A Lifetime’s Happy Relationship with the Leeds City Centre

April 1, 2020 by

A Lifetime’s Happy Relationship with the Leeds City Centre.
As life moves remorsefully on so does ones demands for the delights of the city centre. I aim to divide these demands into the evolving phases of ‘going down to town.’
My earliest memory of ‘town’ was of being taken at my mother’s hand at the tender age of about three or four years old. It was wartime and there had been some bomb damage. The huge Burton’s tailoring outlet on Briggate had been on fire and I could see through into the interior where a mannequin had not been removed it was all blackened and blistered and I thought it was a real person. That vision has stayed with me for almost eighty years and one must flinch for those children in the war zones today who are seeing such sights for real.

My next memory is a happier one. We had been under blackout restrictions for the duration of the war but in 1945 we had ‘VE Day’ (victory in Europe) and on one particular day all the lights in the centre of Leeds were to be switched on together. I was taken down to see the event by members of the family, the idea was to get to City Square but the crowds were so dense, shoulder to shoulder down Vicar Lane and Briggate, we never got past the Corn Exchange and as it was such a crush public transport was not able to run we had to walk all the way home but what a sight when all the lights went on together I had never seen a neon sign before it was well worth the long walk home.

The next phase in my relationship with the city centre was of being ‘taken to town’ for treats by my lovely aunties. They would do a bit of fashion shopping and then we would go for a meal in one of the restaurants, I recall Atkinson’s on Eastgate, Hitchin’s, Collinson’s Betty’s Scofield’s Mathias Robinson’s Marshall and Snelgrove’s, all the large department stores had a café some even had an orchestra. These trips usually ended up with a visit to one of the city centre cinemas there were many: The Paramount/Odeon, Ritz (ABC), majestic/Scala (they played the same film), Tower, Assembly Rooms, Gourmont, Tattler, Gaumont and the News theatre which showed the news and mostly cartoons. There was a wonderful selection. Once again I have a lasting memory of a film on one of those, film going occasions about a ventriloquist and his dummy and the dummy gradually took over.

Moving to schooldays we would often be bussed to town to take in a symphony concert at the Town Hall or the Belgrave Hall or for things like road safety demonstrations. Sometimes a friend and I would catch the number 61 bus which stopped outside the Leeds Central Public Library and we would haunt the shelves for early science fiction books: H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne and in particular I remember our favourite: The Angry Planet by John Keir Cross about a trip to Mars. Around the end of the 1940s I managed to get selected for trials with the Leeds City Boys football team which were held at Oldfield Lane but for the first four or five weeks the ground was frozen hard so we could not play instead a whole group of us went back down into Leeds and had pea soup in Lewis’s department Store (magically we remained friends for life) This was not the John Lewis Store that is newly in the centre of Leeds, It was a huge four or five story store on the Headrow, which often had exhibitions, I remember Mussolini’s armoured car being on display and another time there was thousands of budgies in cages. Lewis’s also had a boy’s club who wore badges and went on trips. It was the centre point we all made for. It was a bit like Grace Brothers in ‘Are You being served?’ but the staff were rather more normal. It was said that at the time it was the largest department store in Yorkshire. It’s a beautiful building and still there but the ground floor is shared by a number of outlets: Sainsbury’s, Argos, TK. Max, Home Sense etc.
lewis's
For the next phase I’m going to say, theatre going. There were four major theatres in central Leeds in the 1950s: The Grand Theatre, The Theatre Royal the City Varieties (The Verts) and The Empire. They all held pantomimes around Christmas time. The Grand was probably the ‘glossiest’ with its high class décor including the beautiful crystal chandelier hanging from the centre of the ceiling. I recall the smell of expensive cigar smoke and a usual chorus line of tulip haired girls ‘sunbeams’ The Theatre Royal usually showed repertory company plays, it was only five pence for the opening night on Mondays and was usually attended by gaggles of girls of our age which dominated our attention.
The ‘Verts’ was the risqué one which showed nude tableaus. The artists had to stay still which they said made it classical but ‘if they move it’s rude’ We used to flock in to see Phyllis Dixie who did her act behind a union Jack and Jane with her dachshund, who had a cartoon strip in one of the daily tabloids and did her act behind strategically held feathers. The Empire was our favourite; we would queue down King Edward Street every Friday night to see pop stars of the day perform: Frankie Lane, Frankie Vaughan, Tommy Steel, Billy Daniels, Billy Exstein, Jonny Ray, Alma Cogan, Lita Rosa, Ronnie Hilton, Dickie Valentine etc. They all wore smart Barathia suits in those days. We never saw Elvis Pressley he never performed in England but we did see the Beatles perform at the Queen’s Hall; an old tram shed in Swinegate, around 1963/64. Incidentally they had some of their equipment nicked while they were performing.

Of course the favourite phase of all was the teenage years of dance and booze. I have related the pubs of central Leeds elsewhere on this site so I will concentrate on the dancing years here, wonderful nights under the glitter ball at The Scala, The Majestic, The Mecca, 101, Mark Altman’s, The Central School of Dancing. Of course preceded by a lubrication in the: King Charles, The Vine, The Horse and Trumpet, The General Elliot, The Piccadilly bar or wherever you met up with your mates. (The Astoria, Capital, and the public baths had great dances too but they were outside the city centre.)

The final phase of my relationship with the Leeds City Centre is occurring right now in the present. In retirement I park up a couple of miles out of town and wander down on foot untidily clad in boots and anorak with my knapsack on my back, the shirt and tie is long discarded to the wardrobe. The Trinity Centre and The John Lewis Centre are far too rich for my apparel now, I’m sure the commissionaire would have a fit if I dared to enter Harvey Nicks dressed like this but I’m comfortable in The Merion Centre, The St John’s Centre the Pound Shops and the Pound Bakeries and I go enter one of the beautiful central squares: City Square, Park Square, Queens Square, Blenheim Square or perhaps the Parish Church Gardens and unzip my haversack and enjoy my flask of coffee and whatever goodies I have acquired at the shops along the way and I’m as happy with the good old Central Leeds as I have ever been and the cycle is complete.

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Oh Dear! Temporally on hold for Coronavirus.

Wandering Down from East Leeds to the City Centre Today

March 1, 2020 by

Wandering down from East Leeds to the city centre today
In the old days we would either walk down to Leeds City Centre from Cross Green lane or catch the 61 bus to town and the number 62 home from Eastgate. It was two old pence from St Hilda’s School or one and a half old pence if you walked down and caught it from the Cross Green Pub. The 62 bus still runs on Cross Green Lane today but it is usually a single decker I haven’t seen a number 61at all? Unless you were in a hurry you usually walked down as I am going to do today. I’m going to invite you old East Leeds exiles to walk with me. I’ll start at the point where the old St Hilda’s School used to be. The site is now under construction as a huge block of flats you wouldn’t have thought the site was big enough for flats this size

Just beyond there we come to St Hilda’s Vestry which now seems to be an oasis to help people in need

Next up is ‘The Navvy’ I know it was built in 1899 but I’d love to find out about more about the ‘navvies who built it, where they lived and how long it took to cut I don’t know if any trains still run on there but I bet it would be worth a fortune for landfill.

Next; we come to that which used to be the St Hilda’s Men’s Club. We played billiards down stairs and they had whist drives upstairs. Mr Fred Skerry, the Verger of St Hilda’s Church lived in a flat inside the club with his wife Florrie. They were a lovely couple, Fred was an old soldier. One of his jobs was to ring the church bell, three threes and a nine at seven thirty in the morning and at seven thirty on a night. The bell was a common denominator that all our mams used to tell us it was time to come home on an evening. The Cross Green Lane post office was directly opposite the church and when it got a new post master he was nearly blown out of bed the first time Fred rang the bell. It is said he stood it for a week and then he accosted Fred as he left the church one morning and said, ‘If that bell rings again tomorrow morning I’ll throttle you’, So Fred pulled himself to his full height, he was over six foot, and said, ‘Well you had better get on with it now sir for by hell or high water that bell will ring tomorrow.’ with that he saluted the post master and marched off. They don’t make ‘em like Fred anymore.
Now the club is just a dilapidated builder’s yard

Alongside the club were a row of about five or six shops The first was: Hick the cobbler, if you went to pick your footwear up even a couple of months after you had left them he would still say,’ they’re next job on love.’ Then there was Fletchers – the demon barber, Britton’s fish and chip shop – queues a mile long on Friday dinner but they couldn’t half move ‘em on not like today when it’ takes ten minutes to make you an expresso coffee. Then there was Newby’s later Oldcorne’s, newsagents, Mechem – a decorator. And if I recall correctly, Margery Naylor’s shop, she was a dressmaker. Now there are just a few new houses standing in their place.

Next, on the left side of the road we come to the previous site of Bridgewater Place, originally we knew it as the ‘Nurse’s Home but later it became colloquially known as ‘Mulligan’s Mansions’. Folklore had many a yarn to spin about the infamous Mulligan’s Mansions.

 

Next on the left is the Cross Green Pub now an American Diner

At the bottom of Easy Road, now houses, was the coal stathe.

And opposite ‘The Captain’s Table’ café used to be Bill Benn’s bike shop

Just a slight detour to take in that which used to be the ‘Ginnel’ but now without the necessity of having to allow the ‘Paddy Train’ to pass overhead is now open to the sky.

Continuing on East Street we now come to an old sewing shop now converted into a new non-conformist church which has sprung up called, ‘Love World’.

Then on To that which I call ‘The Grand Canyon,’ which are high blocks of flats which have grown up between The site of the Old Ellerby lane School and the site of the old Black Dog pub. The wind whistles through there on days that are not even windy. We’ll have to button our coats up while we walk through here which makes a warm day a cold day. Heaven help those who have a north facing flat.
The beautiful St Saviour’s Church can still be seen through the middle

Now, onto the old St Saviour’s School – now flats, and beyond was The Red House Nursery now demolished as are and the fondly remembered old, red brick, East Streets Flats. Even now when I turn the corner I expect to see them.

Further along East Street and looking to the right. Mount St Mary’s College comes into view across the old ‘Paddy’s Park’.

 

Remember the round tower of Robert Mart’s Printers. That is flats now too.

Here now is the old Northern Veneers building. Flats with a pent house on top

And onto Leeds Parish Church is now grandly named Leeds Minster

And just another little detour to take in Brussels Street and view the last resting place of our dear old iconic Market District Boys Club

Enter Leeds bus station now like an Airport concourse, Arrivals and departures flashing up in lights – I’m impressed, it’s fine.

Through Leeds Kirkgate Market – less stalls than before but still vibrant

 

Are we going to the Mecca Ballroom, in The County Arcade where Jimmy Saville held sway with his tartan hair?

Nah! Here’s Albion Place, we’ll go to the Scala Ballroom instead, it was always my favourite, anyway.

Now I’m going to have my flask of coffee in lovely Queens Square before I walk all the way back.

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;Click’ to enlarge

 

Bull

February 14, 2020 by

Bull
Carrying on from our traumatic introduction into the army

Parade, we were soon to learn, consisted of running outside and forming into three lines. This charade was to be repeated many times in the duration of each day, each time dressed in different apparel. Indeed, some times, we would be ordered outside in full BD (battle dress) but even before we were marched off we would be told they wanted us dressed otherwise. ‘Fall out, back here in two minutes in PT. kit, last one back is cleaning the stones with a razor tonight!’ The stones referred to were the urinals and no one really fancied the job. This meant we would all make a headlong dash for the doorway so as not to be the last one back. Now, unfortunately, Blanford Camp must have at sometime, been a hospital sanatorium and the spiders in which we were housed – the wards. Between each ward covered gangways had been built to allow dry passage from one ward to another, the glass sides of these passageways had long gone but the corrugated housings were still in position about five feet from the ground. One such gangway bisected our billet from the parade point, and never failed to take the scalps of at least a couple of fleeing squaddies who neglected to duck. The doorway itself would usually account for another couple as it would only allow access to one at a time and the first two usually arrived simultaneously. This meant if you kept a cool head and carefully negotiated the prostrate bodies, you could normally avoid coming last. You were not out of the wood even when arriving at your bed-space in good time, there were the odd moments when mad panic would seize you, when for instance, small items of equipment would not come immediately to hand. I can vividly remember hearing the poor lad who had the next bed saying, quite sincerely, when he thought no one within earshot: ‘Please God, let me find my bayonet frog’.

