Sketch by Jack Chalker

The Early Years

My two earliest memories are during the first world war. The first memory was my first day at school at the age of three. Mother had taken a job in a factory making aircraft propellers. She felt compelled to do her bit for World War One so I had to go to school early. I can still feel the utter desolation of abandonment as I cried my eyes out seeing my mother walking off out of my life. This didn’t last long, as women working was not a mothers’ duty in life. According to my father, if mother was going out to work he would stay at home and look after my older brother Cyril and myself. On this he was adamant.

My second memory was also during the first World War. My father was in a protected job in the glass industry. He had a highly specialised job as a ‘glass bottle stopperer’, grinding glass stoppers that fitted into medical carriers; vital to carrying much needed medical drugs to the front line for treating wounded troops, etc. Eventually, as manpower was needed more for the ‘front’, he got his call-up papers. I remember the atmosphere of disaster in our home up to the day of my father leaving for the battle front. The day dawned, father left home in a flood of tears, and no sooner had he gone to catch the tram at Balm Road Terminus, than a telegraph arrived to say my fathers call-up was being deferred once again on the application of his firm as his work was now more vital than ever. I can still see my mother, running out of the house, running down the street, we kids running after her as she approached the tram waving the telegram wildly in front of her in the air finally gaining my dad’s attention just as the tram was preparing to set off. So my dad was restored to the bosom of our family for the rest of the war.

Many families in our street received the other kind of telegram telling of loved ones lost in battle.

My next keen recollection is my first introduction into the infamous Hunslet Carr Schools rugby league team, at the tender age of nine.

Hunslet Carr Schools Rugby League Team,

The all conquering team of 1924/25

 I am second from right sitting

The school was in the midst of a five year spell of undefeated games in school rugby throughout Yorkshire. n my first full season at twelve years of age in the first team, we amassed 1588 points and only had 3 points against. Incidentally in the match we let in the try our sports teacher George Cripps was acting as referee and although we won by 105 points to 3 Mr. Cripps gave the boy who scored the try a two shilling piece for being the first to score against us that season.

There was a story behind this period of supremacy of Hunslet Carr School as my father became friendly with Mr. Cripps and through the conversations found out from him a very interesting history of events that led Mr. Cripps into rugby league at our school.

Apparently during the first world war, our local soccer team, Leeds City, had Mr. Cripps as assistant to Herbert Chapman who was in charge of the team, and incidentally became a big name at Arsenal.

Payments to players as professionals was suspended for the duration of hostilities. However, apparently there developed a practice of placing incentives in the boots of leading players, in the shape of "pound notes" and Leeds City were found guilty of this offense. As Mr. Cripps was only part time and Herbert Chapman was full time, Mr. Cripps took full responsibly for the offence and was suspended Sine Die, as was Leeds City Football Club from having anything to do with Association. Hence, Hunslet Carr School, who had a good soccer team, had to change to rugby league.

Unfortunately for me, my last year at school and being the captain, we only managed to win one trophy, the Lewthwaite Cup, my name being the second on the list. All the other trophies we finished runners up, so I had a full set of medals which included the Gilston Cup, Goldthorpe Cup, Yorkshire Cup and Harrison Shield (the only trophy being a gold medal) and of course a medal for representing Hunslet Schools on three occasions in one season. I ended with thirteen medals in all and one representing badge in cloth. I was also proud to earn a mini cup for being in the winningteam at Roundhay Park Children’s Day, in the Tug of war team, so my school days were a very happy occasion for me.

After the First World War, during the depression years and upto the General Strike of 1926 (the year I left school), my father was suffering long spells of unemployment and so we children (me and my Brother Cyril - 10 months my senior) had to go out to work as soon as possible. I did a part time job before I left school delivering milk for a Mr. Dyer for 10 shillings per week. When I left school my brother took over until the Co-op bought out all the small milk rounds.

After school I joined the Co-op as a flour boy , my mother being a great Co-operator, and decided it would be a job for life, which proved correct in my case, as I served them for 51 years, finishing in charge of the food department at David Street, Holbeck, Leeds, with a staff of over 50 at its peak. It was during my early days of working, listening to the stories, in some cases wildly exaggerated, of workmates experiences as ‘Old Soldiers’, I experienced a feeling of wishing there could be another war, so I could go to all these wonderful places in the outside world, which seemed to have been the soldiers lot in World War One. I was soon to realize the ones who really suffered the hardships didn’t talk about them. We had one old timer, Arthur Cole, who had been buried in the trenches by a near miss and many were the times when lads used to go up behind him and burst a blown up paper bag, just to see him jump. Yes we had thoughtless young in those days too.

