Barwick in World War 1
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Barwick in World War 1
from The Barwicker No.14
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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