The Feature/Obituary Page
Herbert Ormerod

Bert at his 100th birthday party

6th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers
Bert Died just 2 month short of his 101st Birthday

The words of Nicola Duerden his Great Granddaughter at his funeral 1st Feb 2016

Herbert wrote this book of his life story in 2004 and his daughter Jean and granddaughter Kay have given permission for us to put it on the web site
Sorry this book is now out of print so you will not be able to buy a copy

Tributes paid following death of Dunkirk veteran turned author
Taken from the Rossendale Free Press

A former Lancashire fusilier who wrote a book about his life, including serving on the beaches at Dunkirk, has died aged 100.

Herbert Ormerod, formerly of Harvey Longworth Court in Crawshawbooth, died on January 21, at the Andrew Smiths home in Nelson.

Bert, as he was known, served during the Second World War from 1940 to 1945, seeing action in France, and was one of the many soldiers evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk.

He started in the territorial army before serving with the Lancashire Fusiliers, the King’s Own Royal Artillery and the 90th Anti tank regiment.

He wrote a book chronicling his life and service, which was published in 2004.

His daughter Jean said she was only a baby when her father went off to war.

She said: “I was born in 1941 and he was one of the first to go. He was in the territorials and they were called up first. He fought in Dunkirk and he was also in Burma.”

After returning from the war, Bert became a lorry driver and built a life with wife his Alice.

Jean, who was an only child, said he father was brilliant at telling stories.

She said: “He told a lot of stories about when he was away, he was always telling stories and making them a bit humorous, and somebody said you should write a book so that’s how it started.

“His granddaughter Kay got it published for him, he gave away more copies than he sold and then the Lancashire Fusiliers put the book up on their website so everybody could read it.”

Jean, 75, said her mother also lived until she was 93 so she hoped her parents’ longevity was a good omen for her, and praised the care team who looked after he father in his final year.

She added: “Dad was quite chirpy for his 100th birthday then he said he wanted to go. Even when he was in his early 90s he was still going on coach trips.

“He had a very good care team, who came in four times a day from Seva Care. We really appreciate what they did. The team from Andrew Smith house will be coming to the funeral.”

Husband of the late Alice, Bert leaves daughter Jean, son-in-law John, granddaughter Kay and partner Craig, and great-grandchildren Nicola and Adam. The Last Post will be played at his funeral at 2.20pm on Monday, February 1 at Burnley Crematorium, to be attended by the Fusiliers


this book was written in 2004

This book is for my granddad I'm proud of him you see
He's been through war "n" things you know
It wasn't the place to be.
He's been to every country
Met every person too
Remembered all their names as well
Now that, I cannot do.
A photographic memory
That is what they say
So he put it down on paper
A bit he did each day.
It took him quite a while
So much of it to do
So granddad what I've done with it
Is made a book for you

With love from your very proud granddaughter
Kay x x

The True Life Story of Herbert Ormerod
This is the true life story of Herbert Ormerod, that's me. I was born on the 13th March 1915, at number 6 Chapel Street in Stacksteads. I later found out that I was called Herbert by my mother who said that when my brother Jim came home on leave from France she asked him what I was to be called. He said, "Why not call him Herbert after my mate Herbert Fleet who was killed at the same time as I was wounded at Hooge in Belgium?"
Well the time came when I had to attend school which was the Tunstead C of E. The first day my sisters took me I ran back home. This went on for months, then, after a bit, I settled down, but I didn't like it one bit. That's why I can't spell today. Well when I was about ten and school had finished for the day, I went up to help on a farm up on Tunstead Top called the Folly Farm, which was owned by the farmer called Edgar Disley. He was a nice bloke and after I'd finished my jobs on the farm he used to let me stay in the house for a pot of tea and a bit of homemade apple pie. My job was mucking out the shippons, the stable and the pig-sty, and sometimes the hen cabins. It was one day after I had finished cleaning the cabins that I found hundreds of hen fleas crawling all over me. On seeing them, I ran like the devil home and when my mother saw me in that dirty state and scratching, she said, "Don't you come in here. I don't want fleas in the house!" Then she made me strip all my clothes off in the middle of the street with everybody watching and having a good laugh at my predicament. Well in a bit she came out with a tin bath, and then started filling it and putting in some disinfectant of some sort. Then after she'd finished scrubbing me, she made me get out and get dried and told me to go inside and put some clean clothes on. After that I felt grand. Then my mother burnt my clothes and told me never to clean out hen cabins again or she would kill me. Well I didn't, and I never have done to this day.
Then the time came to start mowing for haymaking, so one Saturday after we'd finished delivering the milk, Edgar turned the horse out to graze in the field, then went in the house for his dinner. I went home for mine, because it wasn't so far and after about an hour and a half, I went back to the farm and called at the house. He said, "I think we'll start mowing this afternoon. It's a grand day for it." So I said okay and told him that I was going to bring the horse and hook it into the mowing machine. He said, "Mind what you're doing. She can be a devil sometimes." Anyway I went and found that she'd gone to the far end of the field and was standing in a corner. I was about to get hold of her halter when she swung round and lashed out with her hind legs and kicked me in the arm, breaking it, and knocking me down. I must have been laid there for a good half hour before Edgar came and found me and asked what had happened. I told him and he said I'd better make my way down to the farmhouse and wait there until he came with the horse. Well I set off with Edgar following behind with the horse, and when I met his wife she was very upset when she found out what had happened. She said she would take me home and when we arrived my sister Edith took me to Doctor Shaw in Bacup who set my arm and put it in a sling. Then Edith and I came back home and my mother said, "You'll get killed one of these days, messing about with horses. Just watch what you're doing. Anyway you'll still have to go to school."
After five weeks in plaster the doctor took it off and said it was better, but would feel stiff for a week or two, then it would be normal.
One thing that happened that year was the coalminers' strike, which made all the cotton mills close because they depended on coal to fire the boilers. It was the same for the railways. Then the shoe and slipper industry stopped and that meant a general strike all through the country. At home and at other homes in the valley people were getting desperate to keep the fires going, mainly for heating the water for washing clothes and bedding.
So what we did was to go and get our own coal. There was my brother, me and a few more went up to a few slag heaps on Tunstead Tops, where the Isle colliery was, but not working. We used to take buckets, tin baths and old hessian sacks to bring back the coal in. I remember one day, about five of us went to a place near the Slip-In farm, where there were some old mine workings. It was here where an old collier called Sam Collinge started digging and broke through into a tunnel that led into the old mine workings. He must have gone in a good hundred yards, and then the roof came down and buried him. I ran over to the farm for help and when the farmer heard me shouting my head off that Sam Collinge was trapped in a tunnel, he went into the barn with another bloke. They brought some picks and shovels and started digging. Whilst this was going on another lad went running down to the Top-Of-The-Bank-Farm and to Mitchell Field Nook Farm for help, and after a bit a doctor and an ambulance called at Mitchell Field Nook and picked up two men with some timber and a few fence posts and shovels.
They managed to get to within about 400 yards of Sam but then had to stop because of the bad terrain. After a lot of hard digging and putting up roof supports, they found him badly crushed, and when the doctor examined him he said he was dead. So after a struggle he was brought out and placed onto a stretcher and carried down to the ambulance. But still after this tragedy, people kept going up there to dig for coal. This went on for months, even after the strike was settled.
I then went helping on another farm called Middle Tunstead, which was owned by Jim Pickup, who used to deliver coal with a black horse that used to bite. He also had three daughters called Annie, Mary and Jenny, then a son called George. I liked working here, mostly with the cattle and the donkey. The best part was when George and I went delivering the night's milk with the donkey. We used to start delivering at Rook Hill, over Booth Road to Church Street. Then George would leave me to go courting, so I would deliver in Church Street, Union Street, Plantation Street and finish in Dale Street in Stacksteads, and then back to the farm to unharness the donkey and give it fodder and water if it was winter time. But in good fine weather, I would put it out to graze in the little field near the farm house. Then I took the milk tins in for washing, and George's mother would give me a nice drink of tea and a piece of her home-made cake. Later, I would leave for home. Sometimes I would call at the chip shop at the bottom of Church Street and get a bag of chips and eat them on my way. I did this every night until I left school at 14. That was in 1929.
After a week I got work at Olive Mill in Bacup, which was a shoe and slipper factory. My first job was pricking and marking in the clicking room, then cutting shoe linings on a board, then after a while I went on a press, cutting leather uppers. After working here for a few years the firm went on short time working, which meant the dole for the most of us. Well that wasn't for me so I decided to go into the building trade because just then there were a lot of houses being built all over.
I managed to get a job up at Newchurch at Waterfoot, as a labourer to a bricklayer called George Heap. It was there that a young boy was playing over a lime pit, trying to push a wheel-barrow on a plank when he fell into the pit. Luckily two workmen saw him and pulled him out, then got a water hose and sprayed him with water. The lad looked to be in a bad way. He said his eyes were burning and he couldn't see. An ambulance came and took him to the hospital for treatment. His dad, Jack Nicholson went with him. Later on in the afternoon they came back and his dad said his son was better, but he wasn't to play anywhere near the houses again.
There was another bad accident a few days after. One of the joiners who was putting windows in tripped over a piece of timber and fell as he was carrying a pane of glass. He nearly severed all his fingers and he was taken in a car to the Rossendale General Hospital to get treatment.
When the houses were finished I got another job, this time working in Haslingden for a firm called Drakes Builders. They were building a chimney and a big lodge for holding water and a filtering plant. After that I worked up at Crawshawbooth widening the road and covering in the river by placing steel girders and concreting in between them. Then I worked on widening the bridge in front of the Sunnyside Printworks and during the dinner break we used to go into the Printers Arms nearby.
Well it was round about this time in January 1938 that I joined the 6th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, a Territorial Army Unit.

My girlfriend, Alice Howarth, who I had courted for five years and who lived in Bacup, played holy hell when she knew I'd joined the army, because she'd been reading the daily newspapers that told of things that were happening in Germany. I told her that it was best to be prepared; there were a lot of lads joining up.
We finished the work in Crawshawbooth and then I went working for the Bacup Water Works, laying pipes up Cutler Lane in Stacksteads, then up Thorn Estate in Bacup. It was whilst I was working in Bacup that Alice and I decided to get married, and on Saturday the 16th of July 1938 we were married at Saint Saviour's church up New Lane in Bacup. It was a lovely day for everybody. Alice looked smashing in her dress and also the bridesmaids. As we came out of church the girl guides formed a guard of honour, which we thought was very nice. Then, after the church ceremony, we all went to the Bacup Co-op Cafe for the reception which I think everybody enjoyed as well. After the cake was cut and the speeches had been made, my wife and I went to see a variety show in Burnley.

We both enjoyed it very much, and afterwards went back to our new home which was just a back to back dwelling, but to us it was a palace. We didn't have a honeymoon until a few years later because money was scarce, and also because of our other commitments. The month before the wedding, all Territorial units had been sent for special training. Our Battalion went to the Gower Peninsular near Swansea in South Wales for a fortnight, and then it was back to laying pipes in Bacup.

This pipe laying went on for two years, first of all starting up Cutler Lane in Stacksteads where Henry Tricket the builders had started to build about eighty houses -it's now called Greens Estate. We were laying a new water main from the Bacup Road all the way to the top of Cutler Lane, and then other pipes branching off to the avenues that went round the houses. Sometimes we helped the plumbers to fix the smaller lead pipes inside the houses, and I sometimes had to go out with a lorry driver to bring plumbing materials to the different jobs and that made a nice change. After working up Cutler Greens we then went up onto the Thorn Estate in Bacup, doing the same thing. These houses were built by Thomas Coats of Bacup, who was well known by most of the people of Bacup as Ready Money Tommy. Then when that job was finished, we went up Burnley Road in Bacup to Broadclough Mill to lay a water main and to put some new water valves in.Well, reading the national newspapers, things were looking a bit grim and everybody was talking about Germany and the things that were happening there. Also all the local councils were asking if they could go round to people's houses and inspect their basements or cellars, to see if they were suitable for an air-raid shelter. There was a lot of activity making blackout material too, and making sandbags.
It wasn't long before a bloke at work called Jim Eagan, said that his brother John had to report to Fulwood Barracks and rejoin his Battalion which was the North Lancashire Regiment, or the Loyals. So I said, "It looks like the rest of the army is being called up." Anyway that night it was there on the table. A brown envelope with HMS on the front. "Well," I said to Alice, "it looks like war as all the naval and army reserves are being called up to report to their units." That was at five o'clock at night, so after tea I made my way to the drill hall in Rochdale and reported to the Regimental Sergeant Major, who told us all to go to the quarter master and get issued with our kit. Then those who lived up to ten miles away were told we could go home and report back there in the morning. Well, that wasn't so bad. It gave me a chance to sort things out at home and at work. The boss said it was expected, so not to worry. He told me that my wife would still get my wages for the first three months, and after that it would be reduced to half, then it would cease after the next three months.
So that was my entry into the war. Please read my other writings about my army life. I hope you like it, and some of you will remember the times when Manchester and Salford got blitzed, and all the rejoicings afterwards.

War Memoirs Of A Bacup Lad

There had been an air of expectancy that something was going to happen, despite the declaration of peace in our time.
"3449863 Fusilier Ormerod H, to report to the Drill Hall Rochdale at 1700 Hours 28/8/39." This was it.
The issuing of equipment, including a Rifle, made things look grim indeed, and having been kitted out we were sent to guard a Royal Airforce Factory at Heywood. On Sunday the 3rd September I was on guard duty when my Officer came along and told us to stand down, and that war had been declared with Germany. Later that day my wife came to see me. We were given permission to go home for the day. On reporting back to Battalion we were put on full alert and put on special training, and afterwards we were moved to Barrow near Whalley. The memory I have of this time is of the very severe weather conditions. I can recall our unit and a company of the East Lancs being sent with shovels to try and dig out a train which had been trapped in a snow drift and stuck for four days near Hellifield.
Alice my wife was at this time rushed to hospital in Bury. My commanding officer gave me a pass so that I could go home to Bacup and visit my wife. There were four other lads from Bacup who had also got passes, so we decided to travel together. Our journey started fine in a Bren Gun Carrier, but after we'd been travelling for about a mile it happened. Yes we were stuck! Out we got and there was nothing we could do except to walk it if we were to get home. After ten hours slog we arrived at Bacup wet through and dead on our feet. The following day I went to the hospital where Alice was a patient. Unfortunately though, she was in an isolation ward and we only managed to see one another through the window. It was poor consolation after my trudge through the deep snow, but my father was able to go and see her most days and he kept sending me reports on her condition which cheered me up no end.
I reported back to my unit in time to move camp to Ripon where we joined the 9th King's Own Royal Regiment and a company of the Scots from the Gordons and Seaforth Highlanders, for intensive training with grenades, machine guns, rifles and bayonets. After we had passed out we were allowed leave for 48 hours, but whilst I was away, the unit, at a moment's notice, moved south, and when I got back to Ripon I found the Royal Welsh Fusiliers instead of my own unit there. I was put up for the night in a hut full of Taffies all speaking Welsh, and I was glad when, the following morning, I was issued with haversack rations and a travel warrant to catch up with my own unit in the south. The journey, including three changes, was very tiring and seemed to take forever, but at last I rejoined my unit at Godstone in Surrey. Our billet was a large barn, or what was left of it - no doors and half the roof missing! We were camped here for a fortnight, then to our relief things began to happen. We were issued with rations and ammunition and marched to the railway station about a mile away to board a train for Southampton, where we then boarded a troopship for France.
But just before we started to go up the ship's gangway, I met a soldier called Jack Haworth, whose parents kept a chip shop in Bacup. He wished me good luck and a safe journey and said he hoped we would meet again in happier circumstances.
The troop ship was a small transport, which used to sail between Liverpool and Belfast and also to the Isle of Man. After a trouble free crossing, we arrived at the French port of Le Havre, and after disembarking we had to help to unload another ship. Then we marched to the station and boarded cattle trucks to a small town called Fauville, but we didn't go into the station, we had to walk a mile, after which our company left the rest of the battalion and we carried on for another mile and at last arrived at a farm. Each platoon was shown to their billet and ours was in a big dutch barn. To get in you had to climb a ladder. Well, each one of us was given orders of some kind. The first thing was getting a meal, which was corned beef stew and some nice French bread and a pot of tea. Then a guard was mounted and the company officer came round and told us to keep out of trouble. Also he warned us to be careful whilst staying in the barn. If we wanted to smoke, we had to go outside.
We hadn't been there long when the heavens opened and we all made a dash for the barn. We got settled down for the night, but it couldn't have been more than ten minutes when there was a bloke shouting,
"Get up! There's rats all over the bloody place!" Then somebody struck a match and lit a lamp. You could see the blighters running along the ledges and feel them under the hay. Most of it was horse bedding by the smell of it, so me and a lot more of the lads got out and spent the night sleeping under the trucks. Although it was raining hard, it was better than being eaten by the rats.
I was glad when it came daylight and a call came from the farmhouse. Me and two of my mates went over and who should it be but the farmer's wife, holding a large jug full of hot coffee and milk and two boiled eggs each. I think she charged us six francs for the lot. After we had cleaned ourselves up, we went down into the town and had a good look round. It was a lovely place, with nice gardens and shops and a couple of cafes where English was spoken.
About ten days later the battalion got orders to move again, so it was back on the cattle trucks to the station and we travelled to a big mining town called Lens. Just going into Lens we went past some sandbagged dugouts from the First World War. They had, in big letters, the names of regiments who had served in them. Half a mile further on the train stopped and we all detrained to get a wash and some grub, which was the same bully beef stew and tea.
To get a wash we lined up at the end of a railway shed and the water barrel we washed in had about an inch of scum on the top. Well, I thought, I'm not washing in that muck. So I went looking for a bucket or something. Anyway, after a lot of scrounging I managed to find an old biscuit tin and went up to the engine driver for some hot water. He motioned me to hold the tin under a steam pipe until it filled up and it was grand to get a good wash and shave in hot water - the first wash we'd had for two days.
After that brief stop, the train pulled out of Lens and took us to another mining town called Vermelles, ten miles away. Here the Battalion HQ Company was billeted and the four rifle companies were in the small mining village of Bully-les-Mines, where a lot of fierce fighting took place during the First World War. Our platoon's quarters were in some derelict houses, and others were in an old granary swarming with mice. There was also a massive war cemetery where thousands of British soldiers, French and Germans were buried. There were a lot of Lancashire and Yorkshire lads amongst them, some of them only nineteen years old.
One day all the company had to parade with their towels, and be marched to a big colliery on the Béthune Road. The colliery was called Philosophy and we arrived sweating. Then we all filed into the pit baths and each one, after undressing, had to wind their clothes up to the ceiling, then go under the showers. The best thing was when the women came round giving you soap, which was a brown colour, they didn't seem to mind seeing us in the raw. I think they liked it. As they were going away the lads were giving them wolf whistles. Well, after we all had our baths, we formed up again into three ranks in the colliery yard, but just then an overhead waste bucket started tipping colliery waste, which blew all over the place, making us look like minstrels as it stuck to the sweat.
We marched back into Bully-les-Mines and started preparing to move once again. This time to Lille, ten miles from the Belgian border. My company was billeted in the next town, called Tourcoing and the others in Roubaix. Here we went out to dig trenches and deep dug -outs in all the three towns, most of them in parks and near to main cross roads, but also in places road blocks were set up and manned by us. Meanwhile more troops were moving up near to the Belgian border, all home leave was cancelled and we were confined to our billets until further orders. But before these orders were given, me and my mate went up into Lille for a stroll and to see what the place looked like. We went into a couple of cafes, then decided to go to see the town of Armentières. We hadn't long to wait for a tram. We arrived and had a good look at the place, but the time was getting late so we set off back as we thought, but the tram went another way and the conductor said that was as far as we could go, so we had to get off. We walked for a good half hour until we came to some crossroads, where two Belgian gendarmes wanted to see our papers. They asked us the name of our unit and when we refused to tell them, they took us into a police post and took possession of our pay books. They kept us for at least two hours, then a British Army Truck came and picked us up and took us back to our company. When we got back we had to report to the orderly officer and explain where we had been when the Battalion was on orders to move. Well we told him the truth, and after a good dressing down he told us to get our kit ready, and after waiting about eight hours we eventually moved out in company order and joined the rest of the Battalion just outside Lille. The time was just six o' clock in the morning of the 10th May 1940.
We moved in convoy with a lot more of the 42nd East Lancashire Division and came to a town called Tournai, which was in the middle of a bombing raid. The houses were on fire and the railway station was partly demolished. I saw a large steam locomotive that had been lifted and flung onto the platform with the bomb blast. Luckily we all got through and carried on into Belgium. On and on we went, going through a lot of flat country and small villages until, after going through the village of Lessins, we pulled off the road and went up a farm track where we got down from the trucks. Each platoon was told to dig in and try to get some rest. Our trenches were right near to the farm house, and just as we had finished digging we heard a lot of gunfire coming over from our rear. Our officer said they were our guns that were firing on German positions, and not long after German guns started to retaliate and we could hear the shells going over, bursting a mile back.
Our cooks made some effort to make us a meal and the farmer came out of the house bringing some hot coffee and home made bread and hard boiled eggs. After we had eaten, the guards were posted and the rest of us settled down for the night. It must have been about two o'clock in the morning when a lot of gunfire was heard up towards Brussels and over to our left. Shells were going over us and bursting about two miles away. Then the farmer came out with his wife, carrying bits of furniture and bedding and anything they could carry. He came and asked us if we would help him to load the cart and bring the cow from the field and tie it to the back of the cart. Well we all mucked in and they said they were heading south towards the Somme. It was terrible to see the old farmer and his wife having to leave their home and all the cattle and the fields of corn and everything they owned.
When morning came, we were off again, going towards Beauregard, when we halted because of a big traffic hold up. The road ahead was littered with smashed vehicles of all kinds by a bombing raid and a lot of refugees had caught it. Some were badly wounded and one or two killed. Then it was our turn to be hit by Jerry, but not by bombing. This time it was by low flying fighters, machine-gunning everything on the road. I saw a cart load of women and children being shot up, also their horse had been shot and was lying in the road thrashing about, trying its best to get up onto its feet.
Later on when the road was cleared we were just about to move off when a car pulled up with two adults and a young girl in. The driver must have overheard some of the lads talking in broad Lancashire. He asked our officer if he could find him some petrol, just to get them to the coast. He said they'd had to leave Brussels in a hurry and that the petrol tank was showing empty. He said he was the under manager at the Courtaulds factory in Brussels and his real home was in Tottington near Bury. The officer gave him two tins and filled the tank and also gave him about fifty woodbine cigarettes and wished them a safe and comfortable journey.
Well, after that little incident, we started to move forward to a place called Ninove, about fifteen miles from Brussels. It wasn't long before we were again under enemy attack from the air. We were bombed and machine-gunned, but the only casualties were about eight soldiers of the Middlesex Regiment and a few civilian refugees. All the troops in the column opened up with small arms fire, from Bren guns and rifles. Later we came across a lot of smashed trucks and horse drawn carts and hundreds of people fleeing from the Germans. Just before entering Ninove, our platoon took up positions at some crossroads. Six of us broke through a wall in a corner house to fix up a machine-gun and whilst we were doing this a woman came into the room and started to pack clothing and other things into suitcases and bedding into a pram. She told us that she was leaving and that we could stay and have as much food as we wanted. She said her husband was in the army fighting in and around Liège. Well we thanked her and hoped that she and her young daughter had a safe journey, and that her husband was safe and would come through the fighting okay. Then we watched them go, with the pram piled high with their belongings and tears streaming down their faces. It was a pitiful sight to see them having to leave their home and their most treasured possessions. I've often wondered, and still do, if they ever came through and got to safety.
We fixed up our Bren light machine-gun and waited for the enemy to appear. Some more of our company were in positions at the other side of the cross road giving cross fire with their machine gun. There were also some of our three inch mortars positioned in vegetable allotments. We didn't have to wait long before we came under enemy shelling. Most of the shells went well over us and burst on the Royal Ulster Rifles positions, but then Jerry started dropping his shells short with some landing just in front of us. Part of the house we were in got a direct hit, blowing in part of the gable end and part of the roof. We were very lucky not to have been killed or injured. The only thing was the plaster and parts of the roof coming down on us.
Soon the shelling stopped and in the distance we could see the German infantry moving down a street about five hundred yards distant. Then they came under intense small arms fire from one of our companies. I think it was B Company. Then it was our turn to open fire. There must have been at least two hundred of them who tried to get over the crossroads. We let them come on to about one hundred yards than let them have it. You couldn't miss. They were shot to pieces. I think out of two hundred, only about twenty made it across and they were taken prisoner.
We stood fast to our positions. Then Jerry made another attack, this time with tanks. They broke through on our right, causing us to fall back under brigade orders. We waited until dark then moved further back into some corn fields on the right of Ninove. Here we dug trenches alongside another infantry unit called the Middlesex Regiment. We saw a lot of wounded riding on all kinds of vehicles and most of the soldiers were from the Guards regiments, who were fighting along the canal banks east of Louvain and Brussels. We could hear tremendous explosions all along our front where the Royal Engineers were blowing up bridges that the Belgians had failed to destroy. But it was too late to stop most of the German heavy stuff, such as guns and tanks from crossing. That was the trouble. We hadn't anything big enough to stop his advance. He also had dive bombers to bomb at will.
Well we dug away like mad and were expecting the enemy to put in another attack when a dispatch rider came to our position and handed the officer some letters and dispatches and a parcel for me. The orderly sergeant came down the trench to me and said,
"You lucky sod Ormerod!" The lads came round and had a good look and when it was opened their eyes bulged out when they saw the cake and other things. The cake was a bit squashed, but was lovely after not having anything to eat for twelve hours. About ten of us had it and the officer said it was the best he'd ever had. We said our thanks to those at home for all the other things too, which were socks, scarf, sweets and cigarettes, and a nice letter wishing me and the rest of the battalion good luck.
Not long after we came under more shelling and heavy mortar fire. It caused a few casualties but not serious, just shrapnel wounds. The order was then given to pull out and withdraw to new positions and dig in again. We set off towards a town called Oudenaarde. About a quarter of a mile from the town an officer from the Royal Engineers told us to hurry, because they were going to blow the bridge. Everyone started to run although we were very tired, and we'd only just crossed when it went up with a hell of a bang causing everybody to scatter and duck. There were things flying everywhere! This bridge was the main bridge over the River Schelde into the town.
The troops lining the river banks were a machine gun battalion of the Manchester regiment and a battalion of the Lincolnshire regiment. We were then ordered to dig trenches about a mile further back in case they had to pull back. As we were moving through the town there was a big air raid. German Stukas came over, dive bombing the town, hitting a large church where a lot of refugees were sheltering and tending to their wounds. When we looked again the church was blazing so our officer detailed a dozen blokes to go with a sergeant and try to help the refugees. Some had been killed outright and some badly wounded.
After about an hour the lads came back to join the company and later we halted to dig in. A German fighter plane came over as we were digging and started to machine gun us, killing our sergeant and wounding seven privates of another platoon. Then the enemy started shelling us again, hitting some of our trucks and setting three on fire. Then, on our immediate left, a battalion of the Royal West Kent regiment put in a fierce attack on the enemy positions where the mortar fire was coming from. Trying to avoid being captured, the Germans came in front of our positions, right into our gun sights. So we opened fire with everything. First the mortars, then with rifles and machine-guns. The Germans lost many, killed and wounded, though we lost none. But later the enemy brought up tanks, something we all dreaded, because we hadn't anything to stop them - only the artillery two miles to our rear, who gave us good support as we were ordered to withdraw and to take up new positions further back.
On our way we came across some of our troops who had been wounded and couldn't go any further. They hadn't any transport so what we had left we gave to them. That left us a few short. The ones we kept were for the rations, ammunition, anti-tank rifles, big packs and medical supplies, as well as a water tanker. We carried on until we arrived at a town called Kortrijk. There we dug more trenches and afterwards the cooks managed to make us a warm meal of bully beef stew and some bread they had managed to get from a bakery. There was also some tea and it was the first warm meal we had had in three days.
Then we moved on again to a town called Mouscron. Here we had to make a big road block under a railway bridge and take up positions on the railway embankment. Again we were bombed and machine-gunned from the air. We could see some of the houses nearby were on fire and others were completely demolished. You couldn't see anything for smoke.
Some of us were ordered to bring anything heavy to make a road block. In one house we went into we found an old woman in bed. She was a cripple and was unable to move. We set about trying to get the bed through the door, but it wasn't possible, so we had to smash a window and break the frame and part of the wall to get the bed out. Then one of our drivers took her to a large building where some medical staff could look after her. We also came across some houses where the occupants kept pets, such as rabbits, cats and dogs and also canaries. We released them to the wild, though not the rabbits. These were killed for eating. The cooks, with a few defaulters, skinned them and made us rabbit stew. It was a nice change from bully beef and biscuits.
Not long after, the enemy started to shell us and their infantry put in an attack on the railway station where the West Yorkshire regiment were in position. Then they came down and over the banking trying to cut the West Yorks off. That's where we went into action. We let them come nearly to the bridge, then all hell broke loose as we fired all our mortars until their ammunition ran out. Then our artillery opened up. At that the enemy were stopped in their tracks and started to fall back. All our brigade then started to go forward and pushed Jerry back for over a mile before digging in again, expecting the enemy to counter attack.
After this action we were again ordered to fall back, this time going through places where there had been fierce fighting in the 1914-1918 war - such places as Halluin, Menen, Ypres and Kemmel. At Kemmel we stopped at a big wood and dug in some old First World War trenches. We dug up all sorts of soldiers' equipment - broken rifles, old webbing, steel helmets and some old rifle ammunition which had gone rusty. Whilst we were digging, I spotted someone crawling through a ditch. I told my mate what I'd seen so he said,
"You try and get round behind him whilst I keep him covered." Well that's what I did. I came at him from behind. He didn't hear me coming, and when he saw me he burst into tears he was so glad that I was British and not a German. He had been wounded in both legs and was in a bad way. I called out to my mate and between us we got him into the trench, then shouted for someone to bring a stretcher and the M.O. After about five minutes the lad was seen to by the M.O. and the company officer, who asked him which unit he was from and where it was in action when he got wounded. He told them his regiment was the Fifth Battalion the Royal Scots, and was cut off about a quarter of a mile away. After they had taken him away Sergeant Gale, our platoon sergeant, took me and two more up onto a hill and into a small wood to see if we could spot the German positions. We sat up there for a good half hour but the only thing we saw was a few gun flashes in the distance.
We came back to our trenches and reported to the officer. Not long after, a German spotter plane came over, circling our position, but before this happened a farmer, as we thought, had come round selling hard boiled eggs and was later seen in a ditch with a radio, transmitting our position to the enemy. All hell broke loose as enemy bombers came diving down, dropping bombs and setting fire to the wood and blowing up three of our trucks. Then Jerry fighter planes followed and started machine-gunning us. There was nothing we could do only drop flat and take cover. I dived under a truck and thought, well, this is it! There were bomb fragments flying all over the place. One piece went right through my pack and mess tin, and another cut the heel off my left boot. When it was all over, I looked around and saw that the truck I'd been sheltering under was riddled by bullets and bomb fragments. It was very frightening. I would sooner be shelled than bombed any time.
Later on our officer came with the sergeant major to see if we were all okay. About ten of the lads had been hit but only one, a lance corporal, was in a bad way. He was called Frank Brennon and came from Liverpool. The M.O. did what he could for him, but unfortunately he died during the night; when it broke daylight we buried him near to the road and put a cross over the grave with his name, rank and number, his age and also his regiment.
Later that day we were ordered to move again. The first thing I did was to find the quartermaster and get a fresh pair of boots and also a pack and a mess tin. Well he found me the things I wanted, but the boots hurt me after walking a mile and were causing blisters and rubbing the skin off my heels, so I sat down and said bugger this for a lark and hoped a truck would come along to give me a lift. Soon M.O. came and saw me sitting at the roadside and asked me how I was. I told him what had happened, so he made me take my boots off and then he just put plasters on and said,
"Just stick it out until we stop at the next place and if they get worse I'll try to get you on a truck with the wounded." I carried on walking in agony for another three miles, then a lot more of the lads fell out of the column and a three ton truck stopped and picked us up with some of the wounded who had to lie on some army packs and ammunition boxes. We hadn't gone more than a mile when we came under heavy shelling. One shell burst under our truck, blowing the bottom out and smashing the front axle and the offside wheel. The only thing that saved us was the soldiers' packs and the ammunition boxes. Luck was with us. None of the ammunition was hit and we all managed to get out safely and got down in a ditch. The quartermaster then came to us and told us to get our mess tins and go into a broken down barn where the cooks of another unit were dug in. They gave us corned beef and biscuits and a mess tin of nice hot tea. By now my feet were feeling better, so I went with a few more to bring the wounded their meal. We stopped there about five hours then moved off again, but we had to leave the wounded who couldn't walk because we hadn't any more transport.
We'd gone another four miles when we stopped near a farm for a rest. Most of us had no drinking water, so me and a bloke called Jim Hacking who came from Royton near Oldham went to the farm with six water bottles each and we were met near the door by the farmer's wife who must have known what we wanted. She let us come in and fill our bottles. Then she filled a bucket and followed us to the ditch and let the others fill theirs. Just then the officer came and had a word with her. He told us that she would make us some tea and coffee if we could stay, so me and Hacking went back with her and waited in the kitchen until it was made, and whilst we were waiting she gave us two big slices of home-made bread with jam on. It was the best thing I'd eaten since my wife sent me the cake. It tasted lovely!
The tea was in a bucket and there was coffee in another. I offered to pay her, but she shook her head to say no. When we got back to the ditch, we had no sooner started to dish the stuff out than Jerry started to shell us. This was the worst shelling we had experienced so far. Most of the shells were dropping in the fields amongst the cattle, killing them. We lay flat in the ditch for a good ten minutes, then we got up and started to take the buckets back, but we had only just started across the field when a shell came over and hit the farm buildings. Then another one dropped in front of the farmhouse and started a fire. When me and Hacking heard the shells coming over we dived flat on our faces. We lay there for a bit, then I got up and looked at Hacking who was still lying there. He said he had been hit in the shoulder and the elbow. I helped him to his feet and saw part of his elbow had been blown off and part of his shoulder. A couple more lads had also been hit, but only slightly wounded. I called out to the lads to get the M.O. and I helped to get Hacking down onto the road where he could be put on a truck and attended to. It didn't take them long to get him on a truck. I took his rifle and ammunition and another lad carried his webbing equipment, and another his steel helmet.
Then we were off again. This time to a small mining village where we dug big tank traps across the streets and, with the Royal Engineers, we dug more trenches where the engineers laid explosive charges and waited for the enemy to show himself. During this operation we heard a lot of planes going over and looking up we saw about twelve German bombers. I thought, here we go again, another bloody bombing. It never seemed to stop. We had been bombed and shelled every day for over a fortnight, and had never seen any of our planes since we left England. Then, instead of bombs coming down, we saw they were leaflets, hundreds of them. I picked one up and it said: "Englanders, lay down your arms. You're surrounded. You will be treated as brave soldiers. Your Belgian allies have given up and laid down their arms and also the French are falling back on all fronts. If you don't lay down your arms now you will be taken prisoner, or annihilated."
Things looked very grim. We were in a dangerous position. The Belgian troops, who were on our left, had thrown down their arms leaving our left flank open to a German attack, which could cut us off from the rest of our troops. On our way to the coast we came across more units as bad as ourselves. They were all mixed up. All making their way to the coast. We met a French artillery battery in action. They were using all their ammunition up and then blowing the guns up. They were also shooting their horses. For miles and miles, in fields and on roads there were smashed trucks, guns and all sorts of military equipment. We also met a battalion of French infantry digging trenches. They looked to be in a poor condition but they were all drinking wine of some kind and eating bread. As we passed the Frenchies we met a bloke from the Royal Navy who was looking for his brother who was serving with the Royal Warwicks. We told him they were in positions further back, near to the town of Kemmel, but that was yesterday, they could be anywhere by now, things were moving so fast. We asked him how far it was to the coast and he said about seven miles. He also told us that there were thousands of troops trying to get out of the French port of Dunkirk - the navy and all kinds of craft. Well, we left him looking for his brother and continued towards the coast. We were all on our last legs and it was here that I had to go and relieve myself in a ditch. I had dysentery badly, and whilst I was there another of my mates came looking for me. He was the same, suffering from dysentery. His name was Pat Walton and he came from Bury. He was after a cigarette and a match. He looked terrible. He had been in a shell hole with two dead French soldiers. One had no face and the other had half his side blown away.
I didn't have any cigarettes or matches, so we walked on a bit with a lot more of our blokes, and we saw a signpost saying Dunkirk. I said to Pat,
"Look, we're nearly home!" He said,
"I bloody well wished we were. Bugger this for a lark!"
Later, we came across a French soldier who looked to be asleep against the bridge wall. Pat went over and asked him for a cigarette, but got no answer. So Pat just touched him and he fell over. He was dead. We looked him over but couldn't find any marks on him. He must have been killed by the blast from a shell. Anyway we looked through his pockets, but could only find a pipe and some tobacco and a few matches. Pat lit up first and nearly choked, then I had go and I nearly choked.
It was here that we had to form up into our platoons to see who was missing. We had some that were wounded taken on trucks and a few that had dropped out on the march. After the roll call we stopped at a deserted farm. It had got dark, so we took up defensive positions for the night. It must have been about three o'clock in the morning when one of the platoon sergeants came round and told us to get ready to move and not to make a noise, but to follow him in single file. He said we were going to the beaches at De Panne near Dunkirk.
In the dark it was murder trying to miss walking into things the other troops had left behind. Now and again you stumbled over a dead bloke or tripped over barbed wire or fell into shellholes. In the meantime, up on our right near to Ostend, we could tell there was a big battle going on by the noise and flashes of gunfire. Every minute it sounded to be coming nearer. We managed to get to the town of De Panne and make our way down to the sand hills where we just dropped exhausted.
The first thing we did was to dig shelters. A few of us went looking for doors and other things that would make a roof. We went into houses that had been damaged by the shelling and came back with roof timbers, doors, and tins of sardines. One bloke brought back an army pack full of potatoes and another bloke brought a pile of pillows to make sandbags. Then we all mucked in, some filling sandbags and making a dug-out and others peeling spuds and boiling them in a bucket that we found.

