Thursday, 28 November 2013

Carry on the Potters (Part Two)

Never let it be said I don't respond to criticism! I am well rebuked, and here's part two...

Well, the balloon had to go up, and it did. First of July we went over and I never saw the like. Explosions going off everywhere, so you were ducking rocks and stones as much as bullets and bombs. I heard as how one of our mines went off with such a bang that the rocks landed in our lines and one poor lad lost a leg. Three days of that and we were mixed up so much we didn’t know which way we were facing.

I got a piece of shrapnel or rock or something – don’t know what – just under the rim of my tin hat. Everything went black and white and I wandered around a bit, bumping into people. Then I opened my eyes and it was dark. First off I thought I was blind, but then a flare went up and I knew I could see. My head was banging like the Shelton Bar, but I raised it and looked around. I was on my own, and I could see I was a good hundred yards from the nearest trenches. Trouble is, I didn’t know if they were ours or theirs. So I tossed a coin in my head and made for the one that was the shortest walk.

I say walk, but I went most of the way on hands and knees. Both sides kept sending up flares, and you showed up like a shilling on a sweep’s bum every time. 

Well, I’d gone a little way when I heard a voice say, “That you, Bob?”

I looked round and there was George, lying in a shell hole. “Hello mate,” says I, “What you doing here?”

“Oh, just taking the air, watching the moon, nothing much.” says George, which was swank because now I could see he was hurt bad.

“Let’s have a look at you,” says I.

Well, I could see straight away he’d copped more than just a Blighty one. The front of his battle dress was all bloody, but when I opened it he just sort of came to bits. He was looking at me the whole time and said, sort of hopeful, “Is it bad?”

“Not too bad,” I said and buttoned him up again. “Wait here and I’ll get a stretcher.”

I started for the trenches again, still not knowing if I was heading for home or Hell. That was when I saw something white waving about fifty yards ahead. Some silly beggar of a stretcher bearer was standing up, in full view, waving a piece of cloth on a stick. Well of course, I should have known it would be Jimmy. When I got there he was standing on the edge of a crater you could lose a bus in. All round the rim there were men lying, fanned out like the petals of a daisy.

“Glad to see you, Bob,” says Jimmy, pointing around, “There’s work for us here.”

I pointed back at No Man’s Land, “George is out there. Help me get him.”

Jimmy shook his head, “Jerry’s letting us off while we’re close to our own side. He won’t be so kind if he thinks we’re advancing.”

“But he’s hurt bad!” I said.

“So are these, and there’s a lot more of them.” He pulled my arm. “Come on, pal, these lads are potters too.”

He told me after that he’d been called to the crater by Major Wedgwood, who’d been cut to pieces by shrapnel. The last words he’d said to Jimmy were “Carry on, the Potters.” Well, we carried a few that night, back and forth from the crater to the trenches, and Jerry never fired a shot.

We never did find George. I saw his name in, let’s see, 1984 I think, when I visited the military cemetery at Bapaume. I’d found the Major’s grave soon enough, then saw a name as I turned away. There was George, further from Shelton than it’s possible for us to be.

And now we’ve got a new millennium coming and Jimmy’s gone the same way as George and the Major. It’s nearly time for me to go too, where my friends went, where Wedgwood went, where our pride went, and where I hope it can still be found.

Carry on the Potters.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Carry On the Potters (Part One)

This was a piece written for a Gladstone Pottery event. Please read in a Six Towns accent...
Major Wedgwood were a tall chap, fair haired, with a moustache you could hang clothes on.  “The Viking”, they called him, and I could see why, that day in factory when I first saw him.  He’d got us lined up in front of the new kiln and he gave us the big speech about being the finest company in the world, in the finest city in the world, because it had finest people in the world.  Pretty poor stuff you’d think, but we drank it up like it was Nestle’s Milk.  This was 1916 and I was only 14, but I was a big lad for my age and they’d set me on to shift barrows at Etruria.

The Major had come back from the War for a board meeting or some such, and then he’d asked to speak to the able-bodied men in the factory about joining his regiment.  They were the North Staffordshires, but he said we’d be joining a pals battalion, where we’d be with our best mates.  The Potters, they called themselves.  Jimmy Leather, an older lad who lived by us in Chatham Street,  said we should enlist because it was our duty and anyway it paid a sight more than wheeling clay.

Well, you can imaging the kerfuffle when I got home and said that me and Jimmy Leather were joining up.  Mom was having none of it, and said she’d write to Mr Wedgwood and tell him I was under-age, so I let on to give up on the idea.  After a bit of argument, you understand, or she’d have copped on I was up to something.

Well, me and Jimmy had a word with the charge-hand next morning and he said we could go down to the recruiting room as had been set up in the offices.  I’d never been in there before and it was a bit frightening, all polish-smelling and clattery, what with typewriters and comptometer machines rattling and people walking about with bits of paper.  We’s shown into a room with a dozen or so other blokes stood around, and when it’s my turn I find myself talking to this sergeant who gives me a look and asks me how old I am.
“Seventeen,” I says.

He gives me another look, up and down, sort of slow, and he sees I’m probably taller than him – he were only a little chap – and he nods and asks me to sign a paper.  He claps his hands once and rubs them together and says, “Alright, duck, you belong to the Prince of Wales now.  Go through that door and they’ll have a good look at you.”  That were it.  I was a soldier.

Course, it didn’t turn out quite how we’d expected.  There were a fair few Etruria lads, but I got to know a chap called George who worked with his dad in a factory making tiles for the London Tube.  We all got on and were good pals through training.  Jimmy and me were set up as stretcher bearers, but we still saw a bit of old George, who was going to be a rifleman.
So that was how we found ourselves in France, near a place called La Boiselle, not that I could ever say it proper.  It wasn’t as bad as you might think; it was warm anyway –bloody hot some days, and that’s swearing.  But you’d go to the rear every few days, away from the whizz-bangs, and you could have some decent scoff and a shower and they’d take your battle dress away and get rid of most of your visitors.

And laugh?  Seemed like we never stopped.  Jimmy was a dab hand with the trumpet – in fact he was one of our bandsmen – and he’d play anything you wanted, and if we were having a bit of a sing he’d be there with the harmony, dead on.  Then George would make some crack about us being too close to Ivor Novello for his comfort and we’d all break up laughing again.  Four weeks and I never so much as saw a German, though we could hear them sometimes in their trenches, calling out, singing and laughing as well.  Made me feel funny that did, to hear them carrying on like they was the same as us.
To be continued...

Time Flies

Very little time available these days for keeping this blog up to date. I am blogging with reasonable regularity though on the Classic Air Force website. They've also let me loose as editor of Meteor Magazine, so at least I get to write about - and occasionally mess with - with old aeroplanes! 

I've written a few short stories recently though, so maybe it's time to post one or two of those up here...