Wartime Memories of Ken Wright
Ken Wright was born in Hale, Cheshire in May 1930 and was 9 years old when World War 2 started.
As well as living through the War, he was called up into the Army and was a bandsman.
This transcript records his memories before and during World War 2 together with other experiences.
The transcript and the video are about 62 minutes long.
Recorded in Hale, Cheshire on 13 November 2018.
[Pauses indicated by ….]
Time codes on film indicated by Hour:Minute:Second for ease of reference between transcript and film on YouTube.
Ken: My name is Kenneth Wright, I’m 88 years old now. I was born in …. on the 5th of May 1930 and …. and what happened really was this. Those early years, as I can remember, were very, very happy even though …. I was later aware of what troubles were going on in the 1930s, but of course that doesn’t come until a bit later on in my life.
I think possibly the first thing that I can say I remember is …. my grandmother, on my father’s side, had an off-license in Altrincham and it was down Oakfield Street, actually where Oakfield Street joined then Oakfield Road and it was right on the corner there and an off-licence, it was actually owned by a firm called I T and J Gaskarth [I. T. & J. Gaskarth, Limited, no longer trading].
Now the reason I’ve given you that name is because it does have an effect on our family eventually.
My granny is, I can remember this, I’d probably only be 3 or 4-year-old then …. she was a very, very adept lady at dealing with people because that was really one of the roughest parts of Altrincham and …. you know I, one of the things I did remember, it was quite amazing actually, was a lady used to come in with a jug, a metal jug, it was probably a pint at least, anyway, and she would ask for a penn’th of slops.
Well I’m not kidding you, in those days then the off-licence, they would have a hand pump for the bitter and another hand pump for mild and of course the slop tray was beneath and the beer at that particular time was Ind Coopes and Ind Coopes ales actually, the bitter and the mild, were both pale and practically looked the same. So, the slop tray was full of all the little dregs from that and my granny used to pour that and fill her jug for a penny. And it struck me really because a penny then for me was, you know, was your spends sometimes, because you could buy things for a farthing in those days, it was quite amazing.
But anyway, one thing I do remember about that period was, those people in Oakfield Street, I used to watch them play in the, there was a yard at the back and they always enjoyed themselves and they played football, the boys and, and I used to stand on the .… on a little part of the wall at the back. And this particular time I was climbing up and I pulled off the three-cornered stone at the top and it landed on my leg.
Well, that’s of course, I was in a bit of a state at the time and I was only probably three or four and …. I had to go to Manchester Royal with that, and then the journey was on the electric train and I’ll never forget how frightened I was. At the one particular spot that was at Knott Mill station where …. there was a lot of viaduct. It was quite high then, looking out through the window it looked as though the train was going to fall down and it used to frighten me a little bit that.
That was the earliest remember, remembrances I have of that short sort of period. Then when I got to …. when I was about four and a half …. I was one of those younger boys that got called up because of the year in which I was born, the month in which I was born. So, I was younger than the rest of the class but …. that of course wasn’t a very nice experience for me because the funny thing was, I didn’t read a lot as a child …. but I was always drawing and sketching, and I spent more time doing that than I did learning how to read properly.
And the school teacher then picked me up one time and said, Kenneth Wright read out, what you, he had, and then strange thing was then that we did have …. I can remember this very vividly, a card and on the card with two Chinese children, Keshna and Shena, the names were, and I picked up the card like this and I was just so nervous …. but I couldn’t speak, and this teacher said to me, “Kenneth Wright, you terrible boy ….” You know …. Well I just wished then, the ground would open up swallow me away.
Ken: But …. that experience it was awful and it stuck with me an awful long time did that, about this business of not being able to stand up and talk …. and it made me very nervous of situations like that. Anyway, that was the early recollections.
Then when I went into the juniors probably, probably at six, yeah, probably in 1936 or 7 was it?
These are the years I’m not quite sure about, but I remember singing one song, and it’s only just come to me through me having to rake up things from the past and it was this, and I hope you’re not going to be offended by it. It said:
Who’s that coming down the street?
Mrs. Simpson, sweaty feet,
She’s been married twice before,
And now she’s knocking at Edwin’s door.
Well that was the King who, I’m not sure whether that was ‘37 perhaps it was that he took the throne, but he was never crowned, of course …. He abdicated ….
Michael: That was 1936, yes ….
Ken: 36 was it? Yes. He abdicated because of Mrs. Simpson but that was quite strange because I don’t know how I remember but I think probably, I remembered because I was always interested in music …. and any tune or song would stay with me quite a bit and then as we went into …. the senior part of school …. I got very interested in, in woodwork and practical work, you know, ‘cause that’s the sort of thing that appealed to me rather than the academic ….
