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15 October 2014
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To Sleep Perchance Not to Dream

by Tom the Pom

Contributed by 
Tom the Pom
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
22 October 2003

I am aware that Shakespeare wrote something like this title.

I would hate to be labelled a lyric thief, and to use parlance of some Americans he must have been one mean dude with a quill and ink. I hope he does not turn in his grave as I write this.

I was never very clever with a pen, but I like pottering about with this new gadget I have. I put down my thoughts on it and if it gives someone else pleasure then my efforts are not wasted. My name is Tom Barker and I was born in little town called Barton on Humber in Lincolnshire, England. That was 23rd May 1921. There was no fanfare of trumpets and no red carpet, in fact I wasn’t much interested what was going on at the time. I became aware of my surroundings on a little farm at a place called Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire. There as I grew up I used to play alongside another little lad the same age as myself.

His name was Michael Davey and he was in fact the son of the Farmer who my Dad worked for as a milkman and general layabout. I grew up with four sisters and since I was the only boy I had to find things to do that boys do best like chasing and catching rabbits, hide in a cart all night with my Dad and two terrier dogs to catch a fox raiding the Farmer’s chickens. My sister’s used to dress in hand me down clothes and I too was wearing the same clothes until I was four years old then I rebelled at wearing dresses and my Mum had to fork out for a lads attire.

My Mother arrived home one day from a shopping trip into Hull in Yorkshire and I became the recipient of a new suit of boy’s clothes. But when my mother undid the parcel she had brought home and fitted me out and I looked in the mirror I looked like Gainboro’s ‘Blue Boy” My father came home from milking the cows and on spotting me he doffed his cap and said, “Good day to you fine sir, and to wot do we owe the ‘onour o’ this visit. I was very red in the face and on the spur of the moment replied, “Dad……….it’s me, Tommy” My Dad looked in shock and horror then howled with laughter and I felt about an inch tall. Dad calmed down then went out into the back kitchen and took his double-barrelled shot gun out of a cupboard. I thought for a horrible moment he was going to shoot me because I had often heard him ranting on about fine clothes and queers, whatever they were? More important and I did not know it at the time, but I saw how my father sampled the air before he shot the gun.

There was no wetting the fore sight and no finger in the mouth then holding it to test the breeze. My father could spot movement out the corner of his eye then assess turn and shoot and walk over and pick up the rabbit or pheasant, and I learned so much from him about guns and animals, but I also became a loner because I wasn't too keen of playing with dolls as did my sisters.

I would go down to the railway and watch for hours for a train to come by. Then I would go along side a hedge and pick black berries, sometimes I would lay among the buttercups and daisies in a grassy field for hours and watch the clouds racing across the blue sky forming all kinds of patterns like huge Spanish galleons racing across the blue deep yonder. When I tired of this I would jump up and race home. Avoiding some of the taller thistles I would get to the stile in the hedge at the rear of our house. Leaping over this and avoiding the swing hanging from the branches of the big old oak at the bottom of the garden and finally when I got home there would be cries of, “Yo bin down at the railway aggi’n, come ‘ere so I can thump yer”.

Then we moved to a place called Wootton, a village about three miles away from Thornton.

Dad worked for a Farmer called Mollet, as I remember it my father was not as friendly with Mollet as he had been with Farmer Davey. Then we moved to Barton-on-Humber and my Father worked at various places when and if he could. I can also remember him coming into the house and throwing his cap on the couch with a disgusted “They don’t need nobody” He had been outlooking for work. We lived in a Gipsy caravan at one time but I can’t remember where to fit it in where it should be. Perhaps my mind chooses to forget it because it was such a miserable existence at the time.