Anyway, that first morning, before we even had chance to ‘parade’ two lance Jacks entered the room: ‘I’m Corporal Young,’ exclaimed the first, a slight fair haired lad about eighteen years old. ‘I wear mine up here!’ he snarled pointing to his lonely white stripe. ‘And this is Corporal Newton,’ he pointed to his colleague. ‘Stand up straight for your platoon sergeant: Sergeant Wakefield.’ The entourage parted and a short dapper gentleman swept through, spitting out the words as he came: ‘I’m Sergeant Wakefield and I’m a bastard! (He never understated) I’ve got you for the next six weeks and you’ve got me.’ He spat out the well-rehearsed speech, which was his lot repeat every six weeks. The performance included the slight lifting of the left side of his mouth to enhance his meanness.
One was forced to admire the immaculate turn out of these guys. There was one corporal on the camp, who had actually hammered the brass eyelets on his boots until they were flat, highly polished and about a half inch in diameter. I suppose they had plenty of time to do this kind of thing or it was more likely that some luckless recruit who had fallen foul of them had been the one to apply the ‘elbow-grease’. These three gentlemen, into whose charge we were to be committed, were collectively known as, ‘drill pigs’
This introduction heralded the start of six weeks of intense activity. They marched us about at such short notice that we had time for neither homesickness nor rebellion. One dare not even attend the toilet by day in case the ‘pigs’ appeared unexpected and called for an instant rig out change. If you were not present to hear the order as it was delivered, you had no chance of being ready in time to parade. If one was late for parade then a nasty job was in store for you – but consider the ignominy of the squad actually being marched off before you appeared, then you would have to attempt to join the squad while they were already drilling on the square. The consequences were too terrible to contemplate. So terrible in fact, I never saw it to happen. For the first couple of weeks I imagined I was in some sort of terrible dream from which I would soon eventually wake.

On that first morning we were kitted out with: Three Battle dresses, a best, a second best and a third best (the latter was second-hand working gear) and a set of khaki fatigues for the even dirtier jobs we were to encounter. Two pairs of boots, two berets, one great coat, two pairs of green drawers cellular (we called them: drawers Dracula) two pairs of PT shorts and vests – one red and one white, two pairs of blue and white striped pyjamas and various other bits and pieces. The enhancement of this kit was to be the object of out attention every spare moment when were not required on parade. We were advised on the type of cleaning and packing out materials we would need to bring our kit up to the required standard, these we had to purchase from the NAAFI stores at our own expense. Our own personal effects and the clothing we had arrived in, was bundled up into a sad brown paper parcel and returned through the post. Perhaps our mams would shed a little tear when those parcels arrived home?

Long into the future, those who never knew national service first hand will listen in disbelief to the things we had to do to that kit. For instance, the boots issued to us were like the workingmen’s boots of the period; entirely covered in thousands of tiny raised irregularities, which were probably designed to make the boots stronger, we were told that these irregularities had to be completely removed so that the boots were smooth and shiny as glass. However, the only way to achieve this result, we were told, was: firstly, to take a teaspoon and hold it over a candle until red hot and then smooth out the irregularities. Once these were out, we had then to melt the boot polish onto the smooth surface before commencing to polish away by the ‘spit and slaver’ method. This meant rubbing endlessly in little circular movements until the boots shone like patent leather. To add to our chagrin, we were advised that this method was illegal as it damaged War Department property, so the result had to be achieved without them seeing it to be done. Thereafter we were left to light our candles and smooth away when they were away and extinguish them on their approach. Bizarre!
Battle dress tunics were real swine to bring up to scratch too: they were required to have six pleats ironed into the backs and six more in the fronts – four nine inches long, four six inches long and four three inches long and they needed to be sharpened with the aid of steam and brown paper too. God preserve you if you were unlucky enough to make a scorch mark, then you would have to rub away with a silver coin to try and get rid of it. And bearing in mind most of us had never handled an iron in our lives before we found it quite daunting. We clubbed together to buy an iron but never bothered to get around to buying a plug, we just poked the bare wires into the wall socket. A dangerous manoeuvre certainly but you had got to a point of not worrying too much about it, if you went up in the air, at least you would be out of this nightmare, so it was just about fifty-fifty which was worse.
The whole of our packs and webbing had to be covered by a disgusting substance called ‘Blanco’. Some of the items issued to us had been used before and already had Blanco on but always the wrong colour. You had to scrub this off before you could start to apply our light green shade of Blanco; ‘scrubbing off’ was harder that ‘putting on’. The insides of all our packs had to be pushed out square, aided by the insertion of cardboard which we had to scrounge from boxes thrown out by the NAAFI. The brass buckles, which liberally adorned our packs and webbing, had to be sandpapered smooth until without blemish and then polished with ‘Brasso’ If you happened to get brass polish onto the Blanco it resulted in an awful mess and you needed to ‘scrub up’ and start again. The only items we were not allowed to polish with Brasso, were our bayonets. Evidently the Geneva Convention, states: it’s OK to stab someone but you must not give them blood poisoning. Berets, what a marvellous palaver we had with those. When issued to us they were about the size of dustbin lids but the chic way to wear them was shrunk to half their size and moulded into shape so they fitted jauntily on just the front of the head. The method of achieving this result was to submerge the beret alternately in hot and then cold water. After this had been repeated many times the beret while still wet was placed on the head and moulded into the correct shape by hand. It was then retained on the head until it dried into shape. After such sessions lads could be seen all over the billet with dripping berets, the liberated blue dye running in rivulets down their faces. I suppose these little knacks and wrinkles had been passed down from recruit to recruit from time immemorial like schoolyard games.
We had to lay out all this gear for inspection in a very precise manner: PT vests had to be folded exactly eight inches across and placed in our lockers, red on top of white. Pyjamas folded with stripes matching, socks rolled to a specific diameter. On top of the locker went the packs and webbing, with the water bottle cork hanging down exactly in the centre. The blankets and sheets from the bed had to be made up into a ‘blanket box’ the size and straightness of the lines of the box became the object of much minute scrutiny on inspection nights. Some lads were so worried about having their blanket box perfect for the morning’s inspection they would make it up the night before and place it on the floor, choosing to sleep without either sheets or blankets for fear they would not be able to have it right for inspection the next day. In addition to attending to our personal kit we also had communal duties within the billet: Cleaning the toilets and washbasins, polishing the floors – we had appliances called ‘bumpers’ for polishing the floors; they were like huge heavy mops. Lads who had been on bumper duties did not take kindly to others walking on their pristine floor in their hob nailed boots. We also had to tidy up the outside area daily and scrape the brush handles with razor blades. There was a tale going around that one squaddie, who had transgressed in some minor way, was made to empty one fire bucket full of water into another, empty bucket, using only a teaspoon! The necessity of all of this was to teach us discipline, but was commonly known to one and all as BULL.

Living in such close proximity to each other twenty-four hours every day laid bare all our foibles, personalities, our strengths and weaknesses and a great affinity developed within our ranks. There were the hard cases, the softies, the flappers and those who were unflappable. There were comedians, scruffy beggars and those who immediately looked born to wear a uniform. We had our petty squabbles, even a punch up or two but we presented a united front to authority and to outsiders. What a grand bunch of lads they were! There names still come readily to mind: Yates, Tingay, Mills, Mullis, Bott, Morgan, Smith, Neil. Each of us soon had our own tailored nicknames. One, which comes readily to mind, was Souton. He was a lad from Bedford and one of the best but the fact he had a somewhat cultivate way of speaking quickly earned him the handle: ‘The Duke of Bedford’. One night I remember Stoddard, another grand lad, he was from Manchester and slept in the bed opposite mine; he was hopeless at bulling his kit, the harder he tried the worse it looked. On this particular night, he was flapping about like an old hen and getting all flustered when he came out with a statement that rocked me back on my heels a bit: ‘There’s only one thing that keeps me going; Woody doesn’t seem to worry and his kit is worse than mine!’ And there was I thinking my kit was great. It was my turn to do a bit of worrying.
Last thing at night when the lights had been turned out and we could bull no longer, we would converse from our ‘pits’ on more pleasant subjects, such as what we would do to Corporal Young if we met him on a dark night in ‘civvy street’ or in the unlikely event of us obtaining our own stripes. It was not frowned upon so much if you had a punch up with someone of your own rank but you could not punch a corporal if you were only a private. That would land you in deep trouble. We talked about sex too but not often, they put something in the tea to control such disruptive drives. One night in the middle of our bulling an NCO arrived and without any preliminaries just switched out the lights and departed. Silence followed for several moments until someone stated, quite unnecessarily of course, ‘He’s turned the lights out!’ Mullis, one of the better comedians, replied, quick as a flash, ‘Cor! So he has, I thought it was just me having a long blink.’
We were allowed ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the afternoon for our NAAFI breaks, during these breaks the juke box in the NAAFI would blare out, time after time, a contemporary popular song called: The Three Stars. This was a record in memoriam to three stars: The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens who had recently lost their lives in an air crash. Great fifties ballads seemed to epitomise those national service years, in my stint, we sang along to such great songs as: Chantilly Lace, The Big Bopper, Rave On, Buddy Holly, Little Star, The Elegants. Strangely, the NCOs always treated NAAFI breaks as sacrosanct, even when we were not framing on the square and had been lambasted right left and centre we were still allowed our NAFFI break. Perhaps it was because they wanted a break too? I remember an occasion, much later, when I was attached to an airborne reconnaissance unit in Germany: a camouflage manoeuvre scheme was in operation aimed at seeing how well the tanks and guns could be hidden. When the photographs were developed, you couldn’t see an item of hardware but there ‘plain as day’ sat in the middle of a farm yard, was a good old NAFFI van and a line of lads queuing up with their mugs at the ready.
The bulk of our daily programme of instruction concentrated mainly on drill and rifle drill; hour after hour in the blazing sun, we pounded the gravel, swinging our arms and legs like wooden dolls. The drill pigs liked to have a name to bellow out, so if you were extra tall or in my case a bit rotund you were easily recognizable and they learned your name early, so if a dozen of us were making the same mistake in the drill, more often than not it would be my name on the end of a lambasting. Of course having your name constantly balled out across the square gave you iconic status with your mates in the billet.
Eventually, the khaki shirts and trousers rubbed great wheals in our armpits and crotches and the rubber buttons of the drawers Dracula left imprints of their four buttonholes in our sweating stomachs. We dug our heels into concrete until they bruised, soon the grey socks that had been issued to us began to disintegrate and darning became another major occupation. We learned how to salute as a squad on the square but you dreaded the day when you would have to do it for real on your own. We considered officers a bit too ‘God like’ to encounter at the moment – we were still afraid of corporals! If you saw a peaked cap approaching you would think: ‘crikey I’m going to have to do some saluting here if I’m not careful’ and you would nip in between the huts if you had chance. You were really relieved if the peaked hat turned out to be a warrant office – we didn’t have to salute warrant officers but no doubt he’d tell you off for something else you were doing wrong.
Everything was done to screams of; two-three this, two-three that. Up-two-three- down-two-three. We took it to extremes when we were out of earshot: in the canteen for instance, to encompass eating and drinking. Mugs-up-two-three drink-two-three down two-three or into bed-two-three sleep-two-three etc. The studs and heel-plates of our boots always made downhill gradients a hazard. We had such a gradient on our marches down to the cookhouse. We would be marched as a squad down to the cookhouse several times a day. The left arm would be held rigid holding our pot mugs and the other arm cranking up and down like a windmill as usual, as the hill become steeper many a mug met its end on the concrete as the owners boots flayed the air. The mug invariably ‘kopt for it,’ you hardly ever escaped with just a bruised bum. On one occasion I saw the line of men in front of me bobbing up and down at a certain point as we negotiated the hill; when I reached that point myself I saw a luckless lad had slipped and the well loved pig; Corporal Young, was standing beside him shouting: ‘Trample on him – trample on him’, as each subsequent marcher arrived.