Ken: …. sort of, approach to life. Anyway, that went through fine and then, of course, in 1938 things weren’t looking so good and …. you know this business of in Germany I was very much aware of the fact that say the German youth there, what it seemed to be was that Germany was developing a type of youth, a very disciplined type of youth, and …. in a way it was admired to a degree and then of course we had various ways of …. Well, there was, there was all sorts of things that went on and they had the Blackshirts ….
Ken: …. you know, and all that sort of thing and this great nationalism was developing. And then of course we were all worried about war …. might be here, it was looming, and I never forget my granny on that occasion saying, “Eeee lad ….” She was a proper Yorkshire person. “Eeee lad, I hope you don’t have to go in the Army eventually.” You see, because she’d had one son that was killed in the ’14 – ‘18 war, it was my mother’s brother.
Well, she had three brothers actually in the War and …. another one he had a piece of shrapnel went right through his leg. He survived that but …. died many years later …. I did meet him …. through thrombosis. That was that.
My own father, he was too young really to be in the First World War …. but when this war came up then, always looming, again it was very much like, it reminded my grandmother of what was happening before because …. you see her three sons that were called up were all in the Cheshire Yeomanry, so they were preparing for war then, in a way, a disciplined form of approach. Whereas we didn’t see much of that because we all thought the last war, The Great War, was the War to end all wars and we wouldn’t have that sort of thing again but here it was looming.
And then the next thing I remember was Neville Chamberlain coming back from meeting Adolf Hitler and saying, “I have a document here that proves we’ll have peace in our time.” And we thought, thank goodness for that and then of course it backfired and Germany, was it Poland they attacked?
Michael: That’s right, yes.
Ken: We’d got an agreement with Poland, hadn’t we, to defend, and the War started.
Well …. I didn’t really feel frightened, but I was shocked, but the family were more frightened. They thought it was terrible you know, and I can remember that. Anyway, war progressed and in those early parts, it didn’t seem as though it can affect us too much. Now, the funny thing was, just before the War, my mother’s sister had bought a bungalow in Prest…. in Gronant on North Wales coast. And …. we used to go there for holidays and then of course during the War, we did get there once or twice …. We had a friend that had a car and used to take us. I remember at that particular time that …. whenever, that journey was awful to North Wales, I used to be car-sick and …. because I was about nine-year-old then and …. that’s where we went.
And during the War, of course, then it developed and …. we had then of course all the windows were covered at home with tape and that stopped the glass shattering if there was bomb raids and …. the earliest recollection of bombs then, what happened was …. Oh yes it was about the time I got to 11 which was 1941, then I was very, very interested in football. I’d been more interested in football than anything else I think …. So, I was playing for the school team, I went eventually from the senior school at Stamford Park to Bradbury Central School which was right across the way and there, funny enough we used to sit two at a desk and the chap that sat at the desk with me, he liked football as well and we both played together for both in the House of York and we both played together and actually fact, in actual fact we played all those years together until everybody getting called up at the age of 18 which broke up all that sort of thing.
But …. then of course, what was happening locally was, the bombing of Liverpool had started, and a lot of the kids were evacuated from …. we had lads in our road from Birkenhead and we didn’t take anybody in from Birkenhead but, prior to that, as well, had been the bombing of Manchester and there we took in a boy from …. What was it? Greatstone Road in Stretford, yeah, and I never forget he had to live with us and, but he was crying upset all the time .…
Ken: …. he didn’t like this business of, you know, being away from his mum. So, they went back eventually, the evacuees, so that was a period of calm, they’d all come down our drive and …. they’d had tags on them and then would we take them in? It was strange for us and strange for those boys and children, honestly.
Ken: But next door but one to us, there was a Methodist minister and his wife and then one daughter and the Methodist ministers, they, they only did so many years, I think it was seven years in one spot and they had to move on. And he’d been in Guernsey for seven years and he got to know some of the families there and there were two boys in a family that he knew …. they’re called Lemprieres .… and …. he tried to trace them and you know look after him, well both of them he wanted to, but one of the boys that had been evacuated, one of the brothers, the younger one, was up in Scotland, way up somewhere with a family that had taken him in more or less like their own son, it was quite good that was, and …. The other one, Norman Lempriere, he was at a place in Glasgow, well it was like a borstal in a way. He found out, they found out more or less that …. he was very unhappy there and you know up in the morning at half past six up scrubbing the steps and all that sort of stuff. Anyway, they applied for adopting him for the time and they did they, took him in.
Well he was next door but one to me, he was one year older than me and …. I never forget the minister came round to our house and said, they’ve got this boy, evacuee, would I take him to school with me? So, I said yes because he’d got a place at the Bradbury Central School and like I say I was just mad on football and when he came to the door, we all wore shorts then at the age of eleven, you know ….
Michael: Yes, quite.
Ken: So, he was in corduroy trousers. Well I never forget that because I thought anybody that wore corduroy trousers was a Jesse.
