Of course I lived my early life in the shadow of World War I and with the impending shadow of what seemed to be an inevitable second war. In the 20s you used to see one-legged men on crutches, blind men etc. The survivors of that war were a remarkable lot. Pray God we'll never see their like again. During the Depression they trimmed the frayed cuffs of their suits, polished their boots etc to stand in dole queues.
When Dad's business went bung we began quite a few years of struggle. To being with there was an auction. Les was there and said there was a flag outside our house. I think I must have been sent off somewhere for the day because I don't recall it but I was aware of the fact that we were suddenly broke and with not much left in the way of belongings. Perhaps it was before this time but there was talk of going to Australia and I remember seeing brochures about the wonderful shipboard life. It was lucky we didn't go because I think life in Australia during the Depression was even tougher than in England. I think it was about this time that Mum made a kitchen table out of old tea chests and we had that for quite some years. I suppose the proceeds of the auction went to his creditors.
Just before this time he'd had the one big success of his life. A band conducted by him won the 5th section of the Brass Band National Championships. It may have been on the strength of that that he got a job. A new colafield was being opened in Kent. The owners of a new mine wanted a world-beating band. Dad was allowed to choose players from up north. In addition to his band duties he was employed as a clerk in the colliery offices.
I've missed something important. that's the start of my school life. I was 5 in August 1928 so I believe I started infants school at the start of the new school year in September. We were living at Fencehouses then but the school was in Chester-le-Street and I travelled there and back by bus. I don't remember much about it. Les was going to junior school up the hill. One day I went up there to meet him. We came out before they did. I was sitting on the ground in the entrance way and a teacher came out. He took me in and sat me beside Les for the rest of the lesson.
Unknown to me our world was about to collapse. I've been juggling the chronology. We lived for a time in a Kent village called Upstreet. Across the road from our house was where the squire lived. At Christmas the children of the village were invited to the big house. This must have been younger children only because Les didn't go. That can only have been Christmas 1928 because when Dave was born in November 1929 we were living in the new village next to the pit. More about 1929 later. First winding up in Durham and moving to Kent.
The collapse of Dad's business must have been towards the end of 1928. I've already mentioned how we were sold up at an auction. When he got the job down south we had to get there. Dad said you won't need heavy clothese down there, it's much warmer than in the north. It was actually the coldest winter in Kent in 50 years. We travelled on the Flying Scotsman from Newcastle.
We were on excursion tickets which must have been cheaper than the single fare. On an excursion you weren't allowed to take luggage and we had some small suitcases so it was a bit nervewracking when the ticket inspector came around. That was fairly typical of how we lived in those days. The train was very fast - it had been clocked at more than 100 miles per hour on one trip. It had lightweight wooden carriages at that time and at speed they swayed. When I went along the corridor to the toilet I had difficulty keeping my feet.
My next memory of the trip is arriving at Kings Cross Station in the early morning. It was extremely cold and we had no money. I saw policemen stamping their feet and slapping themselves with their arms. We had to keep walking until one of Dad's brothers, I think it was Art, arrived for work in Whitehall. Dad may have borrowed money from him to get us the rest of the way, I don't know. If he did I'm pretty sure he never paid it back. But Art took us to a little cafe and bought us breakfast.
The rest of the trip was probably train from London and then bus. I don't remember.
We were living temporarily in Upstreet whilst a new village was being built close to the mine. I didn't think we were there very long but among the photo copies I received from the Defence Department was a copy of a letter Dad had written in June 1929 from Upstreet asking for details of his service record. He needed this because he said his documents were stored with his furniture in Newcastle and he had applied to the British Legion (the equivalent of the RSL) for a removal grant. I had forgotten how long it was before what was left of our furniture, and the rest of our clothes etc arrived. If they were in store it was possible that the store owners wouldn't release them until they were paid storage fees and it may have been that rather than the cost of the removers that caused the delay.
Meanwhile we went to a little village school about 3 miles away across the fields. This was a one-class school so Les and I were in the same classroom. They didn't have paper and pencils. Instead we had slates, slate pencils, a bit of dirty rag and a little pot of water. We wrote on the slates and when instructed to do so wiped them clean.
Whilst at Upstreet Les was bitten by the squire's cairn terrier. The squire gave him 10 shillings. I imagine he passed this on to the parents and it was probably a godsend at that time. The most important thing from my point of view was that it was there that I realised I was mortal and would die some day. I must have been pretty good at mental arithmatic because expectation of life was threescore years and ten (70). I worked out that as I had been born in 1923 it would be interesting to see the year 2000 but not very likely.
That summer Dad's band played at seaside resorts round the coast - Deal, Folkestone etc. He entered them in the third section at the national championships. As he had previously won the fifth section this was an important step up. By that time there had been changes at the mine, a lot of political trouble and the band deliverately played badly. About halfway through the test piece they couldn't help themselves and played up to their potential but it was too late. This was a shattering blow to Dad and I think it affected him for the rest of his life. next