET'S GO FOR SOME FISH AND CHIPS"
I was visiting for the weekend and was standing in the street talking to some old mates, when after a time someone said "Let's go and have some fish and chips" and as we got to the shop one of the lads remarked they had got a new lass, and it was there that I met this bonny, lovely, smiling faced lass. I must have been laughing and joking with her and the boss, (who coincidentally enough was the man who some years previous had wanted me to be an apprentice blacksmith) had now changed his occupation, due mainly to the influence of his wife, as he was a good tradesman, he said "why don't you take her to Brid tomorrow?" I did.
I remember my first impression of her as she was so interested in some little lambs in a field we saw from the 'bus window. We had a nice day and tea at the seaside and when I left her at night I was intrigued and interested, when I asked if I could see her on the following Sunday she murmured yes. I was much gratified on my-journey back to Hull.
And so it was home every weekend to discover her 'lips and kisses sweeter than wine" far sweeter than any I had experienced, so that was the pattern throughout the following months while she was living in Pocklington. About that time there was another young bricklayer on the same job. and as I kept bursting into song as I have done all my life, (in fact many calling me "the singing bricklayer") he asked me if I sang in a choir as he had done. He recognised some of the things I sang. Anyway we became friends and I went with him and his brother to see Hull play at the Boulevard. I went to his wedding and later, when we were both married, we visited each other's homes for many years. One night in town I met a bricky who I had worked with, who was now working in London and had come home for a week. We went for a drink and he tried hard to persuade me to go back with him: a job assured, good money and all the entertainment's that London could offer.
I was sorely tempted, but declined and on showing him Mary's photo he said "I can't blame you". I have sometimes wondered how different my life would have been if I had gone and settled there. That reminded me of another mate who worked down there, who 'palled-up' with a Welshman who persuaded him to go to a concert in which Richard Talber was singing. When Taffy turned round to him. face aglow and said "isn't he wonderful"? Wilf not being musical replied "He's alright, but let's go and have a drink" he couldn't understand why Taffy would n't go, but I could fully understand. Wilf. no longer with us was a good mate, well over six feet and the fastest layer of bricks I have worked with who used to sing in his toneless voice "
I often sit in the setting sun and dream of the things I might have done", quite dramatically. I went to see him in hospital and left him some money knowing full well that it would be gambled away, but knowing also that it gave him pleasure. By that time Mary had left Pocklington and being a Barnsley lass was now working in Sheffield, at that time the railway were running cheap Sunday trips to Sheffield and beyond, which suited me admirably. I got myself organised, riding my bike into Hull leaving it in the left luggage office and picking it up on return which was in the early hours cutting out the awkwardness of buses. By that time, indeed long before! had realised that Mary was the girl for me with her open honest face which only reflected the honesty of her nature, her great generosity, coupled with her practical capabilities and Yorkshire common sense, and much more, "The great soul beaming in my lady's face". After a short spell in Sheffield she came to Hessle and lived at a ship merchant's house, a very comfortable place with two maids and a nurse who looked after the old couple and where Mary became the cook, a fact of which I suppose I took advantage!
I was playing with an orchestra at that time as well as bands, so my nights were pretty well occupied which was alright when I was on my own. but now Mary being there I often got into trouble so had to curtail my playing and give in to 'petticoat government' as my father used to say. As we had been engaged for a while (having first asked Mary's parents if they had any objections) we started saving up in earnest to get married, and as I was working for a firm who were building family houses. I asked the boss if I could have one. and he pointed one out saying "As you are going to live in it you and your mate had better plaster it out", and I remember as I was skimming the staircase wall the foreman joiner came in and as he passed me on the stairs, it being a very hot day he jovially remarked "Bah; I lost some sweat on this wall love". Looking back, I suppose I was lucky to get a house as easily as that.
BANK HOLIDAY 1936
One Bank Holiday we got married at Barnsley and Mary became mine. I recall my dad. brother Ray and I singing some part songs and one of the neighbours, who sang in a choir joining in much to Mary's enjoyment, and so a good time was had by all, especially dad who would go anywhere for a jolly good singjn harmony. So we came back and settled in and were happy and content with our little ups and downs which all young couples have. One thing I recall was that first morning we found we had no milk for our morning tea. so I said "I'll get some" and went to a joiners brother's house who lived further up. The point in mentioning this is that they remembered it nearly 60 years later! It was about that time that the boss of the first firm I worked for in Hull asked if I would go back offering more money. As it was better class work and we could do with the extra money I went back and stayed there until the war, and so our early married days went untroubled along. I was helping a band which played at Withernsea at the bandstand in the summer months so we spent many a pleasant Sunday there, invariably coming home with a freshly caught crab which we generally ate before going to bed. I also helped in Sunday night concerts which were fashionable in those days reminding me of a saying by Sir Thomas Beetcham. conductor of the Halle "Good music is that which penetrates the ear with faculty and quits the memory with difficulty", also "Music at its best is an intimate communion between composer and listener".
By that time we had built up and Mary had got her home as she desired it and so our first born came along and of course became the focus of our attention and the blessing of us both. I think he was completely spoilt but when he got walking he was full of mischief and everybody loved him and he must certainly have found that the world was an interesting and entertaining place. Dad came one weekend and slept in the same bedroom as his cot and was much amused to see him, early on. standing in his cot singing and shaking the cot rails until it walked across the bedroom floor and saying "He'll shake the cot to bits".
Very often he shook it so violently that the bottom fell out, and he would crawl out and into our bedroom. As I look back over the years reminding me so vividly of my younger brother Peter in his early baby days, they were so very much akin. I can easily recall the first signs in the country in general of things getting better after the rather squalid and privation days of the late twenties and early thirties. About that period as my mate and his wife and bairn came for Sunday tea. There had been an advert in the paper for bricklayers in Australia for a large project and we talked it over and decided to apply, but shortly after our high hopes were dashed when we got a reply saying the project had been more than filled. No doubt young brickies and their families of like mind from all over the country had got in before us. Again the inexorable hand of destiny with a little wisdom of hindsight I could say that all things happen for the best while adding that is not strictly true, as I write another contradictory saying springs to mind "there is nothing good and nothing bad. only thinking that makes it so", which to my mind is summed up in the simple fact of positive and negative thinking.
BAND CONTEST AT ROTHERHAM
I recall going with a pal to a band contest at Rotherham; it was a miners contest where the adjudicator was a man called Eric Ball an ex -Salvationist and a composer of beautiful music, a great and simple humane man. I had the pleasure and privilege of playing under his baton later on. In his remarks he opened his arms and said to the miners and families. "This is your music, your life and your work", reminding me of a day at Barnsley when it was Miners' demonstration day. a highlight in a miner's life when every colliery marched behind its own band to a field where political speeches were made and numerous bands played. It truly was their music and Mary was related and part of it all. I remember Mary telling her motherjokingly that I had forgotten all about her and was wandering about from band to band on my own.
I can't remember that. My thoughts run back to the so-called bad old days years ago when there was little else in the make up of a miner's life except the pit and the pub. The nucleus of the better minded colliery owners and mill owners (they were not all harsh men) realising all this, and in an endeavour to improve the environment of their workers introduced and started brass bands and male voice choirs. The workers with leanings towards music in their souls readily grasped this interest, in life, to the betterment of their family life. The birth of the brass band movement in the industrial areas grew to the fine quality and high standards that we know today. The playing of a hymn tune by a brass band with its great organ like tone has moved many people to tears - the working man's symphony orchestra.
Mary's sister Jean worked at Wath as a housekeeper for a Mr. Barker who was a manager of a glass works, who conducted us on a tour of the works from the certain type of sand which is the basic material of glass right through to the various finished products. It was all very interesting with Mr. Barker obviously engrossed in his efficient management. The day being hot. the heat of the works and following Mr. Barker's footsteps I pretended to be gasping for breath which brought restrained giggling from the girls. But as I got to know him better my life was enriched by his good and simple philosophy of life. Although born of humble parents he was brought up right, reminding me that "man is born with ambition, the power source that spurs him on subjugating adversity and raising him above the circumstances to which he was born", such was his story as told to me. As a little incident flashed across my mind as we were awaiting our connection to Doncaster station and our young boy who would be about four or five, pushed his way through people and squatted down in front of some railmen who were uncoupling a train. With his interest and happy little face they could not help laughing and joking with him much to the amusement of the people standing round about, but he was that kind of boy. Speaking of railways reminds me as I was standing on a platform, I can't remember where, as a train drew in and discharged the passengers.
I heard a scream, and turned round to see a hysterical woman pointing on the rails where her little child had fallen between the platform and the train. I rushed forward and without thought got on my knees and had the frightened child off the rails and up in a few seconds. I walked away but will always remember the thankful look on that woman's face and an inner feeling of gratefulness that I was there and able to help that frightened little bairn. The incident had completely gone from my mind until someone who must have been there reminded me years later.
A little musical souvenir comes surfacing from the storage vaults of the mind in which I went to a concert in the old Primitive chapel given by the Old Priory choir from York a choir of fine musical reputation emulating the famous Glasgow Orpheus choir, and also one in which my eldest brother in later years was to sing. A pleasant number I was to remember was a soprano solo called, (if I remember right) "The songs my mother sang to me". Although I had never heard that song before I can still remember after all these years the melody and some of the words. Also another incident when I first came to Hull on the occasion of a Co-operative Musical Festival, when the Co-op movement was in its hey day I recall the day being warm and sunny and the world feeling good as I dropped in at the City Hall, but can only remember one number which was sung by a children's choir.
SINGING THE MELODY
Again, I can still sing the melody and some of the words. As I look back the fact of these two incidents sung in the same idiom are rather phenomenal and certainly extraordinary in that they emphasise my theory that the love of music being simply that which appeals and that which does not, as what attracts one has no appeal to another as an acknowledged fact in all walks of life. As I left the Hall that night I called in at a small sweet shop for some cigs and the friendly young lady who served me looking up at me observed "what a lovely night and I have to walk home all by myself". I was sorry I had to decline the implied invitation as I was catching a bus for "Pock".
On the political front there were ominous signs as the German military machine led by Hitler, was built up. Another small incident on the domestic front springs to mind as there must have been a coal strike on then as we had little or no coal left and as our houses were heated with one fire with oven and back boiler was an important part of the household. I distinctly recall going out one cold Sunday morning and thinking that I would get some coal from somewhere. There was a large tree growing in the field or hedge at the rear of the houses. Nothing daunted I got my saw and climbed up the tree and sawed a large branch off. but not as the Irishman who sat on the branch he was sawing off. The branch crashed clown and as I was sawing it into logs a neighbour came and asked if I minded if he sawed a branch off. We spent all that Sunday sawing them into logs and had a good fire that night I don't remember if the strike lasted long.
Shortly after this Germany invaded Poland after gobbling up some smaller states and so inevitable happened. England and France sent an ultimatum to Germany. I recall going to a meeting of building trade workers in which I think we heard Chamberlain's voice announce that the ultimatum time had expired and so we found ourselves at war with Germany. The Chairman stood up and said "I think it would be appropriate if we all stood and sang the National Anthem" all very fitting on that sunny Sunday morning. It left me wondering what dramatic changes would be forthcoming and so it was "arm, arm, it is like cannons opening roarfor England". The air raid warning sounded for the first time that night and I recall with amusement a neighbour shouting to his wife "Come on, the buggers are here".
LIGHTS OUT AGAIN FOR EUROPE
And so the lights would go out all over Europe once again All house building was suspended and I went home osjiSaturday dinner time and told Mary I was out of a job which seemed rather a blow to us then and she said we would have to cut down. I told her I was going to the union to see if there is anything doing and so after dinner we both set off leaving Tony our boy with the lady next door. Mary to go shopping, and I on my bike into town. When I got to the union I found much to my surprise many other brickies out of work, and was told to report to a Corporation yard on Monday morning for air raid shelter building. I was pleased to tell Mary all was well again. I continued in that job for some time building air raid shelters all over the town until a bricky friend who now worked in a shipyard came one evening saying they wanted another bricky. and had recommended me. The money was good, with bags of overtime I went and found the work very interesting but a great change from ordinary bricklaying, bricking up the furnaces on destroyers and other naval vessels, also cladding the bridges of merchant ships with concrete slabs. Onetime I recall myself and another bricky being sent to do some work at a gun site at the mouth of the river and as by that time the country was on rations, and I being the scrounger that I was kept on the lookout for anything going. I had noted there were a few local men employed there. I contacted one of these farmers and as Christmas was approaching I asked if he had a chicken or anything. He kept chickens and geese and much to my surprise and delight said I could have a goose, but to say nothing, and so I arranged to pick it up two days before Christmas.
This I did going straight from work riding on my bike quite some miles until I found the farm and was asked into the kitchen, where I saw they had recently killed a pig which was on the back kitchen floor and with an ulterior motive in mind as I sat talking to the farmer and his wife said that my wife had always made a pork pie at Christmas but unfortunately with the rationing we would be without one this year. I wondered if they could spare a pound from the pig, the farmer chuckled and said "You don't miss much lad".