Ken and Michael: [Laughing]
Ken: I said to him, “Do you play, do you like football?” “Oh yeah”, he said, “yeah I do.” I said, “Do you play football?” He said “Yes.” So, I said “Well what I do on the way to school, I said I take a tennis ball and just keep kicking it in front of me”, I said. Well in those times there were no cars on the road, you could go from Egerton Drive down to our school and not see a car. So, he went one side of the road and I was on the other and I tapped the tennis ball across to him and then he’d tap it back to me and we went all the way to school like that. And then I thought I wonder if he does play and one time, I never forget he stepped over the ball and then back-heeled it to me and I thought, Oh, he’s good.
Ken and Michael: [Laughing]
Ken: Well, the funny thing was that I liked playing outside right then. It was, Stanley Matthews was my idol and …. he played inside right and we both played again on the school team. So, the chap that sat next to me, my friend, was then Norman Lempriere from Guernsey …. he played inside, inside-right, Noel was captain, inside right was Norman and I played outside-right and we went right through those years together played in the Service of Youth League and …. that was the happy times that we had even though the War was on.
But what happened was most of the playing fields had been dug over because there was this Dig for Victory week and all that sort of thing going on and I never forget again art was one of my favourite subjects, and they asked me if I can do posters for Salute the Soldier week, was one, to raise money for the Army and NAAFI and places like that and I did, they had it displayed that one Salute the Soldier week. Then there was, Oh, Dig for Victory week and all this sort of thing going on and most of the playing fields were being dug over and had food planted on them. So, our football pitches were not very good …. [Laughing]
Michael: No ….
Ken: And they used to get very, very cut-up. Anyway, that was beside the point, so what went on after that was …. then we saw things like …. the American Army coming over when America joined the War and all the big houses in Hale, they were taken on by the Americans then and …. they came around again to our houses and asked us if we’d take one of the soldiers in and let him use our bathroom because, you know, the bathing facilities were not good. So, we did, and I never forget this chap that we had …. called himself Buck something. Anyway, he’d fought Lou Ambers, he was a boxer and …. my father who had then worked at I. T. & J. Gaskarth’s and that again, you could see how my father got work there through his mother being working for them, and he’d been there all his working life at I. T. & J. Gaskarth and he was able to get beer and …. this American soldier, the first time I’d ever seen this, my father gave him a bottle of beer and he asked for the salt and he put salt in his beer to take all the fizz out of it. That was kind of funny. I’d never seen that before. But I believe those American soldiers, we used to watch them training, funny enough when they were marching, and they’d got these soft shoes on and they looked as though it was less a form of a dance rather than an army march.
Ken: [Laughing] Anyway, we watched them on the donkey field where we played football and, how they were training and what-have-you and thought, in my mind I thought they was sloppy soldiers, you know, but anyway, they weren’t. And all those that were evacuated around here that were billeted around here, were killed I believe at …. the Normandy landings because the beach that they landed at was terrible to get through. Anyway, that was that. So, we did have the Americans like that but the other thing about the Americans then was when I was in my teens was probably, no, thirteen, I don’t know, the years get mixed up a bit.
Ken: They were courting all our young ladies and they were offering them …. nylon stockings and cigarettes and things like that attracted them all. We got a bit jealous of that sort of thing ‘cause we were then taking an interest in young ladies. [Laughing]
Ken: …. then as it came to …. 1940 …. ’44, I was then 14-year-old. Well, my father had never been a very fit chap and …. he’d gone into the Home Guard and what happened on a one weekend where they were camping out somewhere, he came back home, and he was in a terrible state, he was …. bronchial, and he’d got a cold on top of that and he was in a bad way. So, he went to the doctor’s and the doctor said, “There’s nothing wrong with you, young man, you know, you, it’s only a cold. It’ll wear off.” And he carried on and of course, in what had happened, anyway, the …. his chest must have been in an awful state, he developed TB and …. then of course he died. And he was ill for quite some time and then at his death, this was the point, again, about this I. T. & J. Gaskarth’s where he worked. The chap that owned it was George Podmore, he was a lovely man, and he was not married, and he had no children, but he was a proper gentleman. He paid my father’s wages for twelve months to help my mother out because she’d got like three sons, I was the middle one and …. So, my father while he was ill, he was thinking about me having to start work because my oldest brother had started, and he was in the building trade. He was a bricklayer but there was no brick laying going on at the time, as you know and all these sorts of restrictions on building materials made it damn near impossible to do anything apart from repairs.
Ken: …. and as a matter of fact, I think some of the time, the firm he was working for, they had to dig graves you know to keep occupied and what-have-you. And like I say, all the young men had gone and …. he, I was the only thing, as I said, I was any good at really was art and nobody wanted anything to do with art in 1944. So, I started work at Linotype and Machinery as a junior draftsman. Well, you know and when I started there it was quite amazing because you see some of them were kept out of the Army because they were on important work ….