Later on Sergeant Gale from our platoon told us to try and find some of our lads who hadn't turned up and our company officer also sent a runner to get in touch with C Company of our Battalion, which was in positions over the bridge in Rosendael. We had got down to the farm where we started from, when Jerry started shelling again. There were a lot refugees sheltering in a barn, and an officer from a signals unit told me to give my emergency ration to some children who were screaming and frightened of the shelling. These rations were designed to feed a soldier for forty-eight hours when no other food was available, and you weren't allowed to eat them without an officer's consent.
Well we had travelled about a mile when we spotted nine of our lads; one was being helped along by two of his mates. They said they just managed to get out of Rosendael before the Germans broke through, and it was there that they'd seen Private White, the runner whose home was in Skipton, talking to an officer of C Company.
We started back and came down onto the sands. There must have been ten thousand troops at the beach and long lines of troops up to their necks in the sea all waiting to get on boats. We later met our officer who told us to try and keep together but if not, to make our own way to the boats.
"Good luck to you all," he said. Then we went up to our dugout and we were given some boiled spuds and a sausage each, washed down by a mess tin of tea. Next to us there was a company of the Cheshire Regiment and about twenty from the East Lancashire Regiment. We also saw two companies of a Guards Regiment marching in step as though they were on the parade ground.
Not long after enemy bombers came over dropping their bombs, mostly on the town of Dunkirk and on the dock area, hitting a ship taking on troops. Then German fighter planes came over us, machine-gunning troops on the beach and those wading out in the sea to get to the boats. We were lucky being in the dugout. Up on the promenade three heavy ack-ack guns opened fire on the enemy fighters and hit one as it flew towards a ship loading troops. We watched it crash into the sea, just missing a boat loaded with soldiers. Everybody started cheering when they saw it crash.
Soon an officer came and asked us to help to get some wounded out of some cellars and bring them down to the sea and help them onto the boats. They had been blinded and their eyes were bandaged. There were about thirty of them and some had other wounds besides being blind, but they managed to walk. We left them to the care of some of the Medical Corps and went back to the dugout. Soon after a bloke in our platoon came running to us and said he had seen a ship's lifeboat stuck in the sand further up the coast, and it needed a lot of us to get it moved into the water. Well about twenty of us set off to try to move it, but it wouldn't budge no matter how much we tried. So I said we should just sit in it and wait until the tide came in and floated us off. We got in and waited a good two hours, then the boat started to move, and me and a few more lads got out and started to push it into deeper water. The only snag was that we hadn't any oars to row with, so those with rifles used those and the rest with anything they had. Well we started off heading for a large ship, but it was slow going, though we must have gone at least a mile when water started coming in from the side. We were over-loaded and the rate the sea was coming in I thought we would never reach the ship. Then those of us with steel helmets started to bail out. One bloke in the bows from our platoon called Collier who came from Doncaster started to panic and said he couldn't swim, then somebody said,
"Well now's the time to learn!" Not long after the boat filled up, and it was everybody for themselves. I thought the nearest ship was too far away, so I started swimming back to the beach with the tide to help me. Some more poor swimmers did the same, but a lot of them didn't make it. We never saw them again.
During all this the enemy was knocking hell out of Dunkirk, setting fire to buildings and the docks. Me and about ten more who had swum back started to go towards Dunkirk when a Royal Engineer officer asked us to help him, with some of his own men, to get some of the wounded onto a kind of a makeshift pier that they had made by driving trucks into the sea and lashing planks and doors to them to make it easier for small boats with shallow draughts to come close. Well we started, with one of us at each side lifting them up onto the jetty. Some of them were in a bad state, and looking at some of the worst wounded made you wonder what future these young lads had when they got back home. Some of them were blind, some had limbs missing and others were shell-shocked. But they kept coming, and now and again the bombers came over and dropped their bombs and went back for more. We had been up to our waists in water and sometimes up to our necks for hours when the officer told us that it was time for us to try to get a boat. He thanked us for our help in getting the wounded away and we started to go back to our dugout, and some of us went into De Panne looking for food and something to drink.
After a short while we heard a lot of singing coming from a cellar. We went down and found about a dozen blokes from the Lancashire Fusiliers, drinking wine from bottles, and there in the middle of the floor was a big pan of corned beef stew. There were also two lads out of the Lincolnshire Regiment who had been wounded right back in the action at the bridge in Oudenaarde, where we had run before the engineers blew it up. Well, they were glad to see us. Our regiment was the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and some of us had served with the Fusiliers, so they said we could join them and have some grub and some drink which they had found in a wine shop. Nearly everybody had filled their big packs with the stuff, and also hundreds of cigarettes. We had a good couple of hours down in that cellar. Then we decided to try our chance at getting a boat, so we set off down the beach and looked out to sea.
The time was about ten o'clock at night when, in the distance, a destroyer started signalling to us to wade out as far as we could and they would try to pick us up. Well we set off, but we hadn't got far when Jerry started shelling the boats. Then the destroyer which had been signalling turned and headed out to deeper water. When she was out of German shelling range, she turned again and started to shell the enemy guns. Then, after a quarter of an hour the shelling from the Germans stopped and the destroyer turned again and came to pick us up. She stopped and lowered two of her lifeboats, manned by four naval ratings, who came and pulled us into the boats then one of them towed the other behind and went over to pick up some more troops who were waiting, up to their necks in water. We arrived at the destroyer and had to climb up nets, which was hard and difficult when carrying a rifle, ammunition and equipment. I got to the top of the scrambling net and a naval rating grabbed me and pulled me over the side. He told me to get below to the engine room.
When I got down there the place was packed with troops, some fast asleep and exhausted and some covered in oil from sunken ships. I looked around for a safe place to sleep and found a spot close to a steel ladder that went up to the deck. I thought it would be handy if we should get hit. Well the next thing that happened was a rating came round collecting our rifle ammunition for their twin Lewis guns that they were firing against low flying enemy aircraft. After that another rating came round with two buckets of hot tea laced with rum, which warmed us up. It wasn't long before I was fast asleep, then all at once there was a hell of a bang. The ship's guns had opened up. Some of us went up on deck to see what was happening. The enemy artillery was firing at ships leaving Dunkirk loaded with troops. Some had been bit and were on fire. I saw the ship that brought our battalion to France from Southampton hit by a number of shells, and later a dive bomber dropped a bomb down one of her funnels and blew parts of her boilers out of her starboard side. Luckily she hadn't picked up any troops, but the crew must have suffered looking at the state she was in as we got underway.
That was just after midnight on Saturday 2nd June 1940. I saw the town of Dunkirk in flames and heard loud explosions, caused by the Royal Engineers blowing up oil tanks and other installations. Well we were still on action stations and making good speed. One of the ratings I was talking to, who came from Stockport, said that if everything went to plan we should be in Dover by about six o'clock. We were going along nicely when all at once the ship came to a stop and all the lights went out except the torches that the crew had. Then a ship's officer told us the reason we'd stopped was that there was a German bomber overhead. We had stopped because if the ship was moving he would see the ship's wake. A bit later when the bomber had gone we got underway again. It was just breaking daylight when we caught up with a trawler, overloaded with troops. Some of them were wounded so we hove to and started picking some of them up - at least forty. The skipper thanked us and asked our captain if he would escort them to the nearest port. The captain said he was going into the port of Dover and should be there in about two and a half hours time, but we reduced our speed so the trawler could keep within sight of us and by the time we got to Dover it was nearly six thirty on Sunday morning.