His wife said "Seeing you have biked all this way and not to disappoint your wife" she sold me some pork but told me not to say where I had obtained it. So I rode the long distance home through that frosty moonlit night with a great feeling of self satisfaction and of a job well done with a plump fat goose and pork meat as a bonus and warmed with the thought of how pleased Mary would be. Again, that reminds me of the time I had to go to a job at the boss's residence at Welton. Mary was trying to make a Christmas cake but nuts were unobtainable. I had seen an almond tree in the garden and at dinner time my labourer and I scratted among the fallen leaves and got a nice paper bag full of almond nuts, and again the pleasurable anticipation of showing Mary.
After tea we set about cracking the nuts, but much to our disappointment they were all rotten having evidently been laid too long on the wet ground. Later on I made the acquaintance of a character in the village and often got a rabbit which helped supplement our rations. I also got friendly with some soldiers who were stationed in a large house opposite, who were not adverse to a bit of flogging which also helped. I was earning good money and food was more important at that time. I was helping Cottingham 22 band who had a fair decent band giving Sunday night concerts I remember playing at De la Pole hospital and one of the inmates would insist on shaking hands with me.
As I bent down from the platform he would not let go until an attendant came. By that time air raids were becoming more frequent and we had our windows and doors blown in but we were in the shelter. Quite often the buzzers would sound every night and if things were somewhat quiet some of us menfolk would gather in the tenfoot lane with our families safely in the shelters. I recall one night talking there when one of them began to snore, and found to our amusement there Tom propped up against the railings fast asleep. Indeed when working on the ship it was accepted custom (with us bricklayers anyway) to have a good sleep during the dinner break and if it was cold would go in the warm engine room as often we had to work all night in the boilers.
I had been in the Home Guard some time, where, I went into the Commando section and we engaged in wild and hectic schemes, and so with one thing and another had a full and busy life.
In later years Mary often said that I did more than my share in working night and day on ships and then on being called up, within six months was at the front line facing the Enemy, but I have never thought of it in that respect.
MEDICAL CHECKS OUT OK IN 1941
About that time I had to go for my medical which I passed A1 as expected, but I was slightly gratifying nevertheless, being at the age of 32. Shortly after that working on a corvette we were told we had to work all night and as the vessel was berthed in St. Andrew's Dock which is near to Hessle road, I said I would go home and tell Mary who greeted me with the words "Your papers have come". I distinctly remember she had a pinafore on with the letter in her pocket. I told the foreman, who. I learned later went to the office to complain. I think I had a fortnight before the reporting day. I did all sorts of jobs and chopped a large quantity of kindling sticks. Mary saying "How long do you think you are going for?". We spent a few days at Pocklington where I said to Dad "Do you think you could obtain or scrounge enough grub to feed a pig" and he replied "Eh. I think so" and knowing Dad and his ways knew he could. So I fixed the little shed up. adjoining the garage concreting the floor and so on, and when I came back after the war I was pleased when he told me how well he had done, with the help of a bakehouse he knew, getting their old bread and left-overs.
On a grey December day I joined the army, laying down my trowel and picking up a rifle as I was destined for the Infantry. I reported to Beverley Barracks for the first six weeks and sneaked off home whenever possible. My mate Lou Waudby who incidentally was called up the same time, not so lucky, had to report to somewhere in Lancashire. The change from civilian life to army life was slightly dramatic but I soon adapted, and as my fellow recruits were from all walks of life, I found it interesting and often amusing. I think one officer had it right when at a lecture told us succinctly that an infantry man's life consisted of (a) long periods of intense boredom and (b) short periods of intense fear, as I was later to experience. We continued with our primary training; square bashing and route marches in the surrounding countryside physical training in the gymnasium which i enjoyed, and I was picked out to join the boxing team, but as they trained at night after duties, scrounged out of it, and home whenever I could. After our spell at Beverley our next camp was just outside Richmond, a picturesque little market town in the North Riding. I could not help but admire the countryside in the Dales area, in different circumstances would have been much more enjoyable. I made a mental promise to bring Mary and family after the war, all being well, and arn very happy to record that we spent many good days in this lovely area.
CORPORAL ROMPS HOME
A rather amusing incident springs to mind when we had been on the racecourse, which ran at the top of the camp, doing some exercises when a lad from Bingley called Simpson, who. in typical West Riding outspoken manner and in the heat of the moment said "I'll run thee any time, Corporal". After tea. we trooped to the racecourse, and when the race was run and won easily by the corporal we taunted poor Simmy, saying "thoughtyou said you could run Simmy", but the corporal was an athletic type. He was from Hull, and I met him whilst playing with a band at some Police sports club of which he was a member.
I asked him if he remembered that race, which he did. and we had a good mutual laugh. He became an Inspector and I met him often. Another incident appertaining to Richmond was when we threw grenades, lobbing them in an overran throw from a pit below ground level, aiming at a stick which had been pushed into the ground and which we had to try and knock down. The young officer conducting the exercise above ground was some distance away behind a thick log shelter. I had been ordered to prime the bombs and so was the last to throw, with the stick still standing. I threw and when we looked the stick had gone, the lads shouting "good old Johnno". but the officer only half taking shelter had been smacked in the forehead with a piece of shrapnel and had he been nearer would have been killed. Before we got back to camp we had to more or less carry him. One night a young lad asked me if I would take him down to the Naafi hut and when I asked why he said he could not see in the dark. It was discovered that he had night blindness and he was discharged from the forces.
We left the rugged and undulating countryside of Richmond for the flat uninteresting part of Lincolnshire, a small village called Candelsby. near Skegness. One thing about that camp was that we always seemed to be hungry. Upon reflection I suppose by that time being healthy and fit we certainly could have eaten more than we were given. We had noticed there were many rabbits about, as we skirmished and exercised around so myself and another lad decided, after duties to try and get one. Sure enough we spotted one, which bolted into a hole, and when I thrust my arm full length I could feel him. I said "Yes you're going to be our supper tonight mate". As the land was sandy we got some branches and a hedge stake and dug down to him. We killed and skinned it and took it to the cookhouse where we bribed the cook to cook it for us, and so after sharing it with our close mates went to bed that night replete for once. The lad who was with me came from York, (we Yorkies tended to band together) indeed the lad who I had palled up with came from Harrogate and were together for nearly three years until he got graded with flat feet.
It was from there I think that we went for a week to the North Yorkshire Moors, a grim but colourful landscape of heather clad hills and seemingly endless valleys. We experienced that one day, as we were dumped in a wild and desolate place and told to find our way back to camp which was only two or three huts hidden in a valley with only a map and reference number with it. The corporal in charge was a bit sceptical as everywhere you turned your eyes it appeared the same. However, we set off in what we thought the right direction. Hour after hour we walked with visions of having to kip down in the heather when darkness fell, but luckily someone spotted a landmark with the glasses and so later on in the evening we were glad to get in. hungry and tired after trudging all those hours through knee high heather. It certainly was a toughening commando course, but everybody was in good spirits and prepared to take everything as it came, with marching and skirmishing over 100 miles in 3 days, with full pack. I was on a Bren at that time and got commended for some good accurate shooting but also got reprimanded was next day for falling asleep at the officer's lecture, which many of us did.
BACK TO LINCOLNSHIRE
We went back to Lincolnshire and from there went on embarkation leave When I got home I threw my army clobber in the coalhouse and donned civvy clothes. I recall going to Cottingham for a blow with the band, and after practice went for a drink with my colleagues, and missed the bus home and without any qualms ran and jogged all the way from Cottingham to Hessle, I guess I was in peak condition then and thought nothing of it. but Mary was wondering where I had got to. At the end of the leave it was *Au Revoir" to my wife and bairn, and we embarked on a large troopship at Glasgow and sailed "doon the watter" (the title of an old painting) and as I gazed back at the reflected colours on the hillside of the Clyde on a beautiful sunset evening the words of the poet Burns sprang to mind "Where there is purple hue. the highland hills we view, and the moon coming out in the gloaming" and it was just that exactly.
The convoy sailed far out in the Atlantic nobody knew for where we were bound, we eventually made land which turned out to be Africa landing at Algiers. The things of interest on the ship's passage was that our lot were ordered for guard duties and I with others was guarding some wild and tough Scots lads, drunk as lords, and as troopships are supposedly dry ships could only assume they had concocted their own booze. What I remember was one lad sat on his haunches singing in his drunken fashion all night long. The cells were situated at the bottom of the ship and we used to joke about a quick finish if a tin fish came through the plates. The weather became hotter, and one of our lads lying spreadeagled on the deck fell asleep without any cover and when he awoke his chest was all red and blistered. His mates called him too greedy, wanting to get sunburnt all at once, rubbing the salt in as it were, as the poor silly lad was in some pain. We then proceeded across North Africa by slow train to Tripoli. I say slow train because I and a few others when passing a melon field dashed off the train and grabbed a melon with Arab screaming and waving his hoe. but not venturing towards me. The African campaign having just finished, we building trade workers had been held back for bomb damage repairs, and so missed that lot. We landed up at a reinforcement camp in which thousands of men were congregated. The only thing of note there was that I put in for a bugler who was wanted and was told to see the existing bugler and when asked if he had the different calls brought out a printed card and when asked about the music said he had none and could not write it out. so not knowing the different call that was that. Shortly after that about 40 of us were told to pack and were driven to an aerodrome.
one bloke saying "They aren't getting me on a plane" but he had no choice as we were backed up to the plane and bundled in. the doors shut and we were off. One thing that stood out on that flight was the beautiful panoramic view looking down on the island of Malta, The very vivid colours of the miniature fields, the brown and white cliffs contrasting with the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean Sea was a truly awe-inspiring sight and never to be forgotten. They dropped a R.A.F. person there and then carried on to Sicily the plane rising and dropping over the mountains and valleys in Sicily. We joined the Northants. and were designated to different companies and were soon in action in less than six months from call up. I did not anticipate going into action (nobody does) but was nevertheless more curious to know what it was like. I very soon altered my view when bullets were flying around me. I honestly thought they were bees, I was that green. This continued up the Italian peninsular in and out of action, the more times you went in the less you liked it. Our platoon commander was a young Welshman, completely military mad and our adjoining platoon mates used to say he would get us all killed. He already had a decoration, indeed he had the distinction of being the youngest officer to hold that medal. One time I recall whilst out on patrol we met a German patrol and in the ensuing skirmish he was killed. We returned to a railway house where I was talking to his batman and he had just walked out of the room when a shell came through the low roof killing him instantly, with not a mark on him and so I was very fortunate once again.
The Germans mortared the house from time to time, and we had retired to a back room, and I distinctly remember on hearing the last explosion thinking that sounds more like a stick grenade than a mortar bomb, and that was the case as a guttural voice shouted "Englander Schwinehund"! We were like rats in a trap, Taffy our sergeant fired through the door and wounded their officer which must have unnerved them as they quickly carried him away helped by a few bursts from our bren! They can't have been good troops which was unusual for Jerry but lucky for us. We withdrew through some woodlands at the rear to our company H.Q., in some houses close by tanks were positioned which were out of view and were given a new officer.
Later when things had quietened down I said I was going back for my overcoat and another lad said he wanted to go. When we got near the house Jerry spotted us and mortared us and I laid down in the middle of the lane. The other lad a bit panicky ran over the verges and Into the field, and we knew the verges as usual were mined. My journey was in vain because my overcoat was absolutely riddled with shrapnel and flying debris and was utterly useless. When the lads saw it saying "it was a good job you were not inside it Johnno or you would have been mincemeat". By that time I was number two on a 2" mortar, my mate Hutch being number one had wangled me to be with him. We had a rather exciting incident shortly after when advancing. Our company commander sent Hutch and myself forward to an exposed road to fire on a Tiger tank some distance away across a valley. He very soon spotted us and gave us all he had in the way of shells and bullets in their thousands. I say that because tracers were flashing inches above our heads and in between each tracer were five other bullets. We despatched all our mortar bombs, and scrambled off the road and dropped in a shell hole, with him searching for us with H.E. shells I can recall him knocking the corner off a nearby farmhouse in which some of our lads were sheltering.
The sweat was dropping off my forehead as I lay in the shell hole, a combination of the hot clay and fear I think. That officer in England was too right when he told us "moments of intense fear". However, we lived to fight another day. Hutch was awarded the M.M. the lads saying we both should have had it. Why he didn't blast us off that road I shall never know or comprehend, and so it went on. I was becoming less enchanted with it all. I suppose I could write a book about it all in great detail, and the different characters I met. having always been interested in my fellow man wherever he came from. One lad springs to mind I met at our 13 Echelon which is a mile or so from the front line.
