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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories

THE MEMOIRS OF JACK AARON


JACK AARON

The Memoirs of Jack Aaron - childhood in Knottingley and German prisoner of war

CHAPTER ONE

I first saw the light of day at the former Rising Sun public house on Jackson Lane, Hill Top, Knottingley, on 1st June 1919. I was the fourth of seven sons to be born to my parents Joe and Ethel Aaron and all seven of us saw active service during the Second World War.

My brother’s Walter, George, and Herbert served in Europe and took part in the D-Day landings while I myself served in the British Expeditionary Force 1939. Harold (Mick), Bill and Jeff served in the Far East but Bill was captured at Singapore and forced to work on the notorious 'Railway of Death', which was built as a strategic railway between Thailand and Burma. Bill said every sleeper they laid represented a human life lost and in total the sixteen-month long construction of the railway cost the lives of 16,000 allied prisoners and 100,000 slave labourers.

My mother was a trained dressmaker who was well known around Hill Top and especially by Miss Hunter who lived just down the lane and who owned a haberdashery shop on Aire Street. With all due respect to the lady concerned, Miss Hunter was a large built lady similar in appearance to the actress Hattie Jacques.

My mother was also a very good baker and she made some "exceedingly good" raisin pastry, currant jam, and date pastry as well as bread, scones and teacakes. Looking back I find it hard to imagine how she found the time with seven growing lads and a poorly husband to care for, but she did.

My father had been ill for some time and I remember going to the doctor's to collect his medicine for him. It was a white liquid, which helped to ease his complaint for a short while.

The old Rising Sun public house was situated at the junction of the main A645 road through Knottingley and the entrance to Marine Villa Road, which in those days was known as Jackson's Lane. The Rising Sun pub had been in existence since the early nineteenth century but time was finally called on the 21st December 1907, after which the premises were closed.

No longer serving the needs of the local population as a place for refreshment the building was converted into shops and cottages. When I was very young the property consisted of a fish and chip shop facing onto the main road, which was rented by my uncle Herbert Aaron and his family, and then there was a small shop facing onto Jackson's Lane which belonged at one time to Mr. Everett.

We lived in the first cottage along Jackson's Lane and my mother's sister, Auntie Chris Williamson, lived next door to us. Auntie Chris had lost her husband Jack, whom I was named after, during the First World War. The Gill family lived in the next cottage and then the Foster's while the next building along was the Old Hall, which at this time had been converted into three dwelling apartments. On the right of the Hall lived Dr. and Mrs Bell, while in the middle lived two sisters and to the left was Miss Burns.

Dr. and Mrs Bell had a son named Roland who kept chickens in an allotment behind the Hall where he would spend the best part of the day in retreat from everyone. He would set off with a basket full of eggs over his arm, which I think he sold to the Co-op. After walking for a short distance he would suddenly increase speed for a short time, and then revert back to his original walking pace. He dressed in a pair of old knee-length breeches, with long thick stockings up to his knees, and wore a battered old woollen hat on his head. Though I never once heard him utter a word he was actually a very nice man, and he must have led a very peaceful life in that paddock with his hens away from everyone else. I've often wondered what happened to him.

I remember back at the Rising Sun cottages, Auntie Chris owned a beautiful big black shiny tomcat named Nig. To keep on his best side I used to sit by the fire stroking his shiny fur. Sometimes I wondered if old Nig ever had a good side because every time I'd finished grooming him, just before he jumped off my knee, he would dig his claws in hard (beware the dagger in the velvet glove they say!). Anyway, old Nig had his favourite spot for sunbathing outside on the window ledge. He'd close his eyes, but he was always very alert and aware of everything that was going on around him.

Mrs Garner who lived at the Green House Farm on Spawd Bone Lane used to visit the Co-op for whatever groceries or provisions she needed and her route took her past the Rising Sun cottages where we lived. Crossing the Greenhouse fields with her dog Bunty, passing The Grove on her left, she would proceed up Jackson's Lane, past Miss Hunter's cottage on the right, towards the inevitable confrontation. Old Bunty was truly quite an inoffensive dog in spite of being very big and strong but she was no match for Nig. He would wait until they drew level with him and then simply roll off the ledge, claws fully extended, and drop down onto old Bunty's back, which he regarded as his own personal landing strip. Nig dug his claws in hard to get a firm grip and Bunty gave out a great yelp of pain and spun round the way she had come. Then she ran hell for leather back to the farm, with old Nig stuck to her back like shit to a blanket, leaving Mrs Garner standing there.

Mr. Garner, who farmed out of the Green House Farm, once deposited several cartloads of old potatoes in the Greenhouse fields, which we regarded as our playing fields. I can never recall ever being chased out of the fields. I suppose the old boy thought it was a waste of time and we would only have made a game of it anyway.