So, to the cookhouse itself. Every army cookhouse I ever entered had its own distinctive smell. It was sort of a dinner mixed with grease smell, it would filter up the concrete corridors where we would wait in idle anticipation for them to allow us to enter the cookhouse proper, casually observing the graffiti on the wall: ‘Killroy was here,’ or ‘I was here before Killroy,’ etc. On Sundays, the familiar strains of Family Favourites would filter up those passageway, to accompany the smell of food and you would be reminded of your mates back home just about to roll out of the boozer to enjoy their Yorkshire puddings. That is not to say the cookhouses were dirty, there were always plenty of ‘fatigue wallers’ to keep them pristine clean but quite often there were cockroach infestations. On one occasion, after observing a strange hole in my meat pie, I removed the top to find a beauty nestling snugly between meat and crust. Ever since, I have treated holes in pies with suspicion.
It would be unfair too, to say we ever went hungry, at Blandford, there was certainly no shortage of food: dehydrated potatoes could be had by the mountain and being hungry lads, we used to really dig in. One poor lad, Smithy, he was thin as a rail and having trouble with constipation. Probably, the shock of being in the army had upset his system. After four weeks, he had not yet managed to go to the toilet. There was nothing wrong with his appetite though, day after day he would shovel away mountains of those horrible dehydrated spuds. We used to grab him and press his stomach. ‘This is impossible,’ we would say. ‘Where can it all be going – it must be going somewhere?’ Then he would become panicky and say: ‘God, what am I going to do?’ I think in the end they had to feed him something up his back passage, then he couldn’t stop going. In fact, I see he’s not on the group photograph; he must have still been going then.
Incidentally, they had a nasty but effective way of stopping people reporting sick unless they really were sick. Before one could report to the MO it was necessary for them to pack the whole of their gear into those beautifully bulled up packs, which invariably ruined them. This made all potential malingerers think twice. To return to the cookhouse: each day a duty officer would appear along with a colour sergeant and ask, ‘Any complaints?’ It was unheard of for anyone to say, ‘Yes’ but one day, egged on by his mates, a lad stood up and said: ‘Yes sir, maggots in my meat.’ The sergeant stamped over, face livid as raw liver, he looked at the meat, which was indeed maggot infested under its sickly covering of brown gravy; picking up the offending piece he pronged it straight into his own mouth, screaming; ‘The meat’s alright, nothing could live at the ‘eat this is cooked at!’ The poor lad didn’t even get a reimbursement on the piece he’d lost.
Came the night of our first kit inspection. All our carefully bulled kit was laid out on the beds or in the lockers to comply with a diagram. Corporal Newton carried out the inspection. He was in full BD. with the red and navy blue Southern Areas flashes on his shoulders; we were not allowed such flashes yet, being only ‘sproggs’. He looked most impressive. We stood to rigid attention while Newton made his round, poking about with his stick and make disparaging remarks. If he found a mug bearing even the slightest sign of a tea, he would throw it into the air, shouting, ‘Filthy’. Then the owner would have to replace it at his own expense. When he reached my locker, he twirled his stick around inside, scattering my beautiful ironed and folded clothes, muttering as he did: ‘Shit order, a disgrace,’ etc. I suppose I felt trampled on and probably blushed scarlet but I needn’t have worried too much when he got to the next bloke, he just opened the window and chucked all his stuff out. After a while you stopped taking their insults personally, you knew nobody was going to laugh at you, everyone was in the same boat, it would probably be their turn for a lambasting next time. The sooner one accepted not to baulk authority the better. There was always something worse in store for dissenters. One of the words we all feared to hear was: relegation. This could occur if one did not conform to authority, were unreceptive, or did not progress well enough under instruction. Relegation meant being back squadded for two weeks to join up with the next intake to come in. This would mean you lost your mates and had to do eight weeks initial training instead of six and no one wanted to contemplate that. The threat of relegation was enough to achieve the total cooperation of the majority.
Worse than relegation, was a nasty little carry-on, colloquially known as ‘jankers’. If an NCO put you on jankers, it entailed you having to parade at the guardhouse several times a day, in all manner of different apparel, where the guard commander would give you all sorts of nastier than nasty jobs. Of course, the culprit would also be confined to barracks (CB). This didn’t mean too much to us in those first six weeks as we were rarely let out anyway. Worse even than jankers, was being confined to the guardhouse, commonly know as ‘nick’. I saw a few lads who had been given ‘nick’; usually they were ones who had gone absent without leave (AWOL) or trying to work their passage out of the army. Life looked a real hell for them in there. The lavatory pedestal had a tap placed directly above it so that it doubled as their washbasin. The confinees would have their sleep disturbed by being awakened every hour on the hour all through the night and made to go to the toilet. To make him feel even more uncomfortable his bootlaces, belts and buttons were removed from his dress and he would be paraded around the camp at the double between two burly MPs with everything flapping about and boots slobbering off due to lack of laces. Talk about being degrading! For the worst cases of all, there were the central army prisons at Colchester and Shepston-Mallet. What went on behind those closed doors I hate to think? There was a rumour that the guards would throw a quantity of lighter flints through the cell doors and the prisoner had to find them all before he could eat. Isn’t that the mythical way to keep a vampire in his tomb: throw a handful of poppy seeds around his grave, which he feels he must count before he could go out to eat too?
No request was ever made to us either verbally or written; it was always: ‘This will be done,’ or ‘personnel will do this.’ It was all done in pursuit of discipline and in hindsight, those NCOs did a marvellous job; they got a grip on us from day one and never relaxed enough for us to even question what we were doing or indeed to be homesick. It has a sobering effect today, when we have our feathers ruffled to look back on those times and remember, when they said. ‘Jump’ we didn’t question it, it was a matter of ‘how high?’ and in six weeks it turned us from potential prima donnas into men!

The Greatcoat

The day dawned which was to be perhaps the hottest day of all in that blazing summer of
1959. This was the day chosen for the fitting of our greatcoats. We had been issued with these coats at the start but they more or less just fitted where they touched. To ensure the fitting was correct it was necessary for us to wear everything we would be expected to wear on a winter’s day underneath. This included: vest, shirt, tie, pullover, BD blouse, the whole issue, and bearing in mind this happened to be the hottest day in the middle of that which turned out to be the hottest summer of the decade. We were marched off to a drill square near to where the tailor’s shop was located and paraded in three lines, totally unprotected from the blazing sun, which shone remorselessly down upon us.
After a while, a trio of inspectors appeared in the ranks. First, came a sergeant bearing a stick that had two ninety-degree pointers sticking out at a prescribed distance from the ground. The idea was, that when his stick touched the ground the bottom of your greatcoat must come within the tolerance of these two pointers to be of acceptable length. Behind the sergeant strode a toffee nosed subaltern and bringing up the rear was the camp tailor. As the trio proceeded along the line, the sergeant would test coats for length with his stick and the subleton would tweak about with the material, uttering statements like: ‘In a bit here sergeant, out a bit there.’ etc. I sensed he would be shocked when he reached me as the coat I had been supplied with in order to accommodate my girth finished up near my ankles. I was not disappointed. He took one disbelieving look at me and squeaked, ‘Oh my God sergeant look at this man! Leave him there, we’ll come back to him later.’
‘Stand fast that man,’ snarled the sergeant.
With that, they moved along the rest of the lines and our platoon was moved off – all but me that is, I had to stand fast on my own under the blazing sun while another platoon was marched on of which I then became a part. Down the ranks they came again until they reached me for a second time. ‘My God it gets worse! Stand him fast sergeant,’ moaned the officer again. That platoon was marched off and still I stood: sweat oozing out of every pore – becoming part of a third line-up. Not until that platoon had been inspected and marched away too, leaving me a solitary melting blob, did they decided to see what could be done for me. By this time I had been standing for over an hour in all that gear in that which must have been a hundred degrees in the sun, I felt like a wet dishcloth. Finally, they planned the best course of action to begin the mammoth task of altering the coat. It was like Gulliver and the Lilliputian tailors. Over the next few weeks I had to pay many visits to the tailor who would chop and sew, chop and sew until at last he could do no more. I would never look smart in any greatcoat, I was all the wrong shape but at least it was presentable. Then came the climax of it all – we paraded again with our fitted greatcoats. This time it was a different inspection officer and sergeant. When they reached my position in the line the officer said, ‘Change this man’s coat sergeant, it’s the wrong shade!’ This time, at the end of the inspection I didn’t hang around, I chose to melt away ‘like a phantom in the night’.

One Saturday morning they said we were to have our ‘jabs’ and that after we’d had them, bulling our kit apart, we could have the rest of the weekend to ourselves, we wouldn’t be asked to parade or anything. We thought they were being kind to us at last but they knew what they were doing. After we’d had the three or four inoculations, which would cover us for the various active postings, we sat about on our ‘pits’ bulling gear and talking away pleasantly about going to the NAAFI etc. After a while guys started to keel over onto their backs. By mid afternoon movement had completely ceased, we were all spark out and just about remained so until we were due back in action on Monday morning, Those jabs were certainly powerful medicine. The NCOs knew what they were about, saying we could have it easy, even they couldn’t have got us up on our feet for drilling that weekend.
By now, we had been in two weeks and another intake arrived. They were the ‘sproggs’ now, their numbers were higher than ours and didn’t we let them know with taunts of: ‘Git some time in!’ One weekend we were actually allowed off camp for a few hours. However, we were told we must wear full BD, ties, berets, and the lot. Moreover, on pain of death, we were told not remove any item of clothing while off the camp. Dorset is a beautiful county and Bournemouth being reasonable close, a group of us decided to spend our day at the seaside. In the 1950s, folk were generally benevolent towards national service men, they knew we didn’t have much money and that we were doing our bit for the country, so thumbing lifts was quite easy, if drivers saw a lad in uniform they would usually pull up for him. Some lads thumbed home and back all over the country on 48 or even 36 hour passes. Though it was a bit dodgy relying on travelling back to camp by this method for if you failed to find a lift, which would have you back for 6.00 am on Monday morning you would be marked as AWOL and in the guardhouse. Anyway, that particular Sunday we managed to make our way to Bournemouth alright but it wasn’t very pleasant sitting on the beach, with the sun still blazing down on us wearing all that gear. We were too afraid to remove a stitch in case there was a ‘plain-clothes’ NCO spy on the beach.