WINTER TIME AND CANNOT MOVE
It was winter time and things were static or nearly so as tanks and transport cannot always move. I had to stay the night sleeping in a haystack under a Dutch barn. Close to us was an American battery of long range guns which suddenly opened up. nearly deafening us under the tin roof and scaring the mice and other things which we were accompanied by in the warm hay. This lad and I got talking and he seemed to unburden himself to me in his quiet spoken manner. I encouraged him to talk and he went on to tell me of his family and his girl friend as I told him of Mary and our son. His grandma who he obviously adored, he said a little proudly, was or had been secretary to "Hannan Swaffer" a very popularjournalist who wrote in a periodical called "John Bull" and other papers. He went on to tell me of an air raid in England which had left him somewhat nerve shaken. During the raid a gramophone was playing and kept on repeating itself all the time, he did not know what the record was called. It was undoubtedly stamped so indeliby on his mind at that moment and when he hummed it to me I was able to tell him the name which I think was 'Meditation' that thing from "Thais" by Massonet a lovely haunting melody. I learned later that he went up to TOC H.Q. the following night and was killed by a million to one chance when a mortar bomb or shell landed on the bonnet of the jeep he was in. As I write these lines and reflect a moment, I am aware that everyone, rich and poor all have their story having seen death in so many forms, and recalling that story a wave of sadness comes over me for that Northamptonshire lad.
The war was moving inexorably up the Italian peninsular grinding very slowly mainly due to the geographical nature of the countryside, with the Appenine mountain backbone with the many rivers running down to the coast, each one being a major obstacle to cross, combined with German defensive efficiency. One of the riv¬ers we were involved in was the Sangro on the Adriatic coastline where some bitter fighting took place and as it was winter time was a sea of mud. I was in one of the first patrols to cross guided and aided by a rope, and into "no man's land" were we sheltered in an isolated derelict cottage for three days.
One morning two jerries passed close by, but we had to keep dumb as it was information we were after. We heard later that the CO. had put in for reinforcements thinking we should be¬come casualties. Meanwhile the 5th Army con¬sisting mainly of Americans on the Tyrainan coastline had come against one of the fortified lines running along the Garaglia River which included the Monastery at Casino. But to hark back to the Sangro which we did get across but not through the mud. we were marched to the coast and embarked on some D.U.K.S. (amphibious vehicles) to by-pass the mouth of the river, land¬ing at dead of night, I cannot remember any opposition, but I was glad to get on dry land as we felt too vulnerable in the boats.
TRANSFER FROM 8th TO 5th DIVISION
It was about that time our Division was transferred from the 8th to the 5th Army I re¬member the movement time, it was a cold win¬ter's day and we set off as the day was dying as all troop movements are done in the hours of darkness for obvious reasons. I was riding a Bren carrier and with the acquired knack and com¬mon sense of an old hand made myself com¬fortable next to the engine, covered myself up and had a wonderful warm sleep, having been short of that commodity of late.
ACCROSS THE APPENINES
We crested the Appenines and coasted down the other side of Italy before daybreak. I must add that when lying next to the engine, before I fell asleep heading for the unknown, for the moment I was warm and comfortable and didn't give a damn what happened -"sufficient unto the day thereof". Shortly after we had our customary lecture and briefing by the CO. in which he described how much tonnage of shells each German would have to himself during the barrage and that it would be a walkover for us saying the Monastery will be taken: all Bull of course, as ensuing events were to prove. Our Brigade was to lead that attack with our sister Regiments the Royal West Kents and if they failed, the Lancashire Fusiliers taking over, with us to follow on. In the event they both failed and the attack was called off, again lady iuck playing her inscrutable part in my affairs. The Padre's address following the CO. went on with the sobering remarks that when the sun set on tomorrow's battle some of us may not see it. Warfare seldom goes to plan. We then went to some holding positions in the mountains in which the whole battalion could get in a huge bowl.
I can recall the night we moved, climbing ever upwards on a mountain path in the dark. One of the donkeys which were interspersed with us. one went over the top and went clattering down the mountain side, he must have been carrying cooking utensils which made such a din even jerry must have heard it. one wit jocularly saying "just like a donkey". After some weary hours at long last we were told "You are here and make yourself as comfortable as you can" which must have been the understatement of the year, as nature not being very kind that night a snowstorm was raging. With my "old hand" knack or cunning (as my wife Mary called it) I spotted a large boulder and my mate Hutch and I spread the ground sheet with a blanket on top and snuggled down together with a blanket and groundsheet on top of us. and in the lee of the boulder. Being nearly slugged we slept like the dead, it was well into the following morning when we were awakened by some mortaring which fell on the opposite side of the bowl which we now saw for the first time as we sat up in our snow covered beds, and also saw some of the previous battalion bring in their dead from the forward positions, some wag saying what a B......Reveille and someone else telling us he'd heard we were there for 6 - 13 weeks, a sobering statement indeed.
Many years later I read a book written by an officer called Fred Magdalany of the Lanes, in which he described these and subsequent happenings far more eloquently than I. and can only assume he must have been with our lot for some reason or other. To read his well written book would be to describe my own experiences in the Casino Monastery area. From the bowl which one could term our Toe HQ each company went to forward positions for 4 days. I recall we went to one named Snakes Head. I must explain that as the ground was rocky and hard we could not 'dig in' and so built up what is known in military jargon as sangars. which are round holes or shelters built up with rocks and stones to a height of around two feet or so and to hold two men. who stay in them all daylight hours, only moving out after dark when the rations came up.
It was from the position that the officer called out during the day "Do you want to go on local leave Johnson?" when I answered back he said be ready to move when the ration party came up. This position I must explain was below the crest from which we took spells of observation and guard. I may add that I was the last in our plattoon to go on leave and was quite pleased to be moved from this hell-hole for three days . I joined the leave party at B Echelon and moved off to a rest camp I can't remember where. When I returned I was told thatjerry had attacked our positions the next night but was beaten off. The lad who was telling me, a nice lad who came from Stoke, was asking if I had enjoyed the leave. I noticed he was stammering and stuttering and was obviously nerve-wracked and on his way to becoming 'bomb happy'. Eventually this stout hearted lad was evacuated and I never saw him again.
Such was the mental cruelty of war on good men. I saw our officer go the same way. as I found myself not as brave as I thought I was. As time went on the weather became somewhat milder, and I recall the Padre having an informal service in the bowl. After his few words he suggested we have a little sing, it being such a nice day. I proposed 'Cym Rhonda'. He asked "How does it go?" so had to sing a few opening lines. He wasn't a good preacher, but a good chap in action and was always up with us. I remember once as we were sheltering in a hollow as a tank battle was going on ahead with A.P. shells whistling around, he came sauntering up and standing above us he said "Any chance of a brew up boys?". I remember him sometime iater when we were out of the line when I was hammering a tent peg. The ground being rocky and hard I was giving it some effort and eventually got it fixed when a voice from the officers lines' shouted "Bloody good effort soldier", it was the Padre lying on his bed, who had evidently been watching me. In the fullness of time we were relieved by the Poles, who. afterwards attacked the Monastery from our positions. I recall the night we were relieved as our Platoon was designated as guides on the route out following the tape and I think jerry must have sensed something was on as there was more shelling than usual. In fact he hit a haystack on our track out killing one of our fellow guides and lighting up the surrounding countryside. Dawn was beginning to break when I was relieved to see the C.O.'s party approaching, the last of our lot. They seemed to be in good spirits as no doubt they had been introducing themselves to the Polish officers together with a drink or two. We were supposed to be across the plain which was a graveyard of tanks, before first light and behind some cliffs, where our transport was waiting. Somebody said "Glad to be out of that B.......lot". I think everybody was getting a bit nervy.
After a long journey we arrived at our rest area to a dramatic change in the weather, from the cold of the mountains to the milder climate of southern Italy south of Naples. Both my pal "Hutch" and myself were getting fed up and nerve wracked and he said he was getting out of it. He had flat feet and went sick one morning and when he came back said "That's it Johnno. I have been posted". When he went I was feeling pretty low and it must have shown itself in a letter to Mary as being browned off. as our officer's batman came round saying he wanted to see me. When I saw him in his tent he said he had been censoring the letters and came across something in my letter, "which had surprised him. coming from me.
He went on to say "I realise you have lost your friend, you were always together in and out of action, so shall we cross it out?" I replied "Yes and thank you Sir". Shortly after that another Yorkshire bloke I knew from earlier days came to see me. he himself being a batman said there was an officer in the machine gun section wanted a batman. I wasn't too keen but he urged me to take it as there would be plenty more who would be more than willing. So I got transferred from A to S Company and being adaptable soon fell into the way and change of things, other changes, of which life is full were to follow. After a short rest period, we started training again for things to come. The weather become milder with a touch of Spring in the air and I noticed the colouring of the countryside was changing. We also knew that the Spring offensive would soon start. We were back to the Casino area when we saw the bombing of the Monastery, an awe inspiring sight which in the event learnt later did not achieve anything.
But they say it had held up the Italian campaign for six months, and certainly had a depressing effect on all personnel in the vicinity of it. After much preparation the battle started with a terrific barrage softening up the 'Gustave' defence line, followed up by a night attack which crossed the river and breached their positions, but this time instead of footslogging I was riding on a Bren carrier. There was not much shelling until air burst (which jerry used as a ranging shot at first light. Fortunately nothing happened after this initial shot. Usually it meant the start of what we were to receive! At this time the carrier broke down and we were left wondering apprehensively what full daylight would bring, as we were moving up the Liri Valley opposite the Monastery and there with great relief we saw the Polish flag bravely flying from the ruined heights. I could only reflect that I had been an active although insignificant participant, when in the duty company.
Shortly after we heard that a landing had been made in France, which boosted our egos, especially as we passed through Rome which had been declared an open City but did not see much of the "eternal City" as it was in the hours of darkness. My memory fails me at this point, except for one incident when in our Bren carrier with the officer and driver we went swanning through the unknown countryside, came to a village, which we entered cautiously The people clamoured round us and told us that Tedishi (jerry) had pulled out two hours previously. They showered us with vino etc.. reminding me of another village we relieved when in A company when an old lady flung her arms around me, and another gave me a straw covered bottle of 29 wine. This kind of treatment boosted our morale and made us feel it was all worthwhile. But Italian peasants are notably generous natured. We went on our way in the carrier a little drunk perchance the three of us. and came across two jerries who quickly surrendered.
The officer and driver went off to a vantage point to do some observing leaving me with the two prisoners, who seemed to be in a state of shock due to the bombardment they had received. With no enmity between us we showed each other pictures of our families; we had of course to communicate through sign language. I suppose it was akin to a father and son feeling as they were much younger than I was. About that time I was on guard in a village one night when a soldier a French colonel judging by his uniform came staggering drunk from somewhere with a bad cut over his eye and an open knife in his had rolling his eyes and gnashing his teeth. I got the knife off him as he was in a dangerous condition, and took him to the M.O.s place where the orderly woke the Doctor, who said "no stitching" (or didn't want to be bothered) and left it to the orderly to dress the wound.
I considered it safer to keep the knife and sent him on his way. As we were out resting I was idly watching a young batman cleaning his officer's revolver, an Italian weapon, a lovely little thing, which you cocked by pulling the sleeve back. I wasjust about on the point of telling him to be careful, when he cocked it and pulled the trigger, fetching his finger nearly off and the bullet landing an inch or two from my foot, so I had to cart him off to the M.O.. Everybody was asking me "what's the silly Bugger done?"
One day the officers' dinner had been prepared when it was learnt that no officer would be in so we batman set at the table eating the officers' meal, eating off plates, even to a bottle of wine. Why not indeed? we were supposed to be "gentlemen's gentlemen" and in any case we were out resting and who cared anyway? That reminds me of a time when in A Coy. when we were pulled out into an empty field some way back, and told to make ourselves comfortable as we should be there for some time. The Sgt Major came up to me and asked if I could construct an oven for the cooks and would be excused all duties whilst I was thus engaged. He despatched a truck and men to commandeer the materials I needed. I had a brick trowel which I had picked up from somewhere and couldn't resist carrying it in my big pack and soon had it built, but alas, a change of plans again, as we were ordered to pack and quickly, much to disgust of the cooks. I may add that they were delighted with the oven, reminding me again of some words of Burns "The best laid schemes o' mice and men gang oft a'gley". I was riding in the cook's truck when a pan full of steaming meat was dumped on the floor of the truck and we looked back on the now empty field with the imposing edifice of the oven, and one of the cooks saying "Somebody is going to get a capture there when they spot it".
Full Spring had now come, and the battle of Casino Monastery had been fought and won with a mass of men and materials which historians can only claim as a "hollow victory". The war surged ahead with only minor skirmishes mainly due to the fact that jerry had withdrawn to another defence line further North around the lake Como area. When we did break through after a terrific tank battle, I was to witness another awe inspiring sight as we passed through part of his defence line where the trees following the terrific bombardment, stood like telegraph poles with shattered branches. It was really a sad sight and I thought how man had robbed nature herself of her own natural beauty. By that time it was evident that the tide of war had turned and our Division was pulled out of the line and went South to the port of Taranto, where we embarked on troopships. As there is strict secrecy in all military movements no one knew where we were bound, some indulging in optimistic speculation of England, but one shrewd lad looking at the setting sun dashed that theory when he said we are not heading in that direction, which proved to be the case as we landed in Egypt at Alexandria I think, and were then told we were there for a complete rest and refit of equipment, transport. Everybody got a week's leave in the magical city of Cairo with its varied contrasts of opulent luxury and abject poverty, which is an accepted way of life in the Middle East. The Arab's robbed us bare¬facedly but I along with others robbed them, sending a silken set home to Mary We were based in a camp in the desert called "Beni Husef" with its open air cinema and sack cloth walls which enable any cool breeze to infiltrate. Later we moved to another camp adjacent to one of the great wonders of the earth, the Sphinx and Pyramids. The fabulous work of man, and with my observance and interest marvelled at it all, and enjoyed it.