I restarted my rugby career with Stanningley Rovers behind the old Wagon & Horses pub. I managed to collect a chiming clock, a rose bowl and two vases in nickel silver whilst playing with them in the Leeds & District Rugby League. A chap in charge was a little Jewish gentleman, so we had a few Jewish lads in the team, one a lad called Mickey Klyne who I had played with in the Yorkshire schoolboys representative match. It later transpired, our little Jewish gentleman, trainer and manager and well known in rugby circles had received a request from Bradford Northern for any likely lads to go for trials. My name and another lad called Bruce were selected and subsequently I was signed on, never receiving a signing on fee, but suspecting the little Jewish gentleman did, for the club of course !

Players Card I Received

Signed on for Bradford Northern as a Professional

Bradford Northern were playing at Birch Lane at the time, attached to Bowling Old Lane Cricket Club. On a wet day it was like playing in a ploughed field, and I think it was on that ground the nickname ‘Steam Pigs’ for forwards was created. For my first game with the senior team I received winning pay of 2-15 s, all in shillings & sixpence’s, as paid in at the turnstiles. What a terrific feeling that was.

I was with Bradford when they moved to Odsal Stadium which had been a rubbish dump, but with tremendous possibilities. Harry Hornby a millionaire Mill Owner was the financial power behind Bradford Northern in those days. I played in the first Rugby Match played at Odsal with the Second Team, we used to change at Birch Lane , then be taken to Odsal by coach. I can remember playing with water over our boot tops on many occasions as the drainage was terrible. Later a huge pit was dug at the end furthest from Rooley Avenue to drain surplus water away and it proved very successful.

My best memory playing with Bradford, was going to London to play against Acton & Wilsden on Mitcham Common . There had been two teams started to try popularize rugby league in the London district. The other team was Streatham & Mitcham, but they had merged into one team when we went to play. There were only around 300 spectators, we were leading 5 points to 4, going into the last quarter when a thick fog descended. As the final whistle approached they were given a free kick for the last kick of the match. By now the fog was so thick we could not see the kicker as we stood behind the posts with bated breath waiting for the ball to appear. It sailed over about 5 feet wide and we had won. That night we celebrated in a rather somewhat sleazy night club in Soho.

One of the most polished players at that time was Tommy Winnard a bit of a loner. He never trained with the rest of the team being a full time professional with rugby his only means of income, but trained on his own during the day. The rest of us being part time trained Tuesday & Thursday evenings.

I played around 25 games in all with the first team,with the best team being under Mr. Ted Spillane, a New Zealander who later became a big noise at Barley Mow the home of Bramley Rugby League Team. I played with Earnest Ward and his older brother Don, who was a very useful scrum half, but under Mr. Hornsby’s instructions Earnest, only 17 years old, was the one to be groomed for stardom. I well remember one occasion when playing Leeds in a Yorkshire Cup Tie, our full back was George Carmicheal and we were leading 3 points to 2. Earnest Ward was tackled under our posts, George shouted ‘hear’ and Earnest passed the ball , but a Leeds player was laying on his legs at the time and Leeds were awarded a penalty under the posts and we lost a 5 pounds bonus promised at half time by Mr. Hornsby.

Then came the war, zonal restrictions were imposed on all Football, and a maximum of 30 shillings for a win, and 20 shillings a loss was the order of the day. Unfortunately interest waned. I was now married with a young son born 30th December 1939 and what a cold winter that was.

Early 1940 was very traumatic, my job at the Leeds Co-op Grocery Dept. was protected for over 25’s, but then came Dunkirk. My best pal Billy Moxon had volunteered for the Military Police, because if you volunteered you had a choice. However Billy had to wait for the D.A.P.M. Northern Division to be interviewed. He went to Temple House, Vicar Lane, near the Bus Station and came back very despondent. They had failed him because the minimum height was 5’ 8" and he was 5’ 71/2". He said to me ‘you will sail in’. As I owned a T.T. Replica Rudge motorbike at the time and one of the pre requisites was an ability to ride a motorbike. On the spur of the moment I went at lunch time on Monday and was accepted with a recommendation to be a P.T. instructor. I had to report at the Leeds City Railway Station on the following Friday, just before my 28th birthday. I left my wife, 5 month old son at home. She now had her father, mother and younger brother staying with her at my request. I somehow managed to keep a stiff upper lip until I called at my mothers to say good-bye, my younger sister June who was 10 years at the time was crying ‘buckets’ along with mother. This broke my iron resolve and I shed a few tears myself , then left in a hurry.


Next Chapter

Phony War



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