- Contributed by
- Don Aiken
- People in story:
- Alfred Donald Aiken
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 September 2005
Don Aiken before demobolisation in Wuppertal, Germany.
My Bit in WW2
Don Aiken: born 6 February 1925
I’m afraid that Grammar School and myself were not made for each other. I loved fun and games and excitement. There wasn’t a great deal of that on offer at Kirkham Grammar School.
Although I did enjoy learning to play rugby and cricket, and was also very good at gymnastics, they only took up a small percentage of the time at school. The remainder was cram, cram, cram, which didn’t suit me at all. ‘Prep’ (homework) was also another nuisance which stood in the way of my enjoyment of life.
This, regrettably, led to a good deal of naughtiness by me at school, and I was several times rewarded by the headmaster’s cane.
The headmaster was the Reverend Cresswell Strange; a corpulent but learned gentleman. He was an excellent teacher who taught me Scripture. He often used to enact the various scenes which were under discussion, and I will always remember him rushing down the aisles with his black gown flowing behind him, simulating the expressions of a madman and quoting from the bible; “My name is Legion, for we are many !”.
I will also always remember him saying; “Well done Aiken !” when he had given me five strokes of the cane on my backside — and I hadn’t cried out.
I was often involved in playing tricks on certain teachers. One favourite was to place the wooden-backed blackboard duster on top of the classroom door, or on top of the blackboard, so that when the teacher entered the class, or slid up the blackboard — the duster would fall on his head.
Another trick to disrupt the class was to collect bees into jars from the playing field during lunch-time. These would then be released at strategic times during the lesson.
Inevitably my examination results were far below expectations for a ‘County Scholar’ and I begged my mother to allow me to quit my schooling. Perhaps this was of some relief to her, especially as she was trying to support five growing children. In any case she finally gave in, and I was allowed to leave.
However, this led to the problem of employment, as work wasn’t easy to find in the early days of World War II.
I was very keen to earn my living and was delighted when an older boy, who was a van driver for ‘Kirkham Steam Laundry’, told me that he could get me a job in the laundry - - washing clothes. I told him to set the wheels in motion and dashed home to tell my parents the wonderful news. They were aghast, and my dad quickly unravelled the whole affair.
Shortly afterwards I got a job as an egg-packer, along with another boy of about the same age. This was probably a worse job than the laundry, but I managed to disguise the fact.
The egg packing was done for the Ministry of Food and was carried out in an old barn on the Weeton Road. The barn had a cobbled floor and no kind of heating. As it was winter time, picking up eggs with cold hands wasn’t easy and many an egg came to a sticky end — to the annoyance of the manager. The best part was accompanying the manager in his lorry to pick up the eggs from outlying farms and, once each week, delivering them to the Ministry warehouse in Manchester.
I then got a job for several months in Brook Mill, near the railway station, which had earlier been a cotton factory and was now engaged on war work, manufacturing webbing equipment for the army. My sister Mabel worked there as a sewing machinist.
My job was attaching all the brass fittings, such as buckles, press studs, clips, eyelets etc. and cutting the webbing into correct lengths. I worked alternate shifts of two weeks days and two weeks nights.
One day when operating a machine, which simultaneously pierced the webbing and attached a stud to the web pouches, I momentarily lost co-ordination between my treadle foot and my hand. The plunger of the machine drove through my thumb nail which caused them to be fixed to each other. After detaching myself, I went to the first aid room for attention. The factory nurse plunged my thumb into hot water to cleanse the wound. Unfortunately for me, the water was actually boiling. After spending a night of agony I found that the reason for the intense pain was that a huge blister, covering the whole of my thumb, had been trying to escape from beneath the tight bandages.
Later in hospital I had mixed feelings, when a nurse was peeling off the dead skin, she said; “It’s like skinning a rabbit isn’t it “?.
All this dead-end work (excuse the pun) was thankfully cut short when, aged 16 years, I was accepted ‘full time’ for the National Fire Service’.