During those first few weeks, in addition to the PT and drill, we learned to shoot on the rifle range and hack out the compressed bullets from the sand behind the rifle butts: all still beneath the blazing sun. We learned how to strip a machine gun and use a respirator (gasmask), which incidentally proved their worth in the toilets after the lads had been out on the beer..
Pay parade was one of the first occasions when one realised that perhaps a little progress had been made. All the recruits at various stages of their training were paid out together in a large hut. It also followed that all the pigs that trained all the recruits were there too, the pay hut swarmed with them, it was their opportunity to compete for who could make the most cutting remarks to demean the performance of recruits from other NCO’s platoons. Seemingly, it provided a bit of light entertainment for them. To spice it up there was also a competition going on between the training NCOs as to which of them, would, at the end of the six weeks, have trained the champion platoon. There was plenty of opportunity for snide remarks with all the saluting and stamping about that went with pay parade.
For some pay parade and its accompaniments proved quite an ordeal, especially as it was all for twenty five bob, or fifteen if you were married and had to send money home. Even then, a pig would be standing guarding the exit; trying to relieve you of the little you had just been given for the corps magazine. One lad found it such an ordeal he had arranged for all his pay to be paid straight into the bank and he lived on spends provided by his dad, who later turned up to visit him in a Rolls Royce.

After the assault course I’m knackered  but still smiling

The Demise of Corporal Young.
Because we had completed a few years of industrial training and a few years of further education we believed, in our wisdom, that we were distained for better things than the army: we believed national service was a waste of time. REME intakes were usually composed of young men around the age of twenty-one whom having completed an apprenticeship were eager to get on with their careers. As conscripts in peacetime, we were brainwashed by the media to be resentful just as out mates called up before us had been. We were in a culture of resentment and didn’t the paparazzi have a field day playing it up with tales of how qualified young adults were having to dig officer’s gardens or perhaps run errands for an officer’s wife. What few of us realised at the time, was that although national service, as the name implies, was derived to develop a trained pool of personnel, ready to serve the nation in times of future conflict: it would be we, as individuals, who would be by far the greater beneficiaries in our training for life.
In those, ‘the longest six weeks’ a comradeship developed in that barrack room which would not have blossomed in six years of normal civilian life. We even began to take pride in the 2nd Platoon ‘C’ Company. We took pride in the flashes on our shoulders REME and a swagger became apparent in our bearing, a swagger which could not been forced but born out of being young men, fit and in their prime. You knew they wouldn’t break you now and perhaps, just a little, for the first time you started to enjoy.

The demise of Corporal Young

One night, just before lights out, Corporal Young staggered into the room – he was obviously the worse for drink. Somebody had given him a black eye. It was a beauty!
We ceased our bulling and pondered with affection on the dealer of the blow, Young had done well to keep us in check up to that point. He had entered the service as a regular at the age of eighteen after being a boy soldier – ‘child soldiers’ as we called them. He was only eighteen now, perhaps three years younger than most of us, which is a wide gulf to tackle at that age. He had to be admired for the way he had handled us up to that point but tonight the poor lad was drunk and it was obvious he was battling an inferiority complex. He pointed to his eye and said, ‘Don’t get any ideas, another corporal did this. I’m going to get a grip on you lot!’ With that, he tried to put his foot up on the end of someone’s bed and in doing so fell flat on his back. We didn’t see Young anymore. It was a shame for him really, I suppose he’d lost credibility and they moved him on. We had a new corporal after that, Clarke, he was the one who polished the eyelets of his boots and was older and if it were possible, even nastier than Young

Passing Out

We drilled on, we bulled on, and the jukebox in the NAAFI still blared out with The Three Stars and still the sun blazed down upon us. Finally, it reached the end of July and our turn to pass out. Three platoons had started their basic training at Blandford on the 18th of June 1959. Two platoons were national service, the third: number one platoon was made up of lads wishing to make a career of the regular army. They needed to be visibly keen and enthusiastic to be accepted into the corps, we on the other hand only needed to keep our noses clean and survive two years. The potential regulars passed out as champion platoon. The final passing out parade was a high profile affair; parents were invited to see what the army had made of their sons. A brigadier or perhaps even a general would make the inspection and take the salute, there was to be a pipe band – the whole works. The most ragged half dozen of the squad would be left off the parade to make it look better. I think I would have been disappointed to have missed the final parade in the end. The lads not chosen were issued with dusters and busied themselves around dusting the last specks of dust from the rest of us. One dare not bend down once in our best uniform for fear of damaging the creases. And the boots. Oh those boots! It was the first time we had actually worn those glassy boots and we had to protect them at all costs, everyone was walking around gingerly, eying each other in case another boot came too close. It was worse than having corns. If someone inadvertently stood on your toe it was the end, the whole polished toecap was likely to come away in a solid shell. In fact, throughout your army career, you always dreaded the time when your best boots had to go to the cobblers. I’m sure they used to give the toecap a bash with the hammer just for kicks.
The brigadier was a gentleman: high-ranking officers usually were, he didn’t inspect us too closely. It was a good job he didn’t inspect one of my mates, Eric, too closely on his passing out parade, for he tells the tale of the time when he was actually lined up on his passing out parade waiting for the officer’s inspection. He looked down at his rifle (we had to call them rifles, they didn’t like us calling them guns) and saw to his absolute horror that the ‘bolt’ was missing. The bolt is the mechanism, which pushes the bullets into the breach ready for firing. We always had to keep the bolt and the rifle separate just in case a rifle was stolen, it could not be operated without the bolt. For a soldier to go on parade without a bolt in his rifle was a fate worse than death: a soldier with an inoperative weapon is useless. Eric was on tenterhooks in case it was spotted by the inspecting officer. When he got away with that one, his next worry was: ‘If it’s not in my rifle – where is it?’ to actually lose a rifle bolt warranted as an even worse punishment. Thankfully for Eric it wasn’t permanently lost.
As we marched past the saluting platform on our passing out parade a Scottish pipe-band played Scotland the Brave and our corps march: Lilliburlero. We hadn’t asked to be here but you felt the power of the uniform and those who had worn it with such distinction before you. It brought a swagger to our stride; we were just like proper soldiers. It was a great feeling!
The night before the passing out parade, we had our final billet block inspection. Lockers, kit, beds, the room and ablutions themselves had to be immaculate. We had shaved the brush handles down with razor blades and polished the fire buckets; the lot. It was to be the pinnacle of all our bulling. The whole entourage carried out the inspection: officer, sergeant and the two corporals. There followed the usual cynical comments but to be fair most of us were just about up to the standard even they couldn’t fault. Yet, when they reached Taffy Morgan’s bed at the end of the room a huge bellow of rage went up. I couldn’t believe my eyes; there displayed in all prominence on the top of his locker was a pint pop bottle. Goodness knows why it hadn’t noticed it before – we had been through the whole place with a fine toothcomb, not a speck of dust anywhere, and yet here was a great ruddy pop bottle. Well, they countenanced this as so outrageous that the officer believed Taffy was trying to be funny or even trying to work his passage (they were totally over the top of course) but they lambasted old Taffy. They pulled everything
he had to pieces and then decided he had a dirty neck. Taffy was ordered to march to the ablutions and get it washed. The terrible part of it was, as poor Taffy left the room to visit the washroom he turned the wrong way, which gave the pigs further bullets to fire, in that after six weeks he still didn’t know the way to the ablutions. It was no wonder he had a mucky neck!
The final inspection and parade over we had the traditional last night booze up with the drill pigs. This was supposed to be the chance you got to punch your least favourite drill pig. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. They all turned out to be alright guys, who just wore a shell of obnoxious veneer in order to keep on top of us for those hectic six weeks. In the fullness of time we realise what a great job they did. Before we left I made an appointment to see the MO (medical officer) because there was a rumour that anyone overweight would not get a posting to the Far East and I saw the army as my best chance of seeing something of the world. I thought with all that marching and exercising I must have shot down the scale and that I would be able to be upgraded to ‘grade one’. I hadn’t lost a single pound!
The next morning we smelt Blandford cookhouse for the last time and were ferried to Blandford Forum Station, there to be railed to our next destination for trade training. Some of us were going to the same camp but to the majority we had to say our goodbyes. We vowed to meet up for regular reunions but it never happened. Yet, should I ever have the opportunity, I’d rather meet up and have a night out with that gang who shared those: ‘the longest six weeks’, than be invited to a slap up meal with royalty.

always: ‘This will be done,’ or ‘personnel will do this.’ It was all done in pursuit of discipline and in hindsight, those NCOs did a marvellous job; they got a grip on us from day one and never relaxed enough for us to even question what we were doing or indeed to be homesick. It has a sobering effect today, when we have our feathers ruffled to look back on those times and remember, when they said. ‘Jump’ we didn’t question it, it was a matter of ‘how high?’ and in six weeks it turned us from potential prima donnas into men!

The Greatcoat

The day dawned which was to be perhaps the hottest day of all in that blazing summer of
1959. This was the day chosen for the fitting of our greatcoats. We had been issued with these coats at the start but they more or less just fitted where they touched. To ensure the fitting was correct it was necessary for us to wear everything we would be expected to wear on a winter’s day underneath. This included: vest, shirt, tie, pullover, BD blouse, the whole issue, and bearing in mind this happened to be the hottest day in the middle of that which turned out to be the hottest summer of the decade. We were marched off to a drill square near to where the tailor’s shop was located and paraded in three lines, totally unprotected from the blazing sun, which shone remorselessly down upon us.
After a while, a trio of inspectors appeared in the ranks. First, came a sergeant bearing a stick that had two ninety-degree pointers sticking out at a prescribed distance from the ground. The idea was, that when his stick touched the ground the bottom of your greatcoat must come within the tolerance of these two pointers to be of acceptable length. Behind the sergeant strode a toffee nosed subaltern and bringing up the rear was the camp tailor. As the trio proceeded along the line, the sergeant would test coats for length with his stick and the subleton would tweak about with the material, uttering statements like: ‘In a bit here sergeant, out a bit there.’ etc. I sensed he would be shocked when he reached me as the coat I had been supplied with in order to accommodate my girth finished up near my ankles. I was not disappointed. He took one disbelieving look at me and squeaked, ‘Oh my God sergeant look at this man! Leave him there, we’ll come back to him later.’
‘Stand fast that man,’ snarled the sergeant.
With that, they moved along the rest of the lines and our platoon was moved off – all but me that is, I had to stand fast on my own under the blazing sun while another platoon was marched on of which I then became a part. Down the ranks they came again until they reached me for a second time. ‘My God it gets worse! Stand him fast sergeant,’ moaned the officer again. That platoon was marched off and still I stood: sweat oozing out of every pore – becoming part of a third line-up. Not until that platoon had been inspected and marched away too, leaving me a solitary melting blob, did they decided to see what could be done for me. By this time I had been standing for over an hour in all that gear in that which must have been a hundred degrees in the sun, I felt like a wet dishcloth. Finally, they planned the best course of action to begin the mammoth task of altering the coat. It was like Gulliver and the Lilliputian tailors. Over the next few weeks I had to pay many visits to the tailor who would chop and sew, chop and sew until at last he could do no more. I would never look smart in any greatcoat, I was all the wrong shape but at least it was presentable. Then came the climax of it all – we paraded again with our fitted greatcoats. This time it was a different inspection officer and sergeant. When they reached my position in the line the officer said, ‘Change this man’s coat sergeant, it’s the wrong shade!’ This time, at the end of the inspection I didn’t hang around, I chose to melt away ‘like a phantom in the night’.