What a grand sight it was to see the docks, full of all kinds of ships though mostly naval craft. To get to the quayside the ship had to tie up to the next destroyer on our port side and to reach the quay we had to go over four other naval craft. It was like a football match loosing. There must have been a thousand of us making our way the best we could, some helping a wounded mate, others being carried on stretchers with labels pinned on them, stating the kind of wounds they had.
I went with the crowds to the railway station and lined up at a lot of trestle tables which were full of sandwiches and cakes and pots of lovely hot tea given to us by the Salvation Army, God bless them. They also gave each soldier a packet of cigarettes and a box of matches, and a field service card which you just had to put your name and home address on saying that you had arrived in England safely.
The train we got in was a steam train. All the wounded were put into special coaches at the rear of the train and after waiting about half an hour we pulled away, not knowing our final destination. The first place we stopped at was the historic town of Bath. Here we were given more drinks of tea and sandwiches and also a packet of Player's cigarettes each. Then they took the wounded off and transferred them to waiting ambulances to be taken to hospital in Bath. After things had settled down we then proceeded to a place called Tenby on the South Wales Coast. We arrived there round about six p.m. Sunday 3rd June after leaving Dover, which had taken us over eleven hours. We were then ordered to fall in onto the platform in three ranks by a sergeant major from The York and Lancaster Regiment, who was all spit and polish and a voice like a foghorn. Because some of us couldn't fall in to his liking he got a bit annoyed and told his sergeants to put them on a charge. Well that did it. We all shouted,
"Bugger off and polish your brasses! That's all you bloody lot's fit for!" Then an officer who had been with us at Dunkirk took charge and told the sergeant major that he would be responsible for the men and would see that they were taken to the camp at Penally, about two miles away.
We started to march the best we could, some of us in all kinds of clothing that the Salvation Army had provided us with. We were all dead beat, and ready for a good sleep and a bath. We hadn't had our clothes off for five weeks and most of us were lousy and in need of fresh under clothes and uniforms. On our way to the camp hundreds of people lined the streets cheering, and some were crying when they saw the terrible state we were in. We came into the camp in small groups and when we had all arrived, we had to fall in and the camp commander gave us a short talk about the camp and told us that food was ready in the large building and the canteen was open until midnight as well. The bell tents that were erected were sleeping quarters for six occupants and reveille was at seven a.m.
Well the first thing I did was to go for a meal. It was a big potato pie with red cabbage followed by rice pudding and a pot of hot tea. It was nice to sit at a table instead of sitting on the ground or queuing in the rain for your meal. After that satisfactory meal, I went looking for my mates - Pat Walton, Tom Duckworth and Jack Bolton, and a Lancashire Fusilier who came from Todmorden. We found a tent and turned in for the night. It was grand to get our boots and clothes off and to have clean sheets and blankets to sleep in. As soon as my head touched the pillow I was unconscious. It was sheer bliss. I hadn't slept so long in my life. Some got up for breakfast, but it was dinner time when I woke up and after getting a good wash I felt grand and refreshed.
I just managed to get some dinner, then it was on parade again. This time to give your name rank and number, then your home address and next of kin, then the name of your Regiment. After all that we had a medical and then went to be deloused. We were then issued with new clothes and webbing equipment, after that we were paid and given passes and travel warrants for fourteen days leave.
After being inspected we marched down to the station. There were some who lived near and didn't need a train, but most of us were from the northern counties and also the Midlands and London areas. Well it must have been about an hour before a train came and about three hundred of us caught it. It stopped at ten stations before we arrived at Swansea, then we changed and continued on a faster train which was a corridor train, packed with troops and naval ratings. The next stop was at Llandeilo then Llandovery and Llandindrod Wells; then on to Shrewsbury where we stopped for ten minutes to change drivers, then off again, stopping at Whitchurch then Nantwich and then Crewe, where we had to change trains for Manchester. Here a lot of the troops who had been at Tenby had to report to the Regimental Transport Depot on the station for information concerning where we had to report after our leave expired. All the 9th King's Own had to go to Barmouth in Wales.
The train was crowded with military personnel as we pulled in at London Road Station and those who were going towards Bacup walked down to Victoria Station. Here we had to wait about twenty minutes, so we all went into the station buffet for a drink of tea. There were twelve of us for the train - one for Whitefield, four for Bury, three for Ramsbottom, one from Waterfoot, me from Stacksteads and two from Bacup. As the train was entering Stacksteads station, my brother spotted me as he was filling coal from a railway wagon, and shouted to me to meet him on the coal siding before I went home. A few people came and shook my hand and said they were glad to see me, and asked me what it was like. Well I said it wasn't so bad. There were a lot never came back, so I'm one of the lucky ones, thank God. I managed to see my brother Fred and he gave me a good hug and took me for a home coming drink in the Railway Tavern next to the station. The landlord whose name was James Flanagan welcomed me with open arms and treated all of us to a drink. Then my brother said it was time he got back to work, so we came out of the pub and he went back to filling coal sacks and I came home and gave them all a big surprise. It felt grand to be back and to see Alice my dear wife who I hadn't seen since my last leave, which was nearly three months before when I was at Ripon Camp. Everybody was glad to see me and I to see them. I had a smashing leave, but unfortunately good things come to an end and after a few goodbyes were said, l returned to my unit in Barmouth.
Here we were made up to fighting strength and the battalion was split up. Each rifle company was scattered in different parts of the town. Our company was across the bar estuary in the small village of Fairbourne, the place where the Ghost Train film was made. Well after we were settled in our billets, which were in people's houses, the battalion was paraded on Barmouth promenade and our commanding officer spoke to us all, thanking us for the courageous and splendid way we had conducted ourselves in the action we had been in. Then, after being inspected, we marched to the parish church for a thanksgiving service for our safe deliverance. It was a very moving service, the Last Post was sounded by one of our buglers and the hymns were played by the regiment's band, whose job in action was to serve as stretcher bearers.
The battalion got reinforcements from the Lincolnshire Regiment and some from the South Staffordshire Regiment. Two of the Lincolns were in my billets so we made friends right away and we went everywhere together unless we were on different duties. Whilst we were here, we did a lot of firing and route marching to the coastal town of Harlech, which was eleven miles away. We also did guard duties on a French flying boat which was anchored in the bay. After three weeks the battalion was ordered south to Bournemouth on the south coast.
It was one night as I was doing headquarter guard there, that a large German bomber force came over, dropping bombs and also parachute mines. Our guard-room was in the lounge of a big mansion in Charnley Chine in Bournemouth and all at once there was a tremendous explosion. I dived flat under some bushes in the garden. Then I heard windows being blown out and parts of the roof of the house coming down. After the raid was over, I got up and went in the guard-room to see how the rest of the lads were. What I saw made me laugh. The lads looked like the Black and White Minstrels because of the soot falling from the smashed chimney and the plaster that had come down when the large ceiling collapsed. Luckily no-one was injured in the raid, though later we heard that a large mansion further up the Chine had been completely demolished by a parachute mine and twenty-eight soldiers of the East Surrey Regiment had been killed. They were later given a military funeral in Winton Cemetery, just on the outskirts of Bournemouth. A small detachment from every unit in the immediate area took part in the military parade, and today, fifty-five years after this terrible incident, the local people still put flowers on their graves.
Things were quiet for a short time, but the people down there weren't as friendly as up north. Only the Salvation Army did anything for us; but for them we wouldn't have had anywhere to spend our bit of leisure. I remember it was one Sunday night that me and my mate called Jack Owen from West Bromwich called in a pub for a drink and a packet of cigarettes. I think between us we had about five shillings. Well we got our drinks and cigs and as we were sitting down at a table where an elderly couple were sitting, Jack's respirator swung round his neck and accidentally knocked over the couple's drinks. Jack said he was sorry and went up to the bar and explained to the barman that we couldn't pay for the spilled drinks, but on our next payday we would pay for the damage. The man whose drinks Jack knocked over came and spoke to Jack and told him not to bother, it was just an accident. He also asked us to join him and his wife and said,
"We know you don't get much pay." We both thanked them but we said we had to get back to our unit. So we left and went further down the road. We hadn't gone far when we heard a lot of singing coming from some kind of a school. I said to Jack,
"How about going in to see what's going on." Well we had just got to the door when it opened and a young woman said,
"Hello. Would you like to join in the singing? There are some more soldiers in and shortly there will be refreshments." We looked at each other and said,
"Why not? There's nowhere else to go." So we ventured in and joined in the singing of hymns. It was the Salvation Army who welcomed us and told us to come again. There were one or two more of our lads joining in the singing and between us we had a good do. We were each given a mug of tea and a sardine sandwich and five cigarettes. Soon after it was time for us to go and we thanked them for the refreshments and cigarettes, and for the help they gave to me when I arrived at Dover from Dunkirk, when they found me a good pair of boots.
The day after our company was sent further down the coast to Boscombe and Southbourne and our platoon to Hengistbury Head where we started to dig trenches and strong dugouts, and helped the Royal Engineers to erect barbed wire defences all along the sand hills and the beach right into the sea. The engineers also laid land mines, wired to each other and more underwater obstacles. We had a small train pulled by a wire rope on pullies to move anything heavy that we and the engineers needed. You see, the positions we were in were among large sand hills and not suitable for vehicular traffic.
There were a lot of enemy aircraft in the area and one night as we were standing looking out to sea over towards the lsle of Wight, we could hear a lot of anti-aircraft fire and see the searchlights looking for the enemy planes. Then we saw in the distance about fifty German bombers heading towards Southampton, followed by night fighters. It wasn't long before we heard the crashing of bombs and the anti-aircraft guns firing. After about two hours we heard then returning, but only in small batches. I remember one enemy bomber that never made it back to Germany. It came right over our positions heading out to sea. One of our fighters was on his tail and shot the Jerry down. As soon as it hit the water it blew up, scattering wreckage all over the place, some just missing our trench.
A few days after the bomber crashed we noticed one morning as it was breaking daylight that something was hanging on the wire in front of our positions. After another look we saw that it was an airman with his torn parachute entangled in the barbed wire. Our sergeant at once told the officer in charge of the engineers what we had seen, so with two of his men carrying wire cutters and a plan of the mines they had laid on the beach, they went slowly down, taking extra care until they got to the body hanging there on the wire. After studying it for a while, the men started cutting the wire until he was finally released, then between them they carried him up to where the little train was and laid him onto some duck boards. He looked all bloated and green and when they turned him over his back had about twenty bullet holes in it. They looked through all his pockets for anything that they could find that was of military importance and also to find out his identity and the name of his unit. After they had satisfied themselves they took him away for burial - I think in the cemetery in Christchurch.
We manned this coast for another two months, then the battalion moved to Littlehampton on the West Sussex coast to man the concrete pillboxes that extended from Bognor Regis to Worthing - a distance of fifteen miles. Our platoon manned two large pillboxes, one at the mouth of the river Arun and the other one at Rustington. All the beach was mined and three rows of barbed wire were laid in the sea. Behind us was the small promenade and a number of bungalows. One of them was the home of the well known actor and comic Arthur Askey, who had had to leave his home like all the other people who resided near the coast. The only persons allowed near the coast were the military and we were expecting the Germans to attempt to invade any time, so we had to be vigilant night and day.
Just about fifty yards distant from our pillbox was a six-inch howitzer, manned by ten gunners of The Royal Artillery, who, when not on action stations, slept and had their meals in a wooden army hut just behind the gun. Well it was decided that whoever was on guard when it was time to stand-to would waken everybody up. This particular morning it was my turn. I don't know to this day what made me wake the lads up a bit sooner, but it was lucky I did. If I hadn't they would have all been killed, because out of the morning mist came a low flying enemy bomber and dropped a bomb. I think he was after blowing the gun up, but missed and hit the army hut, blowing it to bits. In the meantime everybody jumped down into their trenches I dived into the pillbox to join my mates. Lucky I did, because after it was all over I had a look at the damage the bomb had done and there was nothing but a pile of smashed timbers that was once an army hut. All the gunners' kit and their personal belongings were gone, as well as the place where I'd been standing near the pillbox, which had large chunks of concrete broken off by the blast. Well after we had cleaned things up our officer came and. asked us if we were all okay. Then he told us to keep a good look out for two motor torpedo boats who would give us a recognition signal, which, if there was fog, would be two short blasts on their fog horn and if visibility was good, they would signal us by flashing two flashes or by calling us on their loud hailer.
It was getting a bit lively all along the south coast. The Battle of Britain was being fought and every day enemy bombers came over us - some heading towards Portsmouth and some trying to bomb the three Royal Air Force bases which were at Ford, Tangmere and Angmering, all within a twelve miles radius of Littlehampton.
Nearly every night, if visibility was good, we watched our bombers going out over the English Channel to bomb targets in Germany and the occupied countries. We used to count them going out and watch them returning in the mornings. Sometimes they used to come home badly shot up, and in twos and threes, but one morning we saw one limping home with a German fighter on his tail. Then all hell broke loose. Everybody who had a rifle or a machine gun opened fire on the Jerry, including all the anti-aircraft guns. Soon there was big flash. The enemy plane had been hit and had caught fire, then it carried on into the town and hit a row of houses before exploding in a scrap yard. Later we heard that the bomber of ours had landed safely and the crew were okay, but the plane had been badly shot up. We also heard that the raid over Germany had been a great success. We never did get to know who shot the Jerry down. There were so many firing, it was bedlam.
Another thing happened whilst we were there. Looking out to sea one morning we saw a sea mine floating about a mile from the beach. At once we reported it to the naval commander who was in charge of the torpedo flotilla in Littlehampton harbour and it wasn't long before a naval mine sweeper came and swept it farther out into deeper water and blew it up. Also at times we could hear large explosions out in the English Channel. We thought it was some of our ships being bombed or gunfire from the ships.
After this little episode we were put on reserve and moved to Wick and Arundel for a rest. One Sunday evening at about ten thirty, a lot of us had just left a pub called the Gardeners Arms, when a enemy bomber came over and dropped a stick of bombs, one hitting the pub and blowing all the front in and part of the roof off. Luckily all the customers had left and the landlord and his wife were down in the cellar sheltering. The only thing they suffered were a few cuts to their heads caused by some of the floor above collapsing.
Well, being the reserve company most of us managed to get home leave as it was coming Christmas. So two days after the bombing of the pub I got my leave pass and my travel warrant and was on my way home. There were about twenty of us travelled to Littlehampton station by army truck. Then after a quarter of an hour's waiting, we got the train to London Victoria. We then split up, about eight of us going to Manchester. I caught the train from Euston which was very crowded with military personnel. We stopped at Rugby, Atherstone and Crewe, but when we got to Longsight station everybody had to clear the train because the lines into Manchester had been badly damaged by the bombing the previous night. We all then started to walk to the city and on our way we came across a lot of property that had been bombed and firecrews were still very busy trying to contain fires. A lot of streets were roped off because of leaning buildings and the danger from gas explosions. As we were going down Plymouth Grove and Upper Brook Street, a young woman came and asked me where she could get a train or a bus to Sheffield. I said, "The only place you will get a train is from the Manchester Central, or a bus from Lower Mosley Street." I said I was going that way myself and if she wanted she could follow me. Well we got to Brook Street where there was a large watermain burst and the water was going up to the height of a warehouse. There we made a detour into Whitworth Street and then looking over to our right towards Fairfield Street and London Road Station everything seemed to be on fire. We made our way down Whitworth Street and down Great Bridgewater Street to the central station which had been put out of use by the bombing. It was just the same at the bus depot. That was in a shambles. There were buses still smouldering and not a thing left, only firemen damping things down. As we were looking round the place, viewing the destruction, the air-raid sirens went and a police officer advised us to seek shelter. I told the woman who had come with me so far to go into a shelter for her own safety. Air-raids had never bothered me before, so I left her, wishing her all the best and hoping that she would arrive in Sheffield safely.
Then me and two more soldiers made our way to Victoria Station. Going up towards the town hall in Albert Square there was a bus leaning against a wall which had been caught by a bomb blast. We carried on down Cross Street until we came to the corner of Corporation Street and Market Street. There in the road we came across a pile of boxes and clothes and also some people lying down in the road. When we had a closer look we saw that they were tailors' dummies that had been blown out of a shop window. On our way down Corporation Street we could see at the far end a big fire raging. It was the firm of Baxendales. By this time the air-raid had begun. A German bomber had been hit by anti-aircraft fire and we saw one of the crew bale out and drop right into the centre of the fire which burned for nearly three days.
We got to the station and had to walk on glass nearly a foot thick that used to be the roof. There was only one platform that was useable and that was ours to Bury. After seeing all this we were glad to get our train for home.
One of the lads said, "Bugger waiting here like this. I might as well walk it. I only live at Besses o' th'Barn." So he left us still waiting until a porter came and told us there was an electric train ready to go to Bury. We didn't waste much time getting in. The carriage was in complete darkness and looking out of the windows you could see the searchlights and hear the bombing, mostly round the docks and the Trafford Park area. Well it didn't take us long to arrive at Bury. That's where the other soldier came from. After the train had gone back to Manchester, the porter came and told me that there were no trains to Bacup until five thirty in the morning.
"So if you want to wait you might as well come and have a drink of tea and sit round the fire until the goods train comes," he said. "It's waiting in the brewery sidings in Manchester until the air raid's over."
Well it must have been about three o' clock when I heard it about a mile away. As it came closer the porter signalled it to stop and told the driver that there was a soldier who wanted a lift to Stacksteads. Well as soon as he saw me he said, "Bloody hell, it's Fred Ormerod's brother!"
I knew him myself. His name was Harry Holt who lived at Lee Mill in Bacup, and his fireman was called Clifford Smith from Bacup. They made me sit at the rear of the footplate when Clifford was firing up and they gave me a drink of stewed tea which must have been brewed when they were waiting in the sidings.
After they had gone through Stacksteads Station, I asked them to stop at Stacksteads recreation ground. They did and then handed my kit down, but when I turned round I tripped over the signalling wire and fell down the steep embankment into a barbed wire fence. It gave me a hell of a shock and it took me a bit to disentangle myself from the wire. Well after brushing myself down, I set off across the rec, and up Cutler Lane to where Alice my wife was living with her father and her married sister Ivy, whose husband Frank was in the Royal Air Force. I gave them a shock when they opened the door. It was grand to be home again.
I told Alice to go back to bed as it was only four o'clock, but she said they couldn't sleep on account of the air raid. I said, "Don't bother about it. It's Manchester and Salford that's copping it." I told them what it was like, how there were fires raging everywhere, especially round the docks and Trafford Park where there were a lot of war factories supplying arms and other things for the forces.
Well during my leave Alice and I had a lovely day together in Blackpool. During the rest of the week we visited friends and also we all went and spent Christmas Eve at my brother Fred's house. It was a smashing party considering that people were on rations.
After all the goodbyes and seeing that Alice was only about three weeks from having our child, it was a sad parting. But I promised her that I would try my best to get home for the big day. I arrived at Victoria Station in Manchester and had no sooner got off the station when there was a terrific explosion near the Cathedral. It was a delayed action bomb that exploded, causing a lot of damage to the back of the Cathedral and other property near by. When I arrived at London Road Station, I was called into the Railway Transport Office and told that my Battalion had moved to Ross-on-Wye near Hereford. I got the London train to Crewe, then had a long wait for one going to Hereford, so I thought that in the meantime I would have a good look round the town, a place I had never seen. Off I went, and the first thing I did was to have a warm drink and something to eat. There were a couple of soldiers from the Royal Engineers in the cafe and I got talking to them about where we were stationed. When I told them where my unit was, they said they were going that way, but not all the way, and if I wished they would give me a lift.
We set off in their army truck to Shrewsbury, going through Nantwich, Whitchurch and Shrewsbury, where we stopped at a transport cafe for a bit of dinner, which was a drink of tea and a sausage sandwich. I offered to pay, but they said just pay for your own. Well I managed in the end to get two packets of Woodbine cigarettes and I gave them one to join at. After we'd eaten we carried on to Ludlow which was as far as they could take me. But they said I should easily get a lift as there was always plenty of traffic going into Hereford. I thanked them and then I started walking, but not for long. A milk tanker pulled up and I asked the driver if he was going anywhere near Ross-on-Wye. He said no, but he could take me as far as Hereford. I climbed up into the cab and we set off towards Hereford, going through Leominster, then to the centre of Hereford where he dropped me off. As soon as I started to walk towards the Cathedral, someone started shouting my name. I turned round and who should it be but my old mate Jack Owen from West Bromwich who, like me, was returning from leave.
When we arrived at the camp, which was just fourteen miles from Hereford, we were met by our sergeant major, Joe Haines, who was with us at Dunkirk. He was glad to see us and asked if we'd had a good Christmas. Then he told us where our company lines were. So we went over to our new quarters which were Nissen huts that would accommodate twenty-eight men, with a small combustion stove in the centre. We put our kit on two bottom bunks then went over to the canteen to see some of the lads from our company and to find out what was happening. The weather was very bad whilst we were here. There was a lot of snow and frost and we were issued with coal to heat the huts. But it wasn't enough so we started taking it from the coal stack which was in the railway yard at Ross-on-Wye. What we used to do was when anyone from our hut went into town they would go to the coal dump and get a large piece and bring it back to the camp under their greatcoat. Then instead of going past the guard at the main gate they would go round to a place close to where our hut was and push the coal under the barbed wire fence. Then they would go past the sentry and report at the guard room.
Well I'd only been back from leave for two days when I received a letter from home stating that Alice was expecting our baby anytime now. Hearing this news I approached my platoon commander Lieutenant Jolliffe and asked him if it was possible to get compassionate leave to go home. The first thing he said was, "Definitely not. You've just this minute come back from a week's leave. What do you think this is? A holiday camp? This company, with the rest of the battalions, is going on manoeuvres tomorrow and every man, including the cooks will be on it."
That Saturday me and Jack Gwen and another mate called Glyn Lewis went into town having a look around. We went in a cafe for a drink of tea and a buttered scone each, and in a bit a lorry pulled up outside and the driver came in to order a meal. Well we got talking and asked him where he was going. He said Birmingham. So Jack Owen told him that he came from West Bromwich and would he give him a lift. The driver said he would so after he'd finished his meal he said to me and Lewis, "If you want a lift you'll have to ride on the back." We climbed on and sat on the folded lorry sheets and Jack sat in the cab.
It was a good job we had our greatcoats on as we set off on our journey to Birmingham that very cold Saturday afternoon. It was about four o'clock when we left and it soon started to snow hard. After a couple of hours we arrived at West Bromwich and dropped Jack Owen off, then continued into Birmingham where the driver dropped us off. We made our way to where Lewis had a sister living. It was a long walk and after an hour we eventually reached his sister's house and as soon as she saw us she gave him a big hug and kiss and made us both welcome. She asked us where we had come from and where we were staying. Lewis said, "We would like to stay here, just for the night, then we'll be off again in the morning - if it's okay with you?" She said,
"We only have one bed, but I can make you both a bed up - one on the settee and one on the floor. You see there is a woman friend who comes and keeps me company and she should be coming shortly from work. Whilst the air raids have been on, she's been stopping here."
After she'd made our beds, and made us a bit of toast and a drink of tea we turned in for the night. It must have been about one o'clock on the Sunday morning when the first bombs were dropped about a mile away. Then Lewis's sister and her friend came downstairs and went into their air raid shelter that was in the back garden. Well the bombing got worse, coming nearer and nearer. Then all at once it went quiet and you could just hear the bombers going back to Germany.
After that we decided to get away, but before we went his sister made us a drink and some toast. Then we set off walking towards Sutton Coldfield. It was about eight a.m. and we'd gone at least two miles when a wagon carrying milk tins stopped and the driver asked us how far we were going. I said we were going to Manchester, then twenty miles further on to the Rossendale Valley and he said he could take us part of the way.
He said it would be safer if we got in between the milk tins, because the Military Police were looking for deserters.
"If I see any, I'll bang on the side of the cab to warn you, so that you can make yourselves smaller behind the milk churns." We made ourselves as comfortable as possible, then we set off going to a place called Cannock. Here we stopped at his milk depot and he told us that if we wanted a hot drink to go into their canteen and the woman would serve us. "Just tell her that I sent you," he said. Well we went and had a nice drink of tea for nothing and then we set off again, making for Penkridge. There we called in at a transport cafe and got a good breakfast of bacon and eggs, with bread and butter and a mug of tea each. Then we were on the open road again, thumbing a lift. A lot of cars passed us, mostly full. Then luck was with us. A big saloon car stopped and the driver asked us where we were heading for. We said Manchester.
We got in and were on our way again. The driver gave us a cigarette each and asked us where we lived. Glyn Lewis said he lived at Neath near Swansea, but was going to his sister's, outside Sheffield. Then I told him I lived at a small town in the Rossendale Valley called Stacksteads, between Bury and Burnley. When I mentioned Burnley, he said that was the place he was making for. So I told him it was an old mining town and close to some lovely country villages and not far from the lively seaside resort of Blackpool, and further north is Morecambe and further still is the Lake District. He said that he'd never been to Lancashire before and hoped he would have time to visit the area.
"You see, I'm calling at my sister's on important matters."
We motored along at a good speed and it wasn't long before we reached Altrincham, down Chester Road, then over the Trafford road bridge, past the docks, up Cross Lane to Broad Street, then down Frederick Road, onto Camp Street then up Bury New Road into Bury, where my mate said he wanted to get out and try his luck in getting a lift to Sheffield.
We both wished him luck and he offered to pay the driver for the good lift but the driver declined and said it was a pleasure to help a soldier. Then we went up Walmersley Road through Edenfield to Rawtenstall where I got out after giving him directions. The place he wanted was Lowerhouse Lane, just past Rose Grove Station then first left to the bottom and turn left. Before I left I offered to pay him, but he wouldn't take anything from me either. He just said that he was thankful for me showing him the way and that it was good company for him to have someone to talk to.
After that the next thing was to get a bus to Stacksteads. I had to wait a good twenty minutes before one came and when it did who should the conductress be but no other than my niece, Gladys Ormerod. As soon as she saw me she nearly had a fit. She just grabbed old of me and gave me a big hug and a kiss and said, "Have you got leave for the wedding?" I said,
"What wedding?"
"Between Beatrice Lord and Ormerod Greenwood. It's at Tunstead Church on Tuesday afternoon at two o'clock." I said that it was news to me. The main reason I'd come was to see Alice and the baby - that's if it had arrived.
When we got to Stacksteads, I set off up Cutler Greens to give them all another shock. This time the door was open and I just walked in, smack into Alice's arms. No-one spoke. We just held each other without a single word. After a short while somebody coughed and broke the silence. Then Ivy and Frank came and shook my hand and asked how long I had leave for.
"I haven't," I said. "Me and two of my mates have jumped it. We got a lift from Ross-on-Wye on a lorry, then another one, then one to Rawtenstall, then a bus home. After all the excitement, Alice got hold of my arm and said,
"Come with me. I have a nice surprise for you." She took me into the living room and there, fast asleep in a pram, was our lovely daughter Jean. She was a fine baby and was just like her mother. I felt very proud and better in myself for having seen her. It was worth coming home for.
When we'd finished our evening meal, the first thing we talked about was the wedding in two days' time between my cousin Beatrice and Ormerod Greenwood, who had got special leave from the army to get married. I was wondering what to do - go back to my unit or stop for the wedding. Then I thought, what's the use? I'll get the same punishment for a week as I will for a day. So I decided to stay and attend the wedding. Later that evening I went and visited my parents in Chapel Street Stacksteads. It was nice to see them looking well. They wanted to know where I was stationed and how I was keeping and after a couple of hours with them I said that I would see them both at the wedding on Tuesday afternoon. Then I made my way back home and after we'd finished our supper it was time for bed. Alice didn't like me being absent from my unit without a leave pass and she asked me what punishment I would get when I returned. I said that I might get off, if lucky, with two weeks' detention.
Well morning came, so Alice and I went up to my mum's, taking Jean in the pram and staying for our dinner. My sister was there too and it was the first time we had seen each other since before Christmas. After a good dinner and a chat we called on another sister three streets away and had about an hour with her.
Tuesday came and everybody was getting ready for the wedding. It was a nice day for it, but very cold. The wedding went off okay and everyone seemed to be having a good time. There was plenty to drink and eat, to say that food was rationed. After the reception we said our goodbyes and I set off back to rejoin my Battalion. It was about eight o'clock on Tuesday night when the train left Manchester London Road Station, stopping at Crewe where I had to change trains. It was half an hour after when my train arrived, which was the Welsh express, stopping at Nantwich, Whitchurch, Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Leominster and then Hereford where I got off.
The time was a quarter past ten and I went to see about a bus to Ross-on-Wye, which I managed to catch after waiting twenty minutes. Then I had a mile to walk and after arriving at the camp at quarter past eleven, I reported at the guard room, where the guard commander asked for my pass. When I couldn't produce one he asked, "Where have you been since last Saturday?"
Then I told him everything. I asked him if the other two had come back, and he said no. Then he told me to go to my sleeping quarters and report to the company office before the first parade in the morning. He said, "If I was you, I'd put your best uniform on and look smart."
Well morning came with the usual bugle calls. As soon as the orderly sergeant saw me, he told me I was to fall in with the rest in front of the orderly room after the main parade at nine o'clock.
"Then you will be charged for being absent without leave from Saturday until Tuesday night."
In front of the orderly room there were six more waiting to see the company commander. I was the last person to be marched in, and after the usual proceedings the officer read out the charge then asked me where I had been and why. I explained that I had wanted to see my wife and baby. He said that was no excuse, that I had let the Battalion down. I said the Battalion hadn't done anything for me, and at that he just said, "Fourteen days detention! March him out sergeant major and make him double."
Well that was that. All the other six who went in before me got the same treatment. For fourteen days we all had to parade in full marching order, be inspected by the orderly sergeant then by the orderly officer, then we had to run with all our equipment up a steep hill and last of all we had to hold our rifles above our heads for half an hour. In between we had to do all the dirty jobs and then go spud bashing in the cook house.
Then it was back to normal duties. That same day we were called to parade in front of the Battalion Commander who told us that we were changing from infantry soldiers to gunners in the Ninetieth Anti-Tank Regiment and that we were going to Denne Park in Horsham, West Sussex. There we were to help some French Canadian engineers build a camp.
I remember one night there was a terrible storm. One of our lads doing guard duty was struck by lightning. His bayonet was struck and burnt all the wood off his rifle. His arm and most of his clothes were also burnt off and he was treated by our own doctor for burns and shock. We weren't in Horsham long, before we were sent to Newbury to join the rest of our brigade. Here we paraded on the racecourse and were inspected by Field Marshall Montgomery. He said that after another month of intensive training, the Brigade would be ready for further action. He also said we were getting a new and better tank and better guns, and after that we were told that we were being sent to Dungannon in County-Tyrone.
The first to go was Battery headquarters, then it was the gunners turn a couple of days later. We got the train at Newbury and travelled all night, stopping a few times for meals, which were always the same old bully beef stew and a mug of tea. We arrived at Stranraer and boarded the ship, the Princess Maud - a cattle boat to take us to Larne, in Ireland. Although it's only a short crossing, the sea was very rough and when we landed we made our way through some sheds on the docks where we were given a large hot potato and a mug of tea each. Then we went by train to Dungannon and then there was a mile march to a camp which was deep in mud and slush. The Nissen huts had no doors on and there weren't any beds, just a lot of Irish workmen still making the camp. So we asked them to pull their fingers out and get some bloody doors on and a stove in every hut.
Later on our officer came and told us we would be getting beds brought by the Royal Army Service Corps and the first thing we needed to do was to find some old oil drums to make braziers to fill with anything that would burn to keep us warm. Well, at last we were lucky. A transport firm just up the road came with about a dozen drums and we set to, making holes in the sides using picks and it wasn't long before we had some fires going. The officer said that a few of us could go up into the town to get some food to bring back and cook on the braziers. About four blokes went and managed to get some sausages and potatoes, whilst we got the fires going. The food tasted a bit smoked, but it was a nice change from eating the same old grub. Then later on in the week, they brought us some stoves and fitted them into the huts.
During our stay in Dungannon we did a lot of gun drill on the two pounder, stripping it down and assembling it, then firing. One day during gun drill a sergeant told me to report at the Battery office. I went right away and to my surprise who should be there but my brother-in-law, Sam Wilsdon, who was dressed in the uniform of a Major of the Royal Military Police. I felt a fool having to salute him, but it was my duty to salute a commissioned officer and after the meeting the sergeant major told me to go and change into my best uniform and report back so that I could draw my pass for the day.
Before we departed the sergeant major and my brother-in-law had a long chat about their service whilst serving in Palestine and Persia. They both wore the campaign medal. My brother-in-law was then in the York and Lancaster Regiment and the sergeant major was in the East Surrey Regiment.
Well, we set off in the staff car and travelled on into the city of Armagh which was twenty miles away. Sam asked me how I liked the new unit and what were we doing in Dungannon. After all this talking we called into a cafe where there were more soldiers partaking of food and seeming to be enjoying themselves, but when they saw us come in, with Sam in the uniform of the Military Police they started to leave. I myself wished that I was with them. I felt out of place sitting with a commissioned officer. It wasn't the proper thing to do in the army.
After we had eaten we had a good look around the place, then we drove back to Dungannon where he left me, wishing me all the best. When I arrived back in camp the lads wanted to know where we had been and all the rest of it. I told them what had happened in the cafe and they said they would have walked out in the same circumstances.
The day after we were sent to Belfast in trucks to clear rubble from the dock area where the Germans had been bombing and bring it back to make roads through the camp. When we had loaded the trucks, we used to go to the YMCA in Donegal Square for our dinner, before setting off back to unload the stuff in the camp where the Irishmen had started to make the roads.
We'd just got used to the place when we had to pack up again and make our way back to Larne to get the boat for Stranraer. When we arrived at the docks, the same boat was in, the Princess Maud. The crew told us that they were waiting for the wind to ease up; it was so rough the mooring ropes had snapped as she was tied up at the dock. After a two hours wait, we got under way and proceeded into the open sea. Everybody had to stay below decks. Only the crew and the anti-aircraft gunners were allowed on the open upper deck. The sea was very rough, with the waves breaking over her port side and bows and sometimes as far as the bridge. One time I went to the heads and there was a soldier sat on the toilet, as sick as a dog, throwing up all over the place - and to make things worse the porthole was open, letting in the sea and nearly drowning anybody who ventured there. The water was about a foot deep and the bloke on the toilet was bathing in his own vomit and anything else floating about. Then one of the crew came down and told us to get ready to disembark. We had had one of the roughest crossings they had ever encountered.
Well it was grand to get our feet on firm ground, although it was snowing very hard and drifting. We were all ready for a warm meal, which the Salvation Army had provided. I know it was stew, but it was good and warmed us up. After we had eaten we were given shovels to take on the train with us in case there was drifting snow on the lines. The train pulled out of Stranraer station in a snow storm but luckily the lines were clear and we made good time without stopping until we arrived at Carlisle. There we were allowed onto the station to buy cigarettes and pipe tobacco and to buy a newspaper. Then another meal was given to us by the Salvation Army and the Women's Voluntary Service, consisting of a sausage sandwich, a buttered scone and a mug of nice hot tea.
The reason we were stopped for a long time was that an engine with a snow plough attached was trying to keep the lines open through Penrith and over the Shap Fell down as far as Kendal. Well we started off again without any disruptions until two miles from Shap Fell, then we came to a large snow drift which caused a hold up and about ten of us were sent with our shovels to dig through the drift for a good half hour. Then we were off again until we got to Kendal. We had then travelled l50 miles from Stranraer and to get to our destination which was Wrotham in Kent we had another 200 miles to go.
After a couple more stops for refreshments we eventually arrived at our final destination. When we left the train, which we had been in for twenty four hours, we finished our journey on army trucks which took us to a large forest were our camp was. It was just the same as the last one but not as muddy, and the Nissen huts here had doors on and were fully equipped with beds and stoves. When we had got settled in, a few of us got a days' pass to go into Gravesend. I think there were twenty of us taken in trucks for the day. It was only twelve miles distance and was a nice little place with Tilbury just across the River Thames.
It was whilst going down the main street that I bumped into a policeman who used to be in the Bacup police force. His name was Eric Arnold, and he knew me quiet well, because when I was about twelve years old, he caught me smoking a cigarette, and summonsed me for smoking under age. He also summonsed the shop keeper for selling them to me. Well when he saw me he asked me where I was stationed. I said, "Wrotham, about twelve miles away. I've just come for the day to have a good look around the town."
He then asked me to come to his bungalow and meet his wife, so I said that I would like to, but it meant me leaving my mates and that I would go another time when I was on my own. Then we left him to carry on with his policing. After we had looked round and had a drink or two we went and had something to eat. It was a plate of chips and what do you think we had on it? Corned beef - the stuff to give the troops!
Well we decided to make it a day and told the driver that we were ready to go back to camp as we'd had enough of the place. We told the rest of the Battery all about Gravesend, then it was lights out for an early night, but during the early morning we were all wakened up by a loud noise. Everybody got up and looked up and saw about fifty RAF bombers heading for the English Channel. Some of them carried torpedoes, and they were going after the three large battle ships of the German Navy that had left the French port of Brest and were trying to reach safety in their own port of Wilhelmshaven.
After a few weeks in Wrotham the battery moved again. This time to the garrison town of Colchester for a week, doing guard duties at Hyderabad Barracks. Then all the battery was paraded and each troop was told that some units were short of gunners and anybody who wished to join these units could do so. On hearing this news all the lads on our gun wanted to go, just to get away from the battery commander who everybody disliked. He would give you fourteen days detention for the most trivial thing. So we entered our names for the transfers and we were all called into the battery office to see Captain Bentley who took our transfer papers and asked us why we wished to leave. Well the answer was that we thought we would have a better chance of promotion and we wanted a change from all the rotten jobs we had been doing. After this interview the sergeant major came in with the battery quartermaster and gave each one of us our transfer papers and travel warrants as well as our haversack rations. Then we left the barracks and caught a train to Woolwich station, then had a half a mile walk to the artillery depot, which was called the Grand Depot. When we arrived they put about forty of us in the stables, which still smelled of horses, then we went to a building and were given a palliasse full of straw. After that we washed in a horse trough and then each one of us had to go to the orderly room and give our name and home address and show our pay book and other particulars. Then we were told that we could get a pass from the sergeant until one minute to midnight.
So after we'd been to the dining hall and eaten we went down into Woolwich and had a look round at the place. We visited a couple of pubs and went to the Woolwich Empire where they were showing a film called, In Which We Serve and in the interval, Jane, who was the soldiers' pin-up girl in the Daily Mirror, came out of the centre of a large replica of the Daily Mirror, carrying her little dachshund. At seeing her in the flesh, in her scanty dress, the lads started to cheer her and give wolf whistles. Everybody liked the film, but Jane was the main attraction, especially to the armed forces who made up most of the audience.
Then we decided to make our way back to the barracks and have a mug of tea inside the NAAFI before turning in for the night. Dead on six next morning, we were wakened by the bugler sounding reveille, then the orderly sergeant calling, as though he would blow his brains out, "Get out of bed you lazy buggers, and get on parade!"
Well there was a dash to the horse troughs to get a wash and shave. Although it was cold water I managed to get a mug of hot tea that my mate had brought from the cook house and after having a good drink, I shaved in the drop that was left. Later on breakfast was sounded, then there was another rush. Then, with that over, we paraded again, but this time it was for a full medical inspection.
Then we were all marched to Shrapnel Barracks nearby, to draw our tropical kit, consisting of khaki shorts, trousers, shirts and also a topee and all fresh webbing equipment. The first thing we did was to try our topees on. Some had got theirs on and what a bloody sight they looked. One bloke's was so big it covered his ears and eyes and another bloke's just sat on the top of his head. After they had finished with us, they marched us back to the depot and dismissed us, so we went to the canteen for a drink of tea and a sandwich, but not long after we were ordered to parade. This time we were paid and got our leave passes and travel warrants for a fortnight, but before we left we were told that if we weren't back in time for embarkation we would be charged for desertion and court-martialed.
Then we all went to the stables to get our kit and returned to the parade ground and formed up into three ranks. When we were all formed up and had been inspected and answered our names we set off to the station, for home. When we arrived in London, those of us going north had to make our way to Euston Station, where we got the Manchester train, first stopping at St Albans, then Dunstable, on to Rugby, Coventry, Birmingham, where we stopped for ten minutes, then off again to Stafford, Crewe and finally, London Road Station in Manchester.
It was ten o'clock when I arrived in Stacksteads and the first thing I did was to call at the chip shop at the bottom of Poker Row and take two meat pies and two bags of chips home. When Alice opened the door, she nearly fainted on seeing me with my kit. I told her that I was on a fortnight's embarkation leave and it looked like we were ready to be shipped out East, but I didn't know where I would finish up.
I had a nice leave. I didn't want to go back when the fortnight was up and it was time to say our goodbyes. It was hard parting and it brought a lump to my throat when I kissed her and our little daughter. When I got to the end of Acre Avenue I turned around and waved and threw them a kiss, but I didn't see them again for another four years.
As I was waiting for the train at Stacksteads station, my sister Elizabeth came to see me off. She told me to look after myself and that she hoped I would be back home again soon, and in one piece. Well, the Manchester train came and two more soldiers got in the same carriage. One was called Fred Hitchen and the other was Robert Bell. A few tears were shed as the train pulled away and the last thing I saw was my sister, and also Ned Patch the station porter who lived up Blackwood, waving me goodbye.
The train stopped at every station to Bury. At Bury I had to change to an electric train. Then in Manchester I walked to London Road Station where I got the Mancunian Express, which only took three hours and ten minutes to arrive in London. It only stopped three times, at Crewe, Stafford, Rugby and finally London Euston. Then I caught a train to Woolwich and walked up to the barracks. When I arrived there must have been at least two thousand of us waiting for the Garrison commander to call us on parade. When he did, the first thing he said was that as soon that our kitbags had been stencilled, we were to stack them near the trucks ready for them to be taken to the train, which would be taking us to Greenock in Scotland, to board a ship. Then he wished us good luck. We then put on our kit, which was full marching order, and after a few commands shouted by the sergeant major we marched off behind the Royal Artillery Band to the tune of Old Comrades. We arrived at the station watched by a large crowd, mostly of women, some of them cheering and some in tears.
Well after we had settled down, the first thing that was on our minds was where we were being sent. Was it to the Middle East or the Far East? Nobody told us for security reasons. Only the higher command knew, and I don't think they were told everything. The journey didn't take so long. We only stopped once and that was at Preston Station to have a meal of fried sausage and mashed potatoes, which was a nice change from the corned beef stew. When we arrived at Greenock Docks the first thing we did was to get our kitbags from the train's goods vans, then line up in three ranks and answer our names. After that we started to embark onto the troopship - the Bergensfiord - a Norwegian passenger liner converted to a troopship by taking all the cabins out to make more room, which they called mess decks, where we had our meals and slung our hammocks. Nearly all the gunners in our draft were on B deck, two decks below the boat deck. There were all kinds of units on our ship. There were Infantry, Royal Army Service Corps, the Medical Corps, the Signal Corps and the Royal Ordnance Corps. There were also about twenty nurses and a few naval personnel.
When we had been shown around the ship and our lifeboat station, we stowed our kit and all our kitbags were stored in one of the ship's holds. We had to remain below decks whilst the ship was taking on provisions such as food, drinking water and engine fuel. It was also to prevent any of the lads jumping ship. After the provisioning we pulled away from the dock side and took up our position on the starboard side of the convoy. We were anchored out in the middle of the River Clyde and we waited for two days for the convoy to form up into their allotted stations.
Then the time came for us to move down through the Firth of Clyde and into the open sea where we were joined by our escort near the Mull of Kintyre. The escort consisted of six destroyers, one aircraft carrier and the heavy battle cruiser, the Malaya, who had just been newly commissioned. The rest of the convoy was all kinds of ships. Some were liners and others were just ordinary cargo ships. There were also a couple of old tramp steamers that kept dropping back and slowing down the convoy. Altogether there were twenty eight transports carrying trucks of all kinds, also tanks, guns, ammunition, oil and petroleum, but mostly troops. When we had left the River Clyde, each mess deck made out a daily works rota, which meant that each mess table drew lots for mess duties, such as bringing the food to their own table and keeping the mess clean, making sure that all kit was put away neatly and the hammocks stowed out of sight. Each table seated twenty two soldiers and there were ten tables in each mess.
Well three days out from Scotland, somewhere in the Atlantic, during the night of the 14th February l942, a ship's siren wakened everybody and we were all told to leave the mess and make our way to the boat deck. We were told to take with us a life jacket and our water bottles full of water, also our rifles and ammunition. We had to go through the ship's hold where our kitbags were stored. Then, to make it worse we had to climb up a vertical steel ladder to get to our boat station. Well, after a bit of a struggle we arrived and were inspected by an officer. He told us that a German U-Boat was in the vicinity, and a destroyer was looking for it. Later on, on our starboard side, we heard massive explosions as the destroyer dropped depth charges. This went on for at least two hours, then the destroyer signalled that she was disengaging. After that the officer on watch told us to go back to our mess.
"But be ready, chance there is another alarm," he said, as he also told us that he was very pleased at the way we conducted ourselves in getting to the boat deck so quickly and without a mishap.
Well we got back to our hammocks, but couldn't sleep after that incident. Morning came and the first parade was sick parade, then after that it was breakfast, which was porridge, scrambled eggs and tea. Then all hammocks and other personal items had to be stowed out of sight ready for the ship's inspection, which was led by the ship's captain, followed by the officer commanding the army personnel. Before they came round, the ship's bugler would sound stand-to, to give us time to get everything ship-shape. After the inspection was over we were put on different jobs in turn. I got a job helping in the crew's stores, sometimes bringing bags of flour and sugar to the bakery and other things to the ship's galley. Then, for a change, we were put on submarine watch and in our turn we would do gun drill on the four inch, which was positioned in the stern of the ship. There was also time for relaxing, playing housey-housey. We also had boxing matches and physical training and running round the deck.
Well up until now the sea had been a bit choppy, but looking at the sky it seemed that we were heading into rough seas. Some of the crew were making the hatch covers safe and battening everything down, and fixing life lines down each side of the upper deck. It wasn't long before the storm hit us. It was my turn as mess orderly to go and bring the meals for our table. It was the dinner that I went for. I got to the galley all right and got the food, which was liver and onions and potato, followed by jam roly-poly and tea. I carried the liver, onions and potatoes and my mess mate carried the rest. As we were descending the steps to the mess, a bloke must have spilled some gravy on the steps that I didn't see and down I went with a hell of a bump, with half of the dinner over me. I also injured my back and my right arm. Well I picked up what was left of the dinner, but when I got to the table they just looked at me and burst out laughing when they saw the state I was in, covered with liver and onions and gravy. But they didn't laugh when they saw only half their dinner. They said, "Where's the rest of it?"
"It's at the bottom of the steps, and if you want it, bloody well fetch it," I said. Then I asked one of the crew where I could find the Medical Officer. He told me to follow him and took me to a cabin forward of the officers' quarters on the boat deck. He knocked on the door and waited a few minutes, then the door opened and a ship's officer asked us what was the matter. Then I spoke up, explaining that I had fallen down the steps and had hurt my back and my arm. He told me to enter the cabin and sit down. Then he first looked at my arm and said it wasn't broken, but it was badly bruised. Then he examined my back and told me there was slight bruising, but nothing to worry about. Before I left he gave me some tablets to kill the pain and ointment to rub on the affected parts, then he gave me a note stating that I was excused all heavy duties.
Then the orders came to change into our tropical kit, as we were nearing Freetown in Sierra Leone, West Africa. As we arrived and docked, a water tanker drew up along side and started to pump drinking water into the ship. After she had gone, another one came. This one had oil and started to fill our tanks. The crew of this oil tanker were all West Africans who would dive off the ship if you threw a penny in the water and bring it to the surface. Some of the lads would pull their legs by covering a penny with the silver paper that was wrapped round cigarette-packets, making it look like a half a crown. They would dive deeper for silver, but when they found out it was only a penny they would shake their fists and stop diving. Another thing we did, was to throw hard boiled eggs and they would catch them. Well a couple of the crew threw some fresh eggs that were soft and when the Africans caught them, the eggs just burst in their hands causing a laugh amongst the crews.
When the ship had taken on fuel and. water, she crept out of dock to make way for two of our oldest battleships, the Nelson and the Rodney, and also the hospital ship, the Victorious, which had red crosses painted on her sides and funnels. As we were passing, they wished us a safe passage and good luck.
Then we went out into deeper water and made our way towards the Cape. During the next twenty four hours we arrived at the Equator, about another thousand miles distance, where everybody on board ship had to go through the old customs of crossing the line. After this ceremony the convoy made its way south, heading for Cape Town, where, looking into the night sky, you could see the Southern Cross, and looking into the sea you would see flying fish and lovely colours in the fluorescence of the sea as the ship ploughed her way, churning up the waves.
Down below in the hours of darkness it was very hot and humid with having to close all port holes, so the troops drew lots to sleep on the upper deck. It felt grand being out in the fresh evening air and feeling the cool breeze on your face. We couldn't smoke on deck after sunset, but we could go to the heads which were situated forward of the foremast. But when it had broken daylight the crew would kick you up and start to wash down the deck, and if you weren't quick enough moving, you got a good soaking with seawater.
We were also issued with seawater soap to wash in, and to wash our clothes. It was about four days after we had crossed the Equator that we came into a heavy sea swell. One minute the ship was in a deep trough and the next she was riding on a mountain. Then you could feel her tremble and shake and hear her screws as they came out of the water. Then you could see a mountain of water moving fast towards the ship bows as though it was just going to swallow us up. Then the sea would break over her, reaching up as far as the bridge, then she would shake herself clear and dip herself into the next trough. Looking over the port side, running parallel to us was the passenger liner the Empress of Russia. One moment you would see her riding high on a big sea and the next time you looked, you could only see her funnels and her masts. Well it was about this time when one of the soldiers of a Scots regiment had hung out some washing and was just reaching over to pull it off a stay-wire protruding from a lifeboat when the ship was hit by a heavy sea, causing her to roll, which made the Scot lose his balance and fall over the side. There were a lot of the lads who saw it happen and shouted, "Man overboard!" Somebody threw a life belt over the side and everybody went to the ship's rail to see where he was, but no one could see him. A destroyer in the rear of the convoy came rushing up and started looking, but after a bit they gave up the search. One of the crew said he wouldn't have stood a chance in that swell. He would have been sucked into the ship's screws.
After that sad incident, the convoy sped on, still riding the swell and on a zigzagging course. It was during one night, about three days before our arrival in Cape Town, when it happened. We were all fast asleep in our hammocks, when there was a hell of a bang, and a grinding noise. The ship keeled over on her starboard side and threw us out of our hammocks. Then all the lights in the mess went out and the ship's siren was going, warning other ships that we were in trouble and had been in collision with the Empress of Russia. We were ordered to go up onto the boat deck and wait for further orders. When we got there we had a fit. Where there should have been life-boats, there were none. The other ship had smashed into our port side and taken with her two of our life-boats and also the davits. She had also pushed in the side plates and some bulkheads were smashed. One good thing was that all the damage was above the water-line, so the convoy reached Cape Town all in one piece, but after we'd docked we had to transfer all our kit onto the Empire Pride, which was a flat bottomed freighter turned into a troop-ship.
Well with that job finished, we settled down in our new surroundings and waited for things to develop. It wasn't long before the ship's duty officer told us we could go ashore when we had finished our jobs, but we had to be back on board ship before midnight. That cheered everybody up, as we hadn't been on land since leaving Scotland, nearly five weeks ago. We managed to get our jobs done just after our midday meal and then we were given our ship's pass for the day. As we were leaving the docks, we were met by a fleet of cars to take us up into the town. One middle aged woman asked me and three others if we would like to go through the town and visit Camps Bay, a beauty spot and also the Cecil Rhodes memorial grounds and to the foot of Table Mountain. We said we would love to, and it was a lovely drive where she took us, and she explained to us all about the places we went through and stopped at. It was at Camps Bay that we visited a large house situated in a miniature park, surrounded by the most gorgeous flowers you ever saw. Not only that, but to make it more pleasurable the house was overlooking the sea and beach. It was a place that I would have loved to stay for the rest of my days. I only wished that my darling wife and daughter were with me to share in this wonderful view.
Do you know, the people of Cape Town were lovely and very generous. Here, at this house, the people showed us all around the house and grounds, then they made us sit down at a massive size table covered by all kinds of sandwiches, trifles and cakes, followed by as much tea or cold drinks as you desired. Well, after spending a glorious day with this lovely lady, we thanked her and bade her farewell, but before we entered the docks, we called at a pub and had a pint of beer each. Then as we were going through the dock yard we had to cross the railway lines and there we saw a crowd of soldiers and some sailors looking on the ground. With us being a bit nosey, we went over to investigate, and what we saw wasn't nice. A soldier going back to join his ship must have been hit with a railway wagon as he was trying to cross the line. There were always a great amount of trains shunting amongst the docks. He must have been killed outright, crushed between the buffers and then run over. Looking at his head-gear we saw that he was a private in the Gordon's Highlanders.
When we arrived at the ship we were stopped at the gangway by a sentry from the Royal Berkshire Regiment. When he was satisfied as to our identity he allowed us to proceed on board and report to the duty officer. With that completed, I went below to my mess deck and slung my hammock to the deck-head and reaching up grabbed hold of a rail and flung myself into the hammock for a good night's sleep. Except for one or two blokes banging into my hammock as they were going to the heads, I was wakened by the ship's bugler sounding reveille. The rest of the week was spent just the same, going sight-seeing and a mate of mine called Alfred Sunter who came from West Croydon in south London came with me. We went to the town for a good look around at the shops, then we decided to go and try to get a ride on the cable car to take us up onto Table Mountain. From the top of Adelaide Street, which was the main street, you turned right past the park, and then walked for nearly a mile until you came to the place where you got the cable car. We had to wait about an hour before it was our turn to go up. When we did eventually get to go, the wind got stronger and it made the cable swing a bit, but it was all worth it when we arrived at the top. The view was marvellous and you could see for miles. Also the wild flowers were all different. The colours were out of this world, and also growing up there were massive ferns, growing to six or seven feet high and grey in colour. Well after walking along the top from one end to the other we got the cable car to bring us down. The return fare was half a crown then in 1942, but today would be 25p. After that nice experience, we made our way back into the town and called in a cafe for a bite to eat. Being up on the mountain had made us hungry. We then started to walk down Adelaide Street and who should I see, but a ghost! It was Frank White who lived at Skipton, the soldier who was in our platoon when we were on the road to Dunkirk and were sent over the canal to warn C Company that the battalion was pulling back. Everybody thought that he had been killed, or been taken prisoner. When we asked what had happened after he left us at the canal, he said C Company hadn't been there, so he got attached to the Royal Scots, which he was still serving in. He said all the 51st Highland Division, which his battalion was in, were going up to North Africa by train and that he was leaving Cape Town the next afternoon - so we just had enough time to partake in a farewell drink. So after wishing each other good luck we parted and I watched him go out of sight.
Tomorrow came and it was the same old routine. After the midday meal was over, we went ashore again, just messing around the docks, watching them unload different vessels, and the troops loading their trucks to take to the station. Later on we walked into town and had a drink, then on looking through the window we saw a large crowd gathering outside. We finished our drinks, then joined the others outside. We waited a few minutes then heard a military band in the far distance. We knew that it was the 51st Highland Division marching through the town to the railway station to the tune of Old Langsyne. The crowd cheered and it took them a long time to pass. They were a grand sight, marching in such a fine swinging step. Our turn came the following day. As soon as we got back to the ship, all troops on board were confined and later she drew away from the dockside with another two transports.
Two days out on our starboard we could see about ten whales. They were moving parallel to the ship and were a grand sight. They kept with us for two days then they just vanished. As we altered course the ship started to roll from side to side making it hard to keep on our feet. Everybody seemed to be walking about drunk. Otherwise the ship was okay.
When we had passed Madagascar, the battle cruiser Malaya turned to port and left us in the safe hands of the cruiser Glasgow. Then later on we came across the cruiser Shropshire, which had sustained severe damage to her bows. She was also listing and doing about eight knots, so the Glasgow slowed down to her speed to shepherd her into Bombay. We saw her come in to the graving dock for repairs and most of her crew were from Lancashire, from such towns as Bolton, Bury, Salford, Liverpool and other towns. They said she had hit a mine and it had blown her bows clean off, but luckily no one was hurt, only shaken up. They'd had to shore up the damaged part with timber and hammocks and anything else that was handy.
Most of the crew came to the same camp that we were going to, which was Deolali, ninety miles north east from Bombay. But there was trouble in the city, fires were started all over the place and all government buildings were threatened as well as all white personnel. Well the order we got was to proceed into the city with some naval ratings. We were all issued with fifty rounds of 303 rifle ammunition and took up positions at all vulnerable points. It wasn't long before the crowds came and tried to force their way to the post office and the police station by throwing stones and any other things they could lay their hands on. The officer in charge told us to let them come a bit nearer and if they wouldn't stop when told, we had to fire a round over their heads, and if that didn't stop them, we had to fix our bayonets. Well when they saw the bayonets they stopped in their tracks and started to go back. Most of the ring leaders were picked out and taken to military headquarters and put in prison. That same evening their leader Gandhi was arrested and was imprisoned in his home town of Nasik.
When things had quietened down, all army personnel had to return to the ship and collect their kit and fall in on the dock side and answer their names. When that was done we marched to the railway station and settled down in stinking carriages with big red beetles crawling all over the place. We had to endure this lot for the next ninety miles. When we arrived at Deolali station some army trucks took all our kitbags to the camp and we marched there. We were then told to stand at ease and then to stand easy whilst the RSM gave us a bit of a lecture on the way we were to conduct ourselves whilst in the camp and in the town. He also spoke to us about the Indian women who frequented the camp perimeter. He said that if you wanted a woman, it was to your own advantage to go to the camp doctor and he would give you something for protection. Well after he had given us all this bull-shit we got the order to dismiss. Then it was time to find our kit which had been thrown in a large dump and that took some doing I must say. When we had got that sorted out, we were shown our sleeping quarters, which were long barrack blocks made out of bamboo. Each slept about forty men, twenty on each side with mosquito nets over small beds, which the Indians called charpoys. After getting fixed up with a bed we then lined up for our meal which was corned beef fried with a chapatti and a mess-tin full of sweet tea, which we had to take back to our barrack block to eat it. Well the first time I did this, a bloody big shite-hawk (kite-hawk) swooped down and took my dinner clean off my mess tin. I returned to the cook who was dishing the food out and asked him for some more. He then said to his mate, "Ho, here we have another one that the hawks have raided," and said to me, "Sorry chum, but next time cover your dinner with your topee, that way you're sure to get some." So I had to go without that day and it taught me a lesson.
After that little episode we were called on parade for another talk, but this one was different. The sergeant major asked if any of us would like to go as gunners on the merchant ships, and if so take two steps forward and he would take our names in alphabetical order. At that, me and about thirty others stepped smartly forward. I thought that if I got on board ship as a gunner I would stand a good chance of getting to an English port and getting home. Then he started asking us our names. Well by the time it had got to the letter J, that was for a bloke called William Jordon, he had got enough, so it was back in the Royal Artillery for me, until the next time.
During my stay in the camp I met a lad from my home town whose name was Mick Magough. We had a good chinwag about home and where we might be going. There was a lot of talk about being sent into Burma, but nobody was sure. Just as we were talking, a snake charmer came and sat down near to us carrying a sack. With him came a chico, that is a small boy in India, well soon a large crowd of soldiers gathered and squatted down on the ground and watched the Indian with the snake kind of dancing and later on the chico pulled a mongoose out of the other sack and placed it on the ground for us to see it kill the snake. It kept circling the snake then all of a sudden the mongoose struck, grabbing the snake behind its head and neck. It happened so fast.
Well after a week in the camp we were all told that we were to be sent to different units. Some to anti-aircraft batteries; some to field batteries, and seven of us, that's counting me, to a howitzer battery - a gun that fired a hundred and ten pound shell a distance of nine miles. All seven of us were glad to be going somewhere and hoped that we were joining a good battery. None of us had fired a howitzer before and we were looking forward to just doing that. The following morning after breakfast, those of us that were leaving to join a Regiment had to report to the battery office and get our travel warrants and other particulars. The warrants were made out to a place called Cochin in Southern India, and the unit was Eighteen-Battery-Six-Medium Regiment, Royal-Artillery. We also got rations for seven days, which consisted of tins of sardines, tins of bully-beef and a tin of army biscuits. We also received two weeks pay and were inoculated for cholera. Then a truck took us down to the railway station with all our kit and when we arrived at the station the transport officer came and handed us a large metal freezer box to put our rations in, and told us we could get it filled with fresh ice-cubes when we pulled into a large station on our route going through Poona, then on to Sholapur, where we stopped for an hour to change drivers and to take on water and coal for the engine. Up to now we had travelled three hundred and thirty miles and it gave us a chance to see a bit of the place and to get a mug of tea and a wash under the pipe where they filled the engine tender. We also noticed that the Indian women did all the dirty jobs. We saw women, scantily clad in dirty rags carrying large baskets full of coal, go up the planks onto the engine's tender. After watching all this work going on and the engine refuelled, we started to move on for another long, tiring journey, this time to Bangalore which was three hundred miles away through the towns of Gulbarga, Raichar, Guntakal, Indupur, then Bangalore. Here we had another long stop and we changed trains. This place was much bigger and the train we changed to was more comfortable and cleaner.
Up to now we had travelled about six hundred and seventy miles and had another two hundred and thirty miles to Cochin. On our travels we had seen some lovely country and different kinds of work the people have to do, but there was a lot of poverty and they lived in terrible conditions with filth and disease. Some of the animals lived better than most of them. Well we arrived at Cochin tired and fed up and after getting off the train we were met by a sergeant of the military police who asked us for our passes and to see our papers. Then, after finding them okay, he told us to stay at the station while he phoned the unit we were going to join. After a few minutes he came back and told us that he had contacted the battery and they were sending a truck to pick us up. It was about half an hour before they arrived, then we set off to a place called Ernakulam just about ten miles from our other battery which was 245 Battery. Well weren't we glad when we eventually reached our destination. The first thing we asked the truck driver was if it was possible to get something to eat. We were so hungry we could have eaten a buttered mattress.
"I'll ask the cook sergeant if he can find you something. He normally does when someone comes in like you lot have done." We followed him to the cook house and waited for him to let us know what the cook said. It wasn't long before he came and told us that he would make us a bit of something and when it was ready he would let us know. We waited a good half hour, then a gunner came and said we had to go to the cook house and get our meal which was fried spam and mashed potatoes, followed by some jam-duff which had been left over, and a mug of hot tea. It was the best meal we had eaten since we left Deolali and we thanked him by giving him fags. After we had finished our meal, the cook sergeant took us over to the Battery Office and explained to the sergeant major that he had found us a meal and that we were at his disposal. Well the first thing he said was that we should have reported to him as soon as we arrived. "But seeing that you have been travelling for three days I will overlook it this time," he said. Then he called a bombardier over and told him to take us over to the Battery lines and find us a place to sleep until morning when he would sort everything out and find us permanent quarters and then see which gun troop to put us in. Before we went with the bombardier I asked the sergeant major if we could be kept together. "Well," he said, "wait until tomorrow and we shall see." After that four of us went in one tent and three went in another one. I was one of the four whose names were Joe Lostock, Tommy Burns, Pat Walton and Jack Bolton and me.
Morning came with the same old bugle call- reveille. Then after that it was a sergeant shouting, "Get fell in for a two mile run, and look lively!" We set off running out of camp into the town and back again. Then it was breakfast time, after we had had a wash and shave in the ablutions. The breakfast was very good, better than that they gave us in Deolali, and after breakfast we had to parade for gun drill. As we were new to the Battery, the seven of us were taken to one side and a sergeant called Frank Hart, a Londoner, gave us a lecture on the howitzer, and about the gun sight and the fusing of the shell which weighed a hundred pounds, and also the different types of fuses and charges. You see, the guns we had were a lot smaller and fired a shell that would penetrate a steel tank and were lighter and easier to load and manoeuvre. Later on we rejoined the rest of the battery and were then put in B-Troop and on number three gun for the time being. The Battery was on coastal defence and one day I recall an incident between an Indian naval sloop and a Royal Air Force bomber. It happened just across from our positions. The bomber came down very low and dropped what looked like bags of flour which landed smack on the sloop's decks and superstructure. Then it flew off with the satisfaction that they had scored a direct hit.
After we had been here about a month, the whole regiment had orders to move to Vishakhapatnam, 900 miles away by train, taking the guns on the train's flat wagons, along with the cooks with their cookers who made all the meals whilst we were travelling. On arriving about thirty of us had to go to the docks and help to load shells onto the train from a cargo ship because our trucks hadn't arrived to take the shells on to our next place which was Ranchi in the Bihar Province, which was another 600 miles. The places we went through were Cuttack, a very large town, then Kharagpur and Jamshedpur and finally Ranchi, where we camped out in some wild scrub country where there were a lot of snakes. It was here that we did most of our really hard training with all the other troops. Most of them were infantry and engineering units. It was also here that we got new guns which were made in Rotherham near Sheffield. These were gun howitzers with a flat trajectory, firing a 110-pound shell at a range of nine miles. We also received fresh trucks for pulling the guns. The new ones were American MACS, replacing our old AECs, but instead of being diesel driven, they used petrol which was more likely to set on fire if hit in the fuel tank, otherwise it was a good reliable vehicle and proved itself in the later actions we were engaged in.
One day the Battery went up into the hills and took about twenty Indian workers to dig deep dugouts, and to cover them with tree-trunks about five feet thick. When finished they put some goats in to find out what would happen to them when we had shelled the dugouts. The reason for this was that we were testing a new fuse, which was a delayed action fuse, called a 231. The instantaneous fuse was a 119. Well, from two miles' range we dropped about ten rounds, hitting the target and after it was over we found the dugouts completely demolished and all the goats dead. Whilst the Battery was in Ranchi I went down into the town and met a couple of soldiers from my home town Bacup - one called Robert Bell and the other Elijah Hill. I also met a young woman called Violet Hollywood from Stacksteads. She was with a concert party, entertaining all the troops serving in the Bihar Province. There was also Stainless Steven and George Formby and his wife Beryl. It was a marvellous show.
There was one bad incident whilst we were in Ranchi. It happened one night as the garrison cinema was closing. The person who was going to the bank with the night's takings in a rickshaw had to go down a dark road with overhanging trees and somebody ambushed him and took the money, then murdered him. The day after, everybody was confined to camp and the Battery called on parade to answer questions to the civil police. Well after that parade, we were told that all units in and around Ranchi had to get ready immediately to go down to the port of Chittagong and proceed up to the Burma border. The latest news we received was that our troops in the southern parts of Burma were falling back and were fighting rearguard actions against a most cruel and ferocious enemy - the Japs, but we called them Nips.
We had to take our guns to a place called Lohardaga about forty miles due west of Ranchi, because at Ranchi station there were no proper facilities for loading our guns onto the flat wagons. You see, here our truck drivers could drive up the special ramps provided pulling the guns behind, and then when that was done they were made secure by chains and clamps. When that was done we set off to Chittagong, going through some picturesque country. The places we went through were Asansol, Bahrampur, Dhaka, Comilla then Chittagong. It was here that we had to wait a week for the Royal Engineers to strengthen all the bridges. Whilst we were waiting the remainder of the fifth and seventh Indian Divisions arrived, which were part of the fifteenth Indian Corps, who our two Batteries gave supporting fire to when we were in action. All the roads were crammed with troops, guns, trucks and all kinds of military equipment.
It was one night whilst I and a few more gunners were guarding the trucks and guns that I heard in the distance a lot of shouting, and then coming nearer I saw a large crowd of Bengalis carrying oil lamps, following six of their mates who were carrying a dead tiger. They said it had killed a woman and her baby and two goats and they had been hunting it for about six weeks. They said if they took it to Chittagong they would get about five hundred rupees for it. That was about thirty- three pounds, fifty shillings in the year of 1942.
The time came for us to move as far as a place called Cox's Bazar, a small port on the Bay of Bengal. It was only a small port and only took shallow draughted boats, or lighters to transport goods to ships from the wharf. It was a good place for troops to stop for a meal and a night's kip. There was also a small hospital and a shop where you could buy anything from tinned foods to fresh vegetables and local fruit, such as mangoes, bananas, jack fruit and coconuts. We stopped here for one night and filled up with drinking water and petrol and fruit, and not forgetting cigarettes and writing paper and matches. After we had all finished our breakfast we set off behind a long column of army trucks kicking up a lot of dust. On the roadside there were chickoes, throwing water on the roads to keep the dust down, but it meant we had to cover our mouths with handkerchiefs or anything handy. This part of the journey was the worst we had done. The road was in a terrible state, with bloody great pot holes and very dusty. We had to cover our all the food and our rifles with towels to keep out the dust.
All at once the column came to a standstill. The reason being that during the night the Japs had bombed a road bridge at Bolie-Bazar on the Burma border and we were waiting for the engineers to repair it. From here every time the convoy stopped we had to jump off the trucks and get off the road, out of sight of Jap planes. It was a long wait so our cooks started to make us a snack of sardines and biscuits and a mess tin of tea, which we were all ready for. As I was drinking my tea, something caught my eye across the road. It seemed to be some kind of a reptile as it was slowly crawling through the long grass. I told my mate Pat Walton that I was going to see what it was, so he said he would come with me. We brought our rifles then we went over and started to look for the thing. It wasn't long before we came across it. It was a massive iguana, about five feet long from its head to its tail. It didn't seem to be frightened as we went nearer, then all at once it did a quick turn towards us and frightened us to death. We made a sharp exit and rejoined the Battery, which was just ready to proceed to Bolie-Bazar, which was another ten miles away.
The distance we had travelled from Chittagong was just 100 miles. When we arrived we came across some of the East Lancashire Regiment who were having a rough time with their mules, trying to get them onto some barges. I was asking one of them how long had they been up here. He said that they had only been there a couple of days and were expecting to move up with us to the Mayu Range near the Ngakyedauk Pass. That was twenty miles further on.
Well both the divisions moved forward to take up positions round the area of Buthidaung and Maungdaw. The infantry dug in on this front were a battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment who were in Maungdaw and in front of Buthidaung were the Royal West Kent Regiment and a company of the first Battalion the Balluchi Regiment which came from the Punjab in north west India. Also there was a twenty-five pounder battery to support the infantry.
The 7th Division went over the Ngakyedauk Pass to the Kalapanzin valley that was over the other side of the Mayu Range. This range was about thirty miles long by ten miles wide and was covered in thick jungle. The height was about 2000 feet. The infantry in this division were a Battalion of the King's Own Scottish, a Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment and the Second-Fifth Ghurkhas, and a heavy anti-Aircraft Battery of the Eighth Belfast Regiment. Our Battery was dug in at the foot of the Ngakyedauk Pass, where we could give support to both fronts. Our other battery, the 145, went over the pass to give what help they could there.
We were well dug in and in a good position in a clearing in the jungle. On one side was a waterfall and a small stream were we got our drinking water from. I think it came from under some rocks or caves as it was ice cold and refreshing. We had been here for a week and nothing had happened. Then all at once you could hear, in the distance, a great rumbling noise like thunder. But Lieutenant Cutting, our gunnery officer, said it sounded more like gunfire than thunder. This went on for at least twenty minutes and sounded to be coming closer. We could also hear shells exploding over on the other side of Buthidaung. It wasn't long after the shelling that we were told to take post and prepare to fuse the shells and to wait further orders. We hadn't long to wait. The order was given: "All guns load, charge four, range ten thousand yards, right ranging, number one gun fire!" Then after that gun had got a shell on the enemy target, the order was: "All guns commence firing ten rounds rapid fire!" That meant that on that order we would have fired eighty shells in just four minutes. The target was those guns the Japs had been firing near the town of Buthidaung. Later on we heard from one of our forward observation post that we had scored a lot of direct hits on the Jap guns and had destroyed most of them, though they still had a few left. He also said he thought the Japs were moving into different positions to confuse us.
"Well wherever they move to we shall still find them," we said, "and we'll repeat our performance with more determination and vigour."
Well after that good news, we brewed up and were told to stand down, but to be in readiness chance the enemy retaliated.
We had no sooner finished fusing shells when the order was given to take post. This time the Lincolns were moving forward to new positions between Buthidaung and Maungdaw and had been mortared from deeply dug trenches by the Japs. Their officer asked us if we would put down a few rounds of gun fire to ease the situation, because they were getting a lot of casualties. Well the order was given to move the guns round about forty degrees to the right. Then we were given the range and the type of fuse. Then we loaded and fired three rounds from each gun, then ceased firing. After that the Lincolns had no more trouble and were able to reach their new positions.
We then got the orders to make safe and clean the guns and prepare for another bit of action. When that was done it was time for a bite to eat and each gun detachment went and had their meal, until all the Battery had eaten. The meal was half Indian and half English. It was corned beef stew and two chapattis. The food was the same nearly every day, but there were times when we just got a tin of bully beef and a few hard biscuits when we were close to enemy positions, because if you lit a fire the Japs would start shelling when they saw any smoke. The worst thing was when you couldn't get a hot drink of tea.
But things weren't so bad up until now. We were better off than the poor infantry. I should know. I was in the infantry before joining this lot and I'm glad I changed to the artillery. It was whilst we were here that one day some trucks of the Royal Army Service Corps brought us some shells and gun-charges, some bush hats and other things such as mail, food rations, cigarettes and medical supplies, and not forgetting the soldiers' newspaper, the SEAC, which was short for the South East Asia Command. We were also given some green dye to dye our clothes to match the jungle and surroundings.
The first thing we did was to read our long awaited letters. The next thing was to unload the ammunition and food and medical supplies. That same night we were ordered into action. A big attack was pending on all along the front where the Lincolns, the Royal West Kents and the Balluchis were going to capture some vital enemy stronghold in the village of Razabill, and try to dislodge them from the Buthidaung Tunnels, which went under the Mayu Range. Well this was going to be a massive undertaking for the infantry against strong defensive positions and against a ruthless enemy. Behind our gun-pits were hundreds of shells where we were all working putting in fuses. Some were the new delayed fuses and the others the ordinary 119 fuse. Every gunner was stripped to the waist, waiting for the orders. We all had to put our earplugs in to prevent our ears from the terrible noise from guns firing. Everybody was ready, and the guns loaded when the order came. The gunnery officer shouted, "Fire!" and all the guns opened fire at once. The sound of the guns was deafening and the gun flashes were blinding. Also the ground shook from the explosions. The sweat was just running in your eyes and making them smart. Every now and then we used to change places on the gun to give the others who were loading the gun a bit of a break, because loading a 110 pound shell into the gun breech is very tiring. It was the same for the gunners carrying the shells to the gun.
Well the infantry were attacking behind our creeping barrage and were making good progress. We had destroyed about five machine-guns and a few mortars which were giving the lads up front a lot of trouble. But it wasn't long before the Japs put in a counter attack, more over towards Maungdaw where the first Battalion, the Balluchis, were having a rough time. They had met some fierce resistance and had many casualties - killed and wounded. It was here that us and a battery of twenty-five-pounders stepped in again and stopped the Japs in his tracks. We inflicted many casualties on them.
It was a couple of hours after that the wounded came past our positions. One of them from the Lincolns who had been wounded in both legs said that their Battalion had captured the strong point at Razabill and carried on and captured another enemy strong point which was overlooking Maungdaw. He also said that but for our shelling and smashing the enemy's machine-guns and mortars, they would never have broken through their lines.
"The Japs must have wondered what had hit them when you sent all those shells over and destroyed their machine-guns and mortars," he said.
"Well, it's not all beer and skittles, but we have to grin and bear it and also make the most of it," I said. I then told him that it looked like he was out of the fighting for good and he would be on his way back to good old Lincolnshire.
In that attack, our Battery had fired just under one thousand shells, leaving us with twelve shells for each gun. That meant we needed some more quickly or we would be in deep trouble if we had to give someone supporting fire. But we were lucky in that respect. The front seemed to be a lot quieter than usual with only a few units sending out patrols to find out the strength of the enemy's positions.