On remembering we had left a small but very comforable farm labourer's cottage that had a cool pantry stocked with sides of bacon under salt, and numerous hams curing in snow white pillow cases hanging from iron hooks screwed into the oaken beams of the kitchen ceiling. Also the shelves that were groaning with the weight of jam jars full of pickled cabbage and fruit all of which had grown in our huge garden. We also got free fresh milk from the farm and the Farmer would give my Father the weakest of the sow's litter that usualy died in the fight for food, then taken care of by my Mother who would wrap it up warm and feed it would survive and thrive.

Suddenly Dad had an argument with the Farmer and Dad was no longer in residence and had to move out. My Father found an old caravan in a wood that had been abandoned by it's owners because of a broken wheel. Having built a pile of stones under the broken wheel to level the caravan and doing some other repairs we finally moved in after having spent the night under a canvas held up by wooden hoops and rope to a tree. But I do remember having to get a little key to unlock the breadbox. The bread box was built in under the side of the caravan, and at the time it was raining cats and dogs and I often thought about that pantry which reminded me later of the gourmet section of Woolworths in Hull. But braving the elements I got the bread and then got a good clip on the ear because I let the bread get wet as I carried it into the caravan. A few days later I got this cold or flue and couldn’t go to school, maybe that’s why today I hate getting wet. However we moved again to Barton and the house was tucked in one corner of the Market Place and to me coming from the country and seeing all the shops with sweets and papers, comics, people bustling round it was a bit like Christmas all year round.

Funny thing was, if I looked out of a bedroom window I could see the house where I was born across the Market Place on Brigg Rd corner. Coincidence perhaps, but I could remember nothing of the place nor of that time. I grew up a bit more and soon was making new friends like John Kitchen and his brother Jim. Also Mick and Allen Gardner, and Norman Weatherall. Jeffrey Parker was a friend but he was different to our usual motley gang because he was the son of the bloke who run the George Hotel and he and his sister walked with their noses so far in the air they always reminded me of the, "Bisto Kids"

The George Hotel had a paddock, about four acres of grassland enclosed by buildings like the back of people’s properties and huge store buildings belonging to Freddy Hopper the local bicycle king. We used to play in a place called the Butchery. It was next to the market place but it had no traffic because it was classed as a “Cul de sac”. One could walk through or cycle through but at one end the opening was too small for even small cars so it was safe for kids to play in. Until we made so much noise at night the residents would come out and ask us to go away and play else were, and the next time they came out they were not quiet so polite, “Bugger off afore ah call the Police Then it got to the stage where a door would open and a voice would scream, “Bugger off you kids an’ play some where’s else, why don’t yer” We would move our activities to another area. But some of us didn’t take kindly to being screamed at. So we would go back when all was quiet and fix a button on a piece of cotton to the door, and retiring to a safe distance, ---a head start on the bloke if he chased us, we would tug on the button and it would tap! tap! on the door.