FUN AND GAMES ON THE SAND
I recall one night the officers having a bit of a party and after dinner coming out of the mess tent and indulging in some wild and hilarious games on the sand with the younger bloods vying with each another as to who could do the wildest pranks. They crashed into and wrecked one officer's tent. I suppose it was a lowering of tension, letting off steam, and a little drunk perchance. And so we left Africa's shores for the second time and were soon engaged in the grim business again "Once more into the breach dear brethren". By that time I was becoming apprehensive as to how long my luck was to last and detested going into action more each time, but had to accept it and just get on with it. Remembering the first time in action when I was both curious and anxious to know what it was like, with a morbid interest in what fear actually felt like.
But having said all that I always had a certain feeling that something would happen for the better, likening myself to a character from Dickens. Mr. Micawber and his philosophical outlook on life. Like Mr Micawber, I just hoped "something would turn up". I can truly say that this was my theory or feeling that something would turn up, which, as events were to prove, as it was my last time in action. My officer without saying a word to anybody, cleared off, battle exhaustion or nerves and landed in a hospital way back. After a spell we came out and were resting in some farmhouse buildings when Garret the Company Commander's batman rushed up to tell me that the Major had been posted to Greece, and was coming to see me. Garret, a good lad from Luton was a bandsman like myself (hence the common interest) I think he played in the Salvation Army, was too young to be posted, but knowing my age had generously put my name forward.
The Major came up and asked if I would like to go to Greece with him, asking my age. I told him my age wasjust under 35 which was the minimum age for posting and that my feet were troubling me. He went to see the adjutant and as the war was well on and on account of my age he agreed, but would have to get full official posting from H.Q. at Caserta. When it became known the Q.M.S. came to see me asking my age. then telling one of his intimate cronies who went to see the Major and although he was a shade older than me the Major would not accept him, I think he was a bit of a drinking individual. We were the two oldest in the Battalion, and although he contested my rights on that account the Major would not have him. My mates came to see me to wish me "Au Revoir" saying "You've done your whack Johnno and the best of luck".
So we left the Northants in a 15cwt truck for Taranto calling en route at H.Q. at Caserta where the Major went in the imposing castle saying "Keep your fingers crossed Johnson", shortly after coming out smiling saying "all set for Greece Johnson". As we continued or journey it seemed as if fate was loathe to let me go lightly for as we were passing through a village, part of a shell damaged building fell on the truck and one of the iron roof supports broke and jagged like a spear plunging into a petrol can inches from where I sat and would certainly have skewered me to the floor of the truck had it hit me. When the villagers dragged me out from underneath the debris I was conscious but dazed. They brought me a drink of water with the usual country peasant nature, honest, caring and generous. I was alright except for my leg which was cut and bruised, the Major and driver sat in the cab which missed the deluge. The driver said I was moaning in my sleep that night and told the Major who said we must call at a hospital, and the doctor who examined my leg. reluctantly said we could continue, on condition that I went straight into hospital at Taranto, as I was in considerable pain and feeling horrible. I was very thankful when we reached the hospital and after a bath and the luxury of a bed with sheets, together with a course of pills taken every four hours was soon free from pain. The Major came every morning to see how I was. and told me there was no boat for Greece. After three or four days he came one morning saying there was a ship the following morning, then went to have a word with the doctor who said he would discharge me on condition that I saw the doctor on the ship, that course of pills every four hours must have been very powerful and efficient, as I felt fine again and never bothered to see doctor aboard, and so in spite of my accident things worked out well, and we left the blue Italian skies for pastures new.
The voyage was without incident except for one thing as I was packing the Major's kit in preparation for landing at which is the port of Athens. I had everything packed and yet as I stood in the cabin that funny feeling came over me that there was something else, but on looking found nothing. Still not satisfied and going to the bottom drawer I pulled it right out and lo and behold in the receptacle below was a splendid pair of black shoes, the result of the fey feeling as the Scots call it. but something which I have experienced at rare intervals all my life. Must be the gypsy or something else in my blood! I wore them that night going out after duties and eventually flogging or swapping them to a young lad who was keen on them. I remember the Major entering a resplendent hotel and I. purely out of devilment, went clomping after with the flunky looking askance at my muddy boots. The Major although his trench coat was ragged and dirty with his walking stick and gentlemanly air could command respect wherever he went. We stayed a few days at a huge hotel in Athens called the 'Grande Bretagne' which was reputed to be the largest and best hotel in the Balkans, and when my first meal time came I got mess tins out and a fellow batman said "You don't need them mate", and sure enough we sat at a table in a room adjoining the huge kitchen and plates of food were brought to us by the Greek cooks in their white hats.
Luxury indeed and a far cry from the Italian war days when I reflected on one occasion after advancing and digging in for the night, the cooks couldn't or wouldn't get up to us and bring us food and we had to go without until the following day and it was there where a battery was putting a protective barrage just in front of our positions with one gun firing short nearly dropping among us untii a signal was sent back to the battery. But I digress. We left Athens and arrived at our destination which was a village in northern Greece called Levcas where we were billeted in a large villa on the small sea front. There were two other batmen sometimes more and the officers where all liaison officers to the Greek army, so we were pretty comfortable. I noted that the cooking facilities were rather primitive so I made some alterations and incorporated a tank in the flue which gave us hot water which pleased Frank the cook who was a Lancashire lad gifted with a fine tenor voice.
He would sometimes strike up with his favourite song "Ave Maria" when cooking the evening meal, my officer remarking to me afterwards that he could hear him in the dining room and thought he could never reach that high note, which he always could no matter how high a pitch he started. One day when we were in the room adjoining the kitchen we heard my officer come in bringing with him a visiting Colonel or Brigadier to show him the work I had done and turning the tap with hot water like a little boy with a toy saying "My batman did all this and is a most expert and experienced builder", causing us to have a good laugh afterwards. When on a short visit to Athens I picked up a banknote which to my amazement was for 1 million Drachma and thrusting it in my pocket thinking I am a wealthy man and pitting my brains how could I get it changed. When I showed it to my mates and asked how they would deal with it . they burst out laughing saying "Sorry to disillusion you Johnno but it's worthless" it being a German occupational currency when they took over the country and so my high hopes were dashed to the ground.
One night as we were drinking in a dive, we were approached by a Greek who asked us if we could take a load of salt over the mountains to a village. We said it could be arranged if the price was right. So one night a Scots lad and myself, leaving the other two batmen to deal with the evening meal and hold the fort in our absence, drew a truck from the compound and with our Greek villain drove to a deserted creek and transferred the salt off a small ship onto the truck all in darkness and as quietly as possible. We set off on our journey passing through numerous villages with the Greek guards demanding we stop, which of course we ignored. In fact one trigger happy guard fired a shot after us.
LANDING IN YANINA
Eventually after some hours we landed in the small town of Yanina which is getting on for the Albanian border and unloaded the truck into a house. After a drink of Owzo (the local spirit) we set off back. As we got near to our village day was breaking and we saw a truck approaching. In it were Frank and Taffy the other batmen. Frankjumped out saying "Am I glad to see you. I had a b . . . . nightmare and thought something had gone wrong". Shortly alter we were again approached by the Greek villain for a another load but this time asked if we could we bring some weapons as there might be some opposition. The lads, flushed with drink saying "We can bring plenty" but I said "You can rule me out". I wasn't taking any more risks after what I had come through already. I had a wife and bairn waiting for me. Both Frank and Taffy came to me the following morning saying they had decided to take my advice and wash their hands of the transaction. But Jock would go and there must have been a leakage somewhere because there were some trucks across the road and Jock crashed into them and was arrested and sent to the island of Crete. The Major said "I thought you would not be involved in it Johnson", and everyone was so relieved when it all blew over.
The Major had a wish for a small Primus stove for brewing up when we were out visiting different units. So one day I flogged his ski sticks which were a nuisance and I was sick of packing them, but when he asked their whereabouts and I told him he was not very pleased saying "But I go to Switzerland skiing each year". When I showed him the Primus and told him it was more useful to us than them things, he was soon pleasant again. Shortly after he got up early one morning to heat some water on the stove for shaving and couldn't get it to go. We batmen heard him fuming in the passage saying "I'll throw the wretched thing in the sea".
After we had a good chuckle or two I got up and took over the temperamental stove which I knew how to work, the Major standing by and coming out with his stock saying "You're wonderful Johnson". He was quite useless at practical things, yet so good at others. One day I went into the office clad only in sandshoes and shorts for the mess allowance ticket. An officer of high rank happened to be on a visit, and as I was in disorderly dress they soon bustled me out. But I had not much regard for officiousness or red tape, or bull as we termed it. One night after duties I went out walking and the Major being away that night, I put his brown shoes and tie on and met another of our officers they had a good laugh about the two occasions in the dining room. As I was a good and willing worker also coming from a front line Regiment (which none of the others had) I think the Major let it be known that I had been in an M.M. involvement and so I think I held a certain esteem, of which I knew or cared not. I suppose I got friendly with the owner of the property next door and did some work on his house. He also had an outside cafe with a waiter who had a large family to whom I gave the left overs from the evening meal and he always gave me a glass of Cherry Brandy
As I did not go out with the others at night I would sometimes sit in this neighbour's house and listen to his wireless. As he had been in America he could speak some English and told me the people were divided. Communism was rife and there was much trouble between the different factions. As one small boy came to us with a scrap of paper saying he had been arrested and was in jail and had nothing to eat all day, I took him some food which I passed through the prison bars and never saw him again. About the that time the Major asked me if I would build an oven for the Greeks as the cooking facilities were very crude (rough stew every day) saying with his usual caring I was not to bother about him, I was given a truck and five or six Greek soldiers to tour the countryside and commandeer the materials I needed. I had a job getting them to work. They wanted to sleep in the hot time of the day but eventually I got what I wanted after some little force and persuasion, thinking maybe they were right as there was not much activity at midday much more in the evening reminding me of the words "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun".
The Major came one day saying he was arranging the Greek Commanders to come and see it when it was finished and went on to say he was going on leave to the Island of Corfu and would I like to go too. At this time we got dramatic news that the war was over. The Greek army lads ran firing rockets and guns into the dark night sky. At this point I can't remember what our reactions were: I suppose we went for a good drink and although no longer actively participating I was nevertheless thankful that it was all over and that the lights would all go on again in Europe, and millions of people were free again and could now return to their different homelands and us with the thought of the day we would be reunited with our families. I lay in bed that night reflecting on happenings and characters I had left in the Battalion: Gannon shaking his head and his quotation of "man's inhumanity to man". Taffy the sergeant an old sweat and a likeable rogue, who got hold of me and another chap (who I can only describe as a professional poacher in civvy life) to rob a hen house for some chickens, and another time when he gave me a pair of boots to flog for a tame rabbit. When I had got it cooked Hutch my mate and I ate a leg each and sought our blankets, as we had all had a jab in the arm that day which made us feel groggy for a short while. We were sleeping in the same room as Taffy and a corporal who came in later said they were too badly with the jab to eat it and we jumped out of our blankets and scoffed the lot. We had ignored the jab!
Then there was the lad from the Intelligence section who habitually came to see me with what he called worldly problems, and wanted my views and theory of them. He was rather dirty and untidy as you very often find in histype. "He's all brains and no common sense". But some wit had dubbed me the philosopher of 9 plattoon. some of his abstract problems were well above me. I said what I thought. The time when I was on guard or "stag", some way back when a bullet went with what I can best describe as whispering past my ear. It must have been spent, but it left wondering how far could it have penetrated had it been an inch or so nearer.
That reminded me of a time when under intense shell fire and all hell raging. I and another lad jumped in a hole, and when things had quietened down this lad was not there. My mates said he had gone running back with a bullet wound right through his neck. He was taken to the first aid post and we learned later that by a thousand to one chance the bullet had missed everything of importance in his neck and I think he came back later. Another lad got a bullet through his hand and was more perturbed that the machine gun burst had torn his pocket off his battle blouse with all his photos in but the pain in his hand would come later. Of the time when I was passing the 3 inch mortars when they were doing a stonk and one misfired or something, the mortar shell landed near to me but luckily it landed on its flat and not exploding. One day two lads were preparing to bury a dead jerry and I could see under the body a mine or a unexploded shell, and I called out to them as another minute or two they would have moved him with dire results.
There were no scruples or sentiment in warfare, such as the young fanatical paratrooper, when one of the lads bent down to tend to his wounds, the young fanatic spat in his face. The lad's mate so angered at such gross ingratitude emptied hissten gun into him. Young Hathaway a lad from Basingstoke who accepted a stripe when nobody else would have it and later on whilst leading a patrol trod on a mine and had a leg blown off and Jeremy his mate a Cornish lad somewhat effeminate type who kept bits of jewellery and other trinkets that women usually kept in a box.