Well we were waiting for the ammunition for over a week, and just as the monsoon rains came so did the ammunition. It was a good job it did. If they had left it another day they would never had made it for the road was like a lake, and deep in mud. We had to bale out the gun pits and move the guns onto higher ground and cover all the shells and charges with tarpaulins and anything else we could get our hands on. After doing all this, most of us were detailed to get our big packs and go to collect food rations for the whole Battery. Well we set off, with Sergeant Hart in charge, like a lot of bloody penguins all walking behind one another and soaking wet. This place where we were going to pick up the rations was about four miles away. It was the worst walk I had ever done in such appalling conditions. The mud was at least six inches deep and for every stride you took forwards you slipped back half a stride. We arrived at last looking like drowned rats. We went into a big Nissen hut where there were piles of boxes of tinned food of all kinds and other things as well. Our sergeant asked the officer in charge if we could get a warm drink of some kind and he said, "Follow me." He took us into another hut where there were some Indian troops making chapattis, curry and rice and also tea. The officer told a sepoy to find us a hot drink of tea and anything else. The sepoy did just that. He not only brought us tea, but also about three chapattis each, with a tin of apricot possie - that is the word for jam in India. Well after we had finished scoffing ourselves, we lined up with our packs to be filled with whatever food our sergeant had on his list. When it came my turn, what do you think they put in my pack? Nothing but a bloody big fish that must have been dead for twelve months by the smell of it! Then we all set off back feeling a bit better after having had that meal, but not for long. The rain came down in torrents and the gale force wind was driving it into our faces. And to make things worse, flies started buzzing round the fish and other insects such as flying ants and flying beetles, which made things unbearable, and to make it worse, the other lads left me, so I had to walk by myself. This went on for a bit, then Sergeant Hart came to me and said, "This is a direct order. Throw that bloody stinking fish into that paddy field, then wash out your pack. It stinks!" Well I did just that and I felt a lot better afterwards, but the smell still lingered after I had washed my pack.
After we'd been going for an hour, we stopped for a rest and took off our packs. Most of the lads opened their packs to see what was in them and started to open tins of sardines and tins of corned beef. One lad must have been so hungry he started eating margarine. Well before we set off again, the sergeant shouted in a loud voice, "Gunner Ormerod, come here and put some of the other blokes things in your pack and it will even things up a bit." Well that's what they did and after struggling to get our heavy packs on we set off on the last two gruelling miles fed up, wet through and exhausted. When we did eventually arrive at our gun positions, we just flopped down on the mud, which was everywhere. There wasn't a dry place to be seen. I thought to myself, what a bloody place to be in. I wonder what Alice would say if she could see me now, wet through and covered in stinking mud. The people that sent us out here in this forsaken hole should come out here and try it.
Well, after we had handed in the rations and had a drink of hot tea and a few biscuits we were put on gun cleaning and making sure the gun charges and fuses were all okay and dry. Some of the gunners were making duck boards to walk on to try to keep us off the mud and prevent us getting our feet wet. But that same night I had a bad shaking do and felt very hot and cold and my mate Pat Walton went and brought the sick orderly to have a look at me. After he had taken my temperature which was very high at 103º, he said he thought I had got malaria but wasn't sure. He told me to keep warm and that if I hadn't improved by next day he would try to get me moved down to the medical centre at Boli Bazar. Well I felt terrible, even when we had our rum ration I still shivered, and what made it worse was the rain soaking us through. Then some Jap planes came over and bombed an Indian transport close to our positions, but did little damage, missing their target by a mile and the bombs only closed the pass by making big craters. It was only closed for a day and the Royal Engineers filled them in and then things got back to normal.
Well morning came and I felt a lot worse. So this time the medical officer came and took my temperature and it was just the same. He shook his head and said that if he could find transport to take me and four others who had malaria he would, but trucks were no good in these conditions. They would only get bogged down and stuck. The only thing would be to try to borrow a bren gun carrier from the Lincolnshire infantry battalion. He said he would try his best to get us away to hospital as quickly as possible, because that's where we should be in our bad condition.
"In the meantime just keep warm if you can, and keep your chin up, and wish me luck trying to get transport."
Another day went by, and the rain kept lashing down with no sign of it stopping, or sign of any transport. Then luck came our way. Lieutenant Cutting came and told us that three bren gun carriers were on their way with some wounded from the Lincolns and would pick us up on their way. We waited more than an hour, still shivering and wet through, then to our surprise, the quartermaster came and gave the five of us two dry blankets each and also a hot mug of tea with rum in it which warmed us up. Then the medical officer came and gave us a few mephaquin tablets to help to keep our temperatures down until we got to the hospital We just managed to find room in the carrier, but it was a tight squeeze with having two badly wounded soldiers laying on the bottom and the five of us sitting on the edge of the carrier with our feet resting on the wounded. It was a rotten thing we had to do, but it couldn't be helped. No-one could imagine what it was like sitting in a bren gun carrier, crammed like bloody chickens and also soaking wet. It's something that I will never forget as long as I live. The journey we took was at least fifty miles on a shell potted road and when we arrived at Bolie-Bazar and the drivers of the carriers reported to the small hospital, they found it was full up with wounded and they were told that they couldn't take us in and we would have to go another twenty miles to Cox's Bazar. Well the carrier drivers had been told only to take us to Boli Bazar, because they were needed back in the front line and they said they weren't going any further and after a lot of arguing the officer in the hospital relented and said he would transfer us to two ambulances and take us to Cox's, but before we set off a doctor came and saw to the wounded who had their dressings changed. He also gave those of us who had malaria some liquid quinine, then afterwards we were all given tea and corned beef stew, and if you couldn't eat it you got a chapatti with jam on, and if you didn't like that, you didn't get anything.
After the doctor had finished with us, we proceeded to Cox's Bazar in an ambulance which was a big improvement on the bren gun carrier and also drier. Well we arrived at last and were admitted straight away without any fuss and then found a bed which I was ready for. It was the first time for a month that I'd had my clothes off and when the nurse saw me in bed, she played holy hell and told me to get in the bath and get all the filth off me. She also took my clothes away for delousing, then came back after I'd had a bath and gave me a good examination and a blood slide. A bit later on she came back from the laboratory and told me that I was suffering from MT malaria, that means it's a malingering type, which comes in severe attacks for a couple of days, then you feel better for another couple of days, then it goes on repeating. Well the treatment I received was three days on quinine, three days on mephaquin tablets, three days without any medication, then the same again for another week. After that you went on a week's convalescence, then if you were okay you were sent back to your unit.
I must have been away for at least a month, and during that time the Battery had been in action again, this time supporting a company of the Balluchi Regiment who were attacking a Japanese strong point two miles further south from Maungdaw. In this action, a mate of mine called Joe Tunacliffe, who came from Stoke on Trent, was killed whilst firing his own gun. They had been constantly firing for a good quarter of an hour when the shell exploded in the gun's breech, blowing the breech block and part of the barrel sky high. Two more gunners and the sergeant were also badly wounded as well as Paddy, the pet dog which had been with us since the Battery left Chittagong. Everybody was very upset. They said the cause was a defective shell which was manufactured in India. After this tragic incident all our shells and fuses were closely examined for any slight fault.
A few days later we got word that the enemy were moving about three divisions on to our front and were trying to get behind the 5th Indian Division, the same division that we had been supporting around Maungdaw and Razabill. Well it looked like we were all going to be busy, so the order was to dig better gun pits and also deeper trenches for our own protection. So we all got cracking with the strengthening of our positions and felt a lot safer through our hard work.
A couple of nights later, we heard a lot of machine-gun and rifle fire, also a few trench mortar bombs bursting about a mile to our rear. Then we got orders to swing our guns round and wait for further orders. We heard later on that a column of Indian troops taking ammunition and food supplies over the Goppe Pass went from the main road between Boli Bazar and Buthidaung and ran into a large force of Japanese Infantry, who were digging trenches overlooking the main road which was our only supply route. Later we heard that the Japs had crossed the road and dug in, and also built a large road block, stopping all our needed supplies. And over on the other side of the Mayu Range a big battle was going on by the sound of the great explosions and machine-gun fire.
We were still waiting for orders from the division, and hoping that some good news would come our way. As we were just sitting about, Lieutenant Cutting told me and my mate Pat Walton to go up onto the Ngakyedauk Pass where a company of the fifth Ghurkhas was dug in on a high ridge looking towards Buthidaung. They were commanded by an English officer, called Major Corsair, who was also an intelligence officer and gave us a great deal of news.
Well we both went up to the Ghurkhas' position and were halted by a sentry who called for the guard commander to find out what we wanted. After we had asked to see their officer, he went away, and in a few minutes he brought the officer who was pleased to see us. When we told him what our officer said about wanting to know what the military situation was, he said that the Japs had got a foothold behind the 7th Indian Division and cut off the road behind us. He also told us that the Japs had captured a strong point on a hill overlooking the Kalapanzin valley and that they had crossed the Callapanin River and were now only about nine miles from our positions. "If the enemy is not moved from the road block soon we shall all be in a difficult situation if we can't get any supplies, or get our sick and wounded out. So go back and tell Lieutenant Cutting what's happening, and if he gets any information, tell him to let me know and good luck, I think we all need it, what do you say?"
We both returned to the Battery and reported the information and got stuck into a mess tin full of bully-beef stew and a mug of hot tea, and the cook said, "If you want any more get it, because the way things are going it might be your last and no kidding." Everybody was cleaning their rifles and checking their ammunition and we were all issued with a field dressing each. Later on Major Corsair came down to see our battery officer and explained to him what he intended to do concerning the road block. He said he was sending a patrol out to find what strength the enemy was in and the kind of weapons he had, such as mortars and machine guns. He also asked if we could spare a few men, because his company was a bit under strength owing to casualties from their previous action with the enemy. Well after a bit of talking, our officer called a few of us over and explained what Major Corsair had said, and asked if anyone of us had ever served in the infantry, and if so put their hands up. Well altogether there were just twelve of us who had fought at Dunkirk and all through Belgium and northern France. He then told us to go with the Major with just our small pack, rifle and bayonet, and 200 rounds of ammunition. So after we had got our kit on and got our extra ammunition, we set off up to the Ghurkhas on the Ngakyedauk Pass with Major Corsair and were each issued with two hand grenades and haversack rations to last us two days. Altogether there were about thirty of us that set off over the notorious pass which was just wide enough to take an army tank or one of our guns. In parts you had to climb up to 2000 feet and also on one side there was a drop down into a deep ravine and on the other side was nothing but dense jungle. The distance from our battery's position to the Kalladon valley was twelve miles, and was very treacherous all the way. Everybody was expecting to be ambushed and fired on, but fortunately nothing happened so we all breathed again when we got to a small track that went to the small village called Zinzawatty. A company of a Punjabi regiment was dug in and we contacted them and asked them if they had seen any Japs. They said that they hadn't, but had heard a lot of small arms fire down towards the Buthidaung area.
Whilst we were here, we managed to get some tea to drink and some chapattis and a good rest. Then we were off again, this time over the Goppe Pass which went to a place called Taung, then finished at Taung Bazar. All these passes were only fit for mule transport, and were used a lot to bring supplies from Boli Bazar to Zinzawatty. Well it was on the Goppe Pass that we met a column of Indian muleteers stopped having a rest, so we did the same, and just as we were going to sit down, we heard a lot of talking that we hadn't heard before and the Major told us to get off the track and keep out of sight and keep quiet, as they might be Japs. We left the path and got well back into the jungle out of sight and waited. It wasn't long before we saw a small section of Japs carrying two trench mortars and ammunition and also spades for digging. Well we let them go past and kept them in view for at least a quarter of a mile. Then they stopped and seemed to be setting up some kind of signalling post, and others started digging a trench and a weapon pit for the mortars. After that, the Major and a sergeant crept near and watched them digging, then they came back and had a talk about the best way to take them by surprise without getting any casualties. Well it was decided that the men with their mules had to keep behind and well hidden, whilst the rest of us split up, half going to the left and the rest to the right, and on a signal from the Major we were all to go in firing. The signal went up and then the firing started. It was a bloody massacre. The Japs didn't have a chance. But for two who were badly wounded, the rest were dead. The wounded were looked at and had their wounds dressed, then they were put on mules and also the Japs' mortars and other things, such as a transmitting radio and other signalling equipment.
Well after we had loaded the mules we carried on over the pass until we arrived at Taung Bazar, and there we stayed for the night and handed over the two wounded Japs, but we kept the mortars and ammunition chance we might need them where we were going. We felt a lot better when we had got rid of the Japs and had something to eat. After we'd all eaten, the next thing was the best way to get near to the road block the Japs had made. Major Corsair and two of the sergeants reckoned that the distance was at least twelve miles and we would have to make a big detour owing to the dense jungle and a deep gorge. We set off on one of the worst marches that I'd ever been on, and I hoped to God that it was my last. The bloke walking in front of me had on his neck and ears about six bloody big leeches sucking his blood. On seeing these I had a look at my arms and I found one under my shirt near my shoulder and feeling round again there was another under my armpit. The cry went up that there were leeches everywhere, so we all stopped and started to take most of our clothes off. Even the Major did the same and found some on himself. He told us to light a cigarette and burn them off, but not to knock them off, otherwise the blighters would leave their heads under your skin and cause it to fester. We killed what we could find, then we set off on the last two miles, wet through with sweat and tired out. Then from about a mile away we could see the Japs' positions. We had a good view of what was going on, but we were still out of mortar range. To make any real damage the officer decided to go another half mile and find a good vantage point without being observed by the enemy. It was some kind of a ditch on the top of a ridge and a good field of fire, chance the enemy put in an attack. Well we waited there for a good two hours, until the light started to fade, then the Major said it was time we got started. He came round to every man and told him what the target was. He told us to make every round count and the mortar section was told fire when ordered, and when all the mortar ammunition had been expended and we were getting low on the rifle ammunition, we were to withdraw and return to our own positions on the Ngakyedauk Pass.
We hadn't gone very far when all at once the shelling started. But it was far away to our left where the shells were bursting. After going two miles on the same track, then stopping for a well earned rest and another look at the map, Major Corsair decided on a shorter route, leaving the Goppe Pass and heading towards the Ngakyedauk Pass. This track was just a wild animal track, but it was a lot better and easier for walking, and we could make better time. Soon it got dark, so we made ourselves as comfortable as possible away from the track, chance a Jap patrol came past. After having a disturbed night, owing to a bloke waking everybody up because he found a scorpion in his blanket, we set off again when it was breaking daylight and then we came across some Arakanese who told us that they had seen a large patrol of Japs near their village which was a mile further on. So we then made another detour which brought us to the rear of our battery lines. Here we halted and then the major went forward, but was stopped by a sentry of our battery who would have opened fire but for one of lads shouting his name and telling him who we were. The sentry let us through and the Major reported to our commander about the action we had been in and the type of country that we had to go through to reach our objective.
Later that same afternoon, I and ten more gunners, went sick with malaria. We were taken to the medical officer for a check up and he told us that he was sending us to hospital as soon as he could get transport. In the meantime he told us to get some hot food and drink plenty of boiled water, and also to try and keep warm. But it was the following day when the transport arrived. They were army thirty-hundred trucks which the Royal Army Service Corps had brought to the Battery loaded with shells and other things that were needed.
With just our small kit and rifles we climbed up onto the trucks. Before we left the Battery our officer asked the sergeant in charge of the trucks how they had managed to get through this far when the main and only road was blocked by the enemy. It was only two days since some of our gunners, with a few of a Ghurkha platoon, were engaged in a small action against the road block, until their ammunition ran out. The sergeant said that a battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment coming up from Bawli Bazar came under small arms fire, which caused a few casualties but nothing serious. After a short but fierce engagement the Wilts broke through the road block and forced the Japs back into the jungle, leaving many Japs dead. The Wilts also left half of the battalion to consolidate their position and to keep the road open. That had happened just that morning and they had had to watch out on each side of the road for snipers and mines that had been laid.
After all that information, we managed to set off on a long and tiring journey all the way to Chittagong, just stopping for one night at Cox's Bazar, where we got a bit of a rest and some quinine to help to keep our temperature down until we arrived at Chittagong Hospital.
After I had been treated and made better, the hospital doctor discharged me and I was sent to a rest camp just out of town, where there were at least two thousand troops recuperating. I and a few more soldiers were allowed to go into Chittagong with a pass for the day, to go to the garrison cinema. This particular day, I was sitting with a couple of lads out of the King's Own Regiment, who had been with our lot at Dunkirk, but when the lights went on at the interval someone or something hit me on the back and when I turned round I nearly had a fit, because it was a bloke I used to work with at Olive Mill in Bacup. He was called Ross Lord and lived up Todmorden Road in Bacup. He was serving in the Royal Air Force at Feni Airfield, about five miles away. Well we had a lot to talk about and he asked me if I was stationed nearby. When I told him that I was in the rest camp, he said that if I could get a day pass, he would try and get permission for me to fly on a short mission up to Imphal on the north Burma border. I said I would get one the next day and get a lift up to the airfield first thing in the morning.
Morning came, and it wasn't long before I got a lift on an RAF truck right to the airfield. The driver knew my mate Ross Lord, and told me to wait at the guard room and he would tell him that I had arrived. When he saw me he said that I first had to go and sign a form stating that I had volunteered to go on a flight and they were not responsible for my safety. Whilst I was in the office signing my name, they were loading a Dakota with supplies for the troops serving up in north Burma. We got aboard and after a two hour flight landed on a massive flat plain where there were thousands of troops preparing to go up into Dimapore and Koehema where our forces were making a big stand against the Japs. We unloaded then brought back the sick and wounded to be sent by ambulance to a large hospital in the town of Couimilla. It had been a grand experience and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
After a drink and a bite to eat I got a lift back to the rest camp, after thanking my old work mate for a smashing day. As soon as I arrived in camp, I noticed a lot of the lads looking at the notice board, so I went over to see what was on the board. It read that all those in the infantry had to pack all their kit and report on the parade ground as soon as possible. The camp commander had orders from the high command to get all fit men ready to be sent up to the north Burma front as reinforcements, as they expected the enemy to attack in large numbers. The Japs had advanced very fast and reached the town of Koehema, where there was fierce fighting and our troops were only just holding on. We had suffered a lot of casualties - some killed or wounded and some dying of malaria.
Soon the infantry marched out of camp and just left about fifty gunners from different artillery batteries. There were just two of us going back to our own unit back up to the Arackan front. We went back the same way as we came down, stopping at all the same places until we arrived at the Battery. But this time they had moved over into the Kalapanzin valley to help our troops in their advance down to the town of Rathadong, twelve miles past Buthidaung. All the lads were glad to see us back and to hear the latest news. We had heard on the radio and from some blokes who had just come out from home that the good news was that our troops in the desert had gained a lot of ground and were pushing Rommel's forces back all along the front and capturing thousands of Germans and Italians as well as tanks and heavy guns and ammunition.
We had gone to some fresh positions just outside a village called Lecktavet Chang and were just about to start digging the gun pits and trenches when all hell broke loose as we came under mortar fire and small arms fire. One of our drivers was killed by a sniper who we saw in the top branches of a large tree. The driver was called Ken Woods and came from Wolverhampton. The bullet must have been an explosive one as it made a clean hole in the place of entry in the centre of his forehead, and then exploded, blowing a large part of his head away. Just then a company of Lincolns and a company of King's Own put in a frontal attack on the enemy positions and silenced their mortars, as well as inflicting many casualties. But there were a few British and Indians casualties as well. Then there was another small action just after a small party of the enemy managed to take up a strong position on the top of a ridge on the Mayu Range. It was a very precipitous ridge, overlooking a big gorge and also the whole Kalapanzin valley. The Japs had it for an observation post, that's why it had to be destroyed or captured, so the job was given to the Lincolnshire Regiment who had only just been in action. Well, they were given a short respite and on the night of the sixteenth of February 1944, they managed to get part way up but came under intense rifle and machine-gunfire and had to give up. But after a short pause their major, Frank Hoey, crawled forward and killed all the Japs although he was severely wounded and later found dead. His body was taken down from the ridge and buried in the Lincolnshire Regiment's cemetery which they had built themselves, just off the main road between the bottom of the Nockidoak Pass and the road to Buthidaung. He was later posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry.
Soon after this brave action the Lincolns and the rest of the 5th Indian Division were pulled out from the Arakan front and sent up to the north Burma front, where the enemy were attacking in great numbers. The 5th Division were sent up there to relieve the tired and depleted forces that had been in some of the fiercest fighting in Burma that had made our position in the Maungdaw and Buthidaung area very weak and impossible to defend. The commander of the fifteenth India Corps was General Philip Christason, and he ordered the few us that were left to go over the Mayu Range and take up defensive positions with the 7th Indian Division. Well as you know, the Kalapanzin valley was surrounded by steep hills which went up to 2000 feet and was covered in deep ravines and dense jungle that was hard to penetrate, especially at night or in the dark. Down the middle of the valley was nothing but rice fields and one narrow bullock cart track which started at the north from the village called Zinzawatti to the village called Rathadong, a distance of twenty miles. Also, about three miles before you got to Rathadong on the left going east was another track which took you to a village called Ruewar, where a battalion of the King's Own were positioned on a very high ridge. And forward of that was a stinking swamp with all kinds of things crawling about. Also nearby was a chaung, which they called the leech chaung, the reason being that if you went in, you would come out covered in leeches.
Well it was here that a thing happened to me that I shall never forget, but I'd do it again because three of our lines men who helped the signallers to lay the field telephone from the battery gun position to the observation post, which was usually just in front of the infantry position, went down with malaria and were sent to hospital. So the signals officer told me, Pat Walton and Jack Bolton to go with Captain Duncan and his driver to lay a telephone line up to the King's Own, onto the top of this high ridge. We were told to stay with the officer and to put down gunfire onto a Jap position where they had four heavy machine guns that had been causing a lot of casualties to the King's Own and to a company of the East Lancs.
We had seen the enemy guns firing from some bunkers on the opposite side, so the captain phoned the gun position to fire a round onto the bunkers until they hit the target. Then afterwards he told the gunners to fire more shells, until the enemy machine guns were destroyed and the advance could continue. When the guns had stopped firing the King's Own battalion commander came and thanked us for the good shooting our Battery had done, and asked us to stay for a drink and a bully beef sandwich.
After another hour with the infantry, we went down to the signal truck and were just turning it round to go back to the Battery, when all at once I saw about a dozen Japs coming down a jungle track, heading straight for me. I shouted, "Japs!" at the top of my voice and flung myself into some long kail grass. The Japs must have seen me and immediately started firing into the grass, but they were firing too high and luckily for me they didn't start looking for me, otherwise I might have been killed or taken prisoner. I don't know how long I lay there, but it seemed like ages, then when everything had quietened down, I made my way back to the track where the truck was and came across a patrol of the East Lancs, coming back to their positions. I asked them if they had seen a signals truck and two gunners and an officer. They said, "Yes, just down the road about a quarter of a mile away. They seemed to be heading this way and were looking for something."
"They're looking for me," I said. "I got separated from them when I got fired on by some Japs. I've been hiding in some kail-grass until things died down. Then you lot turned up." Well I said thanks and went down the track and met the others, who were glad to see me in one piece. They said that luckily for them the Japs were so concerned about shooting at me that it made it easier for them to get away to a safer distance and wait until things settled down. They didn't know if I'd been hit, or what had happened to me and when they came back to find me walking down there as large as life, well, they thought it was grand to see me.
We were all keen to get away from that stinking hole and when we arrived back, the Battery were moving into fresh positions and digging new gun pits and trenches. The other units were also digging trenches all around the outside of an area about two miles square, and with barbed wire laid in front of them, it looked like they were expecting trouble from the enemy. We were told that everybody had to be on their toes and fully alert at all times, because the enemy had moved onto both sides of the valley in very large numbers and had surrounded the entire area of the 7th Indian Division. Any time now we could expect the Japs.
Well that night was fairly quiet except for a few flashes of gunfire down towards Rathadong. The only thing that bothered us was that we only had enough shells for an hour's firing, so the orders were to only fire in an extreme emergency. After about five a.m. we got the order to stand to, and everybody who had a rifle or a machine-gun was told to load and be ready to fire if they saw the enemy or were being attacked, and we were told to make every round count. This particular morning was very misty. You could only see about twenty yards, when all of a sudden all hell broke loose outside the outer perimeter. The infantry had spotted some Japs crawling in front of the wire and had opened fire causing the enemy to withdraw. But not for long. They then started to use their trench mortars, hitting a small arms dump and also setting fire to some trucks and destroying the headquarters of the division, as well as killing most of the signallers. This battle went on for days and things were getting desperate. All the ammunition was getting low, and also the medical supplies and the food rations had to be cut down to a third of the original supply. It was during this period that I and a few more soldiers went down with malaria and other diseases.
There were also a lot of wounded brought into the field hospital which was situated in a kind of a gully cut out of the hillside, away from all the fighting. To get to it you had to go through a gap in the wire where just a handful of Indian infantry were guarding. It was well camouflaged and whilst I was in the hospital, I could hear a lot of shelling and mortaring going on in the far distance. This was happening every day that I was ill in hospital, and after just over a week the shelling and small arms fire was getting worse and nearer. Well, it must have been later in the second week when the doctor came round to see us and said that every man who was able to fire a rifle was urgently needed to rejoin his unit, as the enemy were about to launch a fierce attack in an attempt to break through our lines and finally annihilate the whole division There must have been at least thirty of us who said we were fit to fire a rifle, so we went back to our own units and weren't they glad to see us? It was grand to be back amongst all my mates again, and especially when we were going to go into action again. It wasn't long before our battery and our other battery, along with the eighth Belfast heavy ak-ak started shelling the enemy as they were moving and concentrating more troops for a big attack on our positions. This battle was later called 'The Battle of the Box', which was most appropriate as the division were boxed in, inbetween the surrounding hills. Well, the morning after I left the hospital it was just before daybreak that a strong Japanese force of infantry infiltrated behind the hospital and smashed their way through the few Indians who were supposed to be guarding it and into the hospital itself, shooting everybody in sight and bayoneting all those in bed, as well as five doctors who were operating on two soldiers. There were just about four wounded who managed to escape the massacre by creeping underneath the marquee and hiding in the jungle which was very dense. One of the lads was a Lance Bombardier from my battery who was called Duncan Tasker, but we just called him Jock because his home was in a remote part of Scotland. After he escaped, he stayed hidden in the jungle for two days, and then decided to rejoin the battery in the early hours before it got light. But he must have lost his bearings and stumbled into the barbed wire in front of a company of the Dogras, which was an Indian regiment, who fired off a few rounds of rifle fire, thinking the Japs were trying to cut the wire. When it came daylight, they found Jock's body hanging on the wire and went, and with great difficulty, got him off and later brought him over to our position. After Captain Duncan had seen him, he detailed four gunners and a sergeant and the battery chaplain to bury him with a lot more from other regiments who had been killed in action or who had died from malaria and other diseases.
Well the shelling continued and our supplies were getting low. If we didn't get any ammunition in the next few days it would be impossible to stop the Japs. All contact with the outside of the Arakan front was impossible, owing to all the radios being destroyed in the shelling. Only a runner or a dispatch rider could get through for help. After a few tries, one gunner in our battery volunteered to have a go, and in the end, after dodging the enemy's rifles and bayonets, Nichol got through to Boli Bazar, about forty miles away, where he got in touch with an officer in the Royal Medical Corps who then got a message to the fifteenth Indian Corp headquarters and told them that the 7th Indian