We would giggle when the bloke opened the door and peered both ways then turn and say to some one inside, “ Must have bin’t wind” This would only work once or twice because the bloke would finally wake up to what was going on or he would come further out and the cotton would drag on his face then he would erupt with, “ It’s them bloody kids aggin’ ” and he or she would try following the cotton, but we would be long gone. In the end it got to the stage where the Police stepped in and Police Constable Chook was soon round to our house with notebook and pencil. However he did not get a lot of change from my Dad, who suggested he would be better employed chasing crims and leave kids to get on with their playing. Then the George Hotel paddock was used to accommodate a travelling fair All our gang went and soon balls were flying as we tried to knock coconuts off the stands. We tried our hands at darts, you name it we did it. The one I liked best was the dodgems. The shooting range was a piece of cake. In the end when the bloke who ran the shooting range saw me coming and he would whisper out the side of his mouth, “Bugger off young un, ah gor a livin’ tu make” Because I would hit the bull every time all my sisters and all my mates sisters had teddy bears. The fair left town and it left a vacuum, so to liven things up a bit I suggested to our gang we camp out. Actually this was brought on by the fact that big chief Sitting Bull was on at the Star Cinema in town. I‘m glad the film wasn’t Dracula because we may have screamed round the town at night in a red and black cape and wearing fangs in our mouths scaring all the other kids to the nearest toilets. So Jeffrey got permission from his Dad allowing us to use the paddock for a short time and we got a bit of old sail cloth and draped it round a pole that was always there in the paddock. “But” said Jeffrey’s Dad, “You will have to climb in because I always keep that gate locked, Gipsies get in and you can’t get rid so there is no way I am going to give you the keys.” So we had to carry every thing over the high wall to gain entrance. And Consterbule Chook spotted us. Chook was the name of the local Constable. In our opinion the East Lyn version of Constable Chook was spot on, and when he was out of ear shot we could be heard miming one of the actors from that pantomime, ” I ain't a mule, yu goshdurn fule, ah’m t’ village Consterbule,” And would you believe it. He got off his bike and leaned it against the wall and he turned to us and with a couple of knees bend and spouting, ”Ullo ullo ullo, what do we ‘ave ‘ere then?” We explained we had permission but would he take our word for it, oh no! not him, we had to go all the way to the George Hotel We were escorted to see Jeffrey’s Dad, and Jeffrey’s Dad with affable wave of hand warbled, “You did right Consterbule, er Constable”, he had heard us miming down in the back yard of the Hotel no doubt. And Chook, the crafty devil got a double Scotch, and on the movies one hears “ Not while I’m on duty sir thanks.” But Chook wasn’t on the movies he was snug up to the bar and he even had his helmet off, I never found out if he left or Jeff’s Dad had to chuck him out. Come to think of it I half surprised Chooky didn’t do Jeff’s Dad for selling liquor out of hours, yes he was that kind of Copper. Well that’s life! Yu win some but some buggers won’t let you win if they can’t. Finally we got the tepee up and a fire going and with my Father’s warning ringing in my ears, “If thee comes knockin’ us up at two in‘t mawnin’ tha’ll ger a good hidin’”. We settled down to telling jokes while dousing sparks as they spat out of the fire and landed on the surplus canvas pegged to the ground. We were having a ball but soon we got tired and we lay down in the tent and it was quite light I thought for night time then realised the moon was full and it was a clear night and soon I was dozing until a voice in the dark quavered, “Wassat?” Another voice whispered, “What’s were what’? and the first voice whispered, “Listen!” and we were all awake now and sitting quiet still like a row of budgies sitting on a twig with heads going from side to side like radar antennae trying to locate the merest sound. “What did yo’ ‘eer?” whispered a voice a bit hoarse, “ Ah don’t knaw” warbled another, “But it were summat goin’ thud thud, app’n it’s somebody diggin’ a grave tu bury somebody?” We were about to lay down again when quiet plainly there it was again, "thud! Thud! thud!", Then silence, by now we were getting a bit apprehensive,” “Sounds like Frankenstein’s monster,” THAT DID IT. “Wot yu whispering fer?” A voice whispered hoarsely, “Who’s whisperin’?” squeeked another voice obviously straining to keep control of his buttocks. Then we were all sitting up straight and it reminded me of the school races when the bloke with the pistol shouts, “Get set” because we were all in the starting position. When the,"Thud thud" suddenly sounded very close accompanied by a huge shadow growing ever bigger on the tent wall cast by the moonlight we left that tent like a three pounder shell leaving the muzzle of a field gun as the tent recoiled. Little tufts of grass were leaving the frantic pounding feet as they sped away from that huge evil lumbering monster behind them. We had climbed over the high wall to get in, but everyone cleared it without touching it going out. Then there was a pattering noise and one of the lads was trying desperately to keep his buttocks clenched tight together as gas escaped like an engine missing on one plug which faded down the street as feet did what feet do best in an emergency, move out at the fastest rate of knots possible. On the top of the wall next day we saw what looked like dried yellow brown paint that had been sprayed on with a paint gun and had not been there yesterday when we climbed over the wall to get into the paddock. And on closer inspection it did not smell remotely like paint. Needless to say I got a good hiding but I don’t think my Dad’s heart was in it I had a sneaky suspicion he was trying not to laugh. One property that backed up to the Paddock was owned by the local milk wallah a chap called Hoodless, and late at night would let his horse out into the paddock to graze gratis the George Hotel Probably they got milk at a cheaper rate, I just wondered? I managed to reach the age of fourteen without my Father doing me a permanent injury and I left school. So I did what most lads in my position did at the time. Seek employment at Elswick Hopper cycle works. Saturday morning I was down at the office of bottom Hoppers because top Hoppers was where the offices where and because of my, “hedification” I was deemed too stupid to work in an office. Having got up early I walked down to bottom Hoppers and knocked on the door. ”Come in” I heard, so I opened the door, well not being a ghost I had to. “Sit” I heard, so I sat down and the bloke feeding a poodle said, “I was talking to the dog”. I made to rise but he said “You may as well stay there now” and he paused so I asumed I was on, “Er, I’ve come to see about a job” I said “'ave you indeed”, and puffing himself up like he owned Hopper’s continued, “Well lets see if we can find you one” So handing me a sheet of paper he said “Just put your monicer and other stuff on there and be here six o’clock Monday morning”. “Gawd” I thought “That’s the middle of the night”. I put my name on the paper and enquired, what was the other stuff he wanted? “ Yu address dummy, tha naws ? weer tha’ lives wi’ yer Mam an’ yer Dad, y’ev gor a Dad ent yer?