Ken: …. but the majority of young fellows had been called up and in the drawing office, there was nothing but old men, you know, and the chap that was alongside me, he gave me, he’d got a huge drawing board and just put lines, three lines across, sharpen your pencil in such a way and do lettering and that was a good start to make me neat and tidy and in the end I did one or two …. tracers’ drawings and things like that. But anyway, I didn’t, couldn’t stick it there because, also, all the firms where the young men had gone into the Army or we’re thinking about it, you know, when the War finished that they would have to get the jobs back ….
Ken: So, it looked as though you were in a sort of temporary state. So, I left and I went into the building trade now, then …. I was a decorator. So, I …. the wages were bit better than in the drawing office, not much but anyway it was to help out, ‘cause my mum, you know, was in a bad way really ….
We got through those years okay and …. then of course, as I went through my teens, and that’s a different kettle of fish, the War had come to an end. But …. there we are.
Michael: Do you …. do you remember VE Day?
Ken: Yes, I certainly do. On VE Day, I was 15 and …. like I say, my best friend Norman Lempriere was next door but one, but he’s living with a family that were a religious family. He had to be in bed for half past nine, and …. so, that particular night he said “Well what we’ll do Ken, well I’ll go to bed and then …. I’ll climb out through the bathroom window and we’ll go to one of the celebrations ….” because the celebrations that were going on, it was fantastic, you know, and …. So, he did but as he climbed out through the bedroom window, through the bathroom window, onto a little …. it was the roof really of the …. kitchen …. he stepped into a puddle of water and his socks were wet through. [Laughing]
Michael: Oh, dear.
Ken: It didn’t bother him we had, we went down, and we had a great time, you know, it’s celebrating with everybody it was just wonderful it was. Well the strange thing was then at that time by the way that my elder brother, who’s three years older than me. I was 15, he was 18, due for call-up and …. Do you know he never got called up because …. and the funny thing was then we, my father was probably …. one of the only people that voted labour in our area and our newspaper was the Daily Herald then, and he told …. Oh no, no he didn’t, but Alan, my brother …. phoned up the pa…., the newspaper and say “What shall I do? Not had me calling up papers.” He said, “Probably, it’s been thrown up in the air at the end of the War with the …. so many celebrations that went on.”
Michael: They’re lost.
Ken: Yes, and so he got, he avoided the Army. So, he was very lucky in that respect [Laughing] but he got married, he …. got married quite young and that had left me as the major wage earner, so I became a man very quickly and I stayed out of the Army until I was 21 because I wanted to serve my time and also provide more money for my mother.
Ken: What happened then you see was this that at 21, it was in 1951, I was 21 …. I got my calling-up papers and …. the chaps that’d just come out of the Army then were working alongside me because they’re mostly trainees, you know, they called them trainees because when they’d been called up during the War, they’d not served their time at all. And that this was the period they had to make up. So, it was but they were self-employed some of the chaps and there’s this particular firm I was working with were men like that, the trainees, and I of course had learned my trade properly. I was doing grading, marbling, sign-writing and all those sorts of things and …. they valued my work a lot.
So, they said “When you get called up Ken, they …. you’ll go to Great Ducie Street in Manchester and they’ll ask you what you want to go in”, and he said, “but they’ll shove in the Army because there’s no room in the Airforce. Most people say, you know, the Navy but …. tell them what regiment you’d like to go in, a Corps rather than the infantry because the infantry, all you’ll learn is how to fire a rifle and throw a grenade and all that sort of stuff, whereas in the Corps, you can continue with your trade.” So, I said “Okay.”
So, I said that – they put me in the infantry, of course, and …. then the …. The Cheshire Regiment, The Worcestershire Regiment, The North Staffs and The South Staffs were all in a brigade called Mercia Brigade and …. they were each in different parts of the world. The Worcesters were in the worst spot, they were in Malaya, and the War was still going on in Malaya because ….
Ken: …. you know, they’d fought the Japs for six years and …. they weren’t going to hand the rubber plantations back to the British. They said they might as well have let the Japanese win.
Anyway …. I had opinions about it, but I didn’t, you can’t, you don’t have opinions when you’re in the Army, but I didn’t feel as though it was valid that war, you know, ‘cause I thought they were fighting for freedom, the bandits as they called them.
Well then, as I say, I had embarkation leave, I’d got …. I’d done all the jungle warfare training in North Wales and …. what happened was I was waiting for the …. you know, instruction then to leave and go in the …. and they were in what they call the spiders huts around the …. around the parade ground. Anyway, in comes an orderly sergeant and he says, “Private Wright …. ,” so I stand up “Sir”. He says …. “Have you read company orders today?” I said “No, Sir”. “Every bloody soldier reads company orders, that’s your duty.” So, he said “You’re on Commanding, Commanding Officer’s parade at eleven o’clock.”