Division was surrounded in the Kalapanzin valley by three Japanese divisions and was vastly in need of ammunition and all kinds of medical supplies and food. He also told them that there were many wounded who need immediate attention. Not long after we got some good news, saying that the Indian Corp were sending the 26th Indian Division, commanded by General Lomax up from Chittagong, and also the Royal Air Force were sending us some much needed supplies.
It was just breaking daylight when we heard the drone of aircraft coming over the Mayu Range, flying low, under enemy small arms fire. Soon we saw a lot of parachutes coming down into our positions with all kinds of supplies. As soon as they hit the ground, the lads started to run to gather the contents. The red coloured chutes had medical contents, and those that were red and orange were for ammunition and all kinds of explosives. As soon as we saw that wonderful sight, you couldn't hear anything but cheering. It meant that we could fight back, and if lucky would drive the Japs back and avenge the atrocities they had committed on the sick and wounded, and not forgetting the brave and hard working doctors in the military hospital. Every day the Dakotas came over and dropped the supplies and flew back to Feni airport for another load until we were back to fighting strength. Then later we heard a lot of machine-gun fire and also mortar fire coming from the ridge and all along the Mayu Range as far as Buthidaung and back to Taung Bazar and over the Ngakyedauk Pass. They were the troops that had been sent up from Chittagong, and they were fighting their way to relieve us after we had held and fought a tenacious and cruel enemy, and been cut off for six weeks on starvation rations and low on ammunitions and medical supplies. Now it was our turn to do the attacking. The enemy were being pushed back over all the hills and were in full retreat all along the front. It felt grand to be able to do some firing and to kill as many of them as we could.
As all this was going on, the British 36th Division, under Major General Festing was fighting its way down to us, thus pushing the Japs into our positions. Also at the same time the 81st West African Division was fighting over on hills around Ruewar and over the Mayu River and the Kalapanzin River. That meant that the enemy were being cut off and were being shot up from all sides, leaving thousands dead and wounded. After six weeks of being cut off in constant action, the enemy dead were lying in twos and threes, and in other places they lay in hundreds where a machine-gun had shot them up. There were hundreds more that had been killed by the shelling and our mortar fire. The worst thing that got to me was the terrible smell that came from the dead which were rotting just in front of our gun position, and causing flies to get onto everything and contaminate the food, which was causing a lot of dysentery.
Well it was a job given to four of us to move seven of these stinking Japs, also two dead mules that stank worse than the soldiers. My mate Jack Bolton got four spades and I went over to the gun and got a tow rope. Then with Lieutenant Cutting we got through a gap in the wire and arrived at the bodies, but before we started to move them, the Lieutenant took the rope and tied it round the foot of one of the Japs, then told us to give the rope a good tug and to drag it along the ground, in case it was a booby-trap. The Japs sometimes used to fasten a grenade under the body of a dead soldier that was face down, and when you turned it over to see who the soldier was, the grenade would explode in your face and kill you. We did that with the rest of them, and also the mules without mishap. The next thing we did was to feel in their pockets and in their kit to see if they had any important papers. The only things we found were a small bag of rice and dried fish on one, and on the others we found some small photographs that must have been of their loved ones, that was all. We dragged them to a deep ditch and rolled the Japs and the mules into one big grave, then we filled it in with anything we could find and topped it up with the largest stones we could find. Then the officer told one of the gunners to find a broken ammunition box and just get two long pieces from it and make a cross by tying the two pieces with an old boot lace. Then the officer wrote on it, 'Here lies seven Japs and two mules killed in action on the twenty third of February l944.'
After we had finished we all went and had a good wash. It was the first one since I went in hospital. It wasn't far to go to a chaung to get a bath, but it was on the other side of some barbed wire and some of the lads that had been said they had seen a lot of dead Japs on the banks and some in the chaung itself and wouldn't go in for fear of getting contaminated. Well later that day Major General Briggs came over the Ngauyedauk Pass and stopped his jeep and got out and called to everybody to gather round. He said he had something to say, so we all packed in the jobs we were doing and went to listen. He started off by thanking and congratulating Major General Messervy and all his seventh Indian for their wonderfully brave stand against a cruel and tenacious enemy, and for giving them a bloody nose. "Now we have him on the run, you will be pulled out for a well earned rest and the spot of leave I think you are all waiting for. Well good luck to you all and it's been a great honour and a privilege to have been commanding your division, and also to know Major General Masservy, who has led you to this great victory."
The first troops to be relieved were the Lincolns, the King's Own and both our batteries. We pulled out just before the monsoons started and we managed to get down to Chittagong where we stayed until we were needed again. Names were put in a hat, and the lucky ones were sent on leave to a place of your their own choice. There were three places to pick from, one was in Calcutta, one in Shillong in the hills of Megauly, and the hill town of Darjeeling in the Cooch Beiar province, seventy miles from Mount Everest. Three of us picked Darjeeling, and after getting paid and our passes we set off with our small kit and rifle and haversack rations and caught a train for a 150 mile ride to Arragatta, where we stopped for coaling and watering the engine and some refreshments. After an hour's messing about we set off again, going through Rangpur and Dingipur, then stopping in Silliguri for at least two hours. This place was seventy miles from Darjeeling and was a narrow gauge mountain railway that needed two engines to pull the three-coach train up the steep incline. Well after we'd had a meal, we set off on this mountainous journey which took us about five hours, climbing all the time, until we got to a small village called Ghoome. Just before we arrived there, we saw about twelve people near the railway track having a kind of barbecue, but when we looked again, they were cooking monkeys on a spit and roasting them. I think they were Mongolians by the looks of them, or some kind of nomads or gypsies. They looked very queer in the way they dressed. On their heads they wore a kind of a pointed hat made from some kind of animal fur.
The train stopped in the station at Ghoome and some people got on to go to the end of the line at Darjeeling, where we would get off. It was just after seven o' clock in the evening and the sun was setting. It was one of the loveliest sights I have ever seen, with the reflection from the setting sun on the high peaks of Kanchenjunga, the second highest mountain in the world. Well we found our quarters, where we were staying for our fortnight's leave. They were in a large barrack block, which used to house a Ghurkha Battalion. There were a lot more soldiers staying there from units that had been in our division.
One thing that I had noticed was that all the roads and streets in Darjeeling had Scottish names like Mackenzie Road, Macintosh Road, Campbell Road, and many more. A few of us had a good look around at the place and called in at a nice hotel, named The Everest, which was run by a Scot and his wife who made us very welcome. We came out of there and decided to return to our billets and on our way back one of the lads said, "Look over that wall there. Someone is watching us. They keep on staring." So the lad who had seen it, spoke to it, but got no reply, then after a closer look he said that it was a grey-faced baboon.
After that we arrived at the billet and settled down for the night. Morning came and after eating a hearty breakfast, we set off to visit the Brooke Bonds tea factory and their tea plantations, which were situated on the mountain slopes half a mile from the town. Here we watched the women and girls picking the leaves from the bushes, which were just like the privet leaves back home. To buy a bush it would cost you one Indian rupee, which was the equivalent of one shilling and sixpence in English money. You could also send home a five pound parcel in weight, which was a good thing for those at home. Another day we went on a long walk up a mountain track to a place called Tiger Hill. On the peak was a large observatory, where you could see Mount Everest, Mount Kanchenjunga, and other high mountains of the Himalayas. Up on this high peak you could see thousands of feet below to a long rope bridge that crossed a deep gorge to a place called Lahpong. It was whilst we were there that we saw, coming up this steep track, two Nepalese Sherpas, who, when they had got their breath back, stopped and greeted us with a big grin and a good salaam, which means greetings. They motioned to us to follow them to a small hut where they kept a few things for cooking and sleeping and a pile of dry wood for the stove. The Sherpas soon got a fire going and it wasn't long before we were drinking some nice hot tea, but without milk. Then after that, they took us down a steep track and up to another high peak, to one of the smallest and loveliest churches you ever saw. We opened the door but the Sherpas stayed outside. Inside, at the end of each pew, was inscribed the names of the British Regiments who had served at these lonely outposts - some of them from Lancashire and Yorkshire, and on the ceiling hung the flags of all these famous regiments. The church was called Saint Paul's, and although some of the lads amongst us were not church goers, they knelt down in prayer, not just for themselves, but for the lads we left behind in the Arakan jungle, never to return. After this memorable day, we all went back down into Darjeeling and went to The Everest Hotel for something to eat, because everybody felt hungry after all that walking up those steep mountainous slopes. It was a day I shall never forget.
Well the day came when we had to return to our units, and after a last farewell drink in The Everest we got on the little train for another long train ride to Sillagori in India. Here we had to change trains, like we did when coming on leave, and we went back the same way to Chittagong. Here the battery were ready to go to Cox's Bazar to board landing craft with the 26th Indian Division to make landings on Ramree Island just off the coast of Burma. The reason was to capture the island and make an airfield for our planes, making our supply route shorter as we advanced further down through Burma.
Well we boarded our landing craft, escorted by two naval destroyers and the battle cruiser King George V, who, just before we made the landings gave all the Jap positions a hell of a pounding with her heavy shells and also blew up two large ammunition dumps and a big artillery battery that was dug in on a mountain called Mount Peter.
It was just breaking daylight when the ramps were lowered and we stepped off into deep water, but the bottom was sand and wasn't so bad. There were very few casualties on landing, most were from a machine-gun and a few land mines, but the machine-gun was soon silenced, then there was only a bit of sniping and then everything went quiet. But there was one incident I remember. It was just when we were stepping off the landing craft that a signaller with a big transmitting radio set strapped to his back stepped off on my left and just disappeared from view. I never saw him again. He must have gone down into a deep bomb crater or a shell hole.
Whilst we were here in the town of Kyoukpyu, the two destroyers were anchored just off shore and a naval supply ship was tied up at the quay where the crew would allow us on board to purchase anything from their canteen. The main things were soap, cigarettes, matches, writing paper and anything in tins except corned beef and sardines. A lot of us used to go into the small village near our gun position and barter with the villagers. In exchange for a chicken or two we would give them a few tins of sardines and a few cigarettes. Then we would boil the chickens in a army biscuit tin with a few sweet potatoes. It was a grand change from just bully beef and biscuits.
Well after a week had gone and most of the Japs had been cleared from the island, the order was given to make another landing. This time on the coast of Burma at a place called Myebon Peninsular. We went up by landing craft, and it was there that we came across some Jap prisoners in a barbed wire compound who were in a terrible state, scantily dressed in a small piece of cloth just covering their private parts, dirty and covered in jungle sores. They never took their eyes off you. My mate Pat Walton said they should be all bloody well shot for the terrible things they did to our lads in that hospital.
On the way to our gun position we came across our liaison, Major Corsair, who was carrying a dead snake. He said that some natives had killed it and said it was one of the deadliest snakes there was in those parts. It was a black banded krait and was about four feet in length and had lovely yellow marks on its body. He also said there were other kinds of snakes and iguanas on the peninsular.
Well the clouds were darkening and the rains were upon us. You could tell by the flying beetles and the monsoon flies which turned to black ants and swarmed over everything. It wasn't long before we were ordered into action at a place called Kangaw where the Japs were well dug in. It was a awful place for leeches and other insects, also you had to look out for snakes and scorpions. I remember one morning when things were a bit quieter, a lad on our gun called Tom Burns was trying to shave against a truck, and as he was looking through the truck's mirror he spotted an Indian rock python, about eight feet long, sliding over some shells into the undergrowth. After seeing it we all felt a bit scared and it made us more wary. Then, at night, the fruit bats would come and hang up in the top branches of trees, and the jackals and hyenas would come round making all sorts of weird noises. Sleep was just impossible. What a bloody place to be in. And for what? Just to keep the enemy from getting into India - that's what we were there for to be eaten alive or to be killed.
Well the rains never stopped and within an hour the place was just a quagmire and a bog. It was one big struggle as we moved further south, to a place called Letpan. Here we dug trenches and gun pits as the Japs were preparing for an attack on a ridge a mile away. Then a large column was seen coming up a gully, trying to get behind a company of Ghurkhas who were engaged in a scrap with some small Jap tanks which they had brought up for support. It was our turn again to try and stop the attack. All the guns were loaded using a number one charge. Practically firing over open sights, we fired continuously for ten minutes. Then the enemy started to fall back into fresh positions all the way down to Taungup, the place where we made our last position. It was a terrible place to get to. The road was nothing but red mud which, in some places, was axle deep, and in one place we had to cross a chaung where the first gun and the hack that was towing it got stuck trying to get up onto the opposite bank. All of us had to get down into the chaung and tie the winch rope round a massive tree trunk and make it fast and then winch them both up the bank. Everyone had to help and it was a rotten job. We were soaking wet and covered in red mud, and it must have been rough for the infantry, having to carry all their kit such as their trench mortars and ammunition through all the mud - and doing it on short food rations. Well we managed to get the guns into Taungup in pouring rain, and then we had to dig the gun pits and trenches for our own protection. The battery headquarters came after all that, then the next thing was to clear a lot of jungle in front of the guns to give us a clear field of fire. Whilst all this was going on, the cooks got a warm meal going for us, the first we'd had for a long time, because as soon as the cooks lit a fire the Japs would see the smoke and then start shelling us. Later, when it was too late, we were sent daily food ration tins of McConnachie stew that had a kind of a thermos flask around it and by striking a match which was fastened to the side of the tin you got a hot meal in a few minutes.
After we'd had our meal and our tea laced with rum, we all felt better and then the battery commander came to us and thanked us for the way we had conducted ourselves in all the actions we were engaged in. These were the words of the Division Commander and Lieutenant, General-William Slim, better known to us as Bill Slim, commanding the British 14th Army in Burma. His message cheered us all up although we were wet through.
The night went off quietly with no disturbances, but about six a.m. we had to stand to in our gun pits and trenches. The sergeant came round with a dixie full of tea and a drop of rum which warmed us up immensely. He then told us that there was a lot of enemy movement in positions on our left as the 82nd East African division was pushing the enemy south and might need our support. Anyway the rain never stopped and we had to keep baling water out of the gun pits and the trenches. We also dug into the trench side to make shelves to sleep on, and then made a kind of a cover to try and keep dry. Most of us were in a bad state through the constant wettings. The medical officer came and looked at our feet. Mine were all swollen and covered in small white blisters. He burst some and found small worms under the skin. There were other blokes the same as me, but he said he couldn't do much for us and gave us some permanganate of potash to bathe them in, and told us to gargle with it as well.
The rain never let up. We just had to stick it out. Later in the day, a Royal Air Force officer came and told us he had a good target for us, where a large force of enemy were moving on the Prome Road towards Taungup, about nine miles away. They had guns and tanks and many trucks, and on that road was a bridge that went over a deep gorge - that was the target he wanted us to fire at. If that was destroyed, it would help our other troops who were advancing in that area. The range was twelve thousand yards which was too far for our guns, so we had to dig a deep hole behind each gun to give it more elevation. It was only a try and proved a success. Well each gun was loaded and ready for the spotter aircraft to give us the map reference and range. We waited for a good half hour, then the pilot gave us the information and told us to fire a shell so he could see where it landed. Number one gun fired and the shell exploded over on the left of the bridge. The observer then told the gunners to fire one degree right and up one hundred yards. After the last correction, the next shell made a direct hit, so our gun officer told all guns to fire on that last bearing. Each gun fired ten shells each, that was eighty shells fired. Then we were ordered to stop firing and later the observer told us that we had blown up the bridge and a munitions dump, as well as a number of tanks and guns, and we did all this in a storm of torrential rain. This good news brought a big smile to everybody's face and what made it even better was that the battery commander let us celebrate by giving all of us a good drink of rum to say, well done lads. He told us that some good news had just come through. It was that the Japs on all the Burma fronts were in full retreat. The 26th Division had left Ramree with an independent brigade of Ghurkhas and Royal Marines and had sailed into Elephant Point and also into Rangoon and joined forces with the 5th, the 7th and the 17th Divisions at a place called Pegu. Also coming down through Mandalay was the 2nd British Division, and also the 20th Division was coming down the centre of Burma, near the Irrawaddy River. Coming too were the 1st Chinese Army and the 36th British Division, all driving the enemy back towards Rangoon and out of Burma for good. The Japs had lost heavily, with many killed, wounded and missing, and much loss of their equipment. In the advance from Mandalay to Rangoon, the 14th army had killed 31,364 Japs, taken 683 prisoners, and captured 450 guns and 5l tanks. A message sent to all troops by the Supreme Commander read, "Up to now the enemy have lost all the fighting in Burma. 971,000 have been killed and 250,000 wounded, but there are still isolated pockets of Japs holding out, though they are being dealt with."
Whilst in Taungup I had another bout of malaria, but had to stick it out until I could get to a dressing station. It was here that we were told that the Germans had surrendered on the 8th May 1945. This was a nice relief. It meant to us that we might get more help. Anyway things were going okay for us now we had the Japs on the run. We didn't celebrate but we were given extra corned beef and biscuits and a good rum ration.
Then we were told that we were pulling out, and on the 12th of May we left our positions and went back to Myebon and boarded landing craft to take us to Cox's Bazar, then we went by trucks to Secunderabad, near Hyderabad in India. Here we sent our guns to an Indian Artillery battery and in return we received a battery of seven point two howitzers, which fired a shell weighing 240 pounds. It also had a lifting gear to help with loading.
This camp was covered in wild scrub and long grass. There were also a lot of monkeys, which were very nasty if they had babies. It was here that I had yet another bout of malaria, but only a mild dose. The medical officer gave me a few mephophquin tablets to help to kill the fever. Then the monsoon rains started again and all gun drills stopped whilst the rains continued. This gave us a chance to ask for leave and I asked if I could go but was refused because of having had malaria. Anyway, they gave me and four more gunners and the medical orderly passes to go on convalescence to Puri on the east coast about 200 miles away. It was a long, tiring journey. Sweat rolled off us and the train was filthy and covered by all kinds of insects. We stopped a few times to let goods trains pass and to buy refreshments. There was one station where we stopped for a full hour. It was called Warangal and you could buy mangos, bananas, limes, jackfruit and coconuts. Then on we went into the night and as it broke daylight we stopped in a siding to get coal and water for the engine. During this time we heard noises on the carriage roof. At first we thought it was workmen doing some kind of job or other, but it was people getting off the train. So we did the same and what we saw made our hair stand on end. It was a great baboon running along the carriages with a baby baboon on its back, and as we turned round we could see a lot more in and on the buildings. There must have been a colony of them. After all the commotion we got going again and after a few more delays we arrived at our final destination of Puri.
From the station to our billets was about ten minutes walk, and the place was a large white house in a big garden overlooking the beach. It was a dream come true. I could have spent the rest of my life there. There were electric fans to keep you cool, there was a large bath with hot and cold running water, and we also had a cook and a servant. Every morning a military doctor came to see if we were okay and give us treatment for malaria and other illnesses. In the afternoons a mahout with his elephant would come round and sell us char and waads for 4 annas, that is tea and cakes for eight pence. Another thing we did was to go onto the beach and watch the local fishermen bring in their catches of mostly shark and turtles. The turtles would be placed on their backs into wooden crates, then covered with ice. Then another layer went on top and when the crate was full they nailed it down. All the turtles would be transported alive to large cities such as Madras, Calcutta, Bombay and many others. They were sold to large restaurants and hotels. One day we went into the town to watch a ram fight in the town's square. The rams were painted in all colours and everybody was betting heavily.
We had a good look around Puri and found it very interesting. We went to a temple where there were a lot of sun worshipers who just sat looking at the sun until they were blinded. There were also a lot of lepers in the district. Then we came across another temple, twice the size of the previous one and it was an unusual sight, a thing I have never forgotten. There were life sized marble statues of men and women in all kinds of sexual positions, as well as lifelike figures of elephants, crocodiles, snakes and many other creatures. It was a grand sight, and the place it was in was out of this world, but all good things come to an end and soon it was time to return and rejoin the battery.
The day we got back we were told the Japs had surrendered. When we heard that everybody went mad and said it wouldn't be long before we were all going home. We started writing letters home and telling them how we all were looking forward to seeing our loved ones again, and how things were over here in this stinking India. Later in the day everybody had to go on the battery commander's parade - and that included cooks, defaulters and even the guard. We were dressed in all kind of clothes, some in shorts, some in greatcoats and boots and others in plimsolls. Well we fell in and formed up in three ranks. Then the commander started to speak and said in a loud voice, "Today is a day you will be proud of. You have fought and defeated a cruel and ferocious enemy, and I thank every one of you for the fine and determined efforts in the way you have stood up to the hardships you have had to endure in this hard struggle. And let us not forget our comrades who have died. So if you will stand with me in prayer, we will give thanks to God for our victory and sing the hymn Abide With Me."
After the short service we were all given the day off all duties except the men on guard and the cooks. Then about two hours after the parade, who should come to see me, but my brother-in-law, Frank Woodhead, who was in a twenty-five pounder battery in the 2nd British Division. They had pulled out of Burma just after us and were encamped a few miles up from us at a place called Bhongi. It was a nice surprise meeting him, and in a place like that. He said that his unit might be pulling out and going back home. I said that we had just received new guns and the rumour was that the battery was going down to Malaya and then on to Singapore for garrison duties.
After we'd had our little chat we went over to the cookhouse and got a corned beef fritter on some bread, followed by a slice of bread and jam and a mug of tea each. Then I went over to the battery orderly room and got a pass for the day, and we went over to the battery transport lines with a lot more gunners and we travelled down to Secunderabad, about twelve miles away, in three army trucks. Here we had a good look round the city. We found it a nice place, with lovely buildings, museums, palaces and plenty of parks and open spaces, but there were also a lot of slums, where people were living in filthy broken down hovels just like cattle.
When we finished our sight-seeing, we went into a large building where most of the troops were meeting and talking about the actions they had been in. We were all having a good time. Drinks were coming from everywhere. I don't know who was paying for them, unless it was all army surplus. Things were going grand until some redcaps, that's short for the Military Police, came in and told us to pull our sleeves down to protect us from the mosquitoes and prevent us from catching malaria. Well that did it. Some of the lads told them to bugger off and get some fighting done. None of these police had seen any fighting or roughed it like we had. Then a soldier out of the Royal West Kents was roughly manhandled by two of these policemen and all hell broke loose. The lads grabbed the police and threw them out and they were never seen again, but things got out of hand, fights broke out and some lads were swinging on a big chandelier until the lot came crashing down. I climbed up onto the roof and got a flag, and then I went looking for my brother-in-law. When I did eventually find him he was so drunk he didn't know me from Adam. I said to the bloke who was holding him up, "Look after him, he isn't used to drinking, and wish him all the best from me when he comes round." Then I went outside for some fresh air and the next thing I knew I was in the gutter, wet through, with a bloody big lump on my head. I think someone must have clobbered me with something hard. I felt somebody dumping me into the truck with a lot more gunners and as we set off back the heavens opened and the rain came down in torrents, making the roads like rivers. We had gone about half way when, in the glare of the truck's headlights, we saw a soldier walking towards us carrying an army pack and wearing a greatcoat and steel helmet. As soon as we reached him the driver climbed down from the truck and recognized him as Taffy Evans from our battery. He said that he was walking to Bombay to catch the boat, because the war was over. He was soaking wet and had gone off his rocker. From there to Bombay was at least 450 miles. Anyway, we pulled him up onto the truck and brought him back with us to camp, where we put him in the guard room for the night. The following morning, we all got a good telling off by the battery sergeant major. He let us off with a warning. "But if there is any more shocking behaviour, you will all be sent to a detention camp for field punishment drill for fourteen days. So watch out!" he said.
After all that from the BSM we were ordered to meet the battery commander. He told us that in a short while we would be going home in different groups. Those with long service would be the first to go. Me and six more from the battery were on the 22nd group and the first to go. There was Gunner Botrall, Gunner Thomson, Gunner Paling, Driver Pickthorn, Signaller Bolton, Sergeant Hart, and myself. We waited two days, then we were called back to see the commander who said this was the day we were leaving the battery for good. "Unless you want to stay and re-enlist," he said. Whilst we were waiting, a bombardier came in and gave each one of us our passes and travel warrants, and also haversack rations for en-route. Then the commander shook hands with each one of us and thanked us for what we had done for the battery and wished us good luck and a safe and quick journey home. We then saluted the commander and climbed up onto the truck in view of all the rest of the battery, who gave us a good cheer as we left the camp. It only took us twenty minutes to arrive at Secunderabad station for a 550 mile journey to Deolali. I think it was the 18th October 1945 when we left Secunderabad. The weather was very hot. It was so hot that they took the train into a large shed and stopped it under some water jets to cool the carriages.
After a short delay we set off again for 120 miles to a place called Nizamabad. Here we bought some bananas and tea, then after the engine had been filled up with water we were off again for a non-stop ride for 60 miles to a place called Nanded, near a large lake, which was 25 miles long by 5 miles wide. Here we saw a lot of fishing. There were also camels pulling trams and trucks, and it was here that the natives were selling camels' milk. We tried some, but found it a bit sweet and thicker than ordinary cows' milk. Another thing we noticed was the way the people dressed. Men wore turbans on their heads and on their person they wore jumpers and long fancy jackets. The women wore veils to cover their faces, and on their bodies they wore long cloaks and underneath long baggy jumpers. They also wore a lot of bangles on their ankles and arms to frighten away snakes.
We were on our way to a place called Parbhani, 50 miles away. Here we had to cross over a massive bridge which was built by Dorman Long from Middlesbrough. It went over the Godavari river which started in the Satmala Hills near the city of Nasick and made its way for over 600 miles to the sea at a place called Godavari Point at Kakinada on the Bay of Bengal. The country here was like a desert with large hills. We stopped again, but this time there had been a derailment and we had to wait for two hours before we could proceed. Then when the work was finished, we set off in the sweltering heat, sweat pouring from us, and the train was very slow as it climbed up through the hills. We went on for miles until we arrived at Aurangabad, 150 miles from the last place Parbhani. When we got to Aurangabad, the driver and his two firemen filled the engine-tender with water and coal. During the water filling we stood under the water hose to cool off. It felt lovely and made us feel better. We also had a good talk with the engine driver, who came from Scotland, and he told us that he had been driving trains in India for the last eleven years and enjoyed every minute of it. His firemen were two Indians who were wearing cotton scarves around their necks to soak up the sweat.
We stopped here for a couple of hours and had a good meal in the station's canteen buffet. We had a plate of chicken and rice and some kind of greens. We also had a nice cold drink of lime. Then we had a look around the station and the surrounding area. It was here where we saw a large coal dump where women were engaged in carrying baskets of coal up wooden ramps onto the engines' tenders, all of them in their bare feet and in ragged clothes. Others were cleaning the engines.
Well after this walk about, we set off on another hot and tiring journey through the Satmala Hills, going through deep cuttings which had been hewn out of the solid rock by hundreds of Indians in temperatures of 100º. After going through this range of hills we went through a different type of country. This time there were banana and sugar plantations to look at for miles. Then we got nearer to some larger villages that I thought I had seen before, and eventually we came to the city of Nasik, where I had been on guard when the big Indian riots were happening in 1942, when they put Ghandi in prison. Well we were only ten miles now from our final destination, which was Deolali, and weren't we glad when we arrived. It was just seven o'clock at night when we arrived, after leaving our last place which was Aurangabad, 120 miles away. Altogether we had travelled on this same train for 500 miles from Secunderabad to Deolali. It was the 20th October and at the station were a lot more soldiers waiting with all their kit for trucks to take us to the artillery depot. We waited for half an hour, then the trucks arrived and we all piled in with our kit. When we stopped outside the battery headquarters we were welcomed by the Regimental Sergeant Major, who had a voice like a foghorn, ordering everybody about. Then a sergeant came and marched us off to a long line of tents. There must have been hundreds of them. He told us that these were our quarters whilst we were here. He said that it might be a week or a fortnight before a boat came in to Bombay. He told us that a meal was waiting for us in the dining hall, and after that we had to read the camp orders which were pinned up on the notice board outside the battery office. They read, "Reveille is at 6 a.m. At 6.30 there is physical training, at 7 a.m. is defaulters, and at 7.30 is breakfast. Those who are reporting sick will parade at 8.30 with their small haversack containing towel, soap and shaving kit. Also, all personnel who are not on special duties will parade on the 9 a.m. general parade. To put you in the picture, a bugler will sound all these calls." Well after a good night's sleep I felt a lot better and looked forward to the day when we would be leaving. It was one big rush trying to get a wash and shave. No sooner had you finished then you were doing physical training in ammunition boots and shorts. There were more than 3000 of us in different squads and after all this keeping fit lark it was breakfast time, and we were all ready for it. We had, as usual, to line up, but it was worth it in the end. The breakfast was porridge, followed by egg, bacon, bread and tea - the first we had seen for three years. I still didn't feel one hundred per cent, but I didn't want to go sick, chance they sent me to the sick bay, and who knows I might have been in there and missed the boat, which I didn't want to do. Well the bugle sounded fall in and at that everybody paraded in front of the camp commander. He started off with a speech, saying how proud he was to be among us who had achieved so much in the bitter conflict and defeated the Japanese army. He also wished us a safe and speedy return to our loved ones back home. The next day the news came to say that a boat had docked in Bombay and it was the Arundal Castle. Everybody on the 22 draft were told to parade in full kit and all kitbags had to be loaded on trucks because we had to march down to Deolali station which was a good mile away. About 1000 of us fell in in three ranks in full marching order on the parade ground. Then the order was given to march off past the commanding officer who took the salute as we marched by giving eyes right and the camp's guard presented arms. We'd only just left the camp when some gunner up front started singing the old marching song, It's a Long Way to Tipperary. Then we all joined in all the way to the station, watched by hundreds of Indians, shouting and waving all the way. We arrived at the station and after loading our kitbags into the train we set off for a 90 mile journey to Bombay. On its way it stopped twice because of cows being on the track. Everybody was excited and glad to be leaving India, with its dirt, smells and disease.
We arrived at the docks and started at once to collect our kitbags from the train's luggage vans. Then after we'd got our own, we lined up on the quayside and, in single file, we climbed up the steep gangway and were shown our ships' quarters. The first thing we had to do was to take our kitbags to the forward hold and then return and wait for further orders. The deck that I was on was B deck, two decks below the boat deck and after a bit a ships officer came round and said that each table in the mess held places for twenty men, and above and around were hooks on the deckhead where we had to sling our hammocks. He then showed us where we had to stow our kit and other items. Well each mess table had to have an NCO at the end, who would be responsible for that table and for keeping the mess clean and tidy. Then the ship's officer left us and we heard the ship's engines and felt the movement of the ship, and knew that we were about to leave the docks. So then we all went up on deck to see India for the last time and also to wave to the other lads we were leaving behind. Just like that song about a troopship just leaving Bombay, bound for old Blighty's shore, there we were on the Arundal Castle, bound for the old country. The dockside was packed with soldiers cheering and waving, who might never see their old mates they had served with again. It was a moving sight as the ship was leaving. I think in a day or two, they might have been lucky and got a boat themselves.
After about an hour we lost sight of land, so everybody settled down to the ship's routine. The first thing that happened was the ship's captain, calling on the tannoy and welcoming us all on board his ship, and wishing us a safe and pleasant voyage. "If everything goes to plan, we should dock in Southampton on the 22nd November 1945." That day was the 2nd as we left Bombay. He also said we would be going by the shortest route, first stopping at the port of Suez to take on fuel oil and drinking water, then up the Suez Canal. "I know you are all a bit cramped for space, but if everybody sticks to the ship's rules you should have a good passage. Good luck to you all and thank you."
Then the ship's bugler sounded the dinner call and we went down to our mess decks. The mess orderlies went to the ship's galley with their tea buckets and other utensils to bring our dinners and it took two men to carry everything, which in this case was liver and onions and potatoes, and for the sweet we had jam duff with custard, followed with tea. It was the best meal I'd had for a long time.
During the afternoon we found our way around the ship. We were shown our boat station and we were then each given a life jacket and shown how to use it. Also the ship's canteen was open at certain time every afternoon and evening, and to save a lot of queuing each mess deck had different times to purchase things such as cigarettes, pipe tobacco, chocolate, fresh fruit, beer and writing paper. There was also a library where you could borrow any book, but you had to return it, like you did at home. We also had tombola, in other words Bingo. The word tombola in India means 'you shout'. We also had a film show every other night and some of the ship's crew came round to each one with a piece of paper which was a kind of a draw where you had to write on the paper the distance the ship had sailed in the last twenty four hours. You put your name on the back and each person had to pay a shilling. I was very close a couple of times, and it was something to do and think about. We also had boat drill and a bit of physical training to break the monotony. We were also given the ship's weather forecast every day and a general news bulletin.
The sea was fairly moderate crossing the Indian Ocean, but when we were close to the Gulf of Aden the heat was unbearable and the ship's crew had to rig awnings over the deck. We were only dressed in shorts and plimsolls and it was just like being in a hot oven going up the Red Sea. Anyway, we eventually arrived at Suez where we stopped to take on engine fuel and drinking water from tankers which were laid along side. There were also bumboats along side loaded with all kinds of goods, such as hand bags, beads and bangles and all kinds of leather goods. The traders would throw you a long rope to catch, then you had to pull the rope up until you got the basket loaded with the goods and after you had got the contents you lowered the basket with the money in. Most of the lads would pay them with foreign money, such as Japanese dollars which were useless, and Indian money. There was one incident I recall when these two Arabs were playing holy hell because one of the lads hadn't paid them. What happened was a member of the crew got a fire hose and played it on the Arabs and sank their boat. This happened frequently, so the crew said, but it didn't deter them. They kept coming back for more sinkings.
Soon after we had finished with the tankers we slowly pulled away and entered the Suez Canal, until we came to Ismalia, about half way through, where we stopped to let another troopship pass. She was called the Orion and there wasn't much room to pass, even though this was the widest part of the whole 90 miles from Suez to Port Said. At Ismalia we passed a large hospital which was right on the canal bank and all or most of the patients were sitting outside in the sun, waving like mad to us. Well we moved off slowly again for another 45 miles until we docked at Port Said to pick up some Royal Air Force blokes, a few Red Cross nurses and about twelve naval ratings - all going home for repatriation. After four hours we moved out into the Mediterranean Sea, leaving Alexandria well out on our port beam. We hugged the North African coast for at least 400 miles, then another 400 miles where we passed Malta then on past Tunis, we then hugged the coast of Algeria and Morocco. Then we sailed through the straits, passing the great rock of Gibraltar where we had to change our clothes from tropical kit to our old winter clothing. It was here that some of the lads who were wearing topees threw them overboard into the sea and looking over the ship's side they just looked like blokes swimming home. There were also hundreds of porpoises and dolphins, leaping out of the sea and following the ship as well as a few flying fish.
There was also a great amount of shipping in the straits, from cargo boats of all kinds to naval craft. We carried on, hugging the southern coast of Spain and passing Cape Trafalgar and Cadiz, then for another 150 miles we changed course near Cape St Vincent on Portugal's south coast, then headed north, still hugging the coast, passing Lisbon off our starboard side. Here the sea was getting rougher and everybody was feeling the cold as we plodded on into a gale which lasted for nearly two days, until we had passed Brest at the entrance to the English Channel. Then we knew that it was only a matter of about twelve hours and we should be in Southampton. Everybody was getting themselves cleaned up as best they could. Then someone on the top deck came rushing into the mess shouting, "Land ahoy!"
Well that did it. Everybody made their way up on deck to see this land he was shouting about. Over on our port side you could just see it in the mist. Somebody said it was Portland Bill off Weymouth, and not long after we passed the town of Swanage and made our way past the Isle of Wight and up the Solent. We sailed slowly as the fog came down, making our way up Southampton Water with the ship's siren warning other ships to stand off. As we made our last few miles into Southampton docks it seemed ages before got into the dock side and tied up. When everything had been made secure and the gangway lowered, the first people to come on board were the customs men and the men of the dock and harbour board to make inspections and to see if we had anything to declare. We all had to go below into the ship's forward hold and retrieve our kitbags, and then bring them up onto the main deck and stand by it to wait for the customs officer to inspect it. Well they came round and pulled one or two of us out of the line, but they just passed me by. But every commissioned and non-commissioned officer was taken to one side and had to show everything they had in their kit. Soon after this long drawn out inspection the crew started to let us disembark. The first soldiers to leave the ship were the sick and wounded, then the lads who had been prisoners of the Japs, and last off the ship were our lads. On the dock side were hundreds of people looking for their loved ones - husbands, brothers, boyfriends and sons. I looked around at all the eager faces but couldn't see anybody I knew. It was a long way to come and I didn't expect anyone.
Well it felt grand to step foot on England again and all in one piece. The wounded and sick were put onto a Red Cross train and taken to a number of hospitals and the ex-prisoners were put on another train. Our lot went on another, but before anybody left the ship I forgot to say a military band struck up playing Don't Fence Me In - a tune nobody had heard of. Also welcoming us home were the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Southampton, congratulating us for our victories over the Japanese in Burma. "Although you were called the forgotten army, we never did forget you. God bless you all!"
The train pulled out of the dock yard station and took us up to Hereford where we were to leave the army for good. We arrived about five o'clock in the afternoon on the 22nd November 1945, just twenty days after leaving Bombay. Waiting at the station were trucks and a couple of buses to take us and our kit to the army barracks, which are still there. We arrived and were taken down to the dining hall for a meal fit for a king. It was the best I ever had. Afterwards I had to go with a few more to hand my kit in. We handed in our rifles and bayonets, our webbing, consisting of large and small packs and ammunition pouches and our steel helmets, but we could keep our greatcoat, two pairs of boots and our uniform. Then we had to have our papers signed and our discharge papers given to us and a soldiers' book for payment at the post office. After that was settled we went to a large building and with the aid of a corporal I picked out a navy blue suit. Then I went to another corporal who helped me to pick a shirt, which was a white one with a collar attached, then a pair of black shoes, navy blue socks and last a grey trilby hat and a blue tie with a thin red stripe in. All this lot was put in a large square cardboard box tied with a piece of string and when everybody had been supplied we all climbed up onto the waiting trucks and sped off to the railway station. Here we had to wait about two hours before a train came. It was here that some of the lads said their last goodbyes, because they were going to different towns. It seemed a long time before our train arrived, so a few of us who were going north went in the nearest pub and had a couple of pints and a good chinwag, mostly about the places we had been in and the actions on different war fronts.
At last the train came and we all piled in with our cardboard boxes. On the train there were about ten of us for Manchester, a lad from Salford, one from Bolton and me from Bacup. The first stop was at Leominster, then Ludlow, Craven Arms and Shrewsbury where a lot of them got off. Then we were off again until we came to Whitchurch, where some more got off, then the next stop was Nantwich and then Crewe, where we had to change trains and engines. A lot from our train caught one for Chester, North Wales and Birkenhead. Those of us for Lancashire had a long wait, so we all went into the station buffet and had a meat pie and a mug of tea each, then somebody said that the Manchester train was due in anytime now, so we stood on the platform with our cardboard boxes waiting patiently. When it did eventually arrive, it was so packed that they had to put on an extra coach, and me and about twenty more had to travel in the luggage van. After a long delay, the train pulled out of Crewe and the next stop was at Stockport, where a lot got off, then shortly we arrived at Manchester Exchange and those of us who were going to places like Bolton, Bury and other East Lancashire towns walked over number l3 platform to Victoria Station, which was the longest platform in Britain.
Here a lot of us split up to catch different trains and before we parted, we all exchanged home addresses. Well soon my train came in from Bury and after about ten minutes I got on and settled down on my last train journey home. There were a few more passengers in the compartment, and one bloke came over and sat across from me and asked me where I had been in the war, and had I seen any of the 5th Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers. I said that the only time I saw them was in May 1940 in Tournai, a small town in Belgium. He got out at Bury, mumbling to himself and left me on my own until the train drew into Stacksteads Station. Just before the train stopped, I looked out of the window overlooking the railway coal sidings and I spotted my brother Fred who was in a coal wagon, filling bags. I opened the window and shouted like mad, "Fred! I'm back home!"
As soon as he heard me, he turned round and when he saw me, he threw down the shovel and came onto the station platform and grabbed me and said, "It's grand to see you after all these years - and in one piece!" Then he said that he was very busy just now because people were waiting for their coal, but that he would see me later when I could tell him all about it. Then he went back to work and I made my way home. The door was open and, without knocking, I just walked in and gave everybody a shock. They didn't know I was coming. Then I got a big hug and kiss from everybody and they asked me how I was and what was in the box. I told them that it was my demob suit and that I had finished with the army and was home for good. I said I was glad to be home. Then our daughter Jean came into the room. It was the first time I had seen her for four long years, but when she saw me in uniform she was frightened and hid behind her mother. It upset me a bit at first, but I soon got over it. I love her very much, and I always will. She is a lovely girl and there wasn't a day passed that I didn't think of her.
One thing I liked about being back home was to sit back in an armchair and to have a proper warm bath and to wear clean clothes again, and to sleep in a bed with clean sheets. It took me a long time to get back to civilian life, but in the end things came back to normal, and our lovely daughter Jean got more used to me, which made me feel better. The day after I arrived home, Alice, Jean and I went to see my parents in Chapel Street in Stacksteads. They were glad to see us. There was only my mother and my sister Elizabeth in. My Dad was working at a felt works in Waterfoot. My mother gave me a big hug and a kiss, and so did my sister. They wanted to know if I was okay and how it felt to be back home. I told them that I met and spoke to my brother Fred when the train came in at Stacksteads station, but he hadn't much time to stop because he was working. Later on in the week, I went round to visit my other sisters, one called Milly who kept a shoe shop at the bottom of Bankside Lane in Bacup, then my other brother called Jim who lived in Heyes Street, up Rockliffe in Bacup. Then my other sister called Edith, who lived in the Cemetery Row in Newchurch Road in Stacksteads.
Well the next thing was to visit my old workmates at the Bacup Water Works Department and to find out where I stood concerning my old job. The first person I saw was the foreman Mr Richard Howarth, who welcomed me into his office and asked me how I was and if I had finished with the army and if I was fit to start work. I said that I was, but not right away. I planned to have a few days holidays before I started work to give me time to visit all my friends who I hadn't seen for over four years. He then asked me if I would like to go and work up on the Cowpe Reservoir, where there was a house to go with the job at a low rent. "Think it over and let me know if you're interested and intend taking the job." I said that I would but first I would have to consult with my wife. "Well," he said, " right enough. The job's there if you want it."
After the interview I made my way back home and explained the situation to Alice and after a long and thoughtful discussion we finally decided not to live up Cowpe, because it was too far away from any big shops and she would have a long way to push the pram in all kinds of weather. The job was okay, but it was too far away and very lonely.
In the meantime my brother Fred came up to see us and asked me if I had managed to find a job. When I told him about the job up Cowpe, and that we both thought it was too far away, he said he could get me a job in the coal department where he worked at the Bacup co-op. I would be working with him until they got a new Bedford lorry that was on order, and should be arriving any day now. I said thanks and that I would think it over and let him know.
Well sometimes when I am sitting in the chair, or anywhere on my own, I think of a lot of the things that I went through. Not all of them were terrible. There were also some comical things that happened in Burma. One was when four of us were helping some of our battery signallers to lay a telephone line from the gun position to a forward observation post, near to Rathadong. One of the lads was tying the wire high up in a tree when he gave a shout and pointed up into the tree. We all stopped what we were doing and looked up and saw a dead Jap sitting in the fork of the tree. He must have been stuck up there for ages. I think he must have been a sniper that was seen and shot. He had a steel helmet on, but not much of a face. It must have been eaten away by birds or ants or other insects. Well we started having bets on who could knock the Jap's hat off with stones. We had one or two direct hits, but it never budged. Another time I recall was when one of our drivers called Frank Woods stopped his truck near Ruewar to attend to a flat tyre. In the undergrowth on the side of the track was a dead Jap with most of his face missing, but his mouth wide open. As soon as he saw this, the first thing that came to his head was the teeth, but he didn't like to touch the thing that was supposed to be a man because of the terrible condition it was in. There were hundreds of ants and beetles coming out of its mouth and eyes. So to get the gold teeth he kicked them out of the mouth and said that when he went on leave to Calcutta he would sell them. He was a callous sod was Frank and no kidding. We had another bloke in the battery who one day caught a baby rhesus monkey and tied it to a tent pole for company. He had it for a bit, until one day we got a lot of mail from home and, as he was reading a letter, the monkey jumped on his bed and grabbed the rest of his letters and started to tear them up and eat them. Well that did it. So he got hold of the monkey and took it to a river about half a mile away and threw it in, but he was seen by another gunner who was doing some washing. This other bloke came up to him and with one mighty heave flung him into the river which was in flood at the time. Well I never did get to know the outcome of that funny incident. I expect it was soon forgotten, like a lot more things, but I shall never forget my mates, who stuck by you when you were in a tight spot in action, or when we shared our grub and our cigarettes.
Well I think it's time for me to say goodbye, but before I go I would like to say thanks to everybody who helped me and thousands more to get through this terrible conflict, especially the Salvation Army, the nurses who were always there with smiling faces to cheer you up, and also the crew from the gunboat HMS Mosquito who pulled me out of the sea off Dunkirk in June 1940 and brought me and hundreds more into Dover Harbour. I thank every one of you, and let's not forget our comrades who we had to leave behind. God bless you all.