I was there Monday morning and it was boring. I mean BORING. I maybe lasted a year there then I went down to the brickyards. Open air, happy blokes to work with, lots of jokes, a bit near the knuckle at times, and double the money. Heavier work, but it built me up. I had muscles like a grey hound, well some of them were. Then the brickyard closed and I had to look for someone else to swindle so I got a job with the Norwest Construction co, Litherland rd, Liverpool. And I went to Scotland with them. There I joined the 91st Highlanders, the Argyll’s at Stirling Castle. (training) Moved to Aldershot ( Dodging) Moved to Palestine (Policing) Move to the desert ( Barbequed) Took Sidi Barrani (Did not have a choice) Held Solum (She was beautiful) Moved to Crete. (Became a butcher) On Crete I used the gun training I had been taught by my father. I had a Canadian Ross with a ten power scope, 350 rounds of 303 ammo and on the range at Aldershot at a thousand yards I put 5 rounds through the bull but because all the holes were breaking each other and they could only see four shots the one through the middle was disallowed so I got a wave off with the flag to say I had missed the targed I couldn’t care less I knew it was in the middle. Moved on to Crete and thinned out the enemy a bit, got hit and taken POW Moved to Salonica, Greece attempted escape. Germans shot 10 Greeks for every allied soldier that escaped so we stopped doing it. Moved to Germany via cattle trucks Moved to different camps, numerous attempts to escape, some work near railways and sabotaged the rolling stock. Camp1 was Luchenwald. Camp 2 was Stalag 3D, Camp 3 was Stalag 404. Camp 4 was Stammlager 4B not far from Colditz. It was from this camp I exited being a POW but the Guards had fled so I cannot claim to have truly escaped. By the same token I was not going to sit there and be taken by the Russians. At the time they were at loggerheads with the Americans about who was going to occupy Berlin and if things turned sour I wanted to be as far away from the Russians as I could get. Ta very much. This then is a brief summary of my exploits in the Forces, and before, so when you read it and would like to enlarge a segment, let me know and I will write a story to cover that segment. If it is interesting you may want to collect all the stories and put them together it could make an interesting book, who knows? I can still vividly remember everything as if it happened yesterday. And the pictures on the walls and the dreams will be gone only when the light is extinguished. P.S. To quote Lawrence of Arabia “It’s all true, perfectly true, cross my heart and hope to die”.

T.O.B. 1997 1st Bn A&SH

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