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Barwick in World War 1

from The Barwicker No.14

June 1989

I was 9 years old at the start. Germany was well organised for war. England had faith in a scrap of paper, which the Kaiser burnt. The result, England declared war on Germany. It was a great shock to the people when the Zeppelins started dropping bombs and the submarines blowing up ships, to prevent any food, etc. coming into England. The people settled down to fight a long war. For a short time, it was not felt, but when food etc. was in short supply, then it began to hit home. Naturally, the people with money bought all they could. That's when the working people started to dig in. Coal was one of the main factors to keep our railways running and for steam ships, especially the kind of coal the "Isabella" mine produced, which was kept for warships because it was practically smokeless. "Miners became as important as soldiers and as Barwick had many miners, they played their part.

There were shortages of food and labour and that's where the women came in. The munitions factory at Barnbow was started and mostly operated by women. Then the "Women's Land Army" came into being - Olive Collett was one. She would have made a good sergeant- major. Farmers grew more potatoes and wheat. Old women and boys reaped the harvest. A school boy could earn a shilling a day picking potatoes in holiday time. A lot of pasture land was turned into arable land. The only land left for pasture was on the slopes. An example was the field belonging to the Manor Farm which we used to cross to get to the mines and it was cultivated and sown with wheat. There were different plots for different types of wheat, to see which plot produced the best crop. You could always tell which day was Sunday in those times. Nobody worked on Sundays. Compare that with the Sunday of our times now. You may think this queer, but the Reverend Harvey gave his permission to dig gardens on a Sunday!

Furthermore, the croft was turned into allotments for gardens. As time passed on, the :food you could buy was becoming worse and worse. White flour became darker and darker. Butter was unobtainable, only margarine and scarce at that. Sugar went from white to brown, then down to a sticky mess, mostly mixed with molasses. Then the chemists created saccharine tablets, which were sickly sweet. Then tea became very scarce and tobacco also. Smokers always saved the tea leaves from the pot and mixed something with them and smoked the mixture. Golden syrup was finished, only dark treacle which became darker. The farmers did at least have their m1lk, butter and meat. Then towards the end or the war, they were not allowed to slaughter animals for themselves alone but had to let the butcher do that. Of course they got some of it for themselves.

Villages like Barwick were the last on the list for food, Inghams and Lumbs got very little to sell in the food line, Footwear and clothing were also affected. The motto was "Leather for soldiers' boots; cloth for khaki uniforms".

My dad would go to Leeds to do the shopping. His bike had a step on the back wheel instead of a nut. I rode behind with one leg on the step and one knee on the carrier. Dad always had two large bags with handles on to carry the goods. He had to go to the junction of the tram lines from Halton. In between that line and the Killingbeck line was a small shop, looked after by a little old lady. You could leave your bike there for a penny.

So I got to know the places to buy goods. Liptons was one with an open display of their bacon rashers. But Dad could only go on Saturdays. Of course, the large shops had more stock of food, so one was able to buy mare food. Then it became so serious that the shops would only open perhaps one day a week and let you have so much for each person. That's where I came into the picture. Dad would give me some money and tell me what to get; anything at all. Then it became worse still; one had to stand in a queue four deep. Some would go right round the block.

I started work on January 2nd. 1918. The miners would not work on New Year's Day, war or no war. When I got my bike I was able to go to Leeds on my own. My brother Sydney, who was three years older than I, worked at the Isabella mine. When we could not obtain tea any more, he was going silly; he could not cope. Miners mostly took tea to work in enamel bottles. So 1 said I would go to Leeds to get some tea. The little old lady, where we used to leave our bikes, said to me "What are you going for today?" I replied "Anything to eat, mostly tea". She then advised me which shop would be best to go to.

When I arrived at the shop there was a long queue. I knew if I went to the end of the queue they would have sold out, so I hung around. I always looked younger than my age. 1 hoped that those in front 01 the queue would think I belonged to somebody in the queue. It worked like a charm. When the doors opened, there was a mad rush that took me in with them. I was always a quick learner and after that I always used the same strategy, However I was able to procure a large tin of treacle and some bacon, but no tea. When I returned to the little old lady's shop, she asked me how I'd fared. I remarked "No tea!", She then said "1 have some sample tea packets in the window, which you can have." It was a good feeling to be able to take food home. The only time you see queues now is for sport or the theatre. When I now see queues for pleasure, it reminds me of the time people queued for food.