Placed conveniently some fifty or sixty yards apart the piles of potatoes were perfect as ready-made ammunition! Splitting up into two parties, the younger kids mixed up with the older kids, we set to. It was great fun.

In the group opposite ours was a big lad and he had started pinpointing the younger end of the 'enemy'. After a short time I received a potato 'shell' right bang in the middle of the forehead - bullseye! What a hit - I never saw it coming. The potato exploded into several fragments upon impact but oddly enough I never felt any pain at all. The fact that the potatoes were rejects and softened may have saved me from black eyes and headaches or even worse!

Access onto the Greenhouse Fields, which I think must have taken its name from the old Green House Farm, was gained from the far end of Jackson Lane. For the neighbouring kids this was our recreation ground, where we played football, cricket, kick-can, and peggy, long before the council had acquired the land for provision of the town playing fields.

Peggy comprised a short piece of wood, about five inches in length, which was tapered at each end. It was placed into a shallow hole with one end tipped up and the idea was to hit the piece that was tipped up with a stick, making it spin upwards into the air. You then had to hit it again with your stick as far as you could knock it. I forget the exact rules now but I think you had to guess how far it had gone after you'd hit it - this was then paced out. If you'd guessed correctly you'd won. Marvellous!

Separating the Greenhouse from the adjoining field was an old limestone wall, which is still there to this day. One day a herd of cows were grazing just beyond the wall in the adjoining field along with a young bull. We found a sack and rammed it full of grass and, leaning over the wall, we started to swipe the bull across its face with the sack. It didn't like it but we weren't hurting it. Eventually it got fed up but we felt we were safe behind the wall, when all of a sudden it jumped straight over the top and chased the lot of us out of the field - sack and all.

At the end of the field was Mr. Tom Jackson's residence, now re-named The Close and used as the local council offices. Directly opposite was the Gentleman's Club, as it was called in those days, with Mr. Titch Tomlinson as the steward. Now of course we know it as the Conservative Club.

The area around Jackson's Lane right up to Hill Top has changed considerably over the years, certainly very different today from how it was when I was a youngster.

On the other side of the main road, opposite the entrance to Jackson's Lane, were the Lodge gates, with a pathway leading down to the brewery. One day, crossing the road to go through the gates, I heard rifle shots coming from within the brewery. Tommy Sides, who was a director of Carter's Brewery, organised regular shooting parties along with some of his police friends. On previous occasions we had received a few coppers for carrying the dead rooks so we made our way across hoping to earn a few more.

Just off the main road, opposite a bungalow belonging to a Mr. and Mrs Fletcher, was a steep incline with a fence at the bottom. While making my way down this incline I lost my footing and slithered down on my behind with my arms spread out in a vain attempt to stop my fall. I felt my right hand pass through something greasy and glancing back I saw that it was a dead cat and the smell was terrible! However, in those days you didn't run home to wash your hands because you might get caught for running errands, so having scrubbed my hands rigorously with long grass I carried on.

Hearing a little scream, we looked round and saw that one of the ladies among the shooting party had stumbled while trying to climb over a wire fence and was hanging upside down with both legs up in the air showing off her white bloomers. We helped her back to her feet, dusted her down and she was fine again, but I can imagine how embarrassed she must have felt.

I remember our bare-foot days during the autumn time when the horse chestnut trees along Hill Top were shedding their leaves and conker's. If you were lucky you got a conker on top of your head! Underfoot the leaves would be up to two feet deep from the area opposite the Bay Horse Inn right down to the entrance to Brewery Lane. We kids used to run through the leaves in our bare feet. It was a pleasant feeling with the leaves crackling beneath us, but it didn't last long once my mum had spotted us. "Get your shoes on, showing me up!" she would shout despairingly.

In those days cattle used to arrive at Knottingley railway station, being transported in four-wheeled cattle trucks. Legga Sweeting, as we called him, and Charlie Holt, took charge of them.

On dark evenings Legga walked along in front holding a lantern while Charlie walked behind in charge of the dogs as they herded the cattle down towards Aire Street to a farm on Cow Lane opposite Billy Mowbray's. In those days the streets were illuminated only by gas lamps, which were lit by the lamplighter, Mr. Hart.

Legga and Charlie were always on the lookout for one or another animal making a diversion and creating havoc but the dogs would normally bring them back.

One night though one of the cows broke away from the herd and as it came along on the path, it turned around quickly and headed up the passage at the rear of our house, clearing it in no time. What laughs we had watching them trying to manoeuvre it round and get it back with the others. I don't know if it was the same cow or not but one went through the door in the Meadows Dairy shop and came back out through the window!