One Saturday morning they said we were to have our ‘jabs’ and that after we’d had them, bulling our kit apart, we could have the rest of the weekend to ourselves, we wouldn’t be asked to parade or anything. We thought they were being kind to us at last but they knew what they were doing. After we’d had the three or four inoculations, which would cover us for the various active postings, we sat about on our ‘pits’ bulling gear and talking away pleasantly about going to the NAAFI etc. After a while guys started to keel over onto their backs. By mid afternoon movement had completely ceased, we were all spark out and just about remained so until we were due back in action on Monday morning, Those jabs were certainly powerful medicine. The NCOs knew what they were about, saying we could have it easy, even they couldn’t have got us up on our feet for drilling that weekend.
By now, we had been in two weeks and another intake arrived. They were the ‘sproggs’ now, their numbers were higher than ours and didn’t we let them know with taunts of: ‘Git some time in!’ One weekend we were actually allowed off camp for a few hours. However, we were told we must wear full BD, ties, berets, and the lot. Moreover, on pain of death, we were told not remove any item of clothing while off the camp. Dorset is a beautiful county and Bournemouth being reasonable close, a group of us decided to spend our day at the seaside. In the 1950s, folk were generally benevolent towards national service men, they knew we didn’t have much money and that we were doing our bit for the country, so thumbing lifts was quite easy, if drivers saw a lad in uniform they would usually pull up for him. Some lads thumbed home and back all over the country on 48 or even 36 hour passes. Though it was a bit dodgy relying on travelling back to camp by this method for if you failed to find a lift, which would have you back for 6.00 am on Monday morning you would be marked as AWOL and in the guardhouse. Anyway, that particular Sunday we managed to make our way to Bournemouth alright but it wasn’t very pleasant sitting on the beach, with the sun still blazing down on us wearing all that gear. We were too afraid to remove a stitch in case there was a ‘plain-clothes’ NCO spy on the beach.
During those first few weeks, in addition to the PT and drill, we learned to shoot on the rifle range and hack out the compressed bullets from the sand behind the rifle butts: all still beneath the blazing sun. We learned how to strip a machine gun and use a respirator (gasmask), which incidentally proved their worth in the toilets after the lads had been out on the beer..
Pay parade was one of the first occasions when one realised that perhaps a little progress had been made. All the recruits at various stages of their training were paid out together in a large hut. It also followed that all the pigs that trained all the recruits were there too, the pay hut swarmed with them, it was their opportunity to compete for who could make the most cutting remarks to demean the performance of recruits from other NCO’s platoons. Seemingly, it provided a bit of light entertainment for them. To spice it up there was also a competition going on between the training NCOs as to which of them, would, at the end of the six weeks, have trained the champion platoon. There was plenty of opportunity for snide remarks with all the saluting and stamping about that went with pay parade.
For some pay parade and its accompaniments proved quite an ordeal, especially as it was all for twenty five bob, or fifteen if you were married and had to send money home. Even then, a pig would be standing guarding the exit; trying to relieve you of the little you had just been given for the corps magazine. One lad found it such an ordeal he had arranged for all his pay to be paid straight into the bank and he lived on spends provided by his dad, who later turned up to visit him in a Rolls Royce.
After the assault course

The Demise of Corporal Young.
Because we had completed a few years of industrial training and a few years of further education we believed, in our wisdom, that we were distained for better things than the army: we believed national service was a waste of time. REME intakes were usually composed of young men around the age of twenty-one whom having completed an apprenticeship were eager to get on with their careers. As conscripts in peacetime, we were brainwashed by the media to be resentful just as out mates called up before us had been. We were in a culture of resentment and didn’t the paparazzi have a field day playing it up with tales of how qualified young adults were having to dig officer’s gardens or perhaps run errands for an officer’s wife. What few of us realised at the time, was that although national service, as the name implies, was derived to develop a trained pool of personnel, ready to serve the nation in times of future conflict: it would be we, as individuals, who would be by far the greater beneficiaries in our training for life.
In those, ‘the longest six weeks’ a comradeship developed in that barrack room which would not have blossomed in six years of normal civilian life. We even began to take pride in the 2nd Platoon ‘C’ Company. We took pride in the flashes on our shoulders REME and a swagger became apparent in our bearing, a swagger which could not been forced but born out of being young men, fit and in their prime. You knew they wouldn’t break you now and perhaps, just a little, for the first time you started to enjoy.

One night, just before lights out, Corporal Young staggered into the room – he was obviously the worse for drink. Somebody had given him a black eye. It was a beauty!
We ceased our bulling and pondered with affection on the dealer of the blow, Young had done well to keep us in check up to that point. He had entered the service as a regular at the age of eighteen after being a boy soldier – ‘child soldiers’ as we called them. He was only eighteen now, perhaps three years younger than most of us, which is a wide gulf to tackle at that age. He had to be admired for the way he had handled us up to that point but tonight the poor lad was drunk and it was obvious he was battling an inferiority complex. He pointed to his eye and said, ‘Don’t get any ideas, another corporal did this. I’m going to get a grip on you lot!’ With that, he tried to put his foot up on the end of someone’s bed and in doing so fell flat on his back. We didn’t see Young anymore. It was a shame for him really, I suppose he’d lost credibility and they moved him on. We had a new corporal after that, Clarke, he was the one who polished the eyelets of his boots and was older and if it were possible, even nastier than Young

Passing Out

We drilled on, we bulled on, and the jukebox in the NAAFI still blared out with The Three Stars and still the sun blazed down upon us. Finally, it reached the end of July and our turn to pass out. Three platoons had started their basic training at Blandford on the 18th of June 1959. Two platoons were national service, the third: number one platoon was made up of lads wishing to make a career of the regular army. They needed to be visibly keen and enthusiastic to be accepted into the corps, we on the other hand only needed to keep our noses clean and survive two years. The potential regulars passed out as champion platoon. The final passing out parade was a high profile affair; parents were invited to see what the army had made of their sons. A brigadier or perhaps even a general would make the inspection and take the salute, there was to be a pipe band – the whole works. The most ragged half dozen of the squad would be left off the parade to make it look better. I think I would have been disappointed to have missed the final parade in the end. The lads not chosen were issued with dusters and busied themselves around dusting the last specks of dust from the rest of us. One dare not bend down once in our best uniform for fear of damaging the creases. And the boots. Oh those boots! It was the first time we had actually worn those glassy boots and we had to protect them at all costs, everyone was walking around gingerly, eying each other in case another boot came too close. It was worse than having corns. If someone inadvertently stood on your toe it was the end, the whole polished toecap was likely to come away in a solid shell. In fact, throughout your army career, you always dreaded the time when your best boots had to go to the cobblers. I’m sure they used to give the toecap a bash with the hammer just for kicks.
The brigadier was a gentleman: high-ranking officers usually were, he didn’t inspect us too closely. It was a good job he didn’t inspect one of my mates, Eric, too closely on his passing out parade, for he tells the tale of the time when he was actually lined up on his passing out parade waiting for the officer’s inspection. He looked down at his rifle (we had to call them rifles, they didn’t like us calling them guns) and saw to his absolute horror that the ‘bolt’ was missing. The bolt is the mechanism, which pushes the bullets into the breach ready for firing. We always had to keep the bolt and the rifle separate just in case a rifle was stolen, it could not be operated without the bolt. For a soldier to go on parade without a bolt in his rifle was a fate worse than death: a soldier with an inoperative weapon is useless. Eric was on tenterhooks in case it was spotted by the inspecting officer. When he got away with that one, his next worry was: ‘If it’s not in my rifle – where is it?’ to actually lose a rifle bolt warranted as an even worse punishment. Thankfully for Eric it wasn’t permanently lost.
As we marched past the saluting platform on our passing out parade a Scottish pipe-band played Scotland the Brave and our corps march: Lilliburlero. We hadn’t asked to be here but you felt the power of the uniform and those who had worn it with such distinction before you. It brought a swagger to our stride; we were just like proper soldiers. It was a great feeling!
The night before the passing out parade, we had our final billet block inspection. Lockers, kit, beds, the room and ablutions themselves had to be immaculate. We had shaved the brush handles down with razor blades and polished the fire buckets; the lot. It was to be the pinnacle of all our bulling. The whole entourage carried out the inspection: officer, sergeant and the two corporals. There followed the usual cynical comments but to be fair most of us were just about up to the standard even they couldn’t fault. Yet, when they reached Taffy Morgan’s bed at the end of the room a huge bellow of rage went up. I couldn’t believe my eyes; there displayed in all prominence on the top of his locker was a pint pop bottle. Goodness knows why it hadn’t noticed it before – we had been through the whole place with a fine toothcomb, not a speck of dust anywhere, and yet here was a great ruddy pop bottle. Well, they countenanced this as so outrageous that the officer believed Taffy was trying to be funny or even trying to work his passage (they were totally over the top of course) but they lambasted old Taffy. They pulled everything
he had to pieces and then decided he had a dirty neck. Taffy was ordered to march to the ablutions and get it washed. The terrible part of it was, as poor Taffy left the room to visit the washroom he turned the wrong way, which gave the pigs further bullets to fire, in that after six weeks he still didn’t know the way to the ablutions. It was no wonder he had a mucky neck!
The final inspection and parade over we had the traditional last night booze up with the drill pigs. This was supposed to be the chance you got to punch your least favourite drill pig. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. They all turned out to be alright guys, who just wore a shell of obnoxious veneer in order to keep on top of us for those hectic six weeks. In the fullness of time we realise what a great job they did. Before we left I made an appointment to see the MO (medical officer) because there was a rumour that anyone overweight would not get a posting to the Far East and I saw the army as my best chance of seeing something of the world. I thought with all that marching and exercising I must have shot down the scale and that I would be able to be upgraded to ‘grade one’. I hadn’t lost a single pound!
The next morning we smelt Blandford cookhouse for the last time and were ferried to Blandford Forum Station, there to be railed to our next destination for trade training. Some of us were going to the same camp but to the majority we had to say our goodbyes. We vowed to meet up for regular reunions but it never happened. Yet, should I ever have the opportunity, I’d rather meet up and have a night out with that gang who shared those: ‘the longest six weeks’, than be invited to a slap up meal with royalty.

What Were You in, Then?

February 1, 2020 by

What Were You In, Then?
When you are a bit long in the tooth like ‘yours truly’ and you meet up with another guy who seems to be about your age and you strike up a conversation after the niceties, the weather etc. the question invariable seems to come around to the question: ‘Did you do National Service?’ If the answer is in the affirmative the next question is, ‘What were you in, then?’ Quite a few will answer RAF, a lesser number, The Royal Navy and the vast majority would answer: the Army, as the army conscripted far more than the other two put together, if the guy answered: the army the next question would be, ‘what Mob were you in?’ Most would have been in the many infantry regiments, the Guards or one of the corps. The next question would be, ‘Where did you get to?’
There were three million of us conscripted between 1947 and 1963, There were some nasty little skirmishes in Malaya, (kikuyu), Kenya (Mau-Mau) , Cyprus (EOKA) and all out wars in Korea and at Suez. Not to mention those who contracted radiation poisoning from the nuclear bomb tests at Christmas Island. Over three million of us were conscripted and over three hundred died.
But there were some great postings: Hong Kong, Singapore, Aden, for most of us it was a home posting or BAOR Germany and the ‘cold War’ which thankfully never got going in earnest. In the main we had a great time although we didn’t always realise it until we were out. This is how it all unfolded.
Call up
The first indication that Her Majesty was going to require your services was when a brown envelope dropped through your letter box containing a questionnaire to be completed regarding your personal details, trade and qualifications and requesting your preferred arm of the service. Having recently completed an engineering apprenticeship, I decided to apply for the army and the corps of REME. (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers). I had been pre-warned by mates who had already travelled this course that I would probably be drafted to something entirely different. Soon after followed a medical at a suburban school: the old naked line-up, breath in, breath out, cough, the whole issue. They said I was too fat so I would be grade two but that was it. I was in.
A few weeks later and another brown envelope popped through the letterbox, I was to report on Thursday the 18th of June 1959 to Number One Training Battalion REME at Craddock Barracks, Blandford Dorset. My initial reaction was that I was chuffed to have secured my first choice: the REME

. There were a couple of weeks to go before I was due at Blandford, so I had time to tender my notice at work and enjoy a period of winding down, totally unprepared for that which was to come.