Towards the end of the war, rationing was introduced giving each person a fair go and was kept going after the war till events returned to normal. As a family we were better off than lots of people. Dad had two allotments and grew a lot of potatoes. We had a few hens and a pig and a good scrounger, to wit myself.

Another thing of note was that sparrows were concerning farmers by taking seed out of the ground and taking food from poultry, etc. So the farmers would pay a penny or a halfpenny for dead sparrows taken to Mr Helm's kitchen door. So we used all sorts of means to catch sparrows. A new item of food was found for the table - sparrow pie!

Now, of course, Zeppelins were something new in warfare and they made people really frightened, more so when the munitions factory started at Barnbow and the search-light squad at Laverack. My father, on his way home from work, saw a Zeppelin. He was coming up from the beck where the squad was, so he may have seen it in a search-light. That night a bomb was dropped on York but only hit one house. When a Zeppelin was about, ground birds used to became agitated and make a great noise.

Then it was lights out for everyone. Each night, men volunteers had to do the rounds to warn people about lights. One thing in Barwick's favour was that there were no street lights. All blinds had to be altered from light colour to dark green. Bicycle lights had to be turned downwards so no light was visible.

Any strangers in Barwick had to be watched. Old Mr Corlett made a good example of a "German spy". He lived with his son, Frank, and an attractive housekeeper. He had a full beard, wore a smoker's hat and coat, and smoked a queer sort of pipe. He was not seen much in Barwick, but went to work in Leeds by train. I was a friend of Frank's till his father made him join the Navy.

Boots and shoes were in short supply so people had to use clogs, some without irons. It was found that clogs for small children were good for their ankles. Clogs had no give in them and they were made to look nice with a bright red, thin leather, with brass nails with big heads to hold the tops to the wood.

My mother lost three brothers out of six in the war; three soldiers and three sailors. The eldest brother, Uncle Jim, was a miner at Micklefield. He had a wife and two daughters and one son. He need not have gone but he thought it was his duty. He never came back and no-one knew how he lost his life. It was believed that he was blown to pieces. His eldest daughter, with the aid of a government grant, became a school teacher.

We lived in a row of three houses, with Wilkinsons in the first and two elderly spinsters in the centre. Miss Rowe, one of the spinsters was always interested in me. She asked me if I would get some twigs for her to light her fire. So I went down Dark Lane and got a nice little bundle of twigs, about four inches long, with a diameter of about two inches, and tied them up with wool. I must have been about 3-4 years old. She gave me a penny and kept the bundle of twigs for a keepsake. The first victims of the war were the Belgians and a lot of them fled to England, so the two elderly ladies had to go to some institution and the Belgians had their house. After the war,they went back to Belgium and the two elderly ladies returned to their home. They were heartbroken. The Belgians had burnt their sticks!

Then another disaster struck, which was eventually world wide, even in Australia. Spanish Influenza! Why Spanish I don't know. They said it was caused by rotting soldiers' bodies in France. Thousands died. I was one of the early victims. Before I had my bike, I used to walk the three miles to work. One day I was sent home, because I was ill. I don't know how I got home. When I got my senses back, I was in bed. My mother got the district nurse; it was the Flu. I can remember when I was recovering, a piccolo player in the street was playing "Cavalleria Rusticana" by Mascagni. It was the first time that I had heard it.

By then, people had plenty of money, but nothing to spend it on. The soldiers returned and had a good time while it lasted and then went back to work in the mines. One sad case was William "Wiz" Woodhead from Windmill Yard. He had been taken prisoner early in the war and kept in Germany. He was just skin and bone for a start and he could not hold any food down. He had a lot of money coming to him so he did not have to worry about having to go back to work. Eventually he went back to the Isabella mine. A few days later, he was killed. By that time I was down the mine as a pony driver. Both brother Sydney and I were on the night shift. I was affected by the incident, because I had to take the tubs of coal from that same spot. The next night I refused to drive the pony, I was so scared. So my brother Sydney and I changed for the night. He took my place and I took his.

Soon after that, another disaster struck the miners. Germany had to pay war reparations and could only pay in coal, so the miners worked only about two days in each week. How quickly the scene changes when there is money involved! The under-aged and the older-aged who kept the mines going in the war were on the scrap heap and it was the same with the returned soldier - miners. During the war, the people had never been so united; now it was back to square one!


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