On another occasion, Jim Marshall was coming out of Jackson's Lane carrying a pile of gramophone records in his hands. He met some cows at the corner head on and down he went, along with the records. Some wag remarked afterwards "You broke the record that time Jim"

I was only about ten years old at this time and the cows scared me to death so I always retreated back into the relative safety of the passage when they drew level.

As a lad I used to collect fish packed in ice from the station for Mrs Athorne who owned a fish and chip shop on Hill Top, next to the Bay Horse Inn. I used a sack barrow and I remember the way the icy water used to seep out of the wooden boxes as I made my way back to the shop. Mrs Athorne rewarded me with twopence in old money, which was very generous of her in those days, as fish and chips were threepence at the time if I remember correctly. The fish were transported from Hull or Grimsby by rail to Knottingley station. Tommy Millward used to collect the fish for General Barker who owned a fish and chip shop adjoining the Wagon and Horses Public House in Aire Street.

Just behind the Rising Sun Cottages there was a passage leading to a large yard where the Austerberry family lived along with old George 'Snuff' Shaw and his wife and family. George was a miner and their children were Nellie, Harold and George junior. Young George, like me, was taken prisoner of war and endured the same death march as myself although we never met during that period.

On the other side of the passage lived Mrs Miller and her two sons, Sydney and Herbert. I believe that Sydney was killed during the war.

Next door to the Miller's lived Joe Hepworth with his wife Ada and his family of Dickie, Florence, Jimmy, Alice and Joe Junior. Joe was an old soldier and I remember when he died soldiers came down from Pontefract Barracks to give him a military funeral. As the cortege made its way towards the cemetery on Womersley Road all the kids raced off ahead and arrived there before the procession. I was there when they lowered his coffin into the ground and the soldiers fired three volleys over his grave. It was a very sad occasion.

Next door to the Hepworth's lived Mrs Brown who brewed some very tasty herb beer. Her husband Jackie, like most of his fellow workers, wore clogs for work and you could always hear the miners setting out to catch the train at Knottingley station early in the morning. I think it was called the Paddy Train but I don't know why. They had two sons, Stan and Harold. Stan was killed in action in Normandy and Harold was taken prisoner of war.

It is some reflection of the devastating effects of war that from that small yard alone there were four prisoners of war: Jack Aaron (myself), Bill Aaron, Harold Brown and George Shaw while Herbert Aaron and Stan Brown were both tragically killed in action.

A little further along Hill Top was the Working Men's Club or the Top Club as it was known, where Tom Beavis was the steward. Tom had his home next door to the Club but I don't recall much about him.

One day, in search of some amusement, we kids had a brilliant idea. In those days on either side of the steps leading into the Top Club there was a brick and iron-railing wall where the members used to park their bicycles. We decided to remove the air valves from each wheel and as you can imagine, there was hell to play when the members eventually emerged from the club to discover that all their tyre's were flat.

Just past the club there was a narrow lane leading to a field where Charlie Atmore used to keep his pony and milk float. I occasionally accompanied Charlie on some of his trips and later that same day, trotting up past the club with Charlie in his milk float, as we approached the club we saw a group of men milling around in front. Suddenly one of the men pointed at me and shouted; "there's one of them!" I immediately crouched down to hide among the milk churns. "Gee up Charlie!" I knew I was on the hit list of the cycling members of the club.

My Uncle Herbert Aaron kept pigs in an enclosure at the back of the Club. It was an ideal place - isolated and secluded. One day he went down to feed his animals and to his horror discovered that the pigs had all been painted different colours! A group of kids, my younger brothers included, had found some paintbrushes and tins of paint and they had really gone to town, creating technicolour pigs! Uncle Herbert was fuming but I'm sure he would have seen the funny side of it all afterwards.

On the opposite side of the narrow lane was the butcher's shop of Geordy Taylor. He was a very good butcher and when passing his shop around dinnertime you could always smell his dinner on the go - something I will never forget. His wife's maiden name was Minnie Fisher. My dad once asked him "George, do you only kill half a beast at one time?" as he never had more than a half carcass hung up in his shop. The other half would be in the other butcher's shop in Aire Street.

Tom Taylor was one of the shopkeeper's on Hill Top and amongst other things he sold paraffin. A lot of people had paraffin lamps in those days and Tom had an all metal proper paraffin dispenser, which came up to his waist. You placed your quart bottle under the spout and he would work the pump handle up and down and any overflow would run back down the drain. I can see him now pumping away with a lighted cigarette in his mouth - in fact I don't ever recall seeing him without a cigarette in his mouth!