Well to go before the Commanding Officer, you’ve got to have all your tunic pressed and, you know, all the gaiters and that ‘blancoed’ and, you know, all your brasses cleaned. Anyway, the lads in the barrack room help me and I thought I’d been put on the charge for something I’d done perhaps while I was on leave, you know. Anyway, what it was …. I’m going marching before the Commanding Officer, “left, right, left, right, left, right,” but by then I was a sort of well-trained soldier and …. I was 22502170, not Private Wright anymore.
So, the …. the Commanding Officer said, “Fall out” to the Regimental Sergeant Major and he said to me “Stand easy,” and then I stood easy and then stand at ease, you know, so …. No stand at ease then stand easy that way around. He said there’s a Corporal here from the Regimental Band of the Worcestershire Regiment wants to have a word with you. So, I thought, “Well I’ll see”. “Take him in that backroom, Corporal.”
So, I went in this room and of course he said, “Sit down there.” Well, I sat down like a ramrod, you know, straight back and …. I’d been trained that way. He says “Relax, soldier, have a cigarette.”
Well, I couldn’t believe it then, you know, so he said “Look, I’ve just come back from Malaya. We’ve been there for four years,” he said, “and …. the band should be 40 strong,” he said, “but it’ll be down to 18 by the time we get back, so they’ve sent me back on a recruiting campaign.” He said, “I see that you play the clarinet and saxophone.” So, I said, “Yes,” and he said “Well, if I gave you a pass to go home, would you bring your clarinet and do an audition in the morning?” Well, I’d do anything to get home.
Michael: Yes, quite.
Ken: So, I said “Certainly.” Came back home and met everybody again and then went back next morning. He stuck a piece of music up in front of me, it was quite simple really, and …. he said, “Can you play that?” So, I played it. “Can you play such and such a scale” and one or two things …. and then I did all this, and he said, “You’ll do ….”
Ken: I said, “What do you mean, I’ll do,” I said, “I’m off to Malaya ….” This is on the Thursday then – and I’m sailing Saturday to Malaya and they’d put me in a potential leader’s platoon which meant that I was going to have to take the responsibility of a Lance Jack, Lance Corporal.
Anyway …. he said, “You don’t have to.” So, I said, “I don’t have to, why what do you mean?” He said, “Well look”, he said, “You can sign-on now for the Regular, Regular Army. So, I said, “Oh, I don’t want to sign-on.” He said, “Well look, what happened is this. The minimum time you can sign-on in the Army is 12 years, you see, and it used to be nine years with the colours and three years on the reserve. But with the War having been on and, you know, recruits down in number, they reversed it and made it that you could do three years with the colours and nine on the reserve.”
So, I said “Oh,” and my wage would go up, and then I was only on one pound ten shillings a week to get up to two pounds ten shillings a week. So, I’d have been able to send more money home to my mother. So, I went back in the barrack room and the chaps in there, they’re saying, “What, what you going to do Ken?” Well they’ve all had training, jungle training, and they said …. “I’d definitely go in the band”.
So, I decided, “Yes, I would” and …. so then, of course, then all the lads went off and I then waited for the Military Band to come back.
But that three years then, three years with the, as a regular soldier made a big difference to everything really, I say helped me out even though …. I wasn’t doing my trade. And …. I think that’s about it then.
After that, of course, when I came out of the army I, I went to I. T. & J. Gaskarth’s and asked them if I could, you know as a decorator, could I take on their work? And they gave me their work and I was very interested in mural painting, you see, and I’d got …. Doing coloured drawings of what was I going to do and all that sort of thing. And …. it was very, very good. I’ve always been in admiration for that firm that my father worked for .…
Ken: …. and it’s no longer existing now. It was all sold up, but it was very, very good.
Michael: A fascinating story. I mean, you mentioned to me before we started the interview, there was an incident where …. you …. about having to do some sign-writing…
Michael: …. and I think you were told by whoever it was that you weren’t do it but ….
Ken: Oh yes, this was the Regimental Sergeant Major. What happened was, I painted all the band stands for the Military Band, I was in, and the regimental star, it is …. it’s the Star and Garter really …. with the motto of, it has a ‘regardant lion’ on, with the words “Firm” underneath and “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”, you know, the Royal Seal ….
Michael: Yes ….
Ken: …. around the outside …. and it was quite an interesting thing to paint really, and he does …. the Regimental Sergeant Major, who was the same rank as the Band Master which is WO1, was in the infantry the …. Band Master is not an officer, he’s a Warrant Officer First Class.