Though there is just one other thing that I forgot to mention. Do you remember the gunner called Mitchell, who went over the Ngakyedauk Pass on the Mayu Ranges, under heavy small arms fire from the Japanese to get help for the 7th Indian Division who were cut off from the rest of the army? But for this brave lad getting a message through to Chittagong we might never have made it home. For this courageous act, Gunner Mitchell received the Military Medal from Lieutenant General Bill Slim, the Commander of the British 14th Army in Burma. That's it folks. I hoped you liked it. Let's hope there isn't another war, for all our children's sakes. Thanks for listening. The end.

Back Home
After a bit of a rest and a good think I took that job at the Bacup coal department and started working with my brother Fred, delivering coal in Stacksteads. We loaded from railway wagons at Stacksteads sidings. Our coal came mostly from Lancashire collieries, like Brackley colliery near Bolton, Mossley Common, Parsonage, Bold and many more, but the best of all came out of Yorkshire, from Silkstone, Grimethorpe, Prince of Wales, Frickley and others. When those weren't available we would go up to the Nab pit up Dean Lane, the Whitewell Bottom pit, and the Old Meadows pit in Bacup. These local pits didn't produce as good a coal as the big deep pits though. Our local coal was soft and only fit for the mill boilers.
We got a lot of wettings on this job, and we used to dry the coal bags on top of the mill boilers. Some of the mills were Forest Mill, James Ashworth's and James Hargreaves'. Up Cutler Greens in Stacksteads, the worst part was in winter, having to struggle through the snow. I remember the winter of 1947. There were heavy falls of snow with high winds causing a lot of drifting, blocking roads and cutting off a lot of towns. Bacup was cut off from Burnley, also Todmorden and Rochdale. Well for us, delivering coal was bloody awful. In some places we had to get sledges, because the lorry got stuck in snow drifts. Up Tonge Lane the snow in places reached up to the bedroom windows, and at Brittania a single decker bus was buried in a big drift for over a week. One day we got up as far as Greenhill and couldn't get any further owing to deep snow, when we heard a groaning and moaning noise coming from behind the rope works off Rochdale Road. There we found a postman, who had collapsed in a deep snow drift, so me and my mate, Albert Whittaker, tried to lift him up. But it was no use. So I went to a house for help and got two more blokes and a rope. After a struggle, we got the rope under both his arms and out he came. Then we carried him to the house where they gave him a hot drink and tried to get his circulation going. Then we were finished for the day, so we went home buggered and wet through and hungry, and was glad to get home.
After this lot I packed the coal job in, and went working for Wilkinson's Transport driving a Seddon tilt van. The job Eddie Wilkinson gave me was taking goods to the various factories in the Rossendale valley, and when empty to pick up goods to bring back to the Bacup depot which was at Sheep House on Rochdale Road at Bacup. There, we then sorted the goods for loading onto the night vehicles.
I had a bloke called Bill Stead who came out with me, to help with the loading and the unloading. One day, Eddie came over to me and another driver called James Courtland, who was nicknamed Burnley Jim and was a grand bloke to know and work with. Well the boss asked both of us if we would go on the night trunk to the Leicester Depot and we said that we would. So he said, "Don't go down tonight, but start tomorrow night at 7 p.m." Jim had to take a Seddon, and me an Atkinson. The places we went through were Manchester, Stockport, Macclesfield, Ashbourne, Derby, Loughborough, and to the depot in Gwendolyn Road, Leicester. The overall mileage was 220 miles, and we both worked on this night trunking to Leicester for over two years.
The worst part of this was the winters. The roads over the Derbyshire hills soon got blocked with drifting snow. I remember one night when me and Burnley Jim got stuck in a big snow drift at the top of Winkhill, between Ashbourne and Leek. The snow had drifted to a height of six feet in places. We both started to dig our way through, but the faster we cleared it, the faster the strong winds blocked it again. We were fighting a losing battle, so we left our vehicles and tried to find shelter for the night. We got to a phone box and tried to get through to Bacup police station, but all the lines were down. Later, after struggling through big snow drifts we saw a light and made for it. It was a pub called The Travellers' Rest at a crossroads. We banged on the door and after a while it opened and the landlord let us in. We were just like snowmen, frozen and wet. We told him we were lorry drivers and couldn't go any further as the road was blocked. He made us welcome and said there were two more stranded. They were both farmers who had been to a cattle auction and they had had to leave their truck about a mile back. Well he made us some tea and a plate of egg and bacon. Then his wife came down and said we could sleep on the settees in the lounge. She brought us two blankets each, then dried our clothes and socks. In the meantime, the landlord tried to phone Macclesfield, Leek and Ashbourne, but got no answer. It looked like we might be there a week. When we looked outside the snow was still drifting, and it seemed to be getting worse. We told the landlord we hadn't much money, but he just said, "Don't worry. We'll see that you are both okay." We told him that when the roads were cleared we would ring our depot and tell them that he had sheltered us and given us food and that he would be compensated.
Next morning we all ventured outside to try to shift some snow, but it wasn't much use. We needed a snow plough to get through that lot. Later on in the day, the landlord managed to get through on the phone to Leek and they said that snow ploughs were trying to clear the road to us, and that there was one coming from Ashbourne and they hoped to get to us by the next day. But just before dinner the one from Leek arrived and got to the lorries. They hooked a chain on the front of my lorry and, after a lot of shovelling, I managed to get into the cab and start the engine. Then they towed me out and did the same with the other lorry. And after thanking the landlord and his good wife for their hospitality we were on our way.
The roads weren't too bad when we got to Hazel Grove and they improved as we got nearer home. It was from seven o'clock on Monday night until four o'clock on Wednesday afternoon before we got back to the depot. There was a big cheer went up when we climbed down from our cabs. They shouted, "Where the hell have you been until now? On your holidays?" They were taking the mickey like they always do.
We then reversed into the loading bays and went to see Eddie Wilkinson, the main man, to see if we had to work again that night. He said, "No, I'll give you both a break. Don't come in tonight, but come in the day after. I'm putting you on days."
Well that suited me fine and also Alice, my wife and the morning after, me and Burnley Jim reported in and were given different lorries. I got a Seddon with a six cylinder Perkins engine and Jim got an ERF with a six cylinder Gardener engine. They were both good motors. I drove mine for about two years and then I got a Vulcan and was put on roaming when we were taken over by the British Road Services. That meant you had to go where they sent you.
The first load I did was a load of tyres from Dunlop's in Castleton near Rochdale to Hull docks for shipment to Amsterdam in Holland. After that I had to load timber at the Victoria Dock and take it to Birmingham in the Midlands. This was before the motor way was made. On my way back I had a few cartons to deliver near Morley and after that I took a short cut heading for Halifax. But coming down towards Brighouse there's a steep hill, which is called Bailiff Bridge and it was here that the brakes failed.
This hill is six in one and at the bottom are traffic lights. Just as I approached, the lights changed in my favour and I shot through them at about forty miles an hour. I was very lucky. Then there was a steep hill to go up, so I managed to stop and turn the lorry into a large retaining wall. Then I got out a bit shocked and to get myself settled I sat down and had a smoke. Afterwards I went and found a garage in Brighouse and asked the mechanic to have a look at the brakes. He came with a tin of brake fluid, a rubber tube and a seagreen, which is a tube with a connector at each end. He found the fault, which was a fractured brake pipe causing the fluid to leak out every time I applied the brakes. Well he soon had it fixed and I went back with him to the garage where he made out a bill which was for ten pounds. I paid it and he gave me a receipt so I could reclaim it off the firm.
After all that excitement I set off again for home. I felt much better after the brakes were done and when I arrived at the depot, I told them what had happened and gave them the bill which they paid me. Then I went home to a hot potato pie and rice pudding. I deserved it, don't you think? I told my wife about the brakes failing and she was very upset, until I said that they'd been made okay.
Well after a good night's rest I was off again at six o'clock to Birmingham, to a building site in King's Heath. Luckily they had a crane so it didn't take long to unload and after getting my notes signed I was off again to the British Road Services Depot at Erdington, where I had to report. Here I managed to get a couple of meat pies and a pint mug of tea from the canteen. There were four more lorry drivers waiting for loads and after waiting for a couple of hours I asked in the office if they could find me a load near my home town. They said, "There's only a load for Bristol and you have to go to Tipton to load it." I said that I would take it and she made out my collection notes. Then I set off for Tipton. It was a big engineering works, just out of town. I called at the office and gave my notes to the office girl. She then came out and told me to back the lorry into a loading bay and in a short while a bloke in a boiler suit came and started to load me with big wooden cases from an overhead crane. After I had finished loading and got my notes I roped and sheeted up and was just going to set off when another driver who had been loading came over and asked me where I was staying the night. I said I didn't know and he said that he knew of a place where he had stayed before. So we set off and parked up. He brought a rope with him and he said, "You never know, it might come in handy if there's a fire."
We got to the lodgings and the lady welcomed us in. After we'd had a wash and a meal, we went up about four flights of steps to our room. It was a real death trap, because there wasn't a means of escape, only through a small window which was at least forty feet to the ground.
I said, "I understand now why you brought the rope." Well after a disturbed sleep we got up, washed, shaved and had breakfast then set off, me to Bristol and him to Southampton. I arrived at Bristol Docks, having gone through Kidderminster, Worcester, Tewksbury, Gloucester and Bristol. There were two more lorries waiting to unload, so I managed to get a bite to eat and after waiting a couple of hours they started to unload me. It was then four o'clock and what made it worse was that three of the cases were for the ship called SS Brindissie and the others were for the SS Indian Princess.
After I finished unloading I went and parked up for the night and went to find some digs close to the river. I met a woman and asked her where they put transport drivers up. She said, "Follow me," and then took me to a lovely cottage overlooking the river. I thanked her for her trouble and then went to the cottage and rang the doorbell and was met by a nice elderly lady. She welcomed me when I said that I wanted bed and breakfast just for one night. She showed me my room and said that a meal would be ready in half an hour. After I had finished my meal I went for a nice walk along the river bank and watched a bloke fishing. I sat talking with him for a good hour, talking about our home towns and other things, then after all that talking I made my way back and found a pub, where there were some more lorry drivers in and one of them was from Bolton and worked for British Road Services in Bolton. We sat talking over our drinks for a bit then I went back to my digs. I got there about ten o'clock and had a hot drink of tea and a piece of cake, then off to bed.
I came down to a good breakfast, paid the lady and left to report to the BRS Depot in Bristol. This time I was in luck. The man in charge sent me to a place called Quarry near Bath. It was a naval storage depot, situated in a large park amongst a lot of trees. At the main entrance a military police corporal stopped me and asked to see my papers. When he found they were satisfactory he let me proceed to the place of loading, which was a massive concrete structure with a big lift that went down into a large cavern where things were stored. There were also tunnels branching out to different areas. To get to these places there were small electric trains which carried the goods to the lift. The goods they brought me were all electrical switch gear which were obsolete to the Royal Navy's requirements. It took them two hours to load me and half an hour to make out my notes. In the meantime I sheeted and roped on the load to make it secure then I was off to Kirby Muxlow near Leicester to unload it at a big sorting depot and to sort out useful parts.
Well I made my way to Chippenham where I stopped for a bite to eat and to stretch my legs a bit. Then I was off again for about eighty more miles to Kirby Muxlow to unload. I got there just on four o'clock, just in time to unload. They said that if I had been half an hour later I wouldn't have been unloaded. It didn't take them long. They seemed to want to get home, same as me and after that I went to Leicester and reported in at the BRS depot. They told me to leave my vehicle in the yard and come back in the morning. Well I went to some digs where I had stayed before, but they were full and I had to go to some in the next street which was Clyde Street. I managed to get in there, but I wished I hadn't now. The food was awful and cold, but the worst thing was the sleeping. I had only been in bed about an hour when I felt something crawling on me. I put on the light and found bugs in the bed and I could see where they had bitted me. Well I got up and got dressed and I thought, bugger this, I'm not stopping here to be eaten alive. I crept down the stairs quietly and went back to the depot, but the yard was locked so I went walking round Leicester and found a coffee stall in Humbersome Gate where all the drivers pulled in for a break. It must have been about two o'clock in the morning when a police officer stopped me and asked why I was out at this early hour. I told him the reason and that I couldn't get digs and he said, "Come round with me and in half an hour I'll see what I can do." We both went first to Lee Street lorry park and looked round the vehicles, then up to the clock tower and finally up Charles Street and into the police station. There the desk sergeant asked me what I wanted and the officer who had brought me in said that I wanted shelter for the night. He asked me if I had eaten and I said, no. So he took me up to the canteen where a couple of off-duty police officers were playing snooker and some others were having their supper. I had a nice mug of hot tea and a bacon sandwich and a cigarette, and in a bit the sergeant came and took me to the cells and let me stay there for the night until six o'clock when a new lot came on duty.
Well after a wash and shave I made my way up to the canteen for a bit of breakfast, which was two slices of toast and a mug of tea. They only charged me five shillings for everything and said, "Call again sometime. You will be most welcome." Before I left the sergeant asked me where I came from, and when I said Bacup he said he knew a police sergeant who was at a special police conference. His name was Sergeant Harry Gribble and he served with him on the heavy cruiser, Revenge and also the Warspite in the first war.
After thanking him I went back to the depot and checked the vehicle's oil, water and tyres. After waiting about for an hour a bloke came and said, "Come to the office and collect your notes. Then you can set off to Oakham in Rutland for a load of potatoes." I got my notes and left. It was only forty miles to Oakham and I was there in no time. Well when I arrived at this farm they sent me across two big fields where about a dozen women were lifting and sorting potatoes. In a few minutes, two men came over and started lifting the sacks on and I stacked them five across and twelve down - that made sixty on the bottom and the same again on the next row, then twenty laid on the top. That made it a hundred and forty sacks, each weighing one hundredweight, making seven tons. After we had finished loading we went back to the farm and had a drink of tea and a buttered scone. Then I got my notes and was on my way to Manchester to deliver to a bloke called Mr Flewit, a wholesaler at Shoedill Market in Manchester.
I left Oakham at about eleven o'clock and went through Melton Mowbray, then on to Kegworth where I stopped for my dinner and to stretch my legs. After half an hour I set off to Manchester and got there at four o'clock, and then had to take the load to Oldham Road railway goods yard for storage. It didn't take them long to unload me and get my notes signed. Then I was off to my depot in Bacup to report and hand in my notes, and to see what I was doing the next day. The foreman said, "You have to go to Holroyd's Foundry in Rochdale and load some castings for delivery to Armstrong Siddeley's in Coventry and then report to the BRS depot in Leicester.
Then it was back home again for the weekend and it was nice to sleep in a clean, warm bed and to be with my wife and daughter for a change. Morning came and I went to the depot and filled up with fuel, then went to Rochdale and loaded the castings, then came back to the depot and checked the vehicle and cleaned it ready for Monday.
After spending a nice weekend at home I set off for Coventry six o'clock on Monday morning and arrived at the works at about nine. A workman came and looked at my notes and said, "Back your lorry in and we will unload you right away before we have our tea break." It only took them a quarter of an hour and by the time I had folded the lorry sheet and ropes up they had finished. Then we went to the canteen and got a bacon sandwich and a nice mug of hot tea and a cigarette. Then the bloke came and signed my notes and I set off to the BRS depot in Leicester for a load to be collected in Coalville. This load was rustic bricks to be taken to a house being built for a doctor in Ilkley in Yorkshire. It was eleven o' clock turned when I left Leicester and I got to the brick works at half past eleven. There were six of us altogether loading, three on the lorry stacking and three handing bricks up. It took us just twenty minutes to finish loading, but all the bending played havoc with my back. Well I set off again and stopped in Burton-on-Trent for a snack. Then off again to Ilkley. Just as I got to the traffic lights in Ilkley, the front offside wheel fell off. I got down from the cab and picked up the wheel and placed it behind the lorry to show that I had broken down. Then I went to the police station and explained what had happened. They rang BRS in Bradford and told them to bring a breakdown vehicle or a crane as soon as possible, but they said that it would be at least four hours before anyone could come out to me because they were near Harrogate dealing with a lorry that had turned over and had shed its load. The police said that the best thing for me to do was to go and get a bite to eat before the cafes all closed, so that's what I did. I just managed to get a couple of meat pies to take out and a bottle of milk. That was all because the shops were closing. Then I had a bit of a walk round the town and bought a packet of cigarettes before going back to the lorry to see if the load was okay. It seemed ages before they eventually came. It was about nine thirty and they both looked worn out and looked filthy, but they soon got stuck in and took off the front panel and then fixed a special gadget under a main cross member. They then fixed a chain and a bar to stop the lorry swinging and then they hooked it all up, about a foot off the ground. Then we set off for Bradford, and on our way we stopped at Harry Ramsden's in Guisley for fish and chips. We sat on a wall outside, eating them. It didn't take us long to get to the depot, then one of the lads said, "Come home with me. There's only me and the wife and she won't mind for one night. It's not the first time that we've taken in lorry drivers." We arrived at his home and his wife made me welcome. After we'd both had a wash, and we needed it, we had a drink of tea and a smoke and a bit of a natter, then up to bed which was in a small bedroom. He said that they got up at seven as they both went to work for eight, but I was up and washed at half past six and ready for my breakfast. It didn't take his wife long to make something to eat. She only had a few cornflakes and her husband and me had two slices of toast each. During the meal I asked them what time the buses went to Halifax. He told me that there was one every quarter of an hour and one every half an hour to Hebden Bridge where I might have to change for Todmorden. Well I paid his wife for bed and breakfast and left to get the bus. It came at quarter past eight and stopped at every stop until it arrived in Halifax at quarter to nine. There I had to wait another half hour for a bus to take me to Hebden Bridge and I got there about ten past ten. Then I had another wait until ten thirty when the other bus came and turned round and took me to Todmorden. I asked the driver what time the bus went to Bacup, but he said there wasn't one for another hour. I thought I might as well have a drink, so I went into a cafe and had a mug of tea and a sausage sandwich, then I set off to walk to Bacup.
Luckily the weather was fine and nice for walking and I'd been walking for a good half hour when a cattle wagon pulled up and the driver shouted, "Come on, Ormerod, get in! What the bloody hell are you doing round here?" That was how Harry Stansfield spoke. It was with him being with cattle. He used to talk to them like that. Well I got in the cab and he asked me where I was working. I told him who I worked for and what had happened.
We went on through Bacup and down to the Toll Bar in Stacksteads where I got off and went up Cop Lane to Honeyhole Farm Cottage where we now lived. I went in but Alice was at work and our daughter Jean was at school. So I wrote a letter, telling them that I had gone to the depot in Bacup, then I got on a bus to Bacup and walked the rest of the way and reported to the main man Eddie Wilkinson. He said that the Bradford depot had informed him of what had happened and that they had sent for a new stub axle and that it should be ready in about two days time. He also said that they had unloaded the bricks and delivered them on another lorry.
Well for the next couple of days I was just tidying the place up and unloading vehicles as they came and also helping to load. It meant that I was going home every night instead of sleeping out and Alice was glad. Sometimes I would be away for two or three nights a week, but I always tried to be at home at weekends. It was Thursday morning when those at Bradford rang up to say that the lorry was ready to be picked up. So Eddie told me to go with a driver who was going to Leeds and to help him with his deliveries.
"Then when he's finished he will drop you off at the BRS depot in Bradford."
Well we did that and then the other driver left me to go to Yeadon and Shipley to load some cases and cartons. I then went into the depot and spoke to the boss mechanic and he told me that I had been very lucky. They had found a flaw in the stub axle where it broke. He said that if I had been going fast there could have been a bad accident. They let me fill up with fuel and I rang the Bacup depot to tell them that I was ready to leave. It was Eddie who answered and he told me to call at Sowerby Bridge and collect a machine at Blanch Mill and then come home.
I set off and got to the mill and backed down a cobbled yard, stopping under a cathead which was four storeys high. There didn't seem to be a soul about so I went into the mill and up to the top room where six blokes were dismantling the machinery and told them I had come to collect a machine. One of them came over and said, "Are you the driver who's come to collect a machine to go to South Wigston?" I said I was and he then showed me the machine which was in four parts. It was a doubling frame. Each section was seven feet by three feet. That left two feet to spare on the lorry. Well they told me to go down to the lorry and that they would call out when they were ready to load. After a quarter of an hour a bloke shouted, "We're sending the first section down, so look out!" It came to the end of the cathead and they lowered it down to where I told them, just behind the cab. In a short while the next section came and I positioned it behind the first. Then I moved the lorry forward about six feet and then they continued to load.
Up to now everything was going okay and then the third section came down like the others, but there must have been a snag getting the last section to the door. They seemed ages coming and I was just going to find out why there was a delay when all of a sudden the last section came out onto the end of the cathead. Then it happened. One of the slings came off one end and the section came crashing down onto the lorry, smashing some of the boards and a cross member. When I saw it crashing down I ran like the devil up the yard. It was lucky that I wasn't standing on the lorry at the time, otherwise I might have been killed. Well all the blokes came down to see how I was and to see what damage had been done. One part of the machine had gone right through the lorry bottom and a few more were scattered all over the yard. We picked up the parts and put them on the lorry. Then the bloke in charge rang the firm in South Wigston to tell them the bad news. He told them that the machine wasn't so bad and could be repaired.
After a quarter of an hour the bloke came back and told us it was okay to finish loading and that the driver could still deliver it the next day. So, after making everything secure, I set off to the depot and told Eddie Wilkinson the bad news. He had a good look at the lorry where it was damaged and he said that what we would do was to back it up into the loading bay and that we would take the damaged section off then put some fresh boards on to strengthen it. Well we did that and put the damaged section back and made it secure again. After that I asked Eddie if I had to report anywhere. He just said, "Call at the Leicester depot when you're empty."
Well I took the lorry home and after a good night's rest I was off again, this time at five thirty, going the same old way through Derby and Ashbourne, then through Leicester to South Wigston. It was nine o'clock when I arrived and it wasn't long before the manager came and told me where to go. They had ordered a crane to unload me and when I had taken the ropes and sheets off I went to the canteen to get some breakfast. They cooked me a good breakfast of bacon and egg with fried tomatoes and a mug of tea. It must have been about ten o'clock when the crane arrived and it didn't take them long to unload. So after they had signed my notes and I saw they gave it a clean signature, I left and went to the Leicester depot for a load. Whilst I was there I put some fuel in, then went to the office to see if they could find me a load. They said things were very quiet just then, but that if I went to the Meadows Lane depot in Derby, I might be lucky.
Well off I went to Derby and asked at enquiries if they had any loads for the Lancashire area. They said, "Just hang about for a bit whilst we make enquiries." So I wandered about round the yard and checked the tyres. Then a young woman called me from the office, beckoning me to go over and when I arrived she gave me a note to go to the Rolls Royce works in Derby to collect an aircraft engine for delivery to Samlesbury Airport near Preston in Lancashire. I arrived okay and handed in my notes. They said, "Reverse your lorry in here and wait until someone comes, then they will load you. Well it must have been half an hour before anyone came and said that they were bringing the engine. It was in a large wooden case about ten feet long by five feet wide and four feet deep, hanging from an overhead crane. A bloke climbed onto the lorry with me to steady it into place, then later they put some smaller cases on the rear and on top and I put a sheet on and secured the load by roping it on. Before I left I asked the bloke who had helped me and given me my notes how heavy the engine was. He said it was an Avon Jet and weighed three and a half tons, and he thought that altogether the load was about eight tons. He also said that this was the first engine to be fitted in the Canberra bomber at Samlesbury.
"They might name it after you, if you're lucky," he said. Well I thanked him for all he had done and set off again for Samlesbury. It was about two thirty when I left Derby and I made my way to Ashbourne where I stopped for my dinner - the first bite to eat since I left South Wigston. I stayed there for a good half hour and then came back to the depot at Bacup and told Eddie Wilkinson about the load and its destination. Well it was five o'clock and my working time was up, so I left my lorry at the depot and caught the bus to Bacup and one to Stacksteads. I got home just as Alice arrived from work and our lovely daughter Jean was playing on the farm somewhere until the tea was ready. Then we would call out, "The tea's ready!" You don't know how grand it is to be in your home after being away in all kinds of digs. If it was a nice evening and we'd had our tea, we sometimes went a walk round Mitchell Field Nook and as far as Whitegate Farm and then across the driving gate and to the Honeyhole Farm, where we lived.
Well Friday morning came and I caught a bus to Bacup and got a lift to the depot. I checked my load and tyres and set off to Samlesbury Airport. When I arrived they soon had my load off and signed my notes. There was a large hangar where the electricians were working on the Canberra bomber. They said that they were ready to fix the engine that I had just brought, and one of the electricians said that this aircraft was the worst and hardest he had ever worked on. As I was leaving, the security officer at the main gate stopped me and asked me to go into his office where he entered my name and home address, vehicle registration and my depot in a visitors' book and told me to sign it.
After all that messing about I went back to the depot, but on my way I stopped at the Happy Valley cafe for a mug of tea and a meat pie. Then I took the lorry home for an hour and another drink of tea and a slice of toast, then back to the depot where I filled up with fuel and waited for Eddie Wilkinson to come and tell me my next job. It was turned one thirty when he arrived and then the phone rang. Eddie answered it and soon after he came to me and said, "Take Bill Stead with you to Beech Mill and put ninety bales of felt on for Nuneaton in Warwickshire."
The bales were round. We put thirty on the bottom, standing on end and the same again on the next row, then twenty laid down and ten on the top. It was a back breaking job and I was glad of Bill's help, especially with the sheeting and roping. We had to use two large sheets and a big back sheet to cover the load. It was a good, straight load, but very high. It was nearly as high as a double decker bus and I had to take it easy, especially cornering and at roundabouts.
We were both longing for a drink after loading that lot, so we went to the works' canteen and had a mug of tea and a bacon sandwich and called it a day. When we got back to the depot we helped to load a couple more vehicles, then the boss came and told us that we could go home. And to me he said, "Be careful, and take your time and good luck!"
Well it rained heavily all weekend and it was still raining hard when I left home about seven on Monday morning. I stopped a couple of times just to check the load and it was okay, then it all happened in the centre of Rugely. The shops had just opened and there was a van making deliveries and it was whilst passing it that my offside front and rear wheels sank into a trench that hadn't been filled in properly, causing the lorry to overturn into a large gents' outfitters shop, something like Burton's.
After a few minutes a crowd of people gathered and a man climbed up into the cab and asked if I was okay. I said, "Yes, thank you. But I feel a bit shocked and sick."
I felt very queer lying on my side behind the steering wheel and I was hoping that soon this bloke would get me out. Well after a bit of struggling he succeeded and I was free at last. Then the shop manager came and asked how I was. He was very pleased when I told him that I was okay but a bit shocked. Later a police sergeant came and two council workmen, who placed road signs stating that the road was blocked and directed traffic around the town. The damage to the shop was bad and the rolls of felt were jammed tight to the back of the shop and had torn all the shelves and fittings from the walls. The police phoned the BRS depot in Rugely and they said they would send a crane and a gang of workmen and a breakdown vehicle to get the lorry back on its wheels. In the meantime, the police sergeant was taking all the particulars about the accident and other things. Whilst this was going on a girl shop assistant came with two mugs of tea - one for the sergeant and one for me. After that I rang Eddie Wilkinson and told him about the accident, and said that there weren't any injuries, but the shop was badly damaged. He then told me to ring him when things got a bit better and they had inspected the vehicle. The workmen were doing their best to clear the bales from the shop and they had also righted the lorry. A mechanic told me to get into the lorry and he drove it to the BRS depot for a thorough inspection. The battery was broken and needed replacing and I also needed a new driving mirror, and the board over the cab showing 'BRITISH ROAD SERVICE' was hanging off. They started right away, and in the meantime they sent another lorry to load some of the bales, whilst the mechanics were repairing my lorry. After about three quarters of an hour, and after filling up with fuel, we went back and helped to load the other lorry. They put sixty bales on the six wheeler and thirty on mine, but before I could set off I had to get new lorry sheets and ropes because my others were cut and torn by glass from the broken windows. Well after sheeting and roping, I made out an accident report, then set off with the other lorry for a carpet factory in Nuneaton. And when we arrived, we told the workmen who were unloading to look out for broken glass. Well after all the glass and mess the bales had been through we didn't find a bit. It didn't take them long to unload us and after folding my sheets and ropes up we all went to the canteen and had a snack and a drink of tea. Then I asked in the office if I could phone my boss. After a small discussion amongst themselves they let me use the phone to Bacup. I rang the depot and a bloke called Jim Harrison, who worked in the office, answered and said that I had to come home empty. So I then set off and got to the depot just before they finished work. I went to the office and met Jim Harrison who said, "The reason you've had to come home is that a driver is off sick and Eddie Wilkinson, before he went on his holidays, said put Bert Ormerod on the Dundee run."
The lorry I got was a six wheeler Atkinson with a six cylinder Gardener engine. I was taking drums of red lead paint for ships, then bringing back rolls of hessian to Crossley's Carpets in Halifax, Yorkshire. It was one night, coming home that I stopped at a transport cafe for a meal, just before coming into Carlisle. There must have been some drivers sleeping in the cubicals when a driver came on with a cattle truck loaded with pigs and parked it right against the sleeping quarters. You never heard a noise like it in your life. The pigs were squealing as though they were being killed. Well all this noise must have wakened the drivers who were sleeping and one of them got up and let all the pigs out of the cattle truck and that started a stampede. Some of them ran onto the main road, the A74, which runs from Carlisle to Glasgow. And two got into the cafe, knocking a driver off his chair and smashing all the crockery and causing chaos. The pigs that ran onto the road and were being chased by the drivers caused a bad accident on a sharp bend, when an articulated lorry swerved and turned over into a field. It was loaded with steel pipes which were now scattered all over the field. The owner of the cafe phoned for the police and a breakdown vehicle and in the meantime a few of the drivers went to see how the driver of the crashed lorry was. They tried to get him out of the cab, but when they found him trapped by his legs, they left him for the ambulance men to see to. There was nothing anyone could do for him, only talk to him and try to cheer him up until the ambulance men came. Well time was getting on and I still had a long way to go, so I left this tragic scene and made my way to Halifax.
The next time I stopped was at Dirty Dick's cafe at Garstang on the A6 near Preston. Here I met an old mate of mine called Jack Clayton. He was driving an eight wheeler oil tanker from Trafford Park. We talked about old times when we used to pal out together with the other lads until we split up and got married. Well after a good natter we went out to our vehicles and went on our way.
I arrived at the factory in Halifax about three o'clock and who should be there but Tommy Conner, who drove for J and B Transport in Haslingden. He was delivering hessian the same as me but from a different place. Well after we'd unloaded we went to the canteen for a mug of tea each and a smoke and talked mostly about the coming holidays and work as usual.
"Well," he said, "I can't stop here talking. I have a job to do. I have to go to Dewsbury to pick a load up." Then I replied,
"What the bloody hell do you think I'm doing? Plaiting sawdust?" Do you know, he'd make a cat cry. You'd think that he did all the work the way he talked, but I soon got used to him and his ways. So we set off together, him going through Hipperhome and me going through Todmorden.
When I arrived at the depot, Eddie Wilkinson said, "Bert, I have a new job for you. It's a contract job for the Solway Chemical Company in Whitehaven in Cumbria. It means you going to the ICI works at Harper Hill Quarries near Buxton in Derbyshire to pick up a load of a special kind of lime to deliver to the Solway Chemical Company." I thought, well it's a nice change from carrying hessian.
It was six thirty on Thursday morning when I left for the quarry and it was just eight o'clock when I arrived. There were some more vehicles waiting to load but they were tipper wagons and didn't concern me. They had to go under a shoot or a hopper, but I had to back up to a loading bay to put one hundred and sixty bags on, each weighing one cwt, making the load eight tons. There were four of us loading and it only took us twenty minutes to finish so it must have been about a quarter to nine when I had finished sheeting and roping and getting my notes, then I was off again at ten o'clock. It was about one hundred and fifty miles to Whitehaven and a lot of climbing around the Windermere and Keswick area. Well it was a hard drag coming out of Buxton. I was in bottom gear most of the way and in third and second coming down into Whaley Bridge. Then it was better going on through Stockport, Manchester, Preston and up to Lancaster where I stopped for half an hour to have a bite to eat and a drink of tea. Then off again for eighty miles going through Kendal. Then it came to low gear work through Windermere, Ambleside, past Thirlmere, Keswick, Cockermouth and finally Whitehaven. From here it was bottom gear all the way up a steep hill to the village of Kells, where the Solway Chemical works was situated. It was a massive place, right on the highest part of the coast overlooking the Solway Firth.
Before I could enter the works a security guard stopped me at the gates and wanted to see my notes. Then when he was satisfied, he told me where to go to unload. I soon found the building where a bloke dressed in a boiler suit stopped me and asked what my load was. When I told him he got in the cab and rode with me for about a quarter of a mile. Then he got down from the cab and told me to back the lorry into a loading bay and a couple of workmen started to unload the bags whilst I folded the lorry sheets and ropes up. Well after half an hour, the same bloke who rode in the cab took me to another department and had me backing into another bay. He said, "Wait there until I come back, then we will start to load you. Well it must have been a good twenty minutes before he came back carrying two pairs of gloves and a face mask each.
"What's all this paraphernalia for?" I asked. He said,
"This stuff we're loading is deadly if it gets in your eyes or in a cut. The firm won't take any responsibility for any person's injuries if they don't comply with the firm's written rules that are stated on the notice." Well they started sending the bags down the chute and we started stacking them from the front. They weighed one hundred and twelve pounds each and it was a hard, dusty job. After we'd finished loading I asked him what was in the bags. He said it was called Trypolly, a very strong detergent for cleaning and scouring purposes. He said it came in rock form on the firm's two freighters from the port of Bilbao in northern Spain. Then they put it all in bags and stored them in a dry and cool place ready for despatching .
When I had finished roping and sheeting I set off on my journey to Colgate's soap works in Ordsall Lane in Salford, about a hundred and twenty miles distance. After going for twelve miles I stopped at Cockermouth and stayed at Mrs Graham's in Chandler Street. I parked the lorry on the cattle market for the night. I had stayed at Mrs Graham's a couple of times and found them very good. It was just like being at home. She and her husband Albert were very nice. Albert worked in forestry, all around the Lake District and when he came in from work you could smell the pine on his clothing. It smelled lovely and fresh and his wife made some lovely meals and she made her own bread, and if your clothes were wet she used to dry them. That's the type of people they were.
She told me about a funny thing that had happened to them about twelve months before. A driver from Bolton came to the door asking for bed and breakfast. Albert answered it and let him in. He was wet through and looked terrible as though he had a bad chest cold. After changing into dry clothes and having a wash, he came down for his evening meal and then afterwards sat talking. Well Mrs Graham said that she was going to the Mothers' Union to help out with a jumble sale and would be back home about ten o'clock. Later on, Albert asked the driver how his chest was and said that he had some good stuff to rub on. So the bloke said that he would try anything once to get right and Albert went to a drawer and took out a tin of something and gave the bloke's chest a good rubbing. Well the smell wasn't so bad. It was a kind of scented smell, but not long after Albert's wife came in and the first thing she said was, "What the hell's that smell?" He said,
"It's some stuff I've been rubbing on his chest." Then she said,
"Where did you get it from Albert?"
"That top drawer in the dresser," he said.
"Do you know what you've done?" she asked. "You've only rubbed him with furniture polish, you daft bugger!"
"Well it's done me good up to now. He'll be all right in the morning, you'll see, clever clogs!"
You see what kind of people you meet on this job? Well it's time I got going. I have only one hundred and ten miles to go to Salford. After going about seventy two miles from Cockermouth to Forton, just below Lancaster, I pulled in for some dinner and to stretch my legs. Then after about an hour I set off again, not stopping until I got to the soap works. That was about three o'clock in the afternoon and I had to wait a good hour, because two more lorries were waiting to unload. By the time it came my turn to unload it was nearly five o'clock.
A bloke came and told me to go round to a different place where a fork lift truck was loading another lorry. After another long wait, two blokes eventually started to take the bags off and put them on pallets. I was now six o'clock and I had just finished unloading when I phoned the depot which was now in Whitehall Road in Rochdale. Eddie Wilkinson answered and told me to go home and come to the depot in the morning. So that was another day done. It was nice to see my wife Alice and our lovely daughter Jean again.
That night after we'd had our tea, we were sitting against the fire talking when Maggie, the farmer's wife, started shouting at the top of her voice, "Bob! Oh, Bob! Bob get me off!" We all wondered what was happening. The reason why she was doing all the shouting was that Bob, her husband had bought an Ayrshire cow, which you know has long horns. Well, Harry Stansfield brought it from the Haslingden cattle auction and left it for Maggie to tie up in the shippon, ready for milking. Well she went up the side of the cow and tied it up, then she gave it a bucket of provender but as she bent down with it, the cow lowered its head ,and lifted Maggie up. And there she sat on its head, dangling her legs and shouting blue murder. Well after all the excitement when things had cooled down, we had our supper and retired for the night and talked and had a good laugh about the incident with the cow
Morning came and it was back to the old grind again. Alice and I went to work and Jean went back to school. On the way I managed to get a lift from a bloke who I knew who was going to his work in Duckingfield. He dropped me off at the bottom of Whitworth Road, right near the depot. When I arrived I asked what job I was on that day. Nobody knew until Eddie Wilkinson came, then he sorted all the drivers out and warned us about speeding in built up areas. After that little speech, he found us our loads, starting with me. He gave me a collection order to go to the Southern Oil Company in Trafford Park to load some drums of cooking oil for delivery to Frear's Biscuit works in South Wigston near Leicester. Well I got to the works at nine o'clock and backed into a large loading bay which was stacked with steel drums and cartons of lard waiting to be despatched. Soon a couple of blokes came wanting to see my notes, then after waiting a few minutes they started to load me. It didn't take them long to put forty drums on, twenty eight on the bottom and twelve laid on the top, each weighing three and a half hundred weights. I didn't need to sheet up but just put a small rope round the back to secure the drums. Then I was ready to leave for South Wigston. It was nine thirty when I left, going the same way again through Ashbourne and Derby and on to the biscuit works. I arrived about one o'clock in the afternoon and I reported at the office where I was told that the workers were having their dinner break and would not be back until two o'clock. So I asked where the canteen was and she said, "I'll show you where to go. You can get a nice meal, either a salad or a warm meal, cheap." I thanked her, got a tray and joined a long queue at the counter. I decided on home made steak pie with boiled potatoes and peas and a mug of tea. That was the first drink and bite I had partaken of since I left home and I was ready for it.
Well it got two o'clock and I went outside to the lorry and waited. Then in a few minutes a person wearing a white smock came and asked for my notes. Then he told me to go round the back of the factory and someone with a fork lift truck would unload me. So I went round and a bloke was there ready. When he had taken the drums from either side I had to manhandle the rest to the lorry side so he could lift them off. When we'd finished he told me to bring the lorry over to the far end of the yard and back onto the banking where he would load me with empty drums to take back. I followed him and about four blokes started to put the drums on. We started first by loading them standing up on their ends, twenty-eight on the bottom and then I put a rope round the back of them to stop them moving. Then we laid twenty-four flat and wedged them with proper wedges. Then to finish off, we put eighteen flat on the top and wedged those at the front and at the rear. That was seventy drums making a good load. The hardest part was getting the lorry sheet over the load. It was a bit dodgy, having to stand on empty drums at that height so one of the lads who drove the stacker truck put a wooden pallet on the forks and another bloke got on with the sheet and the driver then raised the forks to the height of the load. In the meantime I climbed on top of the cab and when the bloke on top of the stacker truck unfolded and rolled the sheet out, I climbed up on the load and reached out and got one end of the sheet and did a balancing act, rolling the sheet along the whole length of the lorry and then opening it out to cover the load. Well after all that I threw a couple of ropes over and made the load secure, then got my notes signed at the office. I was just about to leave when a girl in the office said that I was wanted in the packaging department. So I went along and got a big surprise, something I didn't expect. The charge hand came and handed me a large tin of assorted biscuits. He said that every driver who took away the empty drums got a tin. They might be mixed or gingers or if you wanted a special kind they would sell them to you very cheaply.
I thanked him and said that I hoped I might be on this run for a few more weeks, though my boss liked to give all his drivers a change, just to break the monotony. After that I set off back to Trafford Park and arrived there just on six o'clock as the workers were changing shifts. Those who had just came on started to unload me right away and in the time it took me to fold up my lorry sheet and ropes the blokes had finished. I then phoned the depot to tell them I was empty and was coming into the depot. They said that I might as well go home because they were just going to lock up. So I left for home and arrived at seven thirty to an empty house. I went round to the shippon and found Alice there, mucking out, and our daughter in the stable feeding Lassie, a black and white border collie. They hadn't expected me at this time. Anyway, Alice said she wouldn't be long finishing and I went into the cottage and had a good wash and then set the table. It wasn't long before they both came in and Alice asked me what I wanted to eat. I said I could eat a buttered mattress, so she cooked me bacon and eggs, tomatoes and fried bread and a good pint mug of tea. Then they both wanted to know where I'd been and what I had been carrying. I used to pull their legs, so this time I said that I had taken a load of donkeys to Blackpool to get them measured for new shoes, but the worst thing, and what caused me to be late was getting them all to stand still in a straight row before I could get a lorry sheet over them and rope them on. At first they seemed to take it in, until they saw me smiling. Then they had a good laugh about it. Well the time was getting late and after a bit of supper we went to slumberland, and wakened up to the sound of a horse stamping in front of our cottage. The time was about six o'clock so I got dressed and went downstairs and saw King, a Clydesdale gelding, galloping down the lane leading to Booth Road. Immediately I ran down to where I could get in front of him. I was really lucky. He must have stopped for some reason and I managed to grab his night halter after a struggle and lead him back to the farm. When I got back, Bob, the farmer, thanked me for catching him and then told me to tie him up in the stable.
When I got back in the cottage, Alice was making the breakfast, I had a wash and shave in the sink, because we didn't have a bathroom, neither was there any electricity in the cottage. Things there were very primitive and the toilet was outside, so in the depths of winter you had to take a shovel with you. That was what it was like living up at Honeyhole Farm, up Cop Lane at Tunstead, in the village of Stacksteads in the Borough of Bacup.
Next day when I got to the depot I was given another job. This time I had to go on the bus to the BRS depot at the summit in Burnley, which used to be Bout and Tillotson's, then Greenwood's Transport Ltd. My job was to take lorries to the Bolton depot and leave them for repairs and painting, then to come back to Burnley on the Ribble bus. Most of the lorries I took were in a dangerous state such as having bad brakes, no driving mirrors or, instead of a proper seat, having to sit on a box. I used to take three lorries a day and I did that for a week, but it meant being at home every night and that was a nice change for all of us.
The week after things were very quiet so Eddie put most of us cleaning the lorries and tidying things up, and some of us he had painting all the woodwork inside and the doors and troughing outside. Well that wasn't for me, so during dinner time I had a walk into Bacup and got talking to a bloke who lived near me up Tunstead. He was delivering potatoes at a fish and chip shop in Bacup centre and he said, "Aren't you working?"
"Yes," I said, "but things are a bit slack, so I'm looking for another driving job." He said,
"When I've delivered this lot, if you want, come with me now and then we will go back to the garage." He had only two more shops to go to then we went back to the garage and saw Tom Bowen, the owner of the lorry, and straight away I asked him if there was a driving job going. I told him I was still in work but things were slack and I was looking for a job where I could be at home every night.
"Well," he said, "in a few weeks time I hope to get another lorry and start a new round down Shayforth and as far as Whitworth and Healy Corner. Anyway, in the meantime keep on with the job you're doing, and when this lorry comes I will let you know through Bill Newall. I believe you live near him up Tunstead." At that I went in a chip shop and got a couple of meat pies and got a bus back to the depot and got a brush and started sweeping up until Jim Harrison stepped in and said, "Where the bloody hell have you been until now? It's turned two o'clock." I said,
"And what the bloody hell has it got to do with you? You don't pay me, so put a sock in it!" Just after that Eddie Wilkinson turned up and said,
"What's all the arguing about? Get some bloody work done." Then things quietened down , but not for long. Jim Harrison started picking on another driver about his logbook not being made out right. So the driver just turned round and grabbed him by the neck and said, "Another word from you and I will break your bloody neck!" And he would have done but for two more drivers stepping in and parting them.
Things were getting worse and many of the lads were fed up. Later on the following day I had to go back again to the Southern Oil Company to load drums to take to Frear's biscuit works, but this time to Frog Island near the centre of Leicester. Well I loaded just the same as before and the same happened at Leicester, but before I left for home I asked in the office if I could buy some biscuits. They told me to go to the packing warehouse, so that's where I went and asked. The woman in charge told me that I could have a seven pound tin of broken or misshapen biscuits for half crown. That was about forty years ago. So I said can I have two, and she said you must like biscuits, getting so many. So I said, "They're not all for me. One tin is for another of our drivers who has three young boys, who lives in Shanter Brow and that's on my way home. As soon as they see me coming, they run to the door shouting: 'Mum, that driver's here with the biscuits!' Then they run down to the lorry and nearly knock me over. Their dad's called Lawrence Clegg and he works for Eddie Wilkinson and the British Road Services."
Well, all good things come to an end, so I set off, leaving them all happy with the tin of biscuits and when I arrived home, Bill Newall was sitting there, waiting to tell me that the lorry had arrived and if I still wanted the job to come to the garage on Monday morning at seven thirty and he would show me around and explain what the job was. Monday came round and off I went and explained that I had to work a week's notice, so he agreed and then I went to the Rochdale depot and told the boss that I wanted to work a week's notice from now. He asked me why I wanted to leave and I told him that one reason was that we were buggered about too much and the other is that I had another job, which was a day job and meant I could be at home every night, and that was worth something to me and that it would also please my wife and our daughter to be together for once.
"Well," he said, "if that's what you want I can't do anything about it, so good luck." Soon after he came to me and told me to go with a van to Kippax Mill in Goodshaw to collect some parcels and to call at David Whitehead's, at Higher Mill in Rawtenstall, then bring them back here for unloading. Well me and Bill Stead unloaded the van, then had a mug of tea. And that's all Bill and I did until Thursday morning. Then we were sent to Dicky Debs felt works at the bottom of Cowpe Road in Waterfoot to load sheets of thick felt measuring six feet long by two and a half feet wide that were used for the soles of felt slippers. After finishing loading I dropped Bill off to make his own way back to the depot on the bus, I then set off to Pirelli's in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire. Well I got there and unloaded and called at the Derby depot and they sent me to Loughborough, to a bell foundry to collect three bells which were for New York in the United States. I arrived at the foundry and they started loading the first bell right away. It was massive and was called Jesus. The next one was a bit smaller and called Joseph and the third one was the same size and was called Mary. There were beautiful engravings on each one, such as flowers, fruit, palm and laurel leaves, all made of bronze - a lovely colour. They had to go to the Canada Docks in Liverpool to be loaded onto the Pacific Trader, but it was getting late too late for me to go to Liverpool, so I made my way to the Rochdale depot and handed in my notes, then got a lift on a lorry going to Nelson, which dropped me off in the centre of Bacup, where I got a bus to the Toll Bar in Stacksteads and then walked up Cop Lane to the Honeyhole Farm where I was met by our Jean holding a cat. She used to have a lot of fun with the little kittens running in and out of a large dolls' house. We also got a lot of pleasure watching them.
They had both had their tea an hour ago, so Alice made me egg and chips and a mug of tea. Then later on the three of us took Lassie, the border collie, round the hills of Tunstead. We used to help Bob on the farm all the year round. At hay time I used to go with the mowing machine and sometimes I would mow round the wall sides to let Bob in with the machine. Later on we would all start shaking out the grass, then when it turned to hay we'd put it in rows ready for putting on the sledge. Then Alice would lead the horse to the barn for unloading and return to load up again. Our Jean was in her delight playing in the hay and helping to load the sledge. When the light was fading Bob would say, "We might as well pack it in. The air is dampening." So Alice would unhook Johnny the horse and I would lift Jean up onto Johnny's back and she would ride him down to the stable. I think she liked riding Johnny more than anything, but King, the other gelding, was a cunning beggar and wanted watching. I remember one day our Jean was in the stable mucking out, and as she was passing behind King he suddenly kicked out and broke the brush in half, just missing Jean. Her mum and I told her not to go into the stable when King was in, but that it was all right when Johnny was there. Then she could muck out and feed Lassie, the dog. Jean thought the world of Lassie and the dog would follow her everywhere, but one day she took it with her to go shopping and Lassie must have seen another dog and ran across the road after it. At that moment a double decker bus hit Lassie, running her over and killing her outright. Jean came running home crying her eyes out and very upset saying, "Lassie's been run over by a bus and killed." I went and told Bob and he said it wasn't Jean's fault. It was just one of those things. It was just bad luck. Well after that it took Jean a few weeks to really get over Lassie's death, but later that year I got a puppy for Jean. It was a lovely little dog, a dark amber and white border collie. We called it Kim. I got it off an old mate of mine called Joe Neald who lived at the village of Britannia near Bacup.
Sometimes when Jean wasn't at school I used to take her with me and also Kim, mostly to the K Shoe Company in Kendal and round to Bentham delivering bales. Then we came back through Kirkby Lonsdale, Ingleton, Settle, Gisburn, Burnley and home. She was a good help and good company and I liked her coming out with me, but I wouldn't let her lift anything heavy. Her mum used to make us sandwiches to take for our dinners, but when we got to a chip shop we either got a bag of chips and a pie each or just chips which we put on the bread after taking out the contents and giving those to the dog. We also got a bottle of mineral water and a bottle of milk to wash it all down. Well that was our dinner finished, but when we got home Alice would ask if we liked our sandwiches. So we said, "Yes. They were delicious." But I think she knew that we hadn't eaten them.
At this time I started a new job driving for Tom Bowen, a fruiterers in Bacup, going down to Shawforth delivering fruit and vegetables and collecting money, then on to all the grocers' shops right down to Healey Corner. I did this for about a month and then he started sending me to Shudehill wholesale market, starting work at four o' clock in the morning, loading all the fruit and vegetables inside the market and then going into Crosstrees Street off Swan Street to load cabbages and cauliflowers.
There was a funny thing happened one morning in the market. A large eight wheeler lorry loaded with potatoes tried to turn round and the rear end of the lorry caught about thirty boxes of apples that were stacked on the street corner knocking them all over the place and blocking the road. Well the owner of the apples was playing holy hell and nearly got to fighting until the market police arrived and sorted them out. Also that morning, a bloke with a small van and trailer came in the poultry and fish market at the Tib Street end. Whilst the bloke was loading rabbits at one side of the trailer, there were two young lads taking them off the other side and slinging them over their shoulders. But some market trader had seen them and had informed the market police, so soon after two police officers caught the blokes carrying the rabbits and took them to the police station. There was another morning whilst I was loading up with carrots that I heard a lot of shouting and a bloke said that they were all looking for a snake that had been found in a crate of bananas and had escaped. They didn't know what type it was, but a man from Tib Street near the market, who kept a large pet shop, had arrived and he might be able to tell the species. If not the police would take it for identification.
Talking about the snake reminds me of a thing that happened to me when I brought a load of bananas that were packed in straw in long boxes and unloaded them in the garage at Bacup for stacking and reloading when they needed delivering. One afternoon the phone rang and I answered it. Wear Village wanted some carrots, some potatoes and a box of bananas. I put these on and delivered them and the owner of the shop asked me to take the bananas out of the box, because she was charged fifty shillings if she kept it. Well I just got to the bottom layer and saw a huge grey coloured spider crawling up the side of the box. It must have been at least four inches long and hairy, and when the woman saw it she nearly had a blue fit and said, "Catch it quick before it gets away!" Then her husband overheard her and as he was phoning the police to come and take it away I got an empty toffee jar and a walking stick and after ten minutes I managed to get it in and screw the lid on. Not long after the police arrived and took it and said that when they found out what kind of spider it was they would let us know. Soon after, I went back to the garage and loaded empty boxes to go back to Shudehill Market and load up again as usual. When I arrived back at the garage the place was deserted and I had to unload myself. I had just finished when the phone started ringing. It was the Albert Felt Works in Whitewell Bottom, who wanted me to bring five bags of potatoes, two bags of carrots and four cabbages right away for the canteen. I loaded them and took them as they had run out of everything, but when I got back to the garage everybody was there. As soon as I backed the lorry in, Tom Bowen, the owner, started shouting, "Where the devil have you been? You should have been here. I've been ringing you for at least a quarter of an hour." Then I started. It was my turn. I said, "And where the bloody hell were you when I got back from Shudehill? Having tea whilst I was unloading on my own? And where were Bill Newall and that other lazy bugger Fred Taylor?" He then turned to me and said,
"Put ten bags of potatoes on and go to the Grammar School in Waterfoot, then come back here." So I said,
"Put them on yourself, and when you have done that get a brush and sweep the place up, and then go on up home and get my cards and my wages and then I shall be on my way!" It must have been a good hour that I waited. Then he came and handed over my cards and wages. Then down the road I went and I was thinking about what Alice would say when I got home and I told her that I was out of a job and why I had finished. Well, it didn't come to that, because whilst I was walking down the main road toward Lee Mill I met Bill Boys, who I worked with before the war for Tricket's Builders. He said, "What are you doing walking about?" I told him that I had just packed my job in, and told him what had happened. He said he'd have done the same. "Well," he said. "I can find you a job right away, but it's labouring on a new building we are just starting for Gaskell's Textiles Ltd Bacup at Britannia. If you like you can start now, we've just started digging the foundations and tomorrow we should start concreting." I said,
"Okay. I'll start now." So he got the car and took me to where they were working and introduced me to the foreman who I knew from earlier days when we worked building a filter plant for David Whitehead's at the Fold Works in Rawtenstall. His name was Jim Earnshaw and he lived in Church Street at Stacksteads. Well, there were only three of us and we got along okay. The work went on without a hitch and the concreting started and then later a bricklayer started and another labourer came. But after three months all the work was finished and I was out of a job.
Well that job didn't last long, so it was where to go next. Anyway, that night Alice's brother Walter and his wife Brenda came up to the farm and stopped for a natter and a bit of supper. In the conversation I was brought up and then Alice said, "Bert's out of a job. He finished to day." Well Walter said,
"If he comes with me tomorrow I have to see the boss at Tottington near Bury and if I mention that we are related he might find you a job."
"Well," Alice said, "if you go you might be lucky. Let's hope you do well." Morning came and I went to Walter's home and we both set off on the bus to Rawtenstall, then one going to Bury via Ramsbottom. We got off near Brandlesholme Old Hall and then walked about a quarter of an hour to Greenmount where we met the manager. Walter introduced me to him and asked him if he could find me a job. After the boss had asked me a few questions and bad spoken to Walter, he said he would start me and if I did all right, in a month's time, he would keep me on permanently. So I went with Walter, who showed me what to do. The first place we called at was a large house in Greenmount. He rang the bell and a middle aged lady answered the door. Then Walter started telling her that he was working for Betterware Products and then he showed her the kind of things for sale, such as furniture polish, all kinds of brushes, oven cleaning materials and lots more. He gave her a sample of furniture polish and said that if she wished to order anything he would write her order out now and would deliver it the following week. After a short while she decided to purchase some polish and an oven cleaner. Then Walter made her order out in his book. Well after we had visited about six more houses, he let me have a go. My approach was different. I said, "Good morning madam. Can I interest you in purchasing anything which I have in the case? It's all made by Betterware Products, which is a good reliable firm." Then I gave her a small sample of furniture polish and told her that if she ordered anything now, it would be delivered the week after. Then she said what she wanted, and I made her order out in the book and said that I would see her next week. After that performance Walter said that I'd done well. The week went off all right and the customers were also okay, but when it came to the delivering, that broke the biscuit. Some of the people were out working in the day and some were out in the evening, so it messed you about a bit. Most nights our daughter Jean came with me and she was a very good help and also good company. The worst part was when we had to deliver up to the village of Holcombe. It was a long way, and uphill all the way. When we had finished up there, we would go in the chip shop in Bolton Road in Ramsbottom for a bag of chips or a meat pie, and instead of bringing the sample bags home, the owner of the shop let us leave them there until the following day. I did this job for just over twelve months, then the winter set in, with heavy snow falls and severe drifting. It made it very difficult, especially around Holcombe village, and it was then that I decided to pack the job in. So I had a talk to Alice and she said, "Well the wage isn't much for the long hours you work, so it's up to you what you do."
"I'll tell the manager on Monday," I said. "And in the meantime I'll have a good look around. I think they want a driver at Thomas Temperley's Pipeworks up at Sharneyfold."
It was Saturday morning when I caught the bus to Bacup, and as I was passing the electricity showroom, who should I see but a bloke called Tattersall who was a foreman at the pipeworks. Do you know what he was doing? He was taking young boys up to the works in a jeep and having them loading pipes right onto barrows, then putting them in stacks, then after about four hours he had them lining up and then he paid them ten shillings each. They broke more pipes on a Saturday morning than they did all week. Well he asked me to come up and said he could do with another driver. There was one on holiday and one off sick, so he asked me when I could start. He said that the lads were loading a lorry to go to Wetherby in Yorkshire for a firm that were building houses. He said I could help with the loading and then check the oil and water and then fill up with diesel and then set off in the morning, about eight o'clock and come back when I was empty.
When I came home Alice asked me how I had gone on. When I told her that I was back driving again she said, "I don't know how you do it. You finish one day and then you're in another job the next. They must like your face."
Well I took the pipes to Wetherby and found the building site. There were no proper roads on the site. It was just a field of mud, and raining hard. Eventually I saw a couple of cabins, so I climbed down from the cab and made my way, trying to avoid all the deep pools until I got to a cabin with smoke coming from the roof. On entering, the first things I saw was about twelve blokes sat round a red hot stove drinking tea and playing cards and asking me what I had brought. Then the foreman came and asked me what I wanted. I said, "There's a lorry load of earthenware sewer pipes and gullies I have brought over there on the road that I want unloaded."
"Well I think you will have a long wait if this rain keeps on. The blokes won't turn out in these conditions," he said. So I told him that I was going into the town to get some dinner and would be back at one thirty. I managed to get a good meal and was back at the site at half past one. After another hour's waiting the rain eased off and the foreman got the blokes out of the cabin. Then he said he wanted me to take the pipes to a place over the other side of the field. I said, "No. If I go on the field the lorry will sink up to the axle, so you will have to take them off on the roadside where the lorry's parked now." The foreman didn't like it, but they all mucked in and it wasn't long before the lorry was empty and I was on my way home. When I arrived back at the pipe works they started loading me again. This time to go to the Midlands. The first place was Burslam, then Stoke-on-Trent and then Newcastle-under-Lyne. When I got back there weren't any loads to take anywhere, so he had me emptying the kilns and stacking pipes in their allotted places. Some of the pipes had razor sharp edges and nearly all my fingers, at one time or another, had plasters on, or even bandages. There were gloves given for protection, but they got in the way and I couldn't wear them. They made my hands sweat.
Another thing that used to happen, especially in winter, was that people who didn't know these parts of the Pennines wouldn't think twice before venturing up to the top of Sharnyford, but in winter the road soon got blocked with drifting snow. Where the pipe works was situated, it's all wild moorland and during the cold and blizzard conditions the moorland sheep would come and lie down in front of the hot pipe kilns and wouldn't budge. They had to be dragged away.
Well I stuck that job for couple of years, then went working for Connolly Brothers Builders in Rawtenstall, driving a new tipper truck. Their place was over the railway crossing at Townsend Fold. We used to report at the office then be given our jobs. Sometimes I was sent to Birch sandpits for a load of building sand, and another time it would be a load of granite chippings from Over Kellet quarries near Carnforth. The firm got some big jobs such as building that large storage depot for Walker Steel at Guide in Blackburn, and a new bus depot in Preston. They also did work for the Lancashire County, building police houses and working on schools, like the large extension to Fearns School and repairs to Balladen School. They also built the houses up Parkwood, near to Whittaker Park. Some of the Connolly brothers lived at Parkwood. There was Desmond, Matt, Jim and Peter. Then two of them moved, but I don't know where to. Well I worked about two years for Connolly's, then one Saturday they sent me to Mossley near Oldham with a workman's hut, and I was to bring back the workmen. They were supposed to come back to the yard, but I was seen going through Haslingden, taking the men home by Desmond Connolly. He reported me to John Connolly. When I went into the yard on Monday morning someone called me over to the office and said, "John Connolly wants to see you, and he doesn't seem so pleased." Well, I thought, here goes. I don't feel pleased either. So I went in.
"I believe you want to see me," I said.
"Yes, come in and close the door," he said. "What I have to say won't take long. You were seen on Saturday afternoon going through Haslingden centre with some workmen on the back of the truck."
"Yes," I said. "I was taking the men home. What's wrong with that?"
"They should have gone home on the bus," he said. "This isn't a taxi service you know, and from now on when you have finished work you leave the truck here in the yard. Don't take it home again."
"You can stuff the truck where they stuff nuts," I told him and then I left him and went over to the truck to get my things. On my way a driver called Peter McLaughlin came over and asked me what John Connolly had wanted. I told him and Peter said, "Don't bother about it. His bark's worse than his bite."
Well the next day I came into the yard and Matt Connolly said, "I believe you and our John had a bit of a bust up." Then I told him what had happened. "Well," he said, "if you don't want to drive, come with me up to Waterfoot Grammar School and lay some pipes with me.
"Okay," I said, "it will be a change and I won't be buggered about like I am here." Well we arrived at the place and started digging a trench about three feet deep and two feet wide behind the school. Then after a couple of days the pipes arrived and we started to lay them. Then the weather turned nasty and it started to snow heavily, so we downed tools and packed up and went home. It was the first time in years that I came home from work just after dinner and it got me thinking. I picked up the Free Press and looked through the vacancy column and found a job going. It was a local firm called Keighley and Taylor Ltd at Piercy Works at Waterfoot.
Well the weather was still bad and all building work ceased, so I went across to see Joe Aspinall who worked for the Waterfoot firm and asked him about the job they were advertising. He said they were okay to work for and that they paid all the workers a bonus twice a year from the profits. Then he told me that the job included working in the warehouse and driving a van. I said that I would give it a try and would call at the office tomorrow morning. Joe said he would mention my name to one of the directors either Mr Taylor or Mr Keighley. Well morning came and I set off through the snow, walking over Booth Road and across Fearns Moss to Edgeside, then down to the Piercy works. It was about one and a half miles from home and was a nice walk in good weather. I arrived about nine o'clock and tapped on the office window where it said enquiries. The small sliding window opened and a nice looking young woman said, "Can I help you?" I then told her that I had come about the job that was advertised in the Free Press. She asked me what my name was and I told her. Then I heard her say to someone, "There's a person called Bert Ormerod at the window enquiring about that job. In about five minutes a door opened and a smartly dressed man came and introduced himself as Mr Taylor and shook my hand. He said that Joe Aspinall had spoken to him previously about me wanting a job. He said that Joe had told him that I had worked with him driving for Wilkinson's Transport for about ten years and that I was a good driver and very conscientious. Then he took me in and around the warehouse and introduced me to the workers. There were only three blokes, Joe Aspinall, Alan Gregory and Stanley Thorpe. Then we went into the office and the same happened there. The first person was Mr Keighley, then Bill Harwood, Mrs Harwood, Irene Pickup and Dorothy Heyworth, who had spoken to me at the enquiry window. They were all very friendly and on leaving they shouted, "We hope to see you on Monday morning."
Before I started my new job I went down to Connolly's to get my cards and my holiday pay, then I started working in the warehouse, making parcels up for Wilkinson's Transport to collect to take to Leicester and other Midlands towns. Then the following morning, I loaded six wooden cases filled with cotton yarn to go to the Victoria Mill in Nelson, where they had about fifty old Lancashire looms, belonging to Keighley and Taylor's Ltd. They did the weaving for us and I brought back the finished cloth. That happened every Tuesday and Thursday, and on other days I would go all round Manchester, Salford and as far as Stockport, Hyde and Glossop, delivering and collecting soft fabrics and rolls of plastics.
Another day I went down to the Rossendale Combining Company in Rawtenstall and they loaded me for Leeds, Yeadon and Hull. Sometimes I would take Alice with me for a change, and when I had finished unloading we would go onto the fish docks and get about twenty poundsworth of fish, right from the trawler. Most of it was cod and haddock, but I used to get crabs' claws for our daughter Jean and fresh sea salmon for Bill Harwood. The bloke who supplied us was called Frank Smailes, the owner of a few trawlers. He asked me if I had a long way to go. I told him, "About ninety five miles."
"I'll put some ice over the fish in the box and it should keep it fresh until you get home," he said. But many a time I used to find the works deserted when I got back, except for the cleaners, so I had to take it home and find room in the fridge until I arrived at work the following morning.
Sometimes when I was going delivering to a firm called Sharps at Yeadon, near to Leeds Airport, I also took Alice with me. One reason was that the material we took was for this firm Sharps to print a design on our fabric, and then when it was finished I, or someone else, would collect it. Well the firm had a shop in part of the works and sold all kinds of printed material that firms had no further use for. So whilst I was unloading Alice would go to the shop and have a real good look and rummage around. And I would bet on my granddad's glass eye that she would come out of the shop with something. She often purchased some nice material for making skirts and dresses at a very reasonable price, a lot cheaper than the dress shops and good quality as well.
I did this area around Leeds for a few months inbetween local deliveries, then I went round Lancaster, Kendal, Cockermouth and Carlisle, delivering and then coming back empty. It was a two hundred and forty mile round trip, so I called it a good day's work. What do you say ?
Well, after working here for about eight years I had to give up my work because I had reached pension age, sixty five. That was the written rule at Keighley and Taylor Ltd. Well on the Friday, the 13th March, they let me stay in the warehouse for my last day. So I phoned Manning's Bakeries in Waterfoot and ordered two dozen meat pies, two dozen ham finger tea cakes and two dozen trifles. I also got three bottles of Croft's original sherry. It was a big surprise to them all when I entered the office and told them that I would like them to join me and my workmates for a farewell drink and a bite to eat. All the office staff came, including the directors, and before I could speak Mr Keighley and Dorothy Heyworth came up to me and between them presented me with a lovely teasmaid, saying that they would all like to wish me and my good wife a long and happy retirement and that they all hoped we would enjoy our morning cups of tea. They also thanked me for the long and good service I had given whilst working there, and also thanked me for the times that I'd gone out of my way to bring them all those tomatoes and potatoes and also the fish and other small things. "After all these years we have known each other we will be sorry to see you go. But that's how it has to be." Well, before I left they all shook hands with me and wished me well, and that is the end of a long, hard and interesting working life, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I have done writing it.