CHRISTMAS IN THE BARN
Of the Christmas spent in the line and another Christmas dinner we had in a barn the officers waiting and serving on the men. which is a tradition in the British Army. After dinner the sergeants made a concoction of booze of different vino or what they could scrounge I think the officers contributed the odd bottle and what with our Christmas bottle of beer each we had an hilarious concert, singing and gaming, one sergeant standing on a box singing crude army songs until he fell off. Nevertheless it was a wonderful and friendly atmosphere, and I can recall going out into a calm and brilliant moonlit night and I stood a while and gazed at the lovely rolling Tuscanny hills (one of the great beauties in all Italy) so lovely bathed in the moonlight and so peaceful as there was no gunfire. Evidently both sides acknowledged and recognised Christmas. The beauty of the night all around brought to mind a song Dad often sang 'Lovely night O lovely night" truly a night of which dreams are made and I thought of Mary and home this Christmas time. And Simmy another Yorkshire lad who pinched a jeep and with two others cleared off but where picked up near Bari as was inevitable. There were a few others who were shell shocked and still stuck it. and must have felt like hell when going in again, and also others who just did not care and so it was a cross section of the front line men and such was human nature, and so my thoughts run on thinking of other poor lads, as for myself now I was almost content "Dei Gratia" (by the grace of God).
But I fear I digress somewhat as one thought triggers off others, but as for as the present time, the Major and I set off for Corfu travelling on a small ship plying between the numerous islands carrying all kinds of goods from sacks of corn to crates of chickens. The Major and I were the only military personnel. I can't recall much about Corfu apart from the secrecy and I was on my own and mainly bored. I went to see the Major each morning and polished his shoes and that was it for the day.
I was listening one night to some music coming from a destroyer berthed in the harbour below coming through the clear night air when an individual sidled up to me and asked if I wanted a nice girl. I told him to clear off. and in any case I think I could have dallied with a girl I had met who was a waiter in the officers' mess and spoke English in a lovely voice like tinkling bells, but when I left home Mary said to me "keep your head up high" and that I was determined to do that, and go back clean. One morning when I went to the Major he announced that he had received a message saying he had been posted to be the second in command of the Somerset Light Infantry in Italy and then asked if I would go and thanked me when I said I would.
So we went back to Greece and down to Athens, leaving my half built oven. As he was flying back I went with him to the airfield and he shook hands with me saying "I will see you in Rome Johnson". As he climbed the gangway I just stepped back and threw him a smart salute, and a smile came over his face as he acknowledged it. I was left kicking my heels at H.Q. doing small jobs and pestering them at the office to see if my posting had come through. I spent some time visiting the ancient ruins and treasures dating from when Greece had its spell of glory There was now a library in Athens and did quite a lot of reading and the odd concert. Even now hearing that number 'Traumerie Dreaming' by Schuman always reminds me of Athens.
Eventually my posting order came through and as I left the shores of Greece with its contrasts of so much beauty and so much poverty. Three parts of Greece is rocky and mountainous with little or no mineral wealth. As one left the modern city of Athens and got into the countryside and villages often with sun baked mud cottages it was another world, nevertheless the inhabitants were always pleasant and friendly as most peasants I have experienced generally are. The roads were in atrocious condition, the Major often saying aptly "A country where God has done so much and man so little" I was given a travel warrant and travelled completely unattached across the sea to Italy and from Taranto to Rome by rail. When I reported to the adjutant he told me the Major was in hospital with a larynx infection and if I would like to go and see him. he would lay some transport on for me.
The Major was pleased to see me and informed me that there was lots of jolly good music there for me. The Colonel came to visit him whilst I was there and as I was making myself scarce, turned to me and kindly said his car was outside and he would take me back. Now that the war was over my time spent in the Eternal City was very pleasant with much music and opera and the hope in the not too distant future of getting demobbed. I soon made friends and many a good night was had as we gathered at the Toe H.
I think it was there where they had a small Italian orchestra of good class musicians who gave a first rate concert once or twice a week, and broadcast over the army's network frequently. The battalion I had joined was connected with supplies and flogging was done on a large scale. One officer who was involved shot himself when found out but it was all hushed up. A happening of a coincidental nature I thought when I went to see the opera Tosca in the grounds of the Castle St. Angelo (as almost all operas are in the open in the summer months) the relevant point being depicted on the stage was the castle one could turn round and see the real castle from which 'La Tosca' threw herself into the river Tiber below. One day I told the Major I was going to an open air concert given in the 'Terni De Caracella' the ancient baths of Rome, adjacent to the Collesium in which Gigli was singing. The Major (probably thinking not to be out-thought by his batman) asked me if I would go early and save two seats for him and a fellow officer and so I socialised with the officers that evening and spoke with much enthusiasm as I indeed felt. The Major said "You're wonderful Johnson, have you a cigarette on you?" He had smoked all his and was not very musical.
THE PLEASURES OF ROME
I derived much pleasure and interest in visiting the treasures and ruins of Rome. The vastness and majesty of the Vatican and St. Peter's with its wonderful carvings and works of art, of jewellery and precious stones of untold wealth, given from every corner of the world I felt very humble and insignificant. On reflection I was grateful that I have been privileged to see and witness it all. From there I went to see my old mate Hutch who had been posted to a base camp a few miles away, and as I stood talking to Hutch in the staff quarters a young officer came in demanding to know who I was and Hutch quickly saying "He's my mate from the old Battalion". The officer greatly subdued cleared off, as Hutch had the M.M. ribbon on (as I should have had as many had said) and these wallows had never seen a shot fired in anger Hutch remarking "That shot him up the arse". He got the afternoon off and we went and had a meal and a good drink of vino reliving old times and escapades which was very enjoyable. Whilst out swimming one day I met an officer from the old Battalion who said he was pleased to see me. and told me that the carrier I would have been on ran over a mine killing a sergeant, and the driver losing both legs, both Northamptonshire lads.
It was from there or maybe Florence when we had a trip to Pisa where I climbed the famous leaning tower. Some years later I was attending a lecture given by a man describing his visit to Pisa, who proudly claimed he had climbed the leaning tower by a staircase running round the outside of the tower. I had to inform him that I also had climbed the tower but the staircase was on the inside and not on the outside, and he graciously acknowledged his mistake. By this time the earlier call ups were gradually getting demobbed, also a scheme came out called B class release where key men such as builders and engineers, who were needed at home for reconstruction purposes had the option of early release with less leave and money.
When my B class release came through I was happy to accept. We went to the Toe that night and one of the lads who was friendly with the orchestra took me backstage, and told the leader I was going home. He asked me if I had any preference for any particular number, and as his wife was a brilliant pianist, he bowed to me across the floor, a nice thoughtful gesture I felt. The Major was away at the time, so I wrote him a letter as he wanted us to go and live and work on his small estate, explaining that I did not feel like tearing my roots up again, so I must decline the kind offer. I have often wondered since if I made the right decision in not making Cirencester that lovely old world town set in the Cotswolds our home. Major Crocken was a kind and compassionate character and I can recall when in the Battalion, smart alecs when going on leave, would beg and ask him for money. With a light heart I set off for home and family, which reminded me of a family at Campobasoa a small town up in the Appenines. It was winter and the line being static there was not much activity and as Hutch and I trudged the cold and dark street we came to a cobbler's shop, and I said "Let's go in out of the cold". We went in. and I noticed the cobbler gripping his cutting knife in his hand, but we reassured him. and when he left to go home a short distance away he said we could go with him. There we saw his family sat around a charcoal fire set in a metal bowl with a wooden platform around it on which you placed you feet, and there we spent most nights sending the teenage lad for some vino, singing, and giving the young ones our chocolate ration which much pleased them.
We met a young woman, a cousin I think who said to me "I hear you have a good voice and shall come tomorrow night to hear you sing". We did not go that night, a while later he was going to kill a pig and asked us if we would help him. We tied its legs and held it on a ramshackle bench while he cut its throat and then helped him hang it up. The teenage lad would always walk back with us to the barracks and we gave him cigarettes as his father wouldn't allow him to smoke. I was also reminded of the day we left, we said goodbye to this kind and homely family on the doorstep and Mamma leaned forwards and patted my cheek, and hardened as I was I was touched by an inner warmth as I knew they had a son still missing.
UP THE HILL WE GO
We moved to a small village higher up the mountains, hidden behind a spur and under enemy observation but at this time of winter the snow was so deep that a path had been cut and snow piled up which enabled movement without being seen. The inhabitants had long fled so we commandeered the cottages. I can recall an incident, amusing in a way which could easily have been otherwise, when Hutch and I were keeping a charcoal fire going for some lads coming back from patrol, blowing through an iron tube to keep the fire bright, but in the morning i felt horrible and Hutch said "I feel Bloody awful" and we were told it was the fumes we inhaled as we blew through the tube. The lads had a good laugh saying "You could have been poisoned and no doctor with us". We heard that C company had a small patrol frozen to death when they were caught in a blizzard. It was certainly a dramatic change to the weather in the lowlands and a contradiction that it was not all 'sunny Italy*. Another happening comes to mind, as I was moving up a lane knee deep in mud and met a staff car which was unusual so far forward.
As it passed the officer saluted me, and when I looked again saw it was Montgomery, so I could claim that that famous General personally saluted me, but did not throw a packet of cigarettes as was his custom. I met a sergeant who I went to see (some time back) and had wangled himself a job at this transit camp. I had been to CCS. hospital with an injured wrist and instead of going straight back I made my way to this camp where I knew he was and on spotting him asked the usual question. "Any chance of a job here?" and he replied that he could have got me one if I had not been attached to any unit, so that was that. As I was standing along with some more lads waiting to go back up. watching a football match one of the players broke his leg. Those nearby shouted out "you lucky Bugger" a bit ironical really, but that was how it was.
GOODBYE TO ROME
I left Rome a city so rich in history, probably the most interesting of all the places I had been to. The next day which was Christmas day (I think) we spent at a transit camp near Milan and it was there that my old civilian mate Lou Waudby was stationed in the R.A.S.C. bringing in supplies to the camp. I sought him out and with mutual pleasure had a short time together. We were called up on the same day, and with his usual natural good humour it was heartening to see him again after three years. We sped via the Simplon tunnel through the Alps and into Switzerland, and the picture I so vividly recall as darkness descended is of the lights from the windows of the farmhouses and cottages dotted on the snow clad hillsides, a veritable living Christmas card.
This scene was printed so indelibly on my mind that it has never been forgotten. Eventually we reached Calais and embarked for Dover with everybody in good spirits and much joking, but I must record that on seeing the white cliffs again, an uncanny fey feeling came over me. which I cannot describe, so many emotions involved I suppose. I was discharged at Taunton from where i got my civvy suit, the civvy tailor saying I had made a good choice. I set off for home thus ending my army service, arriving home in the early hours to a warm and welcome greeting from Mary my wife and Tony my young son.
I have written somewhat at length on my army service, it was such a dramatic change for an ordinary citizen and I was no spring chicken when called up, but man being the adaptable creature he is. soon accepted the new way of life. Upon reflection it must have been the most remarkable and eventful period of my life, both interesting and entertaining. As an observer of all things in life it must have been educating as well and enriching with a great sense of Espirit de Corps with comrades in combat.
Thus I returned to the mundane world of the trowel. The main task was the repairing of bomb damage which was very extensive, with the added handicap of shortage of materials. The same could be said of food. The vast change of industry in the country from a war footing to peacetime, took time and rationing was to continue for some considerable time. My musical activities which had lain dormant of late were awakened when the secretary of Cottingham band (an old friend) came to visit us and asked me to join the band again, which I did adding more pleasure to life. Hessle band re-formed again under the auspices of the British Legion and I was instrumental in introducing a new conductor a first class musician whom I had met whilst helping another band, and after informing the committee I was asked to invite him to meet the band and he was duly appointed and from then on the band went from strength to strength and became highly respected band in the contesting world. So life went untroubled along and the years passed bringing us two more children which of course were more than welcome, further enriching our lives and I am glad to say they were all merry and happy bairns. I cannot think of anything extraordinary at that period. Work was plentiful and I was in charge on many jobs for different firms. Mary unfortunately was not enjoying the best of health and had short spells in hospital. On one such occasion I remember when Kathleen and Neil were quite young I woke up in the night and was violently sick (I had made some scallops for tea and were evidently too greasy) but can still recall the dreadful feeling of what would happen to the bairns if I was stricken down in health, but by morning I was alright again and had them up early to get their breakfasts.
MARY BACK IN HOSPITAL
Some few years later when Mary was again in hospital and Kathleen was in her mid teens, she and her pals were friendly with lads with their motorbikes and again I woke up suddenly either dreaming or thinking Kathleen had not come in yet and that something must have happened I got up to face things whatever, but before going downstairs I looked in her bedroom and their to my great relief she lay fast asleep. I must have been tired and never heard her come in. A night or two later I heard her come in with someone else and I thought it queer. She came up to tell me there had been an accident with the motorbike and the lads' mother and father had brought her home. The lad had broken his leg. but luckily Kathleen had only a bruised ankle. She had a warm drink said she was alright and went to bed. In the morning said she was going to work, but when I came home I learned that she had had to come home to her friend's house where they very kindly put her to bed, for which I was very grateful. We went to visit Mary at night along with some of her friends, she was limping a little.