Anyway, he was chatting, must’ve been with the Band Master …. the Regimental Sergeant Major at one of the mess dos, and he said, “I want that chap, that’s in your band to paint a regimental star for me over my office door.” So, the Band Master, who’s showing his authority, you know, again, “You can’t have him, he’s a member of my band and he’ll be rehearsing”. So, he says, “Oh, can’t I.”
So then, as a say, the next day, I was in the band stores, so I was in …. really looking after all the instruments and it meant that was on my own in this and I was free from the usual barrack room, but I had to put cardboard over the bottom part of the windows to just protect it from people looking in, mainly because of the instruments, and also it kept it a bit more private for me. So, it meant at reveille, sometimes, if I was a bit late, it didn’t matter.
This particular time, it’s a little corner just bent back of the cardboard and …. a knock on the window and it was …. [Funny officer voice, unintelligible]
I didn’t know what he was saying. Anyway, I went, because it was locked, I had to lock the place up …. unlock the door and he said …. “You’re on a charge, in bed after reveille.” I thought, “Oh blimey, he’d looked in through that corner ….” [Laughing] …. and what happened then of, course, I get put on three days jankers, we call it, three days confined to barracks, which means that you’ve no private time. You do your normal duties, but you have to do other things in the evening. So, and in the early morning as well. So, yeah, I’m stood outside the guard room and there’s all the others on jankers with me. They all get sent down cook-house duties this, that and the other, and the RSM’s on the …. this line-up and he’s the one, he gives everybody a job except me, you see and then he comes to me when they’ve all gone, he said, “Now I’ve ruddy got you.” [Laughing] “You’ll do this sign for me,” and that’s what I had to do.
But the funny thing was, like I say, I did enjoy the band and it was good. I played at the Royal Albert Hall one time with them, it was a Burma Star reunion, but I’ve still got all the magazines I used to illustrate then, regimental magazine, because I was really interested in art.
Ken: So, it was good practice, but you know, to be alongside regular soldiers, they’re quite tough, some of those guys. You see, they recruit them in the military bands from Borstals sometimes.
Ken: Young lads that they get, they’d be tough guys some of them …. So, my word it certainly brought me on as a musician.
Michael: Did you continue to play after you left the Army?
Ken: Yes, but not for very long because what happened was, like I say, I’d started my own business and that took up a lot of my time, and I’ve still got the clarinet down below, and I’ve just got rid of the saxophone but, now my teeth have had it, you know, and I can’t blow anymore so it’s a thing of the past but a very enjoyable part.
Michael: Yes, yes, going back to the War itself, did you witness anything like bombing or anything like that?
Ken: Oh yes, you see they, I’m skipping over it all aren’t I? Yeah, I never forget this night that …. we used to, we didn’t have a shelter, an air-raid shelter in our garden but we used to go under an oak table when there was a bomb raid on and this particular night, now they say it was in Egerton Drive and that’s not far from Hale Road. Hale Road runs right the way through from Hale up through Hale Barns and up towards Ringway Airport. We used to go up to Ringway Airport [now Manchester International Airport], by the way, then it was Ringway Airport, cycle on our bikes and we’d collect shrapnel ….
Michael: Oh yes ….
Ken: .... Ack Ack, you know, they were firing, but the Ack Ack would never be in one place. They used to go all round the country lanes firing, you know, at German aircraft.
Ken: We could remember a German aircraft because …. you know, then, we were very good at plane spotting and the sound of a German aircraft is right different than ours, you know, if we could tell whether the Germans were coming over or not. But this one particular night …. a bomb was dropped in Hale Barns and on what is now St …. [probably St Ambrose] …. the College up there. Anyway, college, it hit in the college grounds, the next bomb on the same …. on the same night was dropped and it landed in Hale cemetery of all things. Well, Hale cemetery was only just up the road from where we were ….
Ken: …. the house shook ….
Ken: …. and then the next bomb was dropped, and it landed in Byrom Street, Altrincham. Well, Byrom Street was where you know I said about that pal of mine when I went to Bradbury Central School who played football with us. He lived in Byrom Street and he didn’t come to school that day ….
Ken: …. So, we worried to death, we were about that and we all went up and of course it had dropped across the road from him, but you see that was one night. There was another night where a landmine was dropped in Charter Road which is near Stamford Park, and that was an awful night. But in the Manchester blitzes, good heavens, it went on, oh, don’t know how many days but …. I never forget one morning going out into the garden and …. we saw all, all bits of paper were dropping, burning paper and there was a glow over Trafford Park. You know, there was a big bomb in Trafford Park they had, that was awful. And another thing, you know, when I say about that bungalow in North Wales …. we were there one weekend, just on the weekend, we had to go because you had to, yes, to shift all the, shifting sand that used to blow up rounding the bungalow and dig it all out every so often.
