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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



An account of one man's memories of the time he spent in the area while serving as a young Canadian soldier in the 1940's and his thoughts as he revisits the town after a sixty year absence.

Thomas Hanson Thomas Hanson

Tom Hanson pictured with his relatives while serving in England

Posted on the Knottingley and Ferrybridge Online Message Board:

As a young Canadian Soldier, I visited relatives Jack and Mary Booth of Ferrybridge in 1940/42 and was a frequent guest of Capt. and Mrs. Hogg who at that time operated the Golden Lion at Ferrybridge. If my memory is correct it was an old coach house and I remember it with great affection. I am thinking of visiting the area in late May and would like to know if I have the right Inn and if it still exists.
Tom Hanson, Calgary, Alberta
13 April 2002

I arrived in England with the second flight of the first contingent of Canadian soldiers. I had just passed my nineteenth birthday, at the end of December 1939, when we embarked for Gourock and eventually Aldershot. My father had met a second cousin, Jack Booth of Pontefract in WW1. and had visited Pontefract. He was badly wounded at Paschendael and after return to Canada lost touch with his English cousins. However, his brother, who after being wounded in France became a senior staff officer had retained names and addresses and sent them to me. I wrote both Jack, who lived in Ferrybridge and Emmie, his maiden sister, who lived in Pontefract, and both invited me to visit them as soon as possible.

It was after Dunkirk that I was granted leave and made my first trip to Pontefract and Ferrybridge,. Thereafter I visited at least twice a year until my regiment left for Sicily in 1943. My one leave back to the U.K. came in early 1945, when I left Nijmegen for London . I spoke with Jack on the telephone but spent that leave with his cousins in Surrey. I volunteered for the Pacific Force and was whisked straight through Britain on the way home in July of 1945 and never saw Pontefract again. None of my English relatives had children, all were of the same age as my father, and so within a few years, while I was going to university, getting started on a business career, marrying and beginning my own family, they left this earth before I managed to get back to Yorkshire. When I visited them, Jack being a very gregarious man, and very active in the Pontefract Conservative Club, I was taken around Pontefract and Ferrybridge and introduced to scores of people, most of whose names I have forgotten .There was Jack Tooth, who owned the "Robin Hood' in Pomfret, memorable because of his most attractive daughter, who had little time for someone as awkward as I at that age. There were Captain and Mrs. Hogg who operated the "Golden Lion", if I remember its name correctly, and who were most kind , almost in the nature of foster parents to the untamed colonial who wandered into their welcoming lounge. I walked the streets of Pontefract, was taken to a tea room at a place known as the Dukeries on the moors where I enjoyed tea from the finest of china, and was driven to York to explore that beautiful city and its Minster. I was introduced to the game of golf, which I have since adopted to he extent that I live on a golf course. I visited a fine china factory (if that is the proper name for it), where Mary's brother had a management position, and after pub hours partook of the occasional nightcap at the Conservative Club.

My experience in the local pubs, to which Jack Booth guided me, led me to become a fairly accomplished darts player, a skill which, along with most of my hair and eyesight I seem to have lost.  Most of all I remember the incredible warmth of welcome I received from everyone I met in the area around Pontefract. It has led me to decide, that, along with one of my sons, I must get back to a place I enjoyed so much when I was very young. From your e-mail I gather that welcoming warmth still exists.

Thomas Hanson, Calgary, Alberta
18 April 2002

We may progress but we leave much behind that we treasured....

Since my original letter was published on your web site in April 2002 I have received one letter from a lady who informed me that there still existed a pub in Ferrybridge known as the Golden Lion. It was, as I remembered, a lovely old coach house beautifully furnished in furniture many years old, and with comfortable bedrooms for the traveller. It has not been treated kindly by the years since I saw it last. Apart from that one letter, silence.

I was not surprised, the war is long over, the majority of those who participated in it have passed on and the generations since have their own memories.  Mine were particularly long lasting because it was my first experience of Britain, of distant relatives, and of a green and fresh England of which I had read and heard so much.

My son and I finally arrived in England in early October.  He flew in from Nairobi, we hired a car and he did all the driving.  He has spent so much time in Britain that he is familiar with right hand drive, road signs and the driving culture of Britain.  We visited my old haunts in the south first, London of course, which my wife and I had visited often when I was travelling on the continent, in North Africa and the Middle East.  We then visited Portsmouth, Aldershot, Leatherhead, East Grinstead and Crawley before coming to Pontefract and Ferrybridge.

Both have changed immeasurably over the sixty years.  The market square in 'Pomfret' was very familiar, also the old Buttercross which was a favourite rendezvous during the blackouts.  The mines appear to have closed and the slag heaps are gone.  The race track where I made a very successful bet at a huge price on a horse called 'Handsome Territorial' back in 1942 exists still.  The house where my fathers cousin lived on Carlton Crest appears to be still there but I was unable to find Jack Booth's place in Ferrybridge.

From Ferrybridge we visited York and its magnificent Minster, and the Shambles, a far cry from its eponymous past.  We also made the steam trip out on the moors with a delightful pub lunch at the end of the line.

It was a great trip and I was able to fill my son in on some of his ancestry and he was able to see from what soil he sprang.

My interest in pubs is not because I am a great drinker but because in the England I was introduced to, the pub was the great and singular British institution.  The miner, the schoolteacher, the doctor and the lawyer, all met at the pub.  I was rather sad to see that many pubs have declined in status and atmosphere.

Thomas Hanson, Calgary, Alberta
2 November 2002

There have been many times when I have questioned the hundreds of hours I have spent constructing and maintaining the Knottingley and Ferrybridge Online web site, often with very little reward or feeling of recognition, but when I receive letters such as this one from Mr. Hanson I feel as if every minute spent has been worthwhile. I am sure that Tom would be delighted to hear from anyone who can relate to his story and offer him the warmth and welcome that Yorkshire 'folk' are renowned for. Michael Norfolk, Webmaster.

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