The matron on learning what had happened took me aside and told me to watch for secondary shock, but luckily she was soon her energetic self again full of life. These two small events in my memory have never been forgotten. Events that may have occurred in the following years I have not considered mentioning and in any case have been erased from my memory by time's devouring hand.
Tony the eldest son went to serve his apprenticeship as a nautical instrument maker and compass adjuster, and on coming out of his time at 21 went into the forces to serve the two years National Service which was compulsory for every lad at that time. He enjoyed the change and challenge as every normal lad should. He went on service in Aden and Hong Kong and it was there that he met and married a Chinese girl and promptly signed on for further service.
The years after the war saw many changes and patterns in the building trade with a diversity of opinions and I digress a little when I think of the rather more pleasant days before the war when I worked for a small but good firm building large houses and plastering them out maybe spending a week in one room where a cornice was run, but when it was finished it was something.
Indeed Tony my son thought I should write more at length, and describe my work in greater detail, but as it may not have been of interest to others, and although I derived a certain satisfaction it was simply all in a days work. "Labour Ipse Voluptus" labour itself is a pleasure. To continue my digression our labourer a grand little fellow was the chief character, when he came one morning saying "I was listening to some of your music last night Herbert, wrote by a man called Bert Hoover", and after a moment I told him that it would be Beethoven, which caused a round of good natured scoff. One of ourjoiners a gentlemanly type had a brother who was an actor and was in the same musical film as Richard Tauber, a popular tenor of that time, and who said he was a perfect gentleman. I think the title of the film would be 'Lilac Time', as he was a great enthusiast of both Schubert and Franz Lehar's music. The joiner himself knew a local actress by the name of Dorothy Mackail. a very good looking girl and one I remember seeing in a film when I sold chocolates in a cinema many years previous. The cessation of house building due to the war years caused a bonus scheme to be introduced in the trade to answer the demand for more houses to be built. After a time I got bored with council house building or (cottage weaning as we called it in the trade) as I was always inclined for quality in preference to quantity. I moved from firm to firm, and Mary often said she never knew which firm I was working for. Some time later the firm I was working for had a job at a farmhouse high up in the Welsh hills and on being asked if I would go. welcomed the change. We worked long hours and came home once a fortnight. I appreciated the change in the countryside environment, and from our high vantage had a wonderful panoramic view of the hills and valleys and as the seasons changed so did the colouring and beauty of the whole countryside. Incidentally, the former inhabitant of the farmhouse was as a composer of Welsh hymn tunes.
The new owner, a Mr Wiles a rich man was a friend of the architect of these extensive alterations whose name was Clough William Ellis known locally as the King of Wales, who was known chiefly for the building of Port Merion. based on an Italian peasant village. I would have loved to have worked on it. He was a modest and humane man (as all great men are) and when asked by some visitors if he would mind standing in front of a villa for a snap, said to our boss who was with him "Now isn't that wonderful, it has made my day".
Such was the character of the man and am glad to have met him. I have enquired at the library for the book he wrote but so far have not obtained it. It reminds me of that quotation i knew as a lad "Lives of great men all remind us we should make our lives sublime, and departing leave behind our footprints in the sands of time", I have always had a strange fascination for quotations. Maybe I'm a dreamer. I took a deep interest in the construction of the Humber Bridge going down almost every week¬end to watch progress on this great engineering project on my own doorstep from foundation to its opening by the Queen. It is one of the modern wonders of the world, the longest single span in the entire world.
BARTON UPON HUMBER
I now frequently walk across it to the small Lincolnshire town of Barton, and generally enter the parish church for a rest, where I view an ancient treasure there, which is part of the trunk of an oak tree about 8ft long and the width about 3ft. The lid. about 3" thick was sawn off its entire length, the interior then being cut and chopped out to form a chest to hold parochial documents. The work was done in the 1600's I reckon about the same period when Shakespeare was alive. It is my custom every time I go, to lift the massive lid which was sawn into two halves, the whole lid being too heavy for one man. Each time I look and marvel at the work of the ancient craftsman many years ago with ancient tools for the princely sum of 4 shillings, so legend tells us and a truly work of devotion depicting the different facets of life then and now.
Each time I walk across the bridge I never cease to wonder at the great engineering feat and am doubly grateful that I have lived and followed its growth from start to completion, and right on my doorstep. As I tread along this great highway suspended high above the waters of the Humber. I am intrigued by the thought of being able to walk into Lincolnshire, and usually I approach its shore wrapped in idle thoughts (as I generally am). I see the old brickyard and cottage and weave a simple story of the occupants, the man and his wife and little girl, the man who I named Tom kept the fires going in the kiln when they were burning bricks which took about three weeks. The period is about my early apprentice days and wireless isjust coming into vogue.
Tom and his good wife talk about how nice it would be if they could have a wireless set for Christmas and the pleasure it would give the little girl. Tom had noticed some spare land near their cottage which was rarely used, and asked the boss if he could use it to grow vegetables and so forth. The boss knowing Tom was a good worker, agreed but warned him that if it was needed he would have to give it up.
Tom soon had it cleared and dug over then planted with all kinds of vegetables. It was his habit to go out on a Saturday night for an hour and have a couple of drinks (women rarely went in pubs in those days) then get some fish and chips and a quarter of sweets for the little girl, and that was their week-end treat. I can clearly see Tom walking from the village on a winter's night glad to get in his neat cosy cottage. His wife would put the fish and chips in the side oven while he went to stoke the fires up for the night, then come in and have his supper. All was content, or nearly so. As Tom was well known in the village and local he had let it be known that he had more vegetables than they needed so first one and then another would ask him to bring a cabbage, and another some brussel sprouts and so on. which was common practice in those days in pubs.
As it was all good stuff as is usual when grown on fresh new ground. Tom did quite well even though he charged a copper or two cheaper than shops. But even so the money in the tin on the mantelpiece was woefully small. Shortly after when Tom went in from work one evening his wife told him she was in the butchers' that morning and his wife told her that her washer woman had been taken ill so she volunteered to take her place. She proudly told Tom she was going every Monday. Tom replied. "Well you are trying, lass". But try as they could it was obvious they would not have enough money by Christmas. So a week before that date Tom called at the wireless shop to see what he could do. With his usual basket of different vegetable he called at the shop and explained to the man what they had planned for Christmas, butjust had not quite enough to pay for it. and could he pay the balance after Christmas. The man replied, "Well Tom, I know you to be an honest hard working man and I promise to have the wireless fixed in for Christmas Eve", for which Tom was more than grateful. Then noticing the vegetables in Tom's basket, the man asked Tom who it was for. Tom answered "It's for my mates and customers in the pub", well he said you could bring stuff like that for my wife she would be very pleased, and you would wipe the slate clean, and we would all be happy. As Tom walked home that night with his fish and chips and sweets, anticipating how pleased his wife would be.
So, when Tom went in on Christmas Eve after knocking the snow off his boots a glow of pleasurable satisfaction came over him as he looked at his wife and little girl listening in to children's hour. His little girl turned her glowing face to him as if to say "thank you dad", disturbing Tom's emotions momentarily. She took a little coaxing to go to bed even though she had hung her stocking up. After Tom had stoked up the brick kiln fires for the next day they sat down to their Christmas dinner a plump chicken given by the boss, and the Christmas pudding all was washed up and they sat back in their chairs indulging in their Christmas wireless and the merry carols with the Yule log burning brightly on the fire, a picture of simple contentment. As Tom looked across at his wife and said "well we did it lass", my little story ends and as I step along this great highway, the romantic and dreamer that I must be. I thought I would have loved to have done something in like manner, but upon modest reflection perchance I did.
As the present time of Christmas set me thinking of festive seasons at Pocklington and my younger days, (as it always does), of mother cooking the Christmas cake with a low fire as the side oven had not to be too hot and of scraping the mixing bowl out. of being laid in bed on Christmas eve and hearing the Primitive chapel choir singing carols in the street-magic seemed to be in the air at Christmas time. Next morning we opened our stockings happy and contented with our few toys. We then went out Christmas boxing as we called it, knocking on different people's doors to wish them a merry Christmas and a happy new year, then comparing with our mates how many pennies we had made, it was all part of tradition. The Christmas dinner would probably be a chicken (turkeys were unknown then except for the nobility and very rich) but to us a chicken was a great feast and so much enjoyed, with Christmas pudding to follow. A fire was lit in the front room which was another treat. I remember one time about 4 men dressed in garish garb going round. I think we called them plough boys a long forgotten tradition. We went to granny's a party given for all the grandchildren in which I recall Aunt Betsy singing a children's song about a rabbit which I have always retained in my memory and have sung to my children, also their children. Later on. when an apprentice. I and some mates mostly apprentices without a bean between us were talking in the street one night we decided to go singing and then spend the coppers on a fish and chip supper. My brother had a friend who lived at Barmby Moor a village about a mile from the town, and one night in the local hostelry a villager came in for a half pint saying "I don't know what we shall do for Christmas as we have nothing". A farmer friend suggested "why don't you and your wife go out Christmas singing you both have a good voices". The man thought of that and they did well and so the family had a good Christmas.
The times when Alec and I. spotting fir trees on our Sunday walks and as we worked up to Saturday dinner time fetched them at dusk on the Saturday before Christmas. On hindsight there was much poverty and wages pretty poor, but it was an accepted way of life for the very simple reason that no other was known. If we wanted anything we had to work and strive and save up until we could obtain it. I think we had greater self satisfaction and greater value in anything we got. I remember my first bike. I got it by doing a good amount of work for an Uncle who gave me the bike in payment. The holiday period at Christmas was two days but as an apprentice I enjoyed every minute, I recall going down the street one Christmas eve and met a tramp and give him a few coppers out of my little, but that was how I felt at Christmas friendly to all. On Boxing day morning playing around the town with the band, shattering the peace of the morning, and some good people still in bed. fairly early with the carol "Christians awake salute the happy morn" and another time as we had all gone to bed as brother Frank's quartet came in late and sang at the foot of the stairs for us "Hail Smiling Morn", wonderful singing. Dad's quartet also went out singing and for a few years it was customary for the two quartets to meet at thejubilee lamp, a marble edifice erected to some royal jubilee and one of the first street gas lamps in Pockington. and it was there they met at midnight on the eve of Christmas just for the sheerjoy of singing in harmony, with the church bells ringing a merry peel heralding Christmas day. What sweeter sounds can charm the ear than the human voice singing in harmony? What a lovely old-world picture I paint for myself, that beautiful harmonised singing ringing clear on a calm and frosty night. Old carols which I loved so dearly with a background of bells from the old church, with a gathering of late night revellers round them. The true spirit of Christmas.
Some recollections remain permanent in the memory, whilst many are forgotten or lost in the mists of time. On contemplation I am sure that the true spirit and feeling of Christmas has remained with me. throughout my life.
A small snippet of our Wales job comes surfacing from the storage vaults of the mind. We only came home once a fortnight and on the weekend there I introduced our "weekend challenge" as I termed it for the Saturday afternoon for some pinnacle or landmark for our small gang in those rolling hills and valleys. One of our aims once was a pinnacle on a small mountain called I think "Runig Fawr", but Elwyn the shepherd who always accompanied us, smiled and said that it was not as easy as it looked. He took us on the tractor down to the valley and partly up the other side. One of the lads fell off the tractor into the stream in the valley floor, but it was all good fun and he soon got warmed climbing the incline. When we reached the summit we found a cairn erected by the military. Elwyn thought it involved the ordnance map making. We also passed some crude dwellings half way up where Elwyn told us some workers mined for lead and silver long years ago. We eventually got back to "Gerdi" tired and hungry realising we couid not have accomplished it without Elwyn and the tractor. After tea we went down to the valley for our Saturday night treat and change to civilisation, our nearest village was Llanbedda with its quaint old pub. As we walked in, the customers remarked "The boys from Gerdi" and what I observed was the old fashioned cooking range and oven, with the old wooden settles around it making a pleasant homely picture of days gone by. Often we went to Harlech of historical renown, and other places, and I recall entering a pub where an organist was playing and everybody singing, so typical of the Welsh. To my surprise they sang an old fashioned Hymn tune which my father often sang called "I need thee" reminding me vividly of him.
At the end I approached the organist to express my thanks for a pleasant evening, and as I left him he remarked "it is always nice to meet people", a touch of simple philosophy with which I greatly concur, and in my lifetime experience have found so very true. Many years later when my wife Mary and I were on holiday in Wales we went to a concert in a chapel given by a male voice choir, in which the lady organist played request hymns. One person requested "Jesus shall reign where 'ere the sun" and after she played said "Isthat it?" the person said "No", she played another tune and that was not the one either, so I spoke up and said "I think the tune would be 'Rimington'" which indeed it was , the lady giving me a smile of thanks. After the concert I again had a word with members of the choir telling them of two numbers that appealed to me. One was a song my father sang in a quartet called "Little Tommy went a fishing" a humorous number I nave never heard since all these many years ago until that night, and the pleasure it brought. The other number I had never heard before but was much impressed with both the words and the melody. They were very interested in our long conversation one of them asking where we were staying, saying he would write them out for me, which he did, both words and music, Mary said "I thought you were going to talk all night", and I replied "when you meet people of kindred spirit Tempos Fugit". She had the last word saying good naturedly "You may think so, but I think rubbish".