Mr. Jimmy Sutton was the manager of the Co-op, a very nice man who sometimes asked me to accompany his driver in his old Thornycroft lorry with its solid rubber tyres and a top speed of about 20mph. You could certainly feel the ride delivering groceries around the villages. Long before it was demolished, we would pull in at the old George and Dragon at Whitley Bridge for our lunch. Mr. Sutton would give me 1s 6d for the afternoon runs and 2s 6d for the all day run around Whitley Bridge and neighbouring villages. Sometimes I would be asked to go with old Bert Spur with his horse and dray round Knottingley, which I enjoyed and sometimes with Jim Rhodes in his fast Ford lorry. Ernest Newlove was employed at the Co-op and I liked to be served by him. He had two charming twin daughters, Joan and Audrey.

Next door to the Co-op, was old Tommy Burdin's cottage and in those days people used to sit around outside during the hot weather. Tommy would sit there smoking his pipe and enjoying the day's sunshine. He spoke with a slight stutter and one day as we were passing by, there was an old cat sitting on the kerb washing itself, licking its paw and rubbing it over and behind its ears as cats do. Tommy said to someone " I… I…I wish I could d…d…do that", but by the time he had got it out the cat was licking its backside!

Opposite the entrance to Forge Hill Lane was the Bay Horse Inn where Archibald Frazer was the host. Jack Smeaton and Ned Foulds, two old buddies, were passing by one day when they were accosted by Archie's little terrier. It wouldn't stop yapping and so old Jack bent down, picked it up and bit off its tail, which I thought was barbaric. I later discovered that that's what the old dog breeders did to their pups. They would feel for the joint in the pups tail and bite through - called docking. The next day the pup would be running around perfectly okay but I bet Archie's terrier wouldn't run after old Jack Smeaton again in a hurry.

Jimmy Glendenning had the yard where Sam Maeers' Transport Garages are now. You could go down to Jim's with some jam jars and he'd give you a few coppers. What he did with the jars I don't know. One day Jimmy and his brother Bob had a difference of opinions and started fighting. During the fight Bob bit off part of Jimmy's ear and they never spoke to each other again after that.

Also up Hill Top, at the entrance to Jail Yard, leading into the Holes, was a cobblers shop owned by little Freddy Turton. I think that was his name though I could be wrong. Anyway, my Aunt Ethel lived nearby and she was always one for a laugh and one particular day Jim Marshall, who had an artificial leg, came into the shop. The shop itself was elevated about six feet from ground level and you had to go up some stone steps to reach the door. Some people whom Freddy knew were allowed to stay a while to get a bit of a warm and have a cigarette - Aunt Ethel being one of them. Jim, despite having only one leg, wanted his shoes repairing and while Freddy was doing the job Ethel went over and whispered to him "Hey Freddy, turn the shoe on the artificial leg around so that it points backwards." After Freddy had finished his work Jim tried on the shoes and when he saw what had happened he was outraged. "Look at that" he exclaimed, "I'll be walking round in blooming circles now!"

My Uncle Herbert Aaron, apart from owning the fish and chip shop at the Rising Sun cottages was also landlord of the Old White Swan Inn, next to Sculpture House for some time. Getting out the sack barrow, Uncle Herbert used to give me twopence if I would bring him two sacks of hops from the brewery for the pigs. These were hops that had been through the brewing system but which were ideal as pig feed. I used to eat some on the way back - they tasted a bit like potato crisps.

I remember the White Swan as a lad in my early teens when you walked in onto a solid stone flagged floor. On your left was a small bar and on your right after you had received your beer was a room with lovely old wooden bench seats that continued all the way around the room with tables set out for cards or dominoes. At the rear following the bench seat were some wooden partitions about five feet high which I think were to protect the customers from draughts. It was very cosy especially with the Inglenook fireplace recessed into the wall with a little seat on either side.

My grandfather, George William Johnson, used to take my sister and my cousin down to Saint Botolph's Church every Sunday morning. On their way home after the service the Old Swan was as far as my grandfather would go. Giving the kids some sweets he would tell them to get off home, charge his pipe and disappear inside the Swan.

As I recall there were only two rooms inside. Apart from the room with the Inglenook fireplace there was the front room which housed a piano and attracted the lads because one of them could play it. This also attracted Charlie Bowers, one of the regulars who used to regale us with his exploits as a brewery dray driver, delivering barrels of beer all over the place. At each Inn or drop he would be offered beer by the landlord - his 'allowance', as Charlie called it.

Once while delivering beer in Wakefield Charlie got into an argument with a big man who wanted to fight him. Back home in Knottingley, Charlie was well known for his exploits with the police and many a baton had bounced off Charlie's head. He was really a very quiet man but extremely strong and powerful. He was always ready for a laugh and he had us in stitches on lots of occasions. Anyway, half way through the fight Charlie said to the man "Hold it, tha's paggerin me, let's stop and have a drink!"

Charlie was never in any serious trouble with the law but the duty Police Sergeant knew it was useless sending just a single constable to bring him in when he was in his cups. He was a real character but a very happy one.

Jack Aaron


CHAPTER  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11



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