Thursday was always national service intake day. British Rail carriages would carry a liberal sprinkling of apprehensive young men carrying brown paper parcels. We had been warned not to bring suitcases, as they were not easily returnable through the post. For many lads that Thursday morning train was to be the buffer between two entirely different ways of life. It was also to be one’s last chance for the luxury of abstract thought; soon one would be channelled into considerations of more importance: how to survive the next five minutes for instance. But for the moment the last few words from home were perhaps still the ones ringing in your ears: ‘It’ll make man of you son!’
Certainly, things wouldn’t be the same for a while for either the lad or the ones left behind. Homes would be a little quieter for the parting and for the lads; well…For one thing Christian names would be out. From now on your handle would probably represent your place of origin or your accent: Scouse, Jock, Taffy, Geordie, Yorky etc. And that was just what your friends called you; the NCOs (corporals and sergeants) would call you something much nastier than that.
A great positive about the army is: it’s difficult to be lonely. It was even difficult to be lonely on the way into the army. All those lads with the little brown paper parcels, in all those railway carriages, seemed to be conglomerating together to reach those terrible, southern garrison towns. Blandford Training Camp.
At Blandford Forum Station we spilled from the gate and beheld our first glimpse of things to come: a fully fledges lance corporal. He was dressed in that which we came to know as: ‘shirtsleeve order’. He was pulled in at the waist with a tight belt with just a little bulge above at the front and a little bulge below behind. At the top, a tiny beret was perched on the front of his head and at the bottom; he wore gatered trousers and very shiny boots. In army terms, this was known as being ‘bulled up’. The highlight of it all and by far his most important attribute was positioned on a band across his upper arm: one brilliantly white washed chevron. This for the time being put him on a par with God.
He didn’t bother to speak, a sharp flick of his head was enough to tell us that he wished us to climb into the back of this enormous truck he had with him. I couldn’t even get my foot high enough to reach the foot hole in the tailgate. A disgusted look was all I got from the corporal but luckily willing hands from the other lads ungraciously bundled me onto the floor of the truck amongst them. We were instantly mates – you were never short of mates in the army!
Blandford Camp: even today I still get a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach at the sight of: white washed stones, polished fire hoses, huts with wooden verandas – their red fire buckets residing resplendently on hooks. Surprisingly, I experience the opposite sensation: excitement, at the sight of an army convoy on the move – where are they off to? I want to be part of it and relive the camaraderie of an exercise. The gate adjacent to the guardhouse will likely be blocked by a white horizontal pole, which will be sourly raised by the ‘red caps’ Military Police – (the monkeys) from time to time to admit the unfortunate. These: the infamous guardhouses, are designed to keep those in the camp who would rather be out and those out who might wish to get in – possibly to pinch guns and ammunition from the armoury. It seems that just before our intake, the IRA had made a raid on some army camp or other and pinched some ordnance. This gave ‘old sweats’ the opportunity to put the wind up we poor ‘sproggs’, who were possibly performing guard duties for the very first time. Returning to the gate, well oiled from a night on the town, they would break out into Irish accents and audible whisper things like: ‘Pass the bomb Paddy’ etc.
Once inside the camp, our first stop was the barbers. ‘Anything that shows below the band of a beret is mine,’ said the barber and proceeded to shear us. Generally, we were still being treated semi-humanely up to this point; they even gave us a cup of tea. Looking through the window whilst drinking that cup of tea, I saw a clockwork man – or that’s what it seemed to me. He was marching along all on his own; nobody else was in sight, yet his arms were swinging at ninety degrees to his body. He was almost cutting himself in half with the momentum of his swagger and really giving the gravel some stick with his boot heels. At the time, I thought that he must be some sort of prisoner.
Then it was time for them to lead us off to the huts, which we were to call home for the next (the longest) six weeks.
The huts were set in groups called ‘spiders’, this was because several billets of sleeping accommodation radiated off a central ablution facility like the legs of a spider. Each billet contained about thirty beds and on each bed was laid out a multitude of mysterious items: webbing, pouches, belts, tin hat, water bottle and an unrecognisable miscellany of bits and pieces. This turned out to be all the equipment a recruit would need to complete his basic training that was not dependent on the size of the individual. ‘Lights out at ten,’ we were warned, and more or less left in peace. As yet, although the surroundings were strange our captors seemed reasonably human. Beware the storm to come!

If we thought the world we had left for sleep on that first night was strange the world we were rudely awakened to next morning was totally alien. The method of waking us up, it seemed, was to throw a metal bucket bouncing and clanking down the centre of the room. While we sat up in our beds staring sleepily in disbelief at the bucket, the follow up arrived in the form of an enormous moustachioed corporal, who came clomping down the central aisle in huge boots, his green cape, dripping wet from the rain. He enforcing the point that he wanted us to get up by lifting the foot end of each of the beds into the air and then letting them crash down onto the floor. He accompanied this sadistic act with a rage contorted face, a dripping moustache and the words: ‘Git your feet on the floooor you ‘orrible gits!’ Outside on parade in five minutes.
We Were In!

Continued in a fortnight I’ll tell you how we went on

Our Old East Leeds Pubs and Schools are Morphing into Flats

January 1, 2020 by

East Leeds Past and Present
The face of our old East Leeds has changed greatly over the last few years. I have been out with my camera to record the new buildings alongside our old iconic buildings that they replaced. Should we weep for that we have lost or do we applaud their replacements? See what you think. Apologies for quality of pictures. ‘click’ on pictures to enlarge.

Old Bridgefield now new Copperfield’s home on
Site for people with special needs

Old St Hilda’s School, flats being built on site

Old Ellerby Lane School Flats on site

Old Fish Hut Ellerby House flats on site

Old Black Dog Flats on site

Old Waterloo pub Flats on site

Old Cavalier New Building on site

new slip

 

Princess cinema now a fish and chip shop Shepherd pub now flats. slip now a mini supermarket

Cross Green an American Diner Hampton now Flats

Old Victoria School New School on site

Poor old Spring Close Red Road but lost its colour

THANKFULLY STILL WITH US

East Leeds club East End Park Club

Edmund House Club East Leeds cricket club

St Hilda’s St Saviour’s

Mt St Mary’s Old St Saviour’s school
Now Flats

All old East Leerdsers will surely but how has the Ivy Mount
Remember The East End Parky’s House? Fish and chip shop survived
all

Requeim for our Dear Old Comics

December 1, 2019 by

REQUEIM FOR OUR OLD COMICS
I happened to be in the newsagents the other day when I heard him putting his order into the wholesaler and I heard him mention The Beano. When he had finished I said to him, ‘Wow is the Beano still going?’ and he confirmed that it indeed was. My mind went back to a time when Dad paid for the Beano and the Dandy to be delivered for me with the Yorkshire Evening Post newspaper, one on Tuesday and the other on Thursday. Eggo the Ostrich was on the cover of the Beano and Korky the Cat on the front of the Dandy, How I looked forward to receiving those comics. As it was wartime and even news print was rationed the newsagent only had an allocation of so many of those comics so you put your name down and waited for the day when some other lad grew out of them or didn’t pay the bill then you were on his list. Only the cover could run to colour and even that was poor quality it used to make me smile when the outline of a character would appear and then the colour of say his red jersey would appear as a splodge perhaps a millimetre away.
There were some great characters in those comics, Lord Snooty with his gang that included the perambulating babies, Snitch and Snatch, Lanky Lizzie, and Big Fat Joe. They used have altercations with the Bash Street Gang. Then there was Keyhole Kate who had developed a long nose through looking through keyholes, Beryl the Peril, Denis the Menace with his dog Nasher, Jimmy and his magic patch he had a patch on the back of his trousers if he rubbed it and thought of a place he would be transported there like on a magic carpet. These characters tended to get up to some dodgy jape but always tended to be found out and brought to justice in the end.
I remember particularly Desperate Dan, he was in the Dandy and carried six guns and ate cow pies complete with the horns sticking out of the top. I don’t suppose he would be politically correct today.

Why I remember Desperate Dan in particular is that he first appeared on the 4th of December 1937 which happened to be the day before I was born so, I could always claim that I was just one day younger that the famous Desperate Dan. I remember my aunt buying me the first edition of The Eagle, It had the space captain Dan Dare on the front cover and a picture of Mekon, Lord of the Treens. a little green man with a huge head flying around on a hover type saucer. Inside one of the feature stories was about, Harris Tweed the detective. I wish I had kept that comic I bet it would be worth a fortune today
I would invariably be told off by my dad for reading the comics next to my plate while I was eating my dinner as it was bad manners, bad for my digestion and bad grammar with all the ‘pows’ ‘biffs’ ‘wows’ ‘splats’, ‘crash bangs’ and speech balloons which accompanied the stories and he claimed that the tiny printing would damage my eyesight, but I don’t think he ever broke me of the habit. When you got to about eleven or twelve you had grown out of the picture comics and were ready to move on to the big lads written comics: The Wizard, The Hotspur, Rover and Adventure.
But before I move onto those I had better mention the comics specifically for girls. I have to admit I had to ‘Google’ to find them. Google gave me: ‘Cindy,’ ‘Vicky’, and ‘Lucy’, which I couldn’t recall and ‘Bunty’ which I did recall and ‘School Friend’ which really rang bell as it had in it Betty Bunter, the fat sister of Billy Bunter.

To get back to the lad’s comics; once again you had a long wait for the newsagent to be able to put you on his supply list; it was a seller’s market. Finally I started to receive The Wizard and The Hotspur, they were worth waiting for. To me most of the authors of those stories were top class; they kept you glued to your seat and the adventure ones finished on a cliff edge waiting for the next episode. Usually there would be about half a dozen stories in each issue: an adventure story, a public school story a football or cricket story depending on the season, one about athletics, probably one about the war which was ongoing at the time, perhaps one about someone with super powers. The tales had more than one string to them to keep the story flowing like ‘Limp along Leslie,’ he was a lad, lame in one leg, by day he was a shepherd in the Scottish hills where he was training his sheepdog to become a champion and at the same time as bamboozling everyone on the soccer field with his limping gait and finally, aspiring to play for Rangers.
Other football stories featured the famous, ‘Roy of the Rovers’ and ‘The Cannonball kid’ Usually there would be a picture drawn at the beginning of a football story showing a goal keeper making a prodigious diving save or the ball steaking into the very top corner of the net within inches of the post and the crossbar. One football story that stands out for me is: The tale about a rich mystery man who because of his immaculate appearance grew the nickname ‘Gorgeous Gus’ This guy bought a football club and paid massive transfer fees for all the positions except centre forwards. Everyone was excited who would be the mystery centre forward? It turned Gorgeous Gus was going to play centre forward himself. He used his own dressing room and appeared on the pitch for the first match, immaculately turned out with golden hair, golden boots etc. He wouldn’t chase the ball make any tackles but when they passed the ball to him he would hit it with such tremendous power that he scored a goal from anywhere on the field no matter how far he was away from the goal. If he got a speck of mud on himself he would go off the field and put clean kit on. These ‘boys own’ stories are still strong in my memory when even stories considered to be classics have faded.
Another series was ‘V for Vengeance’ about a British spy who managed to get to be second in command of the Gestapo and saved many lives [a likely tale]. Yet another was Jonny Appleseed a gentle American backwoodsman who had a vocation to plant apple trees all over America. For some reason someone was out to kill him but he had a protector that he wouldn’t recognise because he was violent and he hated violence. This guy was called ‘Slocum of the six knives’ and he followed Jonny at a distance keeping out of Jonny’s sight But anyone who tried to do Jonny harm would end up with one of Slocum’s knives in his back.
Yet another was ‘UGG! He was a cave man reanimated, he was stronger than any human and friendly to the main protagonist of the story but he carried a cricket bat in lieu of a club and when he went into action his war cry was, ‘The Clicker bar turns in my hand is the war cry of Ugg cracker of sculls,’
The ‘Tough of the Track’ was a working man and distance runner who rode about on a motor bike and side car with a highway code in his pocket which he would wave at folk who cut him up, He trained on fish and chips then went on to win all his races. One last one before I move onto my favourite, ‘Smith of the Lower Third’ Smith was the son of a grocer who won a scholarship to a upper class school where all the rest of the boys were toffs he had to fag for a ‘Flashman’ type prefect who was very cruel to him, but as with all these tales the underdog usually won through. But there was one episode that stands out for me it was the inter house athletics tournament and Tom’s house were poorly off for runners apart from one lad: Numb Ned. They knew Ned could run but Ned’s hobby was dozing in his old arm chair, they couldn’t budge him out of it, running in races was the last thing on his mind he never moved unless forced. Now It just so happened that a local furniture shop had the most luxurious, reclining chair in their window, it had all manner of head supports arm supports trays for drinks and soft music for dozing (there was a picture of it in the comic) So they showed Ned a picture of the chair and said they would have a whip round and buy it for him if he would run for the house in the races but that he couldn’t sit in it until after he’d won the race. Ned couldn’t wait to get sat in the chair so he won every race on the card just so he could quickly get back and doze in his chair. I suppose anyone who read those old comics had a particular favourite. So, who was my absolute favourite? It was Wilson of the Wizard of course.

