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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories

THE MEMOIRS OF JACK AARON


CHAPTER 11

FREEDOM

By the time we touched down in England it was dark and the only place name I can remember was Aylesbury. The airfield could have been RAF Brize Norton, but I'm not certain.

We were taken to a camp near Beaconsfield and entering the ablutions there we again suffered yet another anti-vermin attack by puffers. Our clothes were collected and burned and off we went to the showers with some real soap. Absolute luxury!

Back in Germany we had been issued with a green bar of soap about half the size of a bar of Lux toilet soap, that felt gritty. This had been used for showers, shampoos and washing your clothes. After the war I read somewhere that the Germans made soap out of dead bodies and there were plenty of those available. I hate to think what our German soap contained. I would rather remain ignorant and not know!

Fresh from the showers we were each issued with a new battle dress, food, and a hot drink. The next morning we were told to take our new battle dresses into the adjoining field where some very pleasant WVS ladies were waiting at long trestle tables. They were there to stitch all that was required onto our jackets.

It was a beautiful day. Oh to be back in England now that spring is here! It was wonderful to hear the children there speaking in English which sounded beautiful after the German we had been accustomed to hearing for so long.

Having been knocked into some sort of respectability once more and kitted out with our new gear, which felt great, we were sent home on leave. We walked to the railway station, which was a typical country, open-air style with the porters trolleys lined up down the centre of the platform. I looked into the waiting room but there was nobody there but I spotted a discarded walking stick. "I know someone who will appreciate that back home," I thought.

Coming out of the waiting room I noticed a bit of a commotion round the trolleys. The trolleys were loaded with rabbits for the London market. Old habits die hard, so I selected a good sized one and slid it into my small pack as I carried on up the platform. Looking back the trolleys looked a sorry sight, some empty, some half empty, but still, the countryside down there was running wild with rabbits.

The next stop was Waterloo and then we made our way into the subway for Kings Cross. Arriving at Kings Cross we made a dash for the mainline station platform. It was guaranteed to be standing room only by now. Getting into a crowded train is a bit of an ordeal at anytime but with so many service personnel and their kit bags among all the other passengers and their belongings it wasn't easy. However we settled ourselves aboard. I was leaning on my newly acquired walking stick and hanging onto the rail that runs across the corridor windows, prepared to hang on in there until we reached Doncaster. I was only too pleased to be going home. No complaints!

After a while I heard the door behind me slide open and looking round I saw an army sergeant motioning me to take his seat just behind the door. No words were spoken and having sat down I thought the guy must be mad, but then it hit me - the walking stick! I was on the point of getting up and explaining but then I thought otherwise; that man had in all good faith got up in front of all those passengers and offered me his seat so why should I spoil his day? I felt really guilty just the same, but I thought it was the best solution. It restored my faith a bit in army sergeants though!

At the end of another tiresome journey it was nice to hear a good old Yorkshire voice bawling "Doncaster" - it made me feel at home. Getting up I looked round for the English sergeant intending to thank him for giving up his seat but I never saw him again.

Eager to get home now, I hurried out of the station and across the bridge to the bus station and boarded my bus. As I settled down in my seat and waited for the bus to start, along came a young lady to whom I offered my fare. "No, no", she said, "We don't accept money from service personnel", which I thought was a very nice gesture.

Eventually we got moving and it was heart-warming to gaze out of the windows and recognise familiar villages and country lanes. Next stop Knottingley.

Alighting from the bus opposite Morley Estate I suddenly realised I had come full circle and as I proceeded over the crossing on England Lane I espied my sister standing at the garden gate. Tragically, she had to welcome me home with the bad news that my younger brother Herbert had been killed during the Normandy landings and I immediately recalled how he had presented me with his wristwatch on my departure all those years ago.

Kathleen, my future wife, had witnessed my homecoming from a distance. She later told me she had made it her objective to meet me, which she eventually did after passing by our house a number of times with her friend Sadie.

I asked her if she would like to go out to the pictures with me, which I think was the normal thing between boys and girls in those days. "Yes", said Kathleen, "I'd love to." I had obviously hit the right note because Kathleen loved motion pictures and that's how our great romance began. After that first date the Saturday night picture show became the highlight of our week and our courting continued for almost the next two years until Kathleen reached 21 years of age and agreed to marry me.

One morning, we found ourselves outside a jeweller's shop in Pontefract and Kathleen pointed towards the window and said "Jack, I like that engagement ring."

"Okay," I said, "we'll go in and you can try it on. If you like it you shall have it." We got it!

After making the wedding arrangements with the Vicar I decided to leave the organisation to Kathleen. That proved to be a good idea as she loved organising things and she has kept me in check ever since.

At this time the council were building new council houses and so we applied and obtained our first home just a few weeks after our marriage. Settling into our new home was great, with all the painting, decorating and such things to do. I had some back money and gratuity to come from my war service which went a long way to buying much of the household equipment. I never intended drinking it away as some of the lads did.

After just over a year of married life we decided to start a family - a joint effort! We were rewarded with a beautiful baby girl and Kathleen couldn't wait to find a hat to fit her! We named our lovely daughter Patricia Ann (Trisha for short) and having got the first one out of the way so to speak, along came another beautiful baby girl whom we christened Lynda. Our family was now complete.

Looking back, I was glad, for want of a better word, to have experienced the ordeal of being a prisoner of war. It made me realise that civilisation is less than skin deep and that the basic requirements for life are simply food, drink and shelter. Without those you simply cannot survive. However, I certainly wouldn't like to endure the same thing again. I think I would rather die. Being a young lad with a good immune system helped me tremendously. I came through my ordeal physically unharmed but you cannot appreciate the mental scars that such an experience leaves you with.

Jack Aaron

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