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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



My father’s name was James (Jim) Wright who was born in Island Court, Knottingley, in 1914, the third eldest of a family of ten. As for most folk back then, times were very hard and dad told me a lot about the hardships they had to endure.

Dad left school at the age of 14. He left on the Friday and started work at Bagley’s on the following Monday. He continued to work there until the outbreak of the war. My dad was sent to York for a few weeks until Xmas Eve came when he was allowed home to say goodbye to his family. Dad was then sent to Liverpool.

"Wine’s water to get washed in" he said to a local. Nobody knew what he was talking about, dad being very broad Yorkshire.

Before long he joined hundreds of other soldiers. An officer walked down the ranks of men and stopped at him, touched him on the arm and said; "Up to here you will all be kitted out to join a convoy for Burma"

"I’ve never been further than Ponte’!" he said. A laugh a minute my dad but that must have wiped the smile off his face. Going to face the Japanese was terrifying not to mention the prospects of fighting in the jungle. He was just 22 years old. Dad spent the next four years in Burma.

"On landing we lost hundreds of young lads before they got onto the beaches. The Japanese knew we were coming, it was terrible, we didn’t know what hit us. We would never have got through any of it without the best soldiers in the world (the Gurkha’s) The only time I dared shut both eyes was when I knew those lads were with us. I made sure I didn’t stray far from them if I could help it."

"If he is alive today, that Gurkha who looked at Nell’s photo (wife), I wonder if he still has it? "Your mam sab", he would say, "Very nice - I keep." I never got that photo back."

"One day I received a birthday card and asked a medic if he knew what date this day was. He told me it was June 10th. I couldn’t believe it, a card from my mother posted goodness knows when and I got it on the day of my birthday!"

The card forgot about, soon after all hell broke loose.

"Myself and a kid from Leeds were crawling through undergrowth when a boot stamped on my hand. I turned and looked at the boot knowing it was a Japanese boot. We had to lace our boots a certain way so we would know who was or wasn’t us. He pointed his bayonet at us both to get up and motioned us to walk forward, thinking this is it. Bang! – a shot rang out and we thought we had been shot. Then the Jap fell at my feet and we just got our rifles and ran like hell not looking back. We later discovered that a Gurkha had seen all and it was him that took the shot that I’m sure saved our lives."

"I came down with dysentery and malaria (the mosquitoes were worse than the Japanese!) and was sent to a field hospital. While I was getting a bit better, an officer came to me and said "A job for you lad, get a rifle and shoot every stray dog that comes into camp." I soon lost that job when I shot the colonel’s wife’s dog! I got the nickname ‘doggie’ which I kept all through Burma."

"After getting back to the front line, we were crossing a bridge when a lad, whose name was Billy Rabbit, leant forward to get a better look as to what was underneath. Bang! – Billy took a bullet in his mouth which missed all his teeth, and emerged through his cheek. It got Billy sent home."

My dad in one sombrely moment said that some of the things he saw were so unbelievable that he thought was that really real or have I dreamed it. It was so bad. I found a young lad about 19-20 years old. The Japanese had stripped him, then tied his body over spiked bamboo which they knew would still keep growing through his body. "They were inhuman buggers", he would say.

Mostly, dad would just make us laugh a lot, like when the Yanks came; "three bloody years too late" he would say. "Every time a Yank picked up his rifle they gave him a bloody medal. They’re all right at making pictures and that’s about it."

"When we got any leave to Calcutta they used to charge us two rupees, as soon as the Yanks came it went up to four rupees. They spoilt it all for us they did."

These are a few of many memories. Dad came home in 1946, the war had been over a year in Europe but he was out there still fighting. They called them all ‘The Forgotten Army’.

Linda Rutter
July 2004

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