Wilson lived outdoors on Ambleside moor in Yorkshire he always wore a black old fashioned running costume. He had managed to slow his heart rate down and was now one hundred and sixty years old. He couldn’t always be found but when he did appear, usually to help the country in the Olympics or something of that ilk he always accomplished some phenomenal feat at running, jumping, whatever. No one had reached the summit of Everest at the time so Wilson did it without oxygen and in his old running suit when he came down folk asked him if he had reached the summit and he replied, ‘That is a secret between me and the lady’. He was such a gentleman. Then he went and bowled the Australians out taking all ten wickets before lunch. He used to explain in the Wizard how to relax and slow his heart rate down to achieve all these feats. I tried it myself and actually had an out of the body experience I found myself floating up to the ceiling; I guess I was actually on the astral plain?

Beware the Cliff Edge

November 1, 2019 by

Beware the Cliff Edge
I hope you will indulge me as this month’s tale is my own regarding retirement and beyond. They talk of the great event milestones in life: Bereavement, Marriage Moving house etc. But there is another to add to the list: retirement. Perhaps this tale might help anyone coming up to retirement?

I’d had many jobs in my working life time and my final job was working for a metropolitan district council who had an obligatory retirement age of sixty-five years. For a while I had been marking down time to retirement like on the demob charts we had in national service and folk would say, you lucky B you’ll soon be able to take it easy and that was my thought too. About five or six weeks before my retirement was due another chap retired from the office and we had ‘a bit of a do’ for him like we always did and off he went and I thought he won’t be coming back to this great office on Monday morning and inside I thought. ‘Oh, I’m glad that’s not me’. From that day I had a sea change in my outlook instead of happily winding those days down I realised I was walking towards a ‘cliff edge’ and each day became a jewel to be savoured. An unreal situation begins to manifest itself as time grows short, you are in the work place but not of its future, instead, you are being persuaded ever so gently towards the cliff edge. Plans are being made of which you are no longer a part, someone else in the twinkling of an eye is absorbing the tasks you previously performed. Nobody ever prepared you for this.

Colleagues who had shared your joys and woes and you theirs are going to be plucked away from you in a frightening finality – no longer will you be privy to tales of the doings of their loved ones, sons and daughters and, oh! No more of those great laughs, the book is going to be slammed shut with an alarming thud. You had never thought before of how much you were going to miss this the old place. Worse is to come, there’s a dawning realization that there is going to be one particular day when the cliff edge will be actually reached and you will have to say goodbye to all these great mates with an element of composure and walk out of the door for the last time, a daunting prospect and as that day approached it made me feel quite ill. They had a bit of a do for me too and I had to give a speech and lay a ‘bun fight’ on for them, then while they were all still tucking in I slipped my pass and keys on the table and slipped out of the building for ever before I blubbed in front of them all, I couldn’t have faced having to shake hands with them all.

When I arrived home Brenda, my wife, could see I was bit upset and she said I have just seen Stuart he’s just retired too, I asked him how long it took him to get over it and she said, he thought for a bit and then said. ‘Oh About an hour.’ So that brightened me up a bit. It was coming up to Christmas 2002 and on the first Monday of my retirement I took to the canal bank it was a fine morning and all the crush of weekend walkers was over and I virtually had the bank to myself. So I walked along the canal bank thinking I’m a parasite on society now and wondering what I could do in my retirement. (No, I didn’t contemplate jumping in). So I walked and walked, I have a pedometer and when I got home I found I had walked six miles and enjoyed it. This isn’t so bad I thought I can walk everyday and so I did I walked twenty miles the first week and I thought I can do better than this so I walked thirty miles the next week and then forty and even fifty and I thought fifty seems a bit too much but perhaps I can maintain forty miles each week and see how far the gets me. So on the first week in 2003 I started walking forty miles every week and I kept a record and I thought I bet I can walk 10,000 miles like this at forty miles a week and I did it took me four and a half years. There was a contemporary record out that had the lines, ‘I have walked 5,000 miles and I can walk 5,000 more.’ So Brenda bought me a tee shirt which had printed on it; ‘I have walked 10,000 miles and I can walk 10.000 more’ Of course I daren’t wear it.

We had fallen into a quite indolent life style in that convivial office and we’d take any excuse: Someone’s birthday, someone becoming a grandparent and we would all celebrate with buns or sausage rolls. The walking helped to take off the four stone off I had put on in the office and got my blood pressure, which had been high, back to normal, within a year of me starting to walk.

So, I had well and truly got the walking bug, though I did get a bit obsessive on the days when for some reason I could not get out and do my six miles and I would make it up by walking more on others days. Even when I was away on holiday I would manage to take time out to get my six miles in. So, after achieving the 10,000 mile goal I though what can I do next? I found out that it was 24,901 miles around the Earth at the equator, so I thought is it possible for me to do that? (I counted in the 10,000 miles I had already done of course). I put a map of the world up on the wall and drew a red line around the equator. I kept a record of my mileage each day and where I would be if I was actually walking around the world properly I marked it off on the red line after I had completed each 1,000 miles (see Pic). Folk knew what I was doing and asked where are you now? and I would say I’m in Brazil etc. As the pacific is nearly 7,000 miles at the equator I was in there for nearly four years and folk would say are you still in the pacific and I would say yes, and my boots are beginning to leak ha-ha.. So, like Forrest Gump I walked and walked but like Howard in ‘Last of The Summer Wine,’ I had to be home for tea.

Daily walks record.
I completed the circumnavigation on American Independence day (4h of July) 2014 it had taken me eleven years and a bit, approximately 4,150 straight days at six miles a day. I had worn out four pedometers and a pair of boots a year I considered as the boots had a year’s guarantee on them and I hadn’t had them a year yet taking them back and saying look these boots are still under guarantee and they have worn out, of course I wouldn’t tell them they had walked 2,000 miles and of course I never did anyway. I completed did all the walks around West and North Yorkshire and I was always home for tea but I did have a few adventures, I got chased by a few bulls, fell in a few bogs, got caught up in a bit of barbed wire and once found a dead body but otherwise I was unharmed. I managed to walk the ‘Wakefield Way’ once and the ‘Leeds Country Way’ twice. These ‘Country Ways’ are a great starting point for any potential walking plan, the local councils have produced leaflets outlining the maps and dividing the walks up into ‘bite size’ walks with starting parking areas or bus routes for the none drivers. I can thoroughly recommend the ‘Country Ways’ and you get to see bits of the local area you hardly knew.. The ‘Maenwood Valley Trail’ is another fine hike if you live in the Leeds Area. I suppose I was lucky in seemingly having durable joints. Once or twice I thought a knee or an ankle was starting to fail but apologies to those with knee problems, I seemed to be able to walk through it

So did I pack up after completing the world trip? Nah, I’m still walking I have slowed down a bit but I have now done 34.700 miles since retirement. Have I got another milestone in mind? Well there is Earth to the moon but that’s 240,000 miles I don’t think I have enough time left for that. But seriously, for anyone coming up to retirement and at a loose end for something to do why not contemplate walking around the world frorm home? It improved my health and my wellbeing and you can always be home in time for tea.


I drew a red line along the equator

Wendy’s Poem

October 14, 2019 by

Mrs. Wendy Carew, East Leeds lass now living in Australia has found this poem

which seems appropriate to this weeks tale.

Wendy says not my poem but thought you might lke it.

Back in the days of tanners and bobs,
When Mothers had patience and Fathers had jobs.
When football team families wore hand me down shoes, And T.V gave only two channels to choose.

Back in the days of three penny bits,
when schools employed nurses to search for your nits.
When snowballs were harmless; ice slides were permitted and all of your jumpers were warm and hand knitted.

Back in the days of hot ginger beers,
when children remained so for more than six years.
When children respected what older folks said, and pot was a thing you kept under your bed.

Back in the days of Listen with Mother, when neighbours were friendly and talked to each other.
When cars were so rare you could play in the street.
When Doctors made house calls and Police walked the beat.

Back in the days of Milligan’s Goons,
when butter was butter and songs all had tunes.
It was dumplings for dinner and trifle for tea, and your annual break was a day by the sea.

Back in the days of Dixon’s Dock Green, Crackerjack pens and Lyons ice cream.
When children could freely wear National Health glasses, and teachers all stood at the FRONT of their classes.

Back in the days of rocking and reeling, when mobiles were things that you hung from the ceiling. When woodwork and pottery got taught in schools, and everyone dreamed of a win on the pools.

Back in the days when I was a lad,
I can’t help but smile for the fun that I had.
Hopscotch and roller skates; snowballs to lob.
Back in the days of tanners and bobs.

W

So Much Change in a Single Lifetime

October 1, 2019 by

Before this month’s tale an announcement: This year’s East Leeds Old Codger’s Reunion will be held at the Edmund House Club, Pontefract Lane, Leeds 9 from noon, on Tuesday 5th Nov 2019. Light refreshments will be available. All welcome.

SO MUCH CHANGE IN A SINGLE LIFETIME
If we are lucky enough to look back on a decent life span we cannot fail to notice the significant changes that have taken place.

Taking the changes that took place in my father’s lifetime: he was born in 1903 before man had powered flight and lived to see man fly to the moon!