I was probably destined to become a fireman from a very early age. One of my earliest recollections is of the time, about 1930, at the age of about 5 or 6, when I had been chosen to sing a solo in the Kirkham church concert.
I was equipped with a brass helmet, borrowed from the Kirkham brigade, which was hugely stuffed with copies of the 'Kirkham and Wesham Advertiser'. I can't remember much else about it except for the first line of the song , which went - " Fire!, Fire!, Fire!, Everybody's yelling ". It never made the charts.
My next recollection of the Fire Brigade is watching the Kirkham Fire Brigade hauling, manually, their 6 man manual engine up the steep hill of Poulton Street to deal with a fire in a shop.
When I was about 13, we moved to live in the adjoining town of Wesham.
Here they were far better equipped. I recall seeing their steamer fire engine hurtling along the main street on its way to a fire, with sparks flying from the funnel and the fire-box, which was being fuelled by a fireman riding on the back. Sadly, it wasn't being carried along by dashing steeds, with flailing hooves and flowing manes, but on tow behind the Council lorry.
A year later, 1939, I was attracted to a nearby stretch of open ground by the sound of a loud-speaker. Many other locals had collected there, and we all listened in awe to the impressive figure of Chief Officer T.A. Varley of the Blackpool Brigade who was making an impassioned plea for volunteers to join the Auxiliary Fire Service. The vehicle from which he was making his speech was a wonderful, modern, glistening, self-propelled fire engine. It was accompanied by a crew of equally impressive firemen, each being superbly fit looking men, dressed in the smartest uniform imaginable.
I wasted no time in enrolling my name as a Part-time Messenger !.
The organisation of the Wesham fire station was rapidly changed by the transfer of two regular Blackpool firemen, 23 Ronnie Drought and 21 Frank Hunt, to live with their families in two commandeered houses close by. Ronnie Drought was the officer-in-charge, soon to be promoted to the rank of Acting Station Officer. The old fire engines disappeared and were replaced by a much more modern, Leyland machine. - No. 2 of the Blackpool livery, which probably dated from about 1920. This was crewed by part-time Wesham firemen who had now been uniformed and enrolled as Blackpool Fire Brigade 'Permanent-Auxiliaries'.
Every day a crew of full-time AFS men from the Blackpool South Shore Sub-Division travelled to Wesham in order to provide extra, war-time, cover for the area. Initially they manned a wide variety of vehicles which had been commandeered from private owners, who couldn't obtain petrol for them in any case, and towing behind them the rapidly produced trailer pumps. Huge cars, Cadillacs, Studebakers and, I remember, a Chrysler Air-Flow were among the collection, each being equipped with a ladder rack to make it into a viable fire appliance. Eventually the Home Office produced purpose built appliances of many kinds, which replaced the overburdened motor-cars.
After another year or so I entered the ranks of the whole-time personnel and was given a small auto-cycle with which to travel around the many part-time stations dotted round the Fylde.
Once every week I was sent with circulars and messages to take to all of them. It was a treasured experience and when once, on the very day that it was scheduled, I discovered that the front brake-cable had snapped; there was no way that I was going to miss my big adventure, so I kept quiet and carried out my allotted journey.
As I returned to the station, and headed towards the appliance-room doors, I applied my brakes and - snap! - the remaining brake 'gave up the ghost'. It was far too late to take avoiding action, so I headed for the open, shoulder width, wicket-door. As the handle bars scraped both door casings, I will never forget the astonished faces of the AFS men who were busy polishing the brasses on the trailer pump, and their consternation when the cycle disappeared under the pump and I was deposited in their midst.
When I reached the age of seventeen I was made up to the rank of Junior-Fireman (No.320018 which is still evident on the head of my axe), in the National Fire Service, which had replaced the Auxiliary Fire Service.
A very proud moment. But it didn't last long, because I was soon called up for the Army.
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