Ken: So, even though that had to go on during the War years, but they’d been bombing Liverpool and from there you can see, you know, the glow of all the burning buildings over in Liverpool and that was awful. But again, you see on the sand hills what we were doing, we…. this is the Air Force. We’re training, and they used to targets on the sand hills there, and then they’d dive down shooting at the targets. And, of course, the Warren was closed off during that time but after they’re all finished, we used to go down, collect all the empty shell cases and the clips and make bandoliers ….
Michael: Oh, my goodness, yes.
Ken: cartridge cases …. [Laughing]
Ken: Yeah, and collecting shrapnel was quite something, you know, and also fins off incendiary bombs, we collected those. These are all things as well ….
Michael: Did you keep any of those?
Ken: No, not now, but I did for a while, you know. [Clock strikes] You see, those years and they went by and …. you forget an awful lot, don’t you then, just goes into the back of the mind.
Michael: Yes, we’ve covered things pretty well, I would think from what you’ve told me I mean you haven’t told me much, I mean I you, you, at some stage you, you would have met your first wife ….
Ken: Ah, that was …. much later on. That’d be 1953. I was in the Army in Worcestershire Regiment …
Ken: …. and …. I’d taken her out to the dance and, you know, that’s how we used to meet all the young ladies then, through dancing.
Ken: I was very interested in music, you see, and prior to that, I’ll must tell you about some of the music things …. I remember, you know, on a Saturday morning, what we used to do …. put the radio on. I’ll never forget this and there was a programme that came on and, music, says, “This is Johnny …. Sergeant Johnny Brown and the Band of Renowned ….” and then they start off with …. ‘Moonlight Serenade’.
Ken: Glenn Miller it was ….
Michael: Yes, yes
Ken: …. the American Forces Network music. Well, I used to love the sound of Glenn Miller and that was that. But going back to my wife, it just reminds me with the business of music and …. I took her home one time and then she introduced me to her parents and …. she was only young, she was …. nineteen, I think, and …. they weren’t having a very happy time in the family …. and she, you know, after we’ve been going out a while …. and I said, “You know …. It was a good, you know, we were in love and she wanted to leave Worcester. So, I said, “Well, I don’t want to get married while I’m in the Army, really ….” But, she wanted, so I did.
Ken: So, I got married in the Army and of course then what I had to do was apply for permission to marry …
Ken: …. to the Commanding Officer, and I married in Worcester and …. the marriage went on for many years, but it went in the end, and I had three, three children by her ….
Ken: …. and then things went wrong, and she left me in the end but left me with two children. [Laughing] So, I’d got a daughter aged six then to look after and another son aged fourteen, the oldest one had got married.
Ken: But that’s all the past. [Laughing]
Michael: Yes, of course, of course, yes.
Ken: …. but it’s all part of, you see, the experiences we have in life. People say that they’re awful experiences and all the rest of it, but it’s all a learning curve and even now, I’m 88, I’m still learning.
Michael: Oh yes.
Ken: I’ve got to keep the mind open like that because you see, the only thing about this now, what we’ve been talking about now, is what you used to call it in the Army was ‘swinging the lamp’ [Actually a nautical term, reminiscing on board a boat], you know, go back in time …. [Laughing]
Ken: …. and some people live in that past ….
Ken: …. and all they can do is talk about it. Well, I’m not for that really, I believe you know, life’s got to be enjoyed to the full and if I can keep …. reasonably active, I’m not as active as I should be, but I’m still interested in arts and music and …. I take place in …. not long, not no longer than in the music but I do go to concerts and listen and enjoy them. And that was another thing about being in the Military Band, by the way, that when I took over the job of the band stores, the chap that was leaving the Army, he’d done his time, said to me, he said, “You seem to be always wanting to play jazz and that,” and I said, “Yeah, well it’s inter[esting]. “Just let’s go in the pract…. band practice room and listen to a bit of Mozart.” Well, I’m not kidding you, he gave me some music and again serenades from Mozart and I’ve still got the book now, you know, and oh, playing those serenades was absolutely out of this world. You see I then became a great Mozart fan.
Ken: …. and I still regard that as being the finest music you’d listened to.
Michael: I mean, you’ve certainly …. sort of ….
Michael: You’re certainly artistic in many ways, I think, yes. Do you have examples of some of the, you said that you, you had books with some of the things that you had drawn in the past?
Ken: Well, you see, when I was in the Army then, the Band Master had soon seen me do all the bandstands and that, he said, “I write band notes for the regimental magazine ….”
Ken: …. which is called “The Green ‘Un”.
Ken: So, he said “Would you illustrate them?” So, I said “Okay” and I did it for the three years I was in, so I’ve got those books.
What happened was this, I’d forgotten all about that and my daughter was visiting Worcester one time and she went to the, now there’s no longer a Worcestershire Regiment it’s gone. She went to the Regimental Museum there and asked if they’d got Green ‘Uns from this period and she, she got them and gave them to me on my 70th birthday, I think it was or 80th… 70th. Yeah, and I was most surprised. I said, “Good heavens, I wouldn’t have thought I’d have ever seen those again.” That’s …. so, I’ve kept them because it just reminds me of those periods again.