As we were in Wales thoughts of the time some years previously when I was working at "Gerdi Blueg" in north Wales, and the time when two journalists came up to write an article on us and 'Gerdi', for the local paper. They took many photographs including me playing the cornet which appeared in the local paper. The reason for the cornet was that the band had an important contest in the near future and I had taken it to keep in practice, which I did each night. Incidentally the contest was the finals at London where we spent the pleasant weekend. Although we played well, we were unsuccessful.
I again pick up my pen recalling the day my eldest grandson and I climbed up the narrow winding steps of Beverley Minster. I may have mentioned to him that some years ago I worked on a job with a plumber who worked on repairing the roof of the Minster, relating to me that the treadmill (which I already knew of) was the only means of getting their tools and lead etc up. It had evidently fired the imagination of Paul the grandson who was interested in such matters, and had arranged for us to view the treadmill, and so with the verger the three of us climbed the many steps of that spiral staircase up to the chamber, our guide of rather portly build puffing and blowing somewhat no doubt thinking he didn't visitors like us every day.
The huge wooden treadmill in which I think more than one man (if need be) could get inside treading the wooden steps which revolved the contraption thus hoisting the rope. This was then the means used throughout the ages, no doubt renewed from time to time, but I observed there had been installed a small electric winch which I had half expected to find in these modern days nevertheless that link with the past and tradition found us both greatly interested.
I had now retired, although I had worked three years over the specified time, and had numerous contacts who knew my capabilities, and I kept more or less working as and when I chose. We had many enjoyable holidays abroad both with parties and the family and grand children. We had some good times with friends, and with hindsight, probably the happiest period of our married life certainly the most contented, reminding me of the saying "Of contentment make me rich, for without that there is no wealth", as also "Health is the greatest of gifts, contentment the best of riches", and "contentment, that's all the sad world needs". About that time I developed an interest in home made wine and joined a wine making club, and made gallons of all kinds of wine, getting a certain expertise at it and winning a prize for my Bramble and Elderberry
We had many a convivial evening with friends, I saw that Mary had acquired a taste for wine, as indeed I had, and once said "You remind me of that old song Simon the cellarer". The maids say they often see Dame Margery sipping and she says that she grows very old and is taking just a wee drop of something to keep out the cold, with old Simon sticking to his sober six flagons a day, as the song tells us. I was also accepted as a member of the Literary and Philosophical Society which I had been interested in for some time and many were the lectures I enjoyed. There is great truth in the old adage that "the more we learn the more there is to learn". I don't think one should be dogmatic in life, that is to say have a dominant and even arrogance of opinion (as some have). At the present time I don't think I have previously witnessed such vast changes of circumstance as I see today.
Times keep changing and again as some wit puts it "the winds of change", I certainly do not envy the politicians or the people who guide our destiny. But I fear I digress again, and in my own experience think it better to be more ambivalent. There are two sides to every question, to view and prepare to accept the other man's point of view however different it might be; everyone has his story I believe that one is born to one thing and one to another as men with great talents in various fields have also great weaknesses in others, as genius is akin to madness. God's gifts are not always in balance, and men less gifted, may be more stable natured, men with talents from the gods do not call for praising. It would make a very uninteresting world if God had made one mould for everybody.
A BITTER BLOW
Then fate struck me the most bitter blow of my life in the passing of my wife Mary. Tony my eldest son and I were sat at her bedside in the hospital and saw her draw her last breath, and peacefully go to sleep. A nurse brought me a cup of tea. and although keeping a stiff upper lip. when she put her arms around me the so kindly gesture nearly unmanned me.
I am convinced there is no sting in death, as in the hymn Abide with me. and having witnessed much death in the war. the sting is in the hearts of those closest and dearest left behind. At times Mary and I would talk in every day conversation about the parting of the ways which of course is inevitable Mary, in her practical and common-sense way said we would have to carry on as best we could, whichever one was left. At this time of writing it is four years since Mary left us I am glad to say in a sense that I do not complain unduly of loneliness as so many of my contemporaries. My interests are wide and one can be best described in the words of a song "if I could help somebody as I pass along this way, then my living will not be in vain". As I have been like that naturally all my life, maybe a little selfishly so. as it gives me great pleasure myself.
My the great love of music and reading and the great consolation I can derive from the written word, as a quotation springs to mind "let me show strength my cross to bear, let me self pity shun and hate, let me with faith deny despair, let me with grace accept my fate". As I think of that great aria from Lehar's operetta "Patiently Smiling" The Land of Smiles, so ably sung by Tauber which ends with the words "I may be sad at heart but nobody knows", and another from Pagliacci "On with the motley" in which the clown has to sing although his heart is breaking with personal grief. There are times when listening to good music loosens and tears my emotions to ribbons and I weep for the past The combination of the two which to me is heaven sent. I hope this is not self pity which I abhor, but if it is so I cannot change or help it, but wonder gratefully maybe, why do I experience both such sad and beautiful feelings? Memory is the only friend that grief can call its own. Would that I had the gift to describe in Pa words the feelings and thoughts I often experience, and envy and admire those who can. and deplore the fact that my eyes have never been enlightened or educated, but console myself although I cannot articulate my feelings which could be as strong as theirs.
I can count myself blessed in having many friends whose warm friendship has enriched my life, some whose human kindness when I perhaps most needed it, has been greatly appreciated and even touchingly so. I lost a while ago a good friend who I had worked with for some years, a gentleman overflowing with humanity and compassion for his fellow man, and am both proud and privileged to have known him, and to have been counted a friend among his so many friends. Also of his good wife so full of goodness and deep feeling and practical wisdom. Both being country bred they had a deep love of the countryside and the wonderful works of nature. The world is the poorer for their passing, but to me they have left an unforgettable legacy and memory that will never die.
Their two offspring's coming of such salt-of-the-earth parents are of the same nature, and their friendship is greatly valued and respected. Another couple who again have great depth of feeling for others, and an abundance of the milk of human kindness have been to me so generous especially since I lost Mary, leaving me feeling very humble and much moved and feeling I can never repay them except with my friendship, which they seem to appreciate. With many more friends I have much to be thankful for. I try to think positively, not always successfully. My sense of humour seems to have diminished of late but some people say I always have a ready smile, I don't know about that, but do believe, in my experience that if one can maintain a positive attitude it will generally draw positive responses from others.
I was recently browsing through one of Mary's recipe books and came across this little something she had written which must have appealed to her, and was so typical of her. "The thing that goes the farthest towards making life worthwhile, that costs the least and does the most is just a pleasant smile, it's full of worth and goodness too with many a kindness lent, it is worth a million dollars though' it does not cost a cent". I know that was her belief and her honest and true nature, and as I write and think of her, I miss her very presence so acutely it is almost painful. It is true that time, with its devouring hand, is the great healer, which is nature's way'. The tender and precious memories will never die as long as there is life in me. Youth lives on hope, old age on memories, again so vividly true.
As I was looking through some notes I recall one winter when the bairns were young and I made some cough medicine for them after Mary had washed them ready for bed they looked forward to it every night. When Neil was quite young and was with me (as always) in the greenhouse, he fell of the chair on which I had placed him and like a good 'un still wanted to go to recca on the slides. On dressing him in the morning Mary faulted him and took him to the Doctor's and on to hospital. She called round to tell me, (I was in charge of a major pub alteration) that he had a broken arm. One of the older men said "It is just like a green stick in one so young, and would soon be better". Mary crossly said they always happen something when with me. The landlord seeing that Mary was not up to the mark invited her in to sit down and kindly gave her a drop of brandy. One Christmas ! went to school when Kathleen was in the carol service, I don't think life could have been very easy at the time and I was moved by the little childrens singing, which is nothing new or unusual, and of the time when they had open night she was pleased to see me and got hold of my arm as if thinking she had parents also. And of the time when Neil cut his leg and I took him to hospital on the crossbar of my bike and on thejourney back home we passed a clock which said 10.30 and he chuckled and laughed saying if he had been at home he would have been in bed at 8 o'clock.
I was in the garden one Saturday when a lad came to tell us that Neil had hurt his leg and on going round found him sat in a woman's house who said "I think he has done something to his leg". I could see that and getting him in my arms set off for the Doctors and what impressed on my memory as we walked along was Neil saying "don't walk over any bumps Dad" and even though he would have been 9 or 10 I would have walked 10 miles if necessary. He had broken his thigh bone, and I went to see him every night for 6 weeks, I was working at Ferriby at the time and went straight from work on my bike almost by-passing our house. When he left hospital. Mary was not well, the health authorities thought it best if he went into a convalescent home for a spell at Hornsea. Kathleen and I took him one Saturday afternoon, but what I recall was the feeling of desertion as we left him and was glad of the playing field opposite where I went to compose myself a moment, thankful that Kathleen ran off to some swings.
They went all over with me banding I remember playing at Flamingo Land and getting on the 'bus to come home somebody saying Neil has run off down to the lake. We had just got new uniforms, and of course I slipped on glutinous mud. When we got back to the 'bus we were greeted with an hilarious outburst when they saw my mud speckled face and uniform. The bairns were full of life and mischief, some saying they only took after their father, but I think Neil was a little wild, maybe still is. and so I could ramble on. but now in my declining years and time with its hungry devouring hand flying past, i wonder how I found time to go to work, and although I always seemed to be engrossed doing something or going somewhere. I do at odd times sit and dream and reflect on what has gone on before. I seldom think of the future, it comes soon enough, but as I sit random thoughts and snippets come fleeting, also loosening others.
I recall the day when coming out of my time I bought a car for £5 brother Roy taught me to drive, no tests then and I recall driving down a road and suddenly saw a right hand turning I wanted and without thinking or signalling whipped across the road and think with amusement then and now. the folly of youth who sees no danger. At home when dad came in from his nightly visit, he would sometimes burst out in song (generally Sunday night) and we would often all join in harmony, which pleased him and he would proudly declare "There isn't another family in Pocklington could sing like that". There must have been a certain artistic talent in the Johnson family in a modest practical way as they were all good craftsmen. Earlier on we usually went mid-week to the Band of Hope for a good sing, and magic lantern shows, which we all enjoyed.
There was no wireless or talking films at that time, but generally in winter time would go to the pictures on Saturday matinee for less than a halfpenny (present day pence). I was the middle one of our family. Peter was the youngest and loved by us all. and by my school friends for his happy good nature. He always wanted to be with us lads, even before he could walk I think and nearly always was. but more so was the apple of mother's eye. and much more the great joy of her heart. Even now when I and my two brothers get together in conversation I liken it to a delightful and nostalgic orgy of reminiscences, and how dearly do I prize it. But to digress, to an amusing incident when I was married and I was helping the local Opera Society in an Eastern or Balkan opera. With three band mates I was on stage made up to depict some strolling musicians at a village wedding feast, and during the interval had to dash off home for something. One of the neighbours on spotting my painted face and gaudy costume shouted " I didn't know you were a film star as well. Herbert" and Mary said "I don't know how you dare come through the streets like that" but I was on a bike and cared not. I was thinking of a little something that Wordsworth wrote, and I think it worthy of note "Nor can I not believe but that hereby great gains are mine, for thus I live remote from evil speaking, rancour, never sought comes to me not. Malignant truth or lie. hence have I genial seasons, hence have I smooth passions, smooth discourse, and joyous thoughts".
Would that more of us could write in like manner, but the pen in Wordsworth's hands was gifted in the manipulation of words. I have never been avaricious, but neither have I been a waster or spendthrift. (Mary would perhaps have disputed that) but have practically always been on extra money and after our early years Mary started to save and it grew rapidly, with our ultimate aim of something for the bairns, when it has been of help and benefit. "There's no true joy in gold, it breeds desire for more", or put more succinctly "Aura Sacra Tames, that accursed hunger for gold". Of greater importance and appeal and slightly in that same vein are these lines: "Today upon a 'bus I saw a lovely girl with golden hair, I envied her as she seemed so gay. when suddenly she rose to leave. I saw her hobble down the aisle, she had one foot and used a crutch but as she passed a smile. Oh God forgive me when I whine, I have two feet the world is mine", Mary would have loved that and so do I.
The children are now grown up of course with their offspring who are all kind to me and a great joy: "Kind words are the music of the world, as also television the window of the world". Neil who has been working abroad is still at home, when not with his lady friend, and now in these troubled times, after earning big money is a case of easy come easy go. and things us older folk considered important or even normal, have gone in a seemingly vanished age. As my friend often said "I think we had the best years" and I quote "Where once this great nation, worldly acclaimed for its lofty ideals and human decency", now alas, with its corruption's and human greed and envy, one can only hope that some great person or happening can lift it to its former glory
A VISIT TO HAWORTH
I like to maintain with all its sham and drudgery it is still a beautiful world. Man may have made the town, but God made the country, reminding me of a day after spending a weekend at Sheffield with Kathleen and children, where Paul the grandson and his wife Angela after they had passed the night with his sister Carol at Manchester. He knew I had a yearning to visit Haworth. the home of the famous Bronte family. It was a lovely day. a day to cheer the heart as our journey took us through the lovely dale and moorland country, the scenery of which so much has rightly been written, we called at the village where the "Last of the summer wine" was made, that popular and amusing television series. We spent a pleasant hour viewing the familiar surroundings and laughing at some of the quaint expressions of some of the elderly locals. We stopped at a high moorland Inn where we had an enjoyable Sunday lunch sat outdoors drinking in the wonderful panoramic view and landscape before us.
