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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories

THE MEMOIRS OF JACK AARON


CHAPTER FOUR


CALL UP AND ENLISTMENT

One morning, late in 1939, a letter arrived for me and my mother knew instinctively what it was. It said I had to report to an address in Leeds to undergo a medical and physical examination. I was scared stiff that I might fail the exams because I didn't want to become known as an 'export reject'. There were a lot of young men who would have moved heaven and earth to fail the examinations so that they wouldn't have to be sent to war, but I needn't have worried as I was passed A1.

I had travelled to Leeds with a couple of old pals from Weeland Road School, namely Billy Bedford and Herbert (Codge) Ridge. Having all got through the exams we were each given a shilling. Whether this was the so-called 'King's Shilling' or not I wouldn't know but anyway, having found a nice pork butchers shop we blew it on a teacake and a pork sandwich which were very nice. We were three hungry recruits!

I received a letter a short time later with instructions to report to Darlington and to take with me a small attache case to pack my civilian clothes in. A few weeks earlier I had found a crucifix, which I believed, would be a good omen so I put the crucifix in the case amongst the other bits and pieces that mother had packed for me which included tins of food, some fruit and a bar of chocolate. However, after arriving in Darlington, when it came to sending my clothes back home I forgot all about the crucifix and it remained in the case, never to be seen again. So ends the tale of going to war with a cross.

At that time my army pay was to be two shilling per day and someone advised me to allow my mother half of that (one shilling) and the government would chip in with ten shillings per week, making an allowance of 17s per week. For my mother, this was the best thing to do, me being the ex-breadwinner so to speak. I didn't lose out as my mother saved the shilling I gave her.

From Darlington we proceeded to Bishop Auckland having picked up some Sheffield lads en route. At Bishop Auckland we registered and were drafted into the 10th Battalion, 'C' Company, Durham Light Infantry.

We were billeted in a school down a lane behind the Green Tree public house, which was very handy. There were toilets and wash basins and we slept on a straw palliasse. Earlier in the day we had been issued with a suit of khaki and a No.2 suit of denim fatigues, a rifle, bayonet, and a gas mask. We simply dumped everything on the palliasse, as there was nowhere else to put anything.

We decided after tea that we would visit the local cinema just along the road. What a carry on it was trying to get dressed in the blackout. In the cinema lights we could see half the blokes wearing fatigue trousers and khaki tops and some wearing fatigue tops and khaki trousers!

In a park in Bishop Auckland, we had drills, parades, and rifle drills and were shown how to fire and handle the Bren-gun - regarded as the finest light machine gun ever adopted in quantity by any army.

We were told to look after our rifles and that if we did, someday it would look after us. "Never let it out of your sight", we were told.

"How about when we want to go to the toilet Sarge?" one of the lads asked.

"Take it with you lad", replied the Sergeant.

From Bishop Auckland we transferred to Crook, a little mining village in County Durham. We had to scramble about on the muckheaps and learn not to reveal ourselves to the enemy.

"Well done", said the big-shot army officer, "well done!"

"Well done?" I thought, "what - up to the eyes in pit slurry?"

I was allowed home on embarkation leave shortly before Christmas 1939 and I remember on the day of my return being escorted back to the bus stop on the corner of Morley Estate by my two younger brothers, Geoff and Herbert. Just before I got on board the bus Herbert presented me with his wristwatch as a parting gift, which was a lovely gesture.

From Crook we travelled to South Shields at the mouth of the river Tyne where we were billeted in schools and again provided with a straw palliasse for sleeping on. There were wash basins and toilets for our use but as they formed part of the schoolchildren's facilities they proved a little on the small size for us!

The following day we saw our first German warplane flying over the town and anti aircraft guns opened fire on it. In my ignorance I simply assumed they were looking for us!

While based in South Shields we often heard machine-gun fire out to sea. German planes were shooting at anything from trawlers and fishing boats to large merchant ships. Volunteers were requested; two men to a Bren gun, to provide cover for the boats. Four of us volunteered, but we never heard anything more about it. Unbeknown to us we had already been earmarked for dispatch to France. Ours is not to wonder why, ours is just to do or die.

In the park we continued practising with machinegun's, mills bombs, and rifle drills. We had route marches down to Sunderland and back and afterwards we enjoyed a light-hearted kick about on the sands opposite Marsden Rocks with a rugby ball, which I enjoyed. I enjoyed the route marches too but I could have eaten a scabby horse by the time we arrived back at base!

Returning to the school one day from a route march one of the lads shouted "Hey Aaron, here's your girlfriend", and from out of nowhere this beautiful young girl came forward and pressed into my hand a bar of chocolate and twenty cigarettes. I had never seen her before in my life and could never understand why she chose me. I suppose she just took pity on me.

In South Shields I met up with an old school friend of mine, a lovely lad by the name of Billy Briers who worked at Kings Mills in Knottingley. "Hey up Bill, didn't know you were here", I shouted.

"Didn't know you were here either Jack 'till I saw you going up for pay parade", he replied.

The people of South Shields were so friendly and generous but after several weeks in the town, which we enjoyed very much, all good things had to come to an end. We were awakened one morning before daybreak by a very noisy Sergeant shouting "Come on, get all your gear together, we're moving out!"

"Where are we going Sergeant?" asked one of the lads

"To the railway station and that's all you need to know", roared the Sergeant.

We quickly gathered all our belongings together and marched down to the station. We found our train already standing alongside the platform and we were joined there by lads from the Tyneside Scottish. There was no friendly crowd to shake our hands or wave a fond goodbye - it was too early for them - so off we set into the unknown.

Heading south we eventually arrived at Southampton and embarked on a troopship, which if I remember correctly was called the Duke of Argyle. Getting to the top of the gangplank, which was pretty steep especially with all the gear I had with me, I teetered a bit and two sailors had to grasp my arms. I believe they were positioned there especially for that reason.

After milling around down in the ship we eventually found the toilets or 'heads' as the sailors called them, and where we were to sleep and very soon the ship set sail. Not long into the journey the news filtered down to us that a submarine had been detected in the vicinity and that was all we wanted to hear!

Jack Aaron

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