Ken: Yeah ….
Michael: Yes, I suspect we’re coming towards the end ….
Michael: …. but …. but I was just thinking, I mean about your time in the War and possibly in the Army as well ….
Michael: …. a lot of people have experienced some sort of legacy if you like as a result of those experiences.
Michael: Is there anything that you can think of that might have affected the way you lived after ….
Ken: Oh, definitely, yeah, you see as a young, young man going into the Army at 21, I was like older than the others who were all nearly, nearly all 18 ….
Ken: Now, I had got …. more of a mature attitude which was very helpful but when I went into a Military Band, of course, I was the new recruit and they were all old soldiers. Now to go into the discipline that there was then was quite something ….
Ken: …. and I’ll never forget that because you know this sort of thing now that get, youth get, this very strong feeling that they, they more or less know everything ….
Ken: …. when you’re 21, you know everything and …. well you become, what I used to say was this, that …. when I was at school when I became 14 and they call you, in leaving school, the cock of the school and you’ve got a big head and then you start a job and you’re knocked back down again and ….
Ken: …. you’re sweeping up and brewing up [Laughing]and then you’re yelled at …. by the time you’re 21, oh, you’ve been through all that and then of course you get called up and go in the Army and, you go knocked down again to the bottom of the pile.
Ken: And then you get through that and then you get married and you get knocked down again …. [Laughing] …. but you know life is full of odd, it’s not been knocked down in a way but it’s all the periods that …. if only we can get control this ego that governs our lives if you’re not careful, we’re not living a proper life, because they’re all things of the past. I’m not any of those things that they’re just I’ve experienced them, they’ve gone and I’m in a stage now where you call it old age, when it’s only the body that’s getting hold not the mind. I’m going to keep the mind as active as I can and as free as this identity to any particular part, you know.
Ken: I’m not …. I’ve painted all these around here and all the way upstairs and so people say, “Well, you’re an artist.” I said, “I’m not an artist.” I said, “I’m a …. I enjoy artwork …. When I’m doing art work, but if I’m an artist all the time what a boring sod I’d be!” [Laughing] Sorry about that, the swearing. What it is really is this that, people actually, if you’re looking for identification and they’re looking in the work that they’ve experienced during the past, something’s gone wrong because it’s just the experience of living.
Ken: So, yes, I have learned from the past a great deal ….
Michael: Think…., thinking to the future, what advice would you give to youngsters today as to how they might live a …. an enjoyable, happy successful life?
Ken: I would say …. the most important thing I’ve ever learnt is to examine your own self because there but for the grace of God go I. You know, when I see others then, that have fallen by the wayside, you know, or whatever and I, as long as I don’t claim anything, ‘cause I can’t claim anything, I’m due for death soon and that I accept. It’s only as important as being born.
Ken: So, if we can’t just come to terms with things like that, so enjoy the trip and enjoy every moment. You see now, if you ask me now, I’d say well I’m looking out over a beautiful blue sky, the sun’s shining and the lights falling on everything and giving it shape, form and beauty. It’s there for me now.
Ken: It’s not going to be some other time. It’s now that I live.
Ken: I don’t live after you’ve gone. I’ll live while I’m with you and then I’ll live wherever I am and not wish I was back somewhere else.
Ken: It’s that.
Ken: If that’s the worst thing of all, is that the ego that develops and the ego is who you think you are ….
Michael: Yes, yes ….
Ken: …. So, you know the thinking I am so and so, I could get very upset if I thought I’m so and so and somebody said, “Oh, you’re not,” you know …. [Laughing]
Ken: …. but I had to be very careful of that at one time. People would say, “Well, what are you?” I said, “I’m a human being, a human being, what are you?”
Michael: Yes. [Laughing]
Ken: You have to be careful saying that, stand back. Because being human is one of the greatest things that one, anybody could be and being human means you’ve got to learn what is human? And what is inhuman?
Ken: So, you try and get, overcome those feelings of greed and unhappiness by looking in at the moment now. This is my life now. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not in another hour. It’s here now. So that’s the only advice I can …. but it’s not easy to do that, it’s easy to say it but it’s not easy to do it.
Michael: I think that’s a very good note on which to finish Ken, thank you very much indeed for allowing WarGen into your home
Ken: Right [Laughing] …. well I don’t know it’s been of much use to anybody but there you are….
Michael: You’d be surprised. [Laughing] Thank you very much indeed.
Ken: Thank you, very enjoyable, really ….
Interview recorded by Michael: Thompson, Hardy Productions UK, Manchester, for WarGen. Transcription by Tom Humphrey.