As they had been to Haworth previously I went alone into the parsonage where the Bronte family had lived, and spent an enjoyable and interesting time, more so as that particular day there had been a meeting of the Bronte Society with members corning from every part of England. I had a few pleasant words, with them, as we had a mutual interest. All in all the day and everything wasjust right, a clay to cheer the heart and a pleasant memory.
As Neil was still at home and earning good money. I asked him not to waste it so he decided to buy our house, and I built on an extension and asked Mary what she preferred over the middle wall a lintel or an arch. She said "I know what you want to do so build a large arch making a bit of a feature", which I fancied doing and which seemed to please everybody.
Mary was proud (although never tellingme) but she got great pleasure from it all. My only regret was not having clone it years ago. Another small incident that sprang from the deep pools of memory when as a youth was asked if I would care to go with the bell ringers at Pocklington church, and we climbed the spiral stone staircase to the room where the bell ropes hung down.
What I observed was a small plaque on the wall gently moving backwards and forwards as they rang the bells. After ringing for so long some of the members climbed further up the ancient tower to fix some mufflers on the bells, and as they rang again the sound of the bells was diminished giving it an echo effect what they called a muffled peal. The legend was that many years ago a traveller was lost on a misty, foggy night when suddenly he heard the sound of bells faintly through the misty distance and using the bells as a guide reached Pocklington and safety, in gratitude the man left a sum of money for the bells to be rung early on the vigil hence I suppose for the muffled peal.
But now in my 85th year my book of toil is almost written, but I am not yet ready to go to my dreamless bed. with reasonable health and without a lot of care, more time to stand and stare, and watch the world go by. also more time to dream with the milestones of life behind me. Having been of a questioning nature of wanting to know, and on looking back I have been an observer of all things in life, and could claim a universal interest in almost everything. I have been in love with life and people which is not a bad thing, and is in itself educating. I think I have always had a vivid imagination with a streak or romanticism even more so than my father who was in his way a romantic. The aesthetic part of my life with a natural taste and sense pertaining to the beauty in all tilings. The two most dominating factors of my leisure time have been the love of good music and reading, both being quite natural and of course both life long, and have a great affinity with certain authors and composers I have a deep appreciation of 48 and composers I have a deep appreciation of poetry, which I think should be read twice over to really appreciate the essentials.
I get great pleasure in reading quotations by great men, I once read that it is a good thing for an uneducated man to read a book of quotations, the quotations when engraved on the memory give you good thoughts. I also have a tendency for Latin phrases with the meanings put so concisely. I envy those who have learned Latin. Of poetry I think Grey's "Elegy" must be my favourite, but there are many others.
All these things have given me great pleasure. Of abstract poetry I can see no sense of direction and I liken it to bent and twisted wire, and heaps of broken bricks often seen in art galleries and by the widest stretch of the imagination can see no inspiration there, but perhaps lack the aesthetic insight of those who can. And now as I write on the edge of Spring and reflect on the beauty of nature and of April when "April airs were abroad" called from the song sung by the Glasgow Orpheous Choir "All in the April evening".
I too have experienced feeling when April airs were abroad, many times in my life, of the awakening of nature, of something in the air. Colours are the smiles of nature, she has made nothing without it, the constant ever changing colouring of a lovely sunset evening - nature never stands still. The ripe loveliness of England in Autumn perhaps is the most colourful of all the seasons, with the many different shades and colours of woodlands so lovely, prompting so many painters to put brush to canvas. The ever changing cycles of the sky at night, the pale ethereal beauty of a calm and peaceful moonlight night, reminding me of Dad often coming in singing "Lovely night oh lovely night" and again of a storm ripped night with the clouds scudding across the sky. I often gaze up with a feeling of sublime awe at its boundless majesty, so infinite, stretching from here to eternity.
A SIMPLE LIFE
I live a simple life now but not an empty or idle one. always doing something. I enjoy going to Coffee mornings to my very good friends Doreen and Joe whose great kindness has enriched my life in so many ways. We have friendly and interesting talks covering many topics and aspects, each trying in one's own way to put the world to rights. I don't think I am a great humorist nowadays but do appreciate it in others, and George, one of the company, a retired fish merchant is and here is one of his many tales, a lady on a sea voyage was constantly pestering the captain in petty niggling things, and on reaching the destination port the said to the lady "you will be pleased to know madam we have dropped the anchor" the lady snapped back " I am not surprised it has been hanging over the side all the voyage", and of the man with one tooth in the centre of his mouth which he termed central h-eating.
I cannot help but record a rather pleasant and surprising incident that occurred to me a few years ago. As I was stood looking at the arts and crafts shop in Prestongate (Hessle) as usual. I was gazing at a three dimensional painting of a Welsh farmhouse vividly reminding me of 'Gerdi Blueg' the farmhouse we worked on, then a voice spoke in my ear "Do you like that painting?" I answered "yes" and on looking round saw a youth about 17 or 18 who said "Stay there" and went into the shop emerging a few minutes later with the wrapped up painting which he placed in my hand saying "There you are", I entreated with him to let me pay for it but he would not hear of it and with a smile went on his way leaving me gob smacked . I rushed home to show Mary and relate my experience, but she typical of her honesty asked if I had offered to pay for it. I said there was another similar painting and she handed me a fiver and told me to go and obtain it, I went into the shop and told the lady my story She like myself could hardly comprehend it in these times incident to many people who cannot see an explanation, some suggesting I may have worked on his parents' property in the past and he had not forgotten me. Whatever the reason it is unlikely the mystery will be solved but am thankful, not only for the gift but the renewing of my faith for the future of the youth of today. Speaking of youth reminded me of the day I was walking up the street in the town. In front was a young man and as I got nearer saw he was accosted and surrounded by a gang of yobbos. I could see the youth was of a timid disposition and frightened, but ever being the helper of the underdog I could not help but open my big mouth and said "Now let him go". The hooligans looked at me and another one said "alright let him go" but as I walked I thought how daft I was as it could been nasty, but could not pass without helping this young fellow, and was quite prepared to give a good account of myself.
STAUNCH BELIEVER IN WORK
I have always been a staunch believer in work which after all is natural for a man: "work is the very salt of life, not only preserving it from decay, but also giving it tone and flavour". Upon reflection my own life has not been wholly wasted as I had the name of being a skilled bricklayer, and the same as a cornet player, and am regarded as a respected member of the community (or so I have been told) and as one who loves his fellow man and more than willing to help others, I think I must be one to claim Laudator Temporis Acti or one who praises the good old days, and now servitude to the need for pleasure is the most intolerable of all forms of slavery to which mankind has subjected itself. Where have all our virtues gone, an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, of sportsmanship, the good old English tradition. I still think that Yorkshire and England the best places on earth. Was it Voltaire who wrote "the way to be a bore is to say everything". Reminding me of John Betjeman the former poet laureate, when asked what he would like to pass on replied with a smile two simple words, "don't hurt", which I think wonderful philosophy, which someone wrote as only commonsense in evening dress. Thus my simple story is told, written mainly for the family and friends who may care to read it in the years to come. Much may have been forgotten or lost in the mists of time, with nothing dramatic apart from the war years, simply just ramblings and thoughts of a "Yeoman of England".
A few scattered thoughts, and as I write with Christmas just gone my mind is full of memories of long ago and some of not so long and I cannot help but feel my life would be somewhat empty without memories and count myself blessed and grateful for them. In my young days Christmases at Pocklington were pretty well full of music in our family with Dad and brother Frank's Quartet, parties who were more or less invited to sing at certain houses, there being no other distractions at that time and singing throughout the ages has been an important thing at Christmas and so the singing of a good harmonised standard was enjoyed by listener and singer alike as was the friendly drinks bestowed on them. I remember my two younger brothers singing with Dad at someones door when they got the giggles no doubt brought on by the drinks of wine they had already had and cleared off ieaving Dad to make the apologies to the good householders. Having joined the band we traditionally played around the town on Boxing Day.
The first Carol fairly early always was "Christmas Awake" causing no doubt some previous nights revellers to raise their throbbing head from the pillow with a curse, and of going home at lunch time with a good appetite after playing all morning in the frosty air to a very enjoyable dinner, the legacy of the Christmas dinner, and to me better than the previous dinner - good as that was. Two elderly bass players to me better than the previous dinner - good as that was. Two elderly bass players Humphry Skelton and Doodle Eastwood who shouldered their large instruments manfully that day and were no doubt relieved when we played our last Carol and in a frivolous impish moment played an Amen in the then gathering gloom, raising a laugh among us young 'us. But now alas with the advent of wireless and television, all that form of musical entertainment has now gone and with it so has the enjoyment. I maintain that the greatest pleasure one derives from anything is measured by the self effort one puts into it, and I certainly have known and experienced more pleasure from those now long gone Christmases with its homely simple fare than now lolling back in a chair gazing at the modern sophisticated commercialism etc.,
I tell myself that maybe I was born out of my time, where there is no vacancy for me in this modern age and I am just a dreamer, but must think positively of all the good things that progress has brought. I well recall the wonder of seeing the first aeroplane in the sky and even the first motor car in the street, also the old fashioned saying of "anything incredible or phenomenal - as impossible as the man on the moon". The magic of Christmas has remained with me throughout my life and even now in my latter years although somewhat diminished since losing Mary is still there, with happy memories and the warm closeness of my own family and offspring for which I am eternally grateful.
Another snippet springs to mind is of the old ballad "The Mistletoe Bough" so familiar in our family I recall one Christmas shortly after my elder brother Frank died and as we sat around the fireside Dad started to recite the words of the old song and I observed tears in mothers eyes doubtless the words bringing back to them both the loss of their first born. Many years ago whilst on a visit to Pocklington as my two brothers and I where strolling around we met a gentleman who was music master at the Grammar School whom they both knew having played cricket together and were all avid cricket lovers, eventually the topic got round to music and I mentioned that I would like the words of "The mistletoe Bough", as its many verses weave a dramatic story. Some time later this gent was browsing in the music library in York and came across this old ballad and had the words printed out and gave them to my brother for me. a kindly gesture for which I was grateful. Again on another visit to an exhibition of old Pocklington memorabilia, among them I spotted a photo of a photographer who I vaguely remember as a grand old man the possessor of a fine bass voice and sang in the church choir and I passed a remark to the effect that he almost looked like Albert Schweitzer who I much admired and who in my opinion is one of the world's greatest and gifted characters, an authority on Bach's music and on organ building and music a very clever doctor and an expert on tropical diseases with the world at his feet left it all behind to live in darkest Africa where his great humanitarian work for the natives has been described by abler pens than mine, and makes for fascinating reading.
As I passed the aforesaid remark to an acquaintance standing by who looked at me completely unaware of whom I referred to but a voice from behind said "yes his likeness is very much like Schwietzer's" and turning round saw it was Sefton Cotton the music master with whom I had friendly discourse, and thanks for his kindly thought in getting me the words of the old ballad "The Mistletoe Bough" whose words of the first verse conjure up in my mind a veritable pen picture of Christmas in long gone years and associated nostalgically with my young days.
PAST DAYS OF YESTERYEAR
The recapture of the past days of yesteryear are always intriguing as it is indeed history which is naturally interesting. Bringing to mind that wonderful wintry scene on one of our Sunday walks, I think I have described it witnessing one of natures wonders and that moment of fairy like enchantment has lingered through the long lane of the years three quarters of a century now gone. I always compare the scene that Wordsworth had as he gazed at the host of Daffodils in his native countryside beside the lakes and little thought of the joy the scene had brought. The same pleasure has been mine through the many years, and again am grateful. I suppose all this is nostalgia which is described as an affection for all things of the past - yet how dearly do I prize it.
Reminding me of a humorous incident told to me by my Uncle Tom who was a foreman joiner on the railway and played in the railway band, one day as they were marching down Holderness Road and as the bandmaster gave the order to strike up again there opposite was a greengrocer loading up his donkey and cart to go on his rounds. Uncles mate evidently one for devilment sizing up the situation said to him "give it hell Tom" and when the band struck up shattering the silence (no motor cars then) the donkeys ears shot up and he set off in a mad gallop down the road with fruit and vegetables flying in all directions with the fruiterer shouting and running after it.
He said the band could hardly play for laughing especially Toms mate who knew this would happen and revelled in it. and the hilarious picture still dwells in my mind and I still have a good laugh. Uncle Tom a grand fellow, one who loved his fellow man. I well remember one of his sayings on meeting and old acquaintance and holding out his hand was "put it there if it weighs a ton".
With grateful thanks for assistance given by Brian Spencer and Richardson Printers
Printed February 1998