September 6, 2008

Northumberland history 1939-45 war “Hey man – thor’s real sowldjors at the bottom of wor gardens”! A Wartime Memory.

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It seemed to happen overnight. For us Bellingham Noble Street laddies it was the most exciting thing that we could have dreamed of. We had quietly been training with our home-made wooden guns and bayonets to annihilate the "Hun" when they landed, with the village Home Guard as role models. We quietly realised that they were not "real sowldjers" but this was a fact we kept to worsels, especially as our parents were in the ranks! My mouth was sewn shut as my Dad was a sergeant in the HG.

Then without warning in Breckons's hayfield at the bottom of our gardens, what seemed to us a whole army arrived overnight. These were "real sowldjers" and were the Lancashire Fusiliers with badges, buttons and arm flashes we drooled over for our collections.

What appeared to us as a city of bell tents went up– put next to the garden fence in a slight hollow which the first rains soon showed was not a good choice. Drains had to be dug around the tents. We kids sneaked in the tents to lie on their hard beds all feet facing inwards and were overawed at the real rifles stacked around the central solid tent pole.

Mind, we soon had to do a skidaddle when the NCOs and officers arrived. The soldiers paraded with roaring sergeants on the slight rise in the field and we never missed a detailed command for when our little Snoggy Gate patrol was next on parade.

No doubt there was no hay that year for farmer George Breckons which would be quite a sacrifice for the war effort. Then there were the soldiers' "netties" or latrines to be investigated making us realise that "wor own netties" were Rolls Royce compared to theirs. It was much safer "te gan heme to wor own netty" than risk the danger of dangling over a large hole on a wooden plank shielded from the world by bit of sacking!

It was interesting that if our parents knew why the little army had arrived, they said nothing to us kids – and we knew not to ask. "Careless talk costs lives" we could all recite.

We bairns soon latched on to "favourites" among the troops – and kept a close watch for when
they came back from exercises or marches pouring sweat, tongues hanging out and with empty water bottles. It was our job to grab these, race up the gardens through the house (ignoring the yells of "clean yor dorty feet) if you wanted some time advantage, and fill them up at the tap in the back lane. There was one tap for the 10 houses so you dare not miss your turn. Then once full, we would race back again to watch the water go down in one long draft – cold, clear water straight off a spring on the fell behind the houses.

This adoption of a soldier went as far as each house having an extended family that our parents used to feed at supper time. I remember we had Len – a real comedian as Lancashire lads could be, and another serious, quiet, very kind lad called Martin. I can't remember the other one or maybe two. Despite the meager rations we had, our mothers fed them like fighting cocks with plenty of vegetables everyone grew in the big gardens that stretched for about 30 yards down the slope in front of the houses.

The Noble Street folk could not have befriended the whole lot and I can't remember if others went to houses in the village, maybe in Percy Street? It would be interesting to hear if anyone else can remember them.

They must have had a "refreshing" effect in the local pubs and at the dances – but we bairns were too young to know or understand the hushed whispers. As Lancashire lads speaking a "foreign tongue" they were certainly in alien territory in Bellingham. I had two girl cousins who always seemed keen to come from Lemington and stay at that time and go to the dances – with Mother waiting on the road near the Youth Hostel for their swift return two minutes after midnight.

I remember being told in hushed tones that one of our adopted soldiers was planning to desert – and he wanted to leave his rifle at our house. My father as an ex WWI veteran soon let him know what he thought of the idea and what to do with his rifle! I think the poor lad soon gave up on the idea.

Then one day they were all gone and a very squashed field remained for the Breckons family to clean up. I can't remember when the soldiers appeared it was the early part of the year and into summer. I realise now that they were probably training in the lead up to some big event. It was maybe too early for the D-day offensive.

Me (Clive Dalton), aged 7 with the Lancashire Fusiliers befriended and fed by Mother and Dad at No 6 Noble Street. The canvas on our old pre-war deck chairs didn't last long with these big lads acting the fool. The lad in front of me is Len, and on the right of the picture is Martin. I can't remember the other names - I wonder if they ever came home again?

I have often wondered how many of them ever got back to their homes and families – and if they did, whether they would ever remember the folks of Noble Street in Bellingham – and maybe the little laddies that filled their water bottles at the tap? This little laddie has always very thankful of their contribution- as "his little wooden gun and bayonet wadn't have saved us". But the Bellingham Home Guard would surely have done so, wouldn't you agree?

1 comment:

  1. From Bill Charlton
    Yes Clive - I can remember when the Lancashire Fusiliers were stationed in Bellingham, they were also around the wooded area of the Show Field in tents. And a bit later on we had the Coldstream Guards stationed at Hesleyside with their tents up Lime Tree walk. After the moved the place was a bit of a mess as their vehicles, Bren Gun carriers and truck had chewed up all the ground in the damp weather at the time.
    And of course we had the sailors up at Kielder who were on repatriation after being shipwrecked at sea. Yes we all have memories of the old days.