Here I am again. And it's about lorry driving again. There were some driving jobs I didn't tell you about before. There was a time when I drove for Hinchcliffe's Haulage of Gillingrod, Walmersley, but their vehicles were poor and not up to my standard and I couldn't bring it home. That was the reason why I finished. Then there was Taylor's Transport in New Lane at Bacup. I drove for them for a great number of years. The lorries were all Dodges and well looked after. The reason I finished was that it was all long distance driving and also I was off work a long time owing to a badly cut hand. The next job was for the Bacup Council, driving a refuse vehicle. One reason I left this job was because the blokes on my vehicle were always arguing, but the main reason was they sent me and another bloke up onto the Thorn estate where some people had been evicted. The house was in a terrible state. Most of the windows were broken and inside the place was filthy and the smell was shocking. It made me sick. What bit of furniture there was wanted burning, and when we went upstairs the smell was worse. The beds were wet and stained with urine and there was excrement all over the floor. I said to this bloke, "If you want to stop here and move this lot you can do it yourself, but I'm buggering off and not coming back." So he climbed up in the cab with me and came back to the depot and we packed our jobs in. I don't know how he went on. There was another firm I worked for named T.E. Mansergh{Bury}Ltd Corn Merchants in Rawtenstall, but I only lasted about two months. One day he had me going to Spiller's flour mill in Birkenhead to load cattle food. That was six a.m. start. Well I got there okay and got loaded then, coming back through the tunnel to Liverpool, a vehicle in front of me had a front tyre burst, which caused a long hold up. Eventually the traffic got moving again and I got to Rawtenstall at about one o'clock. Then I had my dinner, then unloaded and I was sent to the Settle lime quarries in Threshfield near Grassington to load bags of poultry grit, then bring that back and unload it, then go to a farm near Kirkham and put a good load of straw on. Well, after we had unloaded the grit the time was six o'clock and I should have finished work. But, no. Silly me, I set off to this farm and arrived about quarter past seven. It was a very big farm, just off the Wrea Green road, and they had just finished milking. They knew I was coming and after they had had a drink and found me one, they started to load right away. They put a very high load on and the only snag was that I hadn't enough rope to secure the load. Anyway they found me a bit and then I set off. When I got back, who should be waiting but the man himself, Mansergh. The time was just half past nine at night and the first thing he said was, "What time do you call this? And how the hell are you going to get that load in the garage? It's too bloody high!" Well that did it. I was fed up to my eyeballs.
"I've been working non-stop since six o' clock this morning and it's ten o'clock now. I'm catching the next bus home and you can stick the flaming job!" Then I left him. The following morning I went to the garage and saw the lorry just as I had left it, with its load still on. I went into the office and gave in my notice to say that I was finishing and I wanted my wages up to the time I finished work last night - that was ten o'clock, including overtime, and that I would be back in an hour's time to collect. Well that was the reason why I finished, and I never got paid my overtime.
Well I have just one more little thing to tell you about a job I had. A bit different this time. I went working for the Tommy Radcliffe quarries in Bacup, driving a dumper with stone from the quarry to the crusher which crushed it into different sizes. Well one day whilst I was going to the crusher they started blasting. There were four shots went off, but not the fifth. There must have been a faulty fuse or a damp one. So after about a quarter of an hour Tommy Radcliffe, the owner, went down to the quarry face to investigate, but when he got to the misfire, it blew up, blowing his head off and injuring two quarrymen. Also some big pieces of rock just missed me and crashed onto the roof of a workman's hut. After that tragedy all work ceased at the quarry and everybody went home. Later on the winter set in and all work stopped and that's when I packed the quarry work in. Well, I think that was the end of all the lorry driving, but there were times when I felt like climbing up into the cab again.