Now, to consider our own generation: those babies born just prior to World War Two, the war babies themselves and the so called ‘baby boomers’, which were born when the heroes came home. I’ll try not to be judgemental and not even tackle bourgeoning inflation – the spiralling cost of things, which goes without saying and is perpetual. I consider, we who fall into those groups, to have been the luckiest of all the generations, although, it has tagged off a bit towards the end – more of that later. We were born into a god fearing society who told us that the world was created in seven days and Adam and Eve arrived fully formed without any evolution. Oh! And Eve was made out of Adam’s rib. Now the favoured view seems to be that we started off as single cell pond life. Quite a leap!
The war was, over Britain was broke but on the up. We left school at 14/15/16. And there were jobs for everyone. By the time modern youths are leaving Uni with a mountainous debt – you could have established yourself in a career and be on the housing ladder if you chose. Social accommodation was also available as they were still building council houses. Now large percentages of modern youth, although better educated than we, find it a monumental task to get on the housing ladder without a helping hand from our generation.
The population was mostly indigenous and there were few beggars. I cannot ever recall seeing folk sleeping rough on the streets, and never a food bank. Your mam took you to school on the first day thereafter you went on your own there was no ‘Chelsea tractor’ school runs. When your teacher pinned the world map up on the blackboard it was coloured predominantly in the red of the empire the Victorians won for us and we were proud. The Victorians set a high world platform for us that we have found impossible to maintain. Now colonialism is a dirty word and we are told we shouldn’t have been in those countries at all!
When they played God save the king/queen we stood to attention. We had capital punishment, hanging and corporal punishment – the cane. We did our courting around mellow street gas lamps (you could kick them to make them come on). The streets were mainly cobbled and the loos outside or down the yard. Now new houses have to have two loos at least and often more on-suite. We went to work or leisure in good old tramcars and our lovely red telephone boxes have given way to mobile smart phones and the sci-fi skype. When you looked up into the sky you saw spitfires, hurricanes and Lancaster bombers now you only see vapour trails.
In May 1953 – the same year as the coronation, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzzing, were the first men ever to conquer Mount Everest. It was seen as the ultimate achievement. In a recent picture published in the papers it could be seen that hundreds of people were queueing up to take their turn to stand on the summit. What happened there?

In 1954 Roger Bannister nearly expired after falling through the tape to break the four minute mile. Now they are doing in in 3 minutes 43 seconds! You were a big lad at school if you were in the top half of the five foots but that makes you a midget among metropolitan youth of today who are usually well over six foot. We were happy to have a holiday in Blackpool, now they go inter-continental.
Our generation was lucky enough to be the first to experience the new emerging ‘youth culture’ mainly imported from America but we saw the demise of many of our beloved places: the back street boozers, charabanc trips, local cinemas, local primary schools, red telephone boxes, friendly chatting on the doorstep, the demise of our beloved High Street department stores: Lewis’s, Schofield’s, Marshall and Snelgroves and Woolworths where you could buy your mam a birthday present with your pocket money. Taws and conkers have given way to electronic games, plastic, once hailed as the wonder material is now demonised as destroying the planet. Smoking, once the height of sophistication, especially on the cinema screen is now banned in most public spaces. Pints and pounds gave way to litres and kilos to suit the Europeans but America stayed true to imperial, bless ‘em. Things that came and went: National Service. If it came back today I wonder what percentage of the population would manage be ‘conscientious objectors’? And of course in the world of equal opportunity females would have to be conscripted too! For we in East Leeds there were a few places came and went too; Skelton Grange Power Station, Cross Green/ Copperfield’s School, built in the fifties gone already, Quarry Hill and to Leek Street flats gone too. But we enjoyed the football World Cup win in 1966, The Rugby Union World Cup win in 2003, the 1948 and particularly the 2012 Olympics and of course the Last Night of the Proms every year. Britain knows still how to put on a show!
The upside is medicine has improved, we still have the NHS (just) and generally we are living longer although we do inevitably lose good old friends along the way, We have social media I can send this ‘blog’ in the blinking of an eye for anyone around the world to read if they should wish. I like Alexa she can make bird song and sounds of the sea which sooths me. I’m quite proud that we have a tolerant metropolitan society and that people from all around the world are willing to risk great dangers to come and live here in spite of Brexit but I can’t help but think it is a less friendly place that we leave than that we entered. Surveillance is everywhere – like in Orwell’s 1984 ‘big Brother is watching us’. Live facial recognition, clip a bus lane and it’s a £60 fine similarly if you get caught in the yellow Hatching or just drop someone off where you shouldn’t or tarry too long on a meter or park where you shouldn’t and you would think you had committed a capital crime Then there is the congestion charges, emission fines, £75 if you are caught daring to feed the pigeons. The penalty always seems to far outstrip the crime. Fighting, knife crime and terrorism is ongoing all over the world and poverty and opulence exists side by side. Political correctness, ‘elf and safety, traffic wardens, yellow lines and carbon footprints, request for the public to nark to the police, sixty quid if you take your kid out of school for a holiday. It’s OK now to be gay, lesbian or trans gender, which is fine but if you touched somebody’s leg twenty years ago you had better look out!  Now I hear the courts are reviewing eighty laws as the sentences are too lenient!, no doubt all brought in with good intensions and no doubt are warranted, but it does tend to make life less fun and unfortunately, accelerating I.T. goes too fast for us geriatrics to keep up, and Oh! VAR and The Irish Backstop!

I keep finding more things to moan about. So Scotty, beam me back to the more friendly society of the fifties and a bit of decent music.

The ABC Houses

September 1, 2019 by

THE ABC HOUSES
As life accelerates beyond four score years and no one seems interested in writing an account of a lovely disappeared community and place you come to the realization that you must do it yourself or it otherwise it might not get done at all. Such a community and place is the ABC Houses and its community at Knostrop.
I used to think of those folk who lived in that single row of terrace houses in lower rural Knostrop (proper name Knostrop Terrace) as very lucky, slightly cut off from the rest of us they seemed to enjoy a more exciting life style, especially the kids. When the whole of Knostrop, which was part of the Lord Halifax Temple Newsam estate, was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Cross Green Industrial Estate I feared those folk from the ABC Houses in particular, plucked from their rural idyll would find it hard to settle, if they were cemented in with us in those well-loved but definitely urban streets of Cross Green, Richmond Hill or East End Park.
As a Knostrop lad myself from half way down Knostrop – Jaw Bone Yard – I would think how lucky my mates were from further down the road in the ABC houses to live in such a rural idyll. By the way we never did have a convincing answer as to why they were called the ABC Houses, the dozen or so houses were numbered numerically in the normal manner not alphabetically and they were originally built for workers at the sewage works and their families. The idea was formatted that ABC stood for: alum, blood and charcoal, which were the three constituents in the treatment of sewage but that somehow seems a bit unlikely. The houses had gardens at the front but no bathrooms apart from the two houses at each end which were slightly larger and housed the manager and the foreman. The toilets were outside in the back yards and the houses ran on gas until electricity arrived in the late fifties, shortly before their demolition.
They were never on a bus route and it was a long walk to the shops in fact sometimes adults sent kids for bits and pieces over the rickety paddy bridge and across the locks to Stourton. It was a penny to cross the locks so kids would dangerously climb up onto the huge railway bridge (the swing bridge that never swung) and kept the penny for the lock man for sweets. Having said all that, it was an absolute paradise playground for kids. I haven’t a picture of the ABC Houses but I have drawn a sketch of where they used to be.

there were seven of us lived in Jaw Bone Yard or there about which was a little higher up Knostrop Lane and we had the luxury of a big soil compacted farm yard where we could play football and cricket so the ABC kids would come up and have a game with us and then we would travel down the country Knostrop Lane to their magic habitat where they had everything kids could ever hope for. There were two plantations which we called the first wood and the second wood, the ABC kids could shin up those trees like monkeys and we were allowed to cut the dead trees down when we were chumping for bonfire night. They had the ‘Red Hills’ to clamber about on, these were the red shale residue from worked out coal mines, there was even an old mine shaft (Dam Pit) which was brick lined and filled up to about five feet from the top and there was a bit of residue pit head gear we dangerously played about in there unknowing that the shaft had only been capped off in timber which was probably now rotting. There were abandoned rail trucks on a siding line another playground for us and an abandoned prisoner of war camp which had held German and Italian prisoners. After they had left and until they pulled them down this was another source of our adventures. There were also the remains of a tank testing bath and the remains of the facilities of a barrage balloon and ack ack battery. There was a pond to catch tadpoles and sticklebacks and a bigger pond near the pig farm to fish for roach and perch with the traditional bent pin on a hook. The kids from the ABC Houses were more proficient at all these pursuits than us but less palatable for me were their ventures into ratting, rabbiting with their dogs and bird nesting but of course you kept that under your hat if you wanted to keep the salubrious relationship. We would just drift off around that vast area without any particular plan in mind and just have a great adventure wherever our feet took us; we were completely free to roam.
You could also nip across the old disused ‘Paddy’ bridge or cross the weir itself to the enigmatic Dandy Island with its putty mill and the mysterious Dandy Row. Who lived there where did their kids go to school? The kids from the ABC Houses and the farm cottages beyond had to make the long trek up to the same schools as we used, St Hilda’s, Ellerby Lane and Mount St Mary’s They usually rode their bikes up to the top of Knostrop Hill and then left them in a mate’s back yards. As there weren’t any school dinners until the late forties/early fifties they had to go home all that way and back again for their dinners, the teachers used to let them go early so they could get back for the afternoon session in time. But the Dandy Row kids would probably have to somehow cross the river?

It was a long way to the Easy Road picture house but probably safer to walk the long distance than to cross the river by the rickety bridge and the locks to Hunslet and go to the Regal or the Strand especially in the dark?
There was a narrow gauge railway for use of the works and sometimes a bogey would be left on the line and we would set it going and have a ride on it;

The sewage workers were quite tolerant of us in their little brick built pumping houses with sloping tiled roofs for all the world masquerading as cottages. In some of the fields where horses grazed you could pick wild mushroom they always smelt better than the cultivated mushroom you can buy today and ‘tusky’ wild rhubarb was liberally at hand if you were brave enough to take it without sugar.
There were a couple of farms and the farm cottages further before you reached Newsam Green. Skelton Grange Farm was a Leeds Corporation farm but they all had to make way for the Skelton Grange Power Station which has now been and gone but left us with the dangerous ‘sludge lagoons – wicked places which just had a white crust covering dep metres of black water, someone once, unthinkingly, threw a stone in there and my dog chased after it just managing to return before the ‘lagoon’ swallowed him up. So the area was not without its dangers: the sludge lagoons, Dam pit, the works settling tanks and the weir which was somehow controllable and there could by a surge of water when you were half way across. At just about our furthest limit to our adventures was the ruins of Thorpe Stapleton Hall habitat of owls and of great antiquity having been built in the 14th century in the time of King Edward the First perhaps the oldest building in Leeds but I have looked for it recently and all trace is gone. We would play a chasing game which took in all this vast area,

On the face of it the whole of our adventure expanse was rural but in fact Mother Nature had reclaimed it back after the Victorians had ravaged the land. All was green now but it was an industrial archaeologists dream, bits of industrial heritage were to be found everywhere as the area had once had at least seven pits, miles of wagon ways an iron works and the marvellously disappeared pit village of ‘Waterlooville’ the remnants of which I have sought for years.
They used to say that they couldn’t build on the area of our adventures as the land was undermined and liable to subsidence but they must have found a way of getting over that now, buildings abound, the sewage works now called: The Water Treatment facility has doubled in size. The workers there now are not as friendly as their predecessors and will stop entry, everywhere there are fences. You can see the Red hills through the fencing although they now look greyer than red and happily the two plantations still survive but look a bit scraggy. But as a place of adventure that is long gone and just a memory as long as we dwindling few exist, then no one will ever realize what a great place this used to be.
With the help of my good friend, the sadly recently departed, Eric Allen, we have compiled a list of the residents we remember as living in the ABC Houses in the 1940s/50s. His mother, Lucy, was a Dobson and lived in the ABC Houses before she married
Knostrop Terrace
(The ABC Houses) Family Name Children’s names dogs
Shepherd
Benn
Keeling
Harrison Denis/Brenda Laddie
Patrick
Firth
Day
Jordon
Miss Barmfirth/Ainsworth
Linley Denis
Jacobs
Mosedale
Day
Sedgewick Bill/Harold Trixie
Dobson
Through the gates
Proctor Lizzie

Skelton Granger Farm Jameson George
Edwin
Gordon
Blower Sheila
Brenda
Farm Cottages Fox Alan
June
Doris
Hewitt Barbara
Betty
Other Farms Austin
Craven
Bickerdike