Now let me tell you some more about my school days - things that happened in school and also outside. I remember, it must have been about the year 1927, I was in standard seven at Tunstead C of E School and l sat next to a lad called John Haworth and a girl called Emily Harrison. Well this day the lesson was science, so we were all messing about, squirting water at one another out of those glass pipettes, when I squirted Emily all down the front of her. Most of it went down her blouse. The first thing was to wipe the water from her and I got my handkerchief and put my hand down the front of her blouse. I didn't think anything about it at the time, but the next thing I got was a right clout around my head by Miss Greenwood, our teacher for science. All the class stopped what they were doing when they heard the commotion and the teacher told me to report to her office after school. Then Emily Harrison said to me that she didn't mind what I did, it was only in fun. Well they all left the class and everybody was going home except me and Miss Greenwood. After a while she called me in and told me to sit down, then she started giving me a lecture and asked me if I had done this kind of thing before or ever been with a girl. She said it wasn't right to do it unless the girl consented. I said, "I am sorry and it won't happen again." So she said she was sorry for hitting me as she did just to set an example to the others and after a bit she said that we both might as well go home and keep quiet about all the things that had happened here to day. A few days after, when we were going home, Emily stopped me and asked how I'd gone on. I said, "She asked me to come in and sit down, so I did, and then she asked if I had done anything like it before or been with a girl." Then Emily said that Miss Greenwood was worse than anybody, and she'd seen her going into the head master's office and staying for a half hour at least and then coming out with her blouse undone and her face all flushed. Well after all this I went out a couple of times with Emily, but it didn't last . She said her mother made her come in at nine o'clock, and I couldn't see her because I was helping on a farm up Tunstead Top and it was late when I finished work. She was a nice lass and everyone liked her at school.
About that time, one Monday morning, we had just arrived at school when somebody came running in shouting, "There's a big fire at the bottom of Blackwood!" Well everybody got up from their desks and ran down Church Street to see the fire. It had got a good hold and the flames and sparks were threatening the railway station and, in Blackwood Road, the houses they call Piano Row were also in danger of catching fire. So the police and firemen told the occupants to leave their houses for their own safety. Also, at one end of the factory, Jim Siddall, a coal dealer, kept two carthorses in a stable, and in another part next to the stable Jack White, a local butcher kept about twenty pigs, and at the other end Stretch and Pilling had two heavy lorries. Well at the height of the fire the flames were shooting through the roof. Then the roof caved in and came crashing down. Then the top floor came down, bringing with it all the machinery crashing through the next floor. Whilst all this was happening Jim Siddall did a brave but foolish thing by going into the stable to try and save his horses. He managed to save one by putting a wet coal bag over the horse's head and leading it out, but just as he was about to get the other one it turned and ran into the fire just as the floor above came down and it was crushed by the falling machinery. Jim was crying like a child through losing his horse, but Jack White was a lot luckier. He managed to get his pigs out, but they looked in a bad state. Some were all burnt and smoke was coming from them and they were squealing. Half of them ran up Blackwood Road towards Rakehead, and the rest up towards Bacup along the railway line. The station had also caught fire and a fire engine came from Horwich Railway Works to deal with the station fire and all the trains coming up from Bury were stopped at Waterfoot and the passengers had to continue their journey to Bacup by bus. The firemen said that the fire was caused by an electrical fault and it caused considerable damage, and shoe production stopped because the place was gutted. After the fire, the same firm called Birtwistle moved to fresh premises at Victoria Mill down Farholme Lane in Stacksteads making shoes and slippers as they did previously. Later on my wife started work there on a post knife machine. The only thing she didn't like was the rats. The place was swarming with them. I think they came from the River Irwell that flowed past the mill.
Well this class room that I was in was next to Union Street in Stacksteads and my desk was against the window. As I looked out, who should I see but my brother Fred stopped outside with a horse and lorry loaded with furniture. He looked up and shouted for me to go down, so I asked the teacher if I could go to the toilet and he said, "Yes, but don't be long." I went down to my brother who said he was going to Accrington with a flitting.
"So if you want to come, get your coat and then we'll be off." So I went back, this time to the cloakroom and got my coat. Then off we went with me sitting on the front of the lorry and my brother leading the horse by its head until we got onto good level ground. Then we got to Rising Bridge and called at a pub and got a bag of chop. We took out the bit from the horse's mouth and then put the bag over its head so it could eat. Then my brother went inside the pub and brought me a meat pie and a bottle of pop, and he came out with a pint of beer and a sandwich. Then after we had eaten we set off downhill into Accrington to the house where we had to leave the furniture. The lady was glad to see us and said we had done well to get there so soon. She came out, bringing us both a pot of tea and two slices of jam and bread and a bucket of water for the horse. After we had finished and got paid, we set off back to Stacksteads, arriving about seven o'clock to a nice welcome from both my parents. The first words my mother said were, "Get down in that cellar and don't come up until I tell you to and then I want a true answer!" Well I was put in the cellar and the door was locked. I tried all ways to open it, and then I had an idea. I groped my way to the coal chute and climbed up to the grate, and with a bit of pushing I managed to force it open. And when I thought there was nobody about, I crept out and went to Libby Laycock's chip shop, opposite the Commercial Hotel near Stacksteads station and sat in and had a penny mixture. Then I went home and got a good hiding from my mother for being late home and then climbing out of the cellar and for not putting the grate back. She said that someone might have fallen down it and broken their neck.
Another thing me and John Haworth and his brother James used to get up to every Tuesday morning was after assembly when we all had to go outside in the school yard and fall in. The girls marched off in front to go to Western School for cookery and the boys to the same school for woodwork. Well me, John and James would fall in at the rear of the column, and when they turned left to go along a narrow path that went across a sunken field, the three of us used to hide behind a wall. And when the column was out of sight we would set off walking over Booth Road and go to the Johnny Barn cattle auction at Higher Cloughfold. After the sale we would help to take the cattle to the farms by driving them, and some we put a rope round their necks and had to lead them. One Tuesday at the auction, two farmers were having a struggle trying to get a heifer into a cattle truck, when all at once one of the cows broke away and came charging towards us, knocking John flying. Everybody scattered and John picked himself up and after a bit, when he felt okay, we set off with the others trying to catch the beast. They were all running towards Rawtenstall, but on the way the heifer ran into a garage doing a lot of damage and knocking a woman down as she was washing her car. Then it jumped over a garden fence and landed in a greenhouse, cutting itself badly. But still it carried on towards Rawtenstall, and there it went round the back of the market and then collapsed where it was finally shot. It had terrible injuries with large pieces of glass sticking out of its neck and sides.
Well that was one of our little escapades away from school, but now I'll tell you about some of the things we did during the main school holidays. As most of you know, the new Tunstead School in Booth Road, Stacksteads was built where the Stacksteads coal staith was. The coal came down from the Isle Colliery on Tunstead Top in what we call tubs. They were small wagons that ran on iron rails pulled by an endless chain that went round a large cogwheel which was in the engine house at the pit top which used to drive the chain. A man would push a tub loaded with coal under the chain and at the Booth Road end a man would push an empty tub under the chain to be taken up to the Isle Colliery. These tubs were put under the chain at fifty yard intervals and they passed each other, one on the down track and the empty one going up on the up track. The men who worked on this job were called jinny tenters and the way they communicated with each other was very simple. The signal to start was three knocks on a large dong which was connected by a long signal wire, and when the engine started the man putting the full tubs on would pull a lever three times telling the man at the other end that he was starting the wheel and putting on a tub of coal. Then the man at the other end would put on an empty tub. Well a few of us who lived near the pit used to go on the pit top and play, pushing tubs and going into the engineering shop to help an old collier who used to sharpen picks and repair broken tubs. He was called Tommy Heyes. When he was using the furnace I used to work on the bellows, which blew air into the fire making the fire glow and get hotter. Then he put the head of the pick into the fire and when it was red hot he then pulled it out using a large pair of tongs and then hammered the ends of the pick to a sharp point and then put the pick into water to cool. Sometimes we would climb into an empty wagon and ride up to the Isle Pit. I remember one afternoon. There were a lot of coal dealers waiting to load coal and my brother Fred, the one who took me to Accrington, was one of them. They were all sitting in a stone building round a big roaring fire with the door closed and one of us, I think it was Robert Starkey, locked the door so they couldn't get out then climbed up onto the roof and blocked up the chimney with a flat piece of stone. In a few minutes all hell broke loose. The carters inside were choking and spluttering and shouting, "Open this bloody door or we'll kill you!" Then Tommy Heyes, the blacksmith, came and opened it and we all ran like hell home. But before I got home my brother caught me and gave me a good hiding, and then I got another one from my mother when I got home for coming home dirty and tearing my jacket pocket. We didn't do any damage, like the children do today. We were more disciplined and had more respect for others.
You all must think that I was always in trouble of some kind. Well it's not true. It was only at odd times, just like this. One morning we were playing football just like we always did and I gave the ball a hell of a kick, sending it flying right onto the school roof. Then a couple of the lads pushed me up to the troughing and I managed to get on the roof. Just then the bell went and all the scholars marched in for prayers leaving me on the roof. Well I started looking for the ball, having to go over two ridges climbing up one side and sliding down the other. What made it worse was that I was wearing clogs and these made a lot of noise. In a short while the headmaster, Mr Hubert Smith, came out with another teacher and asked one of the scholars who was on the roof. He said, "It's Bert Ormerod, looking for a ball he kicked on the roof." Well the headmaster saw me and told me to come off the roof. I shouted that I couldn't get down, so he sent someone to get a ladder to get me off. After a quarter of an hour Billy Wadsworth brought a ladder and helped me down. Then we all went in and the headmaster took me to his office and gave me a right rollicking, and then sent me to my class where the others asked me what the headmaster said, which made them laugh. But a few weeks later I was in bigger trouble through playing football in the school yard after they had all gone home. There were about five of us. There was John Haworth and his brother Jim, Bob Starkey, Jim Driver and me. Bob was in the goals which were two stone gate posts facing houses in Union Street. We were playing shooting in. That's trying to beat the goalkeeper. When it was my turn to shoot I booted it fair and square through a house window. What made it worse was that they were all sitting around the table having their tea and the ball landed on the table smashing a few cups and one or two plates. All the lads flew and left me frightened to death when I saw the bloke who owned the house coming out. He grabbed me and the first thing he did was to show me the damage, then he took me home and explained to my mum and dad what I had done. Then he took them both to see for themselves. Well after my parents had seen the damage they came back home and told me that I had to pay for all the damage I had done out of my weekly spence until it was paid, and that I hadn't to play football in the school yard, or anywhere near houses again.
Most of the boys who went to Tunstead School joined the scouts and it was in the attic where we used to have our meetings and band practices. Our scoutmaster was called Teddy Ashworth and lived at Stony Hill. We had a very good drum and bugle band and the first Sunday in the month we used to parade to Tunstead church in Stacksteads, starting from the school and marching down Booth Road and turning right at the toll bar, then down Newchurch Road, finishing at the church. Then after the service we went back the same way, finishing at the school. It was a good band and I enjoyed every minute playing the bugle. Most of them have died now, some in the war and a few since, but there is one lad who played the side drum who lives in Crawshawbooth called Arnold Bell. He was a side drummer in the Lancashire Fusiliers during the war. One Sunday morning, coming back on church parade and turning to come up Booth Road, a motorbike hit Arnold and knocked him down, causing him slight injuries.
We also had some grand times camping. I remember one time, we all went camping in Hardcastle Crags near Hebden Bridge, pulling a track cart with all our camping gear, such as two bell tents, two patrol tents and cooking utensils and all our packs. It was a long hard slog going up the steep hill to Sharnyford, but nearly as bad going downhill to Todmorden, trying to hold the cart back to stop it from running away. Well we got down into Todmorden okay and on to Hebden Bridge, then it was another long drag up to Hardcastle Crags to the cosy corner where we made camp. It was a lovely place, near to a river with clear running water that was ice cold, and right near was a small farm cottage where we used to get milk and eggs, and farther up the crags there was an old cotton mill where we used to go and get cakes and bread. There was a large room there, where you could roller skate and have a drink of tea and a sandwich. We used to take our turns at making meals and other duties, and in the evenings we would sit round the camp fire singing and telling stories and during the day, those who were not on camp duties, went tracking and bridge building and map reading using a compass. Everything was very interesting to us in the scouts, and all the time I was in them it gave me pride and taught me to respect people. Well let's start on some of the other things we used to do - the games we played and the people we helped. I used to collect coal from the pit in Booth Road and take it to four houses up Booth Road and Church Street in Stacksteads. Each person paid me four pence. I also chopped firewood and ran errands for them. I also did most of the jobs at home, such as mending our own shoes and putting clog irons on for my dad and my brother, myself and three sisters. The games we played were jumping on backs, releevo, finding the cat, hide and seek, and devil up pipe. They were all good games. Football and cricket were the most popular and we never did any damage or caused trouble to anybody like they do today. We were more disciplined. When Good Friday came, we used to blacken our faces and dress up in old clothes and go all over the town, singing funny songs. And the girls would go round the town dancing round the maypole. Also, on the Easter Monday, all the farmers and the owners of horses used to decorate their manes and tails with straw and coloured ribbons. I used to help my brother Fred to decorate the horse he worked with at the Honeyhole Farm. We would be up all night, me blacking the leather on the harness and polishing the brasses and my brother would do all the plaiting and decorating and grooming. When we had finished the horse looked smashing. It was all worth it in the end, although it was very hard work. Then it came Christmas time, putting up decorations and setting the tree up and going out carol singing. But with me, it was different. I was a member of Stacksteads brass band and played a B flat cornet. We used to start playing about six o'clock on Christmas Eve until about eight a.m. on Christmas Day, Half of the band played at Bacup and the rest at Stacksteads. Most of the people liked us to play the tunes: Deep Harmony, Silver Hill and Silent Night. We also used to play in the local parks on summer days. For subscriptions we used to march from Bacup to Waterfoot playing marches, such as Slaidburn and Old Comrades, The Great Little Army, Evertonians, Death or Glory, and hundreds more. I enjoyed every minute. I think it was in nineteen thirty five when we went to the Crystal Palace, the year before it burnt down. That year, Foden's band was excused from playing because they had won the trophy for three consecutive years. The winners were, first, Mun and Felton's from Kettering, second was Grimethorpe Colliery, and the third was Irewell Springs. The test piece Stacksteads Band played was, The Recollections of Wallace. In the third section we just managed to come third, but came first in the march contest, playing the march, Old Comrades.
When we arrived in the valley, the motor coach stopped outside the Dog and Partridge, near the glen in Waterfoot. Here we got off the coach and formed up and started off playing the march, Slaidburn. We were followed by a big crowd of people, then the crowds got bigger as we entered Bacup itself. We stopped in front of the Mechanics and there we were welcomed by the Mayor of Bacup, who congratulated us on our great success and wished us luck in our next contest. I think it was the year after when we won the march contest and also the selection at the May championships. The march we played was Death or Glory, and the selection was Recollections of Verdi. Then, after the contest, about forty massed bands played in front of the stands, marching to the tune Colonel Bogey and finishing with the National Anthem. Altogether about twelve hundred bandsmen played that day.
Well, after celebrating our good fortune with a few beers, we got on our coach to take us home, when we discovered that one of the players was missing. It was Abraham Haworth, a cornet player. After a long search, we eventually found him drunk, sitting in another coach that was ready to leave for Sheffield. Anyway we got him out and into our coach, then we set off home with a shield and cup after a good day's playing.

Now let me tell you about some of the funny characters I knew that lived round the district. There was one bloke they called Jimmy Rubbish who lived opposite the coal pit in Booth Road, Stacksteads. He used to go round all the dustbins he saw and empty them and then run off. Then there was this bloke who lived up Blackwood called Joe Lomax. People called him Joe Rats because he was a rat catcher, and he used to go into pubs with a few live rats in a sack and, for a pint of beer, he would bite the rat's head off. There was also a lad called John Taylor, who had a tail about three inches long. He would be about twelve years old at the time and the other lads would shout, "Show us your tail Joe, and he would for a penny." He lived up Blackwood as well. Then there was Itchy Mick, who used to wear an old ragged coat reaching to the ground, and on his head he wore an old trilby with a big feather stuck on the top. He was always with a bloke called Owen Tuck, who lived in the bachelor flats at the bottom of New Lane in Bacup. Owen used to wear a woman's fur coat, clogs and spats and a bowler hat. Then there was another bloke, but not as daft as the others, who lived in a small cottage at the Toll Bar, opposite the Bacup Shoe Company. He was called James Albert Gee and he worked for the Bacup Corporation. He was a very heavy drinker and for fun he would pull out of his pocket a live mouse and put it on the table and it would drink beer out of a cigarette tray until it got drunk, then it would pass out. Well this was the night, he got on the last bus going to Rawtenstall. The bus was full and he had to stand up because all the seats were occupied. Well, Albert had a bag of tripe bits and when the bus turned sharply, going round Burton's corner, Albert lost his balance and fell onto a woman and the tripe went down the inside of her blouse. It caused a real commotion, and a good laugh amongst the passengers, and at the finish the bus conductor put Albert off the bus. There was somebody else who was a bit queer too. People called him Moses. He was a bloke with a beard who wore a long robe and used to live up Sharnyford before he went living in Whitworth. Some folks called him the psalm singer and sometimes he would come into Tunstead School and start singing hymns and disrupting the classes. Then he was made to go, but he would start singing the same hymns all over again and again. I went to him once and gave him a halfpenny and he said that God didn't make halfpennies, so I told him to give it me back. Well folks, this I think is the last of the queer people. He was called Robert the Devil to some people, but his real name was Robert Taylor from Bacup. He used to work on Bacup market for Celery Jack and other stall holders who needed his services. He was always cadging cigarettes off people and always had a fag in his mouth, but he would help anybody in need. He was also very strong and to prove his strength, one day an elderly lady asked him if he would take a mangle up Todmorden Road to Christ Church Street. Well, after someone had helped him to get it on his back, he set off up Todmorden Road and arrived buggered. After a long rest he asked her for his money and then she opened her purse and gave him sixpence. His eyes came out like organ stops when he saw the sixpence and said, "Is that all you are giving me?"
"Yes," she said. "That's all you'll get, so take it or leave it." So then Robert asked a couple of men passing by to help him to get the mangle on his back again and he took it all the way back to the auction mart. That's the way he was. His brain never worked. There was another bloke named Coal Bob who lived up Cutler Greens in Stacksteads. He worked for Jimmy Siddall, the coal dealer who lost his horse in the factory fire. The reason people called him Coal Bob was because he used to put coal down the wrong grates, and he once put coal down a grate where the people had gone and left the house empty. He had to bring it all up from the cellar on his own.

Well when you read this you'll think I've gone round the bend. It was one evening when I was walking up Blackwood, just past Piano Row and the burnt out factory, when I heard an engine running inside a large wooden hut. I wondered what it was making a funny noise, so I entered the building and saw a man working on a circular saw. When he had switched the machine off I went over to him and asked him what they manufactured. He said they only made firelighters and bundles of firewood to take round to all the small corner shops with a horse and cart, but he was sorry to say that the horse had gone lame and he was stuck until he got a fresh horse. Then he asked me how I spent my spare time. I told him that I helped on a farm up Tunstead each evening after tea and sometimes at the weekends. He said he was called Harry Heap and lived in a house near the Loyal Arms pub up Blackwood.
"If you fancy a job, come up here and you can have a job," he said. Well it must have been about a month after when I had another look up at Harry Heap's. He was glad to see me and asked if I wanted to start. I said I would start on Saturday morning, if that was okay with him. So it was agreed on. Well it came Saturday and Harry called me over and said, "Come with me to the stable. I have something to show you." We set off and went into the stable and he said, "What do you think of the fresh horse I got?"
"If you bring it outside where I can see it I might be able to tell you," I said. So he did and I had a good look at it. It looked okay to me, until I got to its head and found that it had only one eye.
When I mentioned this to him and he said, "When you take it out this morning, be careful. It pulls to the left side."
"What do you mean, take it out?" I said.
"I want you to take the horse and cart and go to the gasworks in Cloughfold where workmen are demolishing an old building, and I want you to load some thick roof beams for cutting on the circular saw," he said. Well he helped me to put the harness on and to put the horse in the shafts of the cart, but what a bloody performance we had backing it into the shafts. It jumped and kicked and tried to bite me. We won at last and I set off to Cloughfold for the timber. I'd no sooner set off when the bloody sod started acting the goat. It set off as if somebody had dropped a bomb under its behind. I was sitting on the cart holding the reins when it ran onto the pavement just missing a lamp post. I jumped off the cart and just managed to grab the horse's bridle and stopped it and let it quieten down for a bit. After ten minutes we set off again, but this time I held the bridle and we carried on without any further trouble and got to the gasworks. But as soon as we stopped the daft bugger started acting up again. This time it started going round in circles. The blokes who were demolishing the building were choking laughing when they saw it going round and round and I burst out laughing myself. Eventually they finished loading the cart so I set off for Stacksteads, hoping that the horse would behave itself. It must have known what I was thinking, because we arrived back without any trouble. Harry Heap was waiting outside the hut with his fingers crossed and when he saw us coming up Blackwood all in one piece his face lit up. The first thing he said was, "How did you get on with the horse?"
"Bloody awful until it got settled down," I said, "and then it was okay, but when we stopped at the gasworks to load the cart the daft sod started going round in circles until I caught hold of the bridle and then it stopped. It was laughable to see. All the men were crying laughing, but it wasn't a joke trying to quieten it." Well Harry laughed when I told him what had happened, so I asked him where he had got the horse.
"From a circus," he said.
"No bloody wonder it kept going round in circles, " I said. "But it's bad driving just with the reins. It runs with its head to the left hand side, making it to go on the pavement so it's better and safer to get off the cart and lead the horse by its bridle."
Well after about twelve months working at the Harry Heap's firewood business I finished, and these next few paragraphs are about things that happened during my lifetime in the borough of Bacup that I personally know about and have seen. The first one I mentioned was the big fire at the shoe factory and the railway station at the bottom of Blackwood. Another big fire was at Muns cotton mill at Waterbarn in Stacksteads. Then later at the bottom of Cowpe there were two big fires. One was the Greenbridge shoe and slipper factory and the other was Hill's jam and pickle works. This fire burned fiercely for two days and the flames could be seen for miles. It was roped off to keep people away, because of the flying pickles, which by the heat caused the bottles to burst and throw out the corks and pickles. Also there was jam and sugar running down the road and grates throwing out all different coloured flames.
Once, at the entrance to the glen near to the bait stables a heavy lorry was parked on some open ground opposite the Glen Hotel and no sooner had the driver come back to his lorry than it just sank into the river that flowed under the stables and the road to the hotel. It took them all day to lift it clear and the large hole it left was roped off for nearly twelve months. Another thing happened at the other end of the glen when the tram cars were running from Rawtenstall to Bacup. A cow belonging to Harry Disley, who lived at Fearns Farm, fell down the rocks onto the tram lines and broke its back, causing a tram to come off the lines. Later a couple of men came and winched it onto a knacker's cart and took it to a slaughter house for skinning.
Now let's go on to the next big fire, which was at Riding and Gillow's bleach works, across the road from the Hare and Hounds. Here, a night watchman was trapped in the fire. After a long search the firemen couldn't find him, and they thought he had perished. Then the same week a man called Tom Auty was working on road repairs near a pub called the Bee Hive when a barrel of beer fell off one of Baxter's Brewery lorries and killed him. After that, all brewery lorries, by law, had to put chains round the barrels for protection to pedestrians. Well on we go again to the Blackwood tip, which was behind Random Row. It was there that a terrible thing happened. A young woman called Ethel Barker was coming home from work and she took a short cut by coming over the tip. I don't suppose she knew, or she might have forgotten about, the fire inside the tip continually burning, though you couldn't see it. About half way across the tip caved in and took her down into the fire. After that the council put a fence all round it, but, like everything else, they do it when it's too late.
Another thing happened, this time at the bottom of Blackwood, near a place called the Frost Holes. It was a large wooden hut belonging to a woman named Emma Woodhouse, but people used to call her Salt Emma because she went round the district with a donkey and cart, collecting old rags, bottles, jam jars and all kinds of rubbish. In exchange she would give you a block of salt or a couple of balloons. She was also a heavy drinker and she used to sleep in the hut where she stabled the donkey. Well it happened one night or early morning. The people who lived in the nearby houses of Frost Holes heard a lot of screaming and the donkey neighing. Then the people came out and saw the hut blazing. They came with buckets of water, but the fire had got too much of a hold and by the time the fire brigade arrived the hut was burnt to the ground. The firemen found the donkey and Emma badly burnt and they said that the cause of the fire was a paraffin lamp that must have been knocked over. Everybody who knew her was saddened by her death and that of her faithful donkey.
Well let us get on a bit, and this time go up to the Lee Quarries on Brandwood Moor, which were owned by Thomas Radcliffe, who was killed during blasting operations whilst I worked there. This other accident happened one morning. A bloke called Jack Gibbons, who I knew quiet well, worked on a large travelling crane which ran on railway lines. Its job was to lift up large blocks of rock and take them to the saws for cutting into flags. Well this day he brought the crane to the edge of the quarry hole and lowered the jib and rope down to the quarry floor, where men put a large chain round the rock and gave the signal to start lifting. On the signal Jack started to lift the rock, but on the way up it sort of got jammed on a rock protruding from the quarry face, so he had to extend the jib, but on doing so it caused the crane to move forward and fall over the edge, crashing to the bottom of the hole and killing one workman and injuring two more. Jack was thrown off the footplate and landed on a ledge of rock, but he was badly burnt by the red hot coal that was flung out of the fire box and he had also fractured his skull, broken some ribs and dislocated a shoulder. He was brought up by the firemen and the ambulance crew and then taken to the Rochdale Infirmary. He was there for two months and me and my wife went a couple of times to see him, before he went away to convalesce.
Now this one was a bit different. It was about 1925 when it happened and the school was on holiday at the time. Booth Road in Stacksteads was a dirt road at that time and was always muddy when it rained. The Bacup Council general works department started digging a deep trench in Booth Road and laying sewer pipes. This particular day a workman called Frank Harris was down in the trench digging at a depth of about seven feet when all of a sudden the trench sides caved in, trapping the workman up to his neck. He was still conscious when the ambulance arrived, but it took them a long time to get him out of the trench. He had been crushed by some heavy stones and the doctor who had come gave him an injection to kill the pain. When the doctor examined him, he said that he had crushed ribs and a broken hip. Then the ambulance took him to Bury general hospital for treatment and a good rest.
Next we go up to Farholme near to Acre Mill Chapel where a bloke called John Kay was working down a deep sewer when he was overcome by sewer gas and died before they could get him up and out through the manhole. That was another work's tragedy. The next happened at Westley Place chapel, where a steeplejack was working on the roof, putting new ridge tiles on, when he fell and was impaled on some spiked railings.
Well now we have nearly got to Bacup Station and here there was another big fire at a cotton mill called Spring Mill, next to Spring Street. It started in the early hours one Friday morning in a breaking up machine in the devilling room. There were four fire engines tackling the blaze, but they couldn't save the mill and it was completely gutted. Later, the remaining walls were pulled down for safety reasons. Not long after that there was another big fire. This time at the Throstle cotton mill, about a quarter of a mile further on. This fire was caused by the same thing in a devilling machine and had to be demolished owing to its dangerous condition.
Just across the road was Market Street, which ran from Bacup station to the Market Hotel, a distance of a quarter of a mile. The buildings along this stretch were four storeys high, with shops underneath houses and were called Plantation Back. It was at one time a rough place to live. On pay nights there was a lot of fighting and drinking, and on one of these nights a fight started in a top tenement and the result was that a woman fell, or was pushed, through the top window. She crashed onto the pavement where she was found with a broken neck and other bad injuries about her body. There was an enquiry about her death, but it came to nothing.
Now I am going back to Stacksteads and this time it concerned a bloke who lived two doors from us in Chapel Street. He was called Jim Taylor and worked in the Isle Pit, a colliery up on Tunstead Tops. I must have been about ten years old when four men, covered in coal dirt and grease, came, carrying a man on a kind of stretcher. Everybody in the street came out of their homes to see who it was, and when they stopped at Jim's door we knew it must be him. My mother asked the men what had happened and they told her that he had been badly crushed between some runaway wagons and must not have felt a thing. They said he was dead when they got to him. His wife, who was called Peggy, wasn't at home. I think she had gone to the market at Bacup. In the meantime a doctor called Dr Thornton came and somebody from the colliery, who must have been the manager. They were doing a lot of writing. Then Peggy came, and as soon as she saw her husband she broke down and had to be sedated by the doctor. It was awful to see her. Later her brother and his wife came and stayed with her until after the funeral. Everybody in the street and surrounding district turned out to pay their respects. There were a lot of his work mates there, and at the colliery gates was hung a large wreath showing a pick and shovel made from red poppies, and on the roof of the office flew the Union Jack at half mast. He was sadly missed by everybody who knew him and it took his wife, Peggy, a very long time to get over it.
I don't know whether you ever knew my brother-in-law, Walter Hurling, who kept a shoe shop at the bottom of Bankside Lane in Bacup. Well about 1930 he was working at the Isle Pit, but in another part called the top pit, near to the Breck's farm. One Friday morning he was getting coal with another collier and in another part of the pit was a bloke called Edmund Hacking, who was the drawer, who pushed empty tubs into the colliers for filling and returning when they were full. He was going back in again with some empties and had gone about a quarter of a mile when he heard a lot of rumbling coming from the far end of the pit. He then went further in to investigate and saw that the roof had caved in, blocking the main haulage road. He then turned back and ran to get help, crouching most of the way to sound the alarm. Soon there were about ten workmen who came running, asking what had happened. When they heard the news they all entered the pit carrying picks and shovels and some pit props to support the roof. They asked Edmund Hacking, the drawer, where the colliers were working and he said another quarter of a mile on the other side of this fall. They then asked who the colliers were and Edmund told them that one was called Walter Hurling and the other was Walter Stansfield. Both of them lived in Bacup. Well the men started to dig a way through to the men who were trapped. They had been digging for at least six hours when a fresh crew took over, but during the break the men heard a noise as though somebody else was digging. Later on they heard shouting and knew they weren't so far off. The digging continued all through Friday night until five o'clock on Saturday morning, when at last they reached the trapped men. They found them in total darkness and very cold, but they were both in good spirits and glad to get out. They both said afterwards that they felt okay but were so hungry that they could eat a donkey.
Still in the Stacksteads area, the people involved in this story were pupils at Tunstead C of E School. The first tragedy was a boy aged ten who went up Helm Clough near to Jim Siddall's quarry to pick whinberries. There were a few more boys about and one of them shouted to this boy to come down, but he must not have heard him. Then it happened. This boy was called Jim Proctor and he was kneeling down on the edge of the quarry picking whinberries when all of a sudden the ground gave way, taking the boy with it. We all went over to see him and his head was all smashed in through hitting the jagged rocks. Two of the older boys went down to the nearest house, which was in Prospect Terrace, for help. Two men came up and said he was dead. Then Mr Waterworth from Fairwall Farm came up with a horse and cart and took him to the farm until the police, doctor and ambulance arrived to take him away.
The next thing that happened was to another boy called Frank Hitchin who went to Tunstead school. He would be about eleven and one day he and some more boys were fishing for tiddlers in a lodge up Cutler Greens at Stacksteads, which was used for the Lancashire boiler at Ashworth's woollen mill. It was thirty feet deep and had straight sides. Well he was leaning over to catch a fish and he fell in. The boys who were with him couldn't swim. They tried to reach him with a long tree branch, but he just went under and was drowned. Later in the afternoon the police came and dragged the lodge and found him. He must have tried very hard to get out by the look of his hands. The nails were hanging off where he had tried to climb up the steep wall.
There is another thing I would like to tell you, but different this time. It's about a bloke called Walter Daw who worked for a coal merchant called John Clarkson. One day, when he was delivering coal up South Street, he had just tied the chain horse to the rear of the coal lorry when the music struck up on the fair ground organ and caused the horse to rear up and break the rope. Then it set off running down South Street and across the road, crashing through Tom Fielding's painters and decorators shop window and causing considerable damage. Then it came out covered in wallpaper and all colours of paint and turned to go up Burnley Road, but my brother-in-law, Sam Wilsden, a police constable on point duty controlling the traffic, tried to stop the horse, but unfortunately it crashed through Burton's gents' outfitters shop window, cutting itself badly and then collapsed on the shop floor. Just then two men and my brother-in-law went and sat on it to stop it from getting up and causing more damage to itself and to property, but in the end a police officer came with a revolver and shot it, putting it out of its misery.
Now before I close I would just like to tell you about my family. My mother's name was Hannah Townsend before she married my father, John George Ormerod. My mother came to Lancashire from Romford in Essex and my dad came from Masham in Yorkshire. My mother was a weaver at Farholme cotton mill in Stacksteads where sometimes I used to visit her and watch her weaving, until one day whilst passing between the looms I was hit by a picking stick and knocked out. My dad was a stone mason and worked in all the stone quarries in the valley. My eldest brother, Jim, worked in the coal pit until he was nineteen years old, then he joined the 5th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers and was shipped out to France and into Belgium. It was in Belgium at a place called Hooge near Ypres where he was badly wounded. Later on he got wounded again at Bapaume in the battle of the Somme in France. After the war he started as a carter for the railway in Bacup. Then he worked as a brewery drayman for Baxter's brewery at Glen Top. Then he worked at India Mill as a lift operator until he retired at sixty five. Inbetween there were two more brothers named George and Arthur, who died at the ages of two and four. Then my next brother as you already know was called Fred and worked driving horses to and from the cotton mills. Then there were three sisters. The eldest was Millie, the next was Lizzie and the other one was called Edith. Millie and Lizzie worked at the Globe slipperworks at Waterfoot and Edith worked at Hewitt's boxworks and also the Valley Supply Company in Stacksteads.
Well as you know I met my wife to be in the year 1933 and we went out together on and off for five years. She had a father named Matthew Haworth and two brothers, one called Albert and the other called Walter, then a sister called Ivy. They lived in the square up Rockliffe in Bacup. Their dad was a cotton spinner and Ivy was a beamer at Ross Mill and Albert and Walter worked in the slipperworks. Alice and I got married on Saturday 16th July 1938 and we had only been married fourteen months when I was called up to rejoin my regiment. Inbetween then and me going overseas, Alice was taken to the Florence Nightingale's fever hospital in Bury, suffering with diphtheria. Later I went to France and was in the battle and the evacuation of Dunkirk. The year after our daughter Jean was born in the Rossendale general hospital during an air raid. In 1941, on 10th January, round about the time Manchester was getting bombed I managed to come home to see Jean, but not for long. It was to be over four and a half years before I could see them all again.
Well time went on and then our Jean got married and later had a lovely daughter called Kay. Now Kay has got a lovely daughter called Nicola. They all seem to be happy and doing okay for themselves and are all in work. Jean's husband who is called John Hay is a grand bloke and has done a lot for us in different ways. Also Jean has helped us in everything and between them they have given us a television, then a video and also Kay and Jean have given us a new carpet and other items every week. Jean, Kay and little Nicola come over and have a meal with us and have a game of scrabble and a good natter, mostly about holidays. They stop until about three o'clock then go back home to pick John up from work and also take Kay and Nicola home to make the tea. Jean and John spend most of the weekends hooking up their caravan and joining other caravanners in some quiet country spot. We love you all and thank you for all you have done. That goes for you all.

I wonder how many people today know that in the Borough of Bacup there used to be forty cotton and woollen mills, two shuttle works, one bobbin works and two foundries, a nail and clog iron and clog factory, seven coal mines, four stone quarries, two felt works, two paper print works, two breweries and two corn mills and two bleach and dye works. Now all these have gone and been taken over by other industries such as shoes and slippers, plastics and light engineering and also furniture manufacturing.
There is also something else you might like to know. It's about fish and chip shops. Starting from just past the pub called the Dog and Partridge at Iron Bridge was a wooden hut owned by Jim Lomax who sold fish and chips. Then three hundred yards further on, against Riding and Gillow's works was a small chip shop owned by Dick Price. The next was in two hundred yards, opposite School Street and owned by Jim Spencer. Now we go up to the Commercial Hotel and opposite is Libby Laycock's shop. Here, on a Saturday night, it used to be packed with the lads coming out from the pubs. She was very slow at serving , so she used to let you make your own. There used to be some characters who came in there. There was an old collier who had had too much drink who would turn out the light and light a candle. Then he would lie down under the table and show you how he got coal. Then there was another bloke they called 'Tippler' who used to do hand springs and tipples. Well we only go another two hundred yards and we are at Jack Holden's shop next to the Rose and Bowl which used to be the Stacksteads working men's club. Then we are off again for another two hundred yards. This one I have forgotten the owner, but the next one is nearer, only one hundred yards away and owned by Jack Clayton. This was a very good chip shop where you could sit in and Ella, his wife, would make you tea or coffee with your meal. Me and my mates used to pal out with their son Jack. Now let's go down Farholme Lane to a chip shop which was at the bottom of Poker Row. The reason it was called that was because when there was a funeral coming to the cemetery the people used to knock on the wall next door to let them know a funeral was on its way. Now we go back to the main road again. I am sorry I forgot one. It's up Booth Road at the corner of Tunstead Road near to where we used to live. It was owned by Fred Blades, who later took over the corn mill at Lee Mill as a biscuit factory, then he moved into a shop across from the Swan Hotel selling sweets and ice cream. Well the next one was at Lee Mill and owned by Mr Parker who lived up on Huttock Top. It was there where my Uncle Arthur was knocked down by a motorbike and badly injured. Then we carry on and go to Westley Place, the first chip shop was owned by Jack Haworth, who had a son called Jack. The last time I saw him was when I was boarding a troopship to go to France. Later he was killed somewhere in Belgium. The next shop was another two hundred yards nearer to Bacup and run by a small bloke called Dick Collinge, who used to drive a coach for the Bacup Carriage Company. People used to call him Little Dick because he was only five feet tall. Now we go up to Bacup station and then up Rockliffe to Charlie Bullusie's shop. Then up Black Brow to Rockliffe Square where my wife used to live. The proprietor was Mr Williams. He also made ice cream. Now the next one is back in the main road, opposite Plantation Mill. The owner was called Granville Haworth. Then we go another three hundred yards to one opposite the Waterworks pub. His name was Lordy Harris and he used to play left half for Bacup Borough football club. On we go again. This time to Vernon Buckley's, opposite the Westminster Bank. Here you could sit in and have a meal. After that it was round the corner to Mosie Haworth's which was always full. Here, Mosie's son, Abraham, used to play the cornet with me in Stackstead's brass band. It was also him who got in the wrong coach at the Belle Vue contest. We now go across the road and call at the Whitehorse chip shop. That was a good chippie, and most popular. We are still going up Todmorden Road and stopping at Albert Morling's chip shop, which was a wooden hut in the village of Change. He was my brother-in-law's father and sometimes when I visited I used to help to wash the potatoes and do little odd jobs. The next place was against the Flowers pub. Then it was back into Bacup and up Burnley Road to Underbank on the corner of Hargreave Street, where Alice and I had our first home together. It was very handy with being so close and the fish and chips and all the other things they sold were very appetizing. Well the next place was at the bottom of Dog Pits Lane, next to the Roe Buck Inn. Off we go again, this time to the village of Wear opposite to the Wear Hotel, then we turn back into Bacup and go up to Britannia and call at the last chip shop, which is next to the Wellington Inn. It was here that some of Dave Taylor's drivers used to have their dinners and also the workers from the Lancashire Sock Company. Now just count the amount of fish and chip shops you have all visited. People wouldn't believe it, would they? As I see it there were twenty five fish and chip shops round the Borough.


Now this is about pubs, hotels and clubs. Starting from the Glen, here we go. The Dog and Partridge, the Bee Hive, Hare and Hounds, the Liberal club, the Conservative Club, the Loyal Arms, the Railway Tavern, the Commercial Hotel, Stacksteads Working Men's Club, Rose Mount Club, Athertonholme Tavern, Farholme Tavern, Cemetery Hotel, Royal Oak, Holt Arms, Fullers Arms, Lee Mill Club, Park Hotel, Swan Hotel, Victoria Working Men's Club, Waterworks Inn, the Irish Club, British Queen ,Waterloo, New Inn, George and Dragon, the Bakers Inn, Wellington, The Travellers Rest, Britannia Working Men's Club, Joiners Arms, Market Hotel, Spread Eagle, the Butchers Arms, Bacup Labour Club, Bacup Conservative Club, King George V, the Angel, the Queen, Wellington, the Crown, the Charlton Club, the Flowers Inn, the Hit and Miss, the Irwell Inn, the Roe Buck, the Wear Hotel, and last of all the Deerplay Inn. Altogether there were thirty seven public houses and eleven working men's clubs as well as sixteen off licences.

Since my granddad has written this book.

My nana (Alice) now lives in a residential home, which used to be the old Victoria Hospital at Duke Bar, Burnley. Granddad has to catch two buses to get there, but he manages to see her 2-3 times a week depending on how bad his feet are. My granddad (Bert) lives in their flat at Crawshawbooth, Rossendale. We help with heavy shopping etc. and some jobs round the house that may need doing. He now has two great grandchildren, Nicola (12) and Adam (8). They both visit Nana and Granddad Bert when they are not at school, and love their Great Grandparents dearly.

My granddad is now 89 years old and has booked a holiday this summer, July 2004, to go and visit Dunkirk, to see some of the places he was fighting in when he was in the war.

There is no stopping him.

Picture in Herberts House

Hertbet also like to paint and draw this is on of his pictured called "Wounded waiting in a trench"