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...

4 comments:

ci5agent45 said...

In complete ignorance of the pronunciation of a Six Towns accent I was forced to read in an Austrian tongue, which may have spoilt some of the intended effects, but it's still been a promising read so far. Although I have one complaint, when will we get to read the rest the story? Yeah, I know you've got a lot of other things to do and for the time being you're off the hook, as I'll be going to London for a few days next week to be entertained by another Shaw, but I it would be a real treat if after my return the next part would be available to distract me from work and general Christmas madness.
Michaela

ci5agent45 said...

In complete ignorance of the pronunciation of a Six Towns accent I was forced to read in an Austrian tongue, which may have spoiled some of the intended effects, but it's still been a promising read so far. Although I have one complaint, when will we get to read the rest the story? Yeah, I know you've got lots of other things to do and for the time being you're off the hook, as I'll be going to London for a few days next week to be entertained by another Shaw, but I it would be a real treat if after my return the next part would be available to distract me from work and general Christmas madness.
Michaela

Jem Shaw said...

No need for authenticity - just make it indecipherable and you'll be close enough!

Part Two is now up...

ci5agent45 said...

That's easy! Our neighbours up north can reconfirm that we aren't capable of intelligible speech.

I like it when men do my bidding!

Many thanks for posting part 2, at my age memory is short, not that it would be an ordeal to start at the beginning again, I always enjoy your blogs, even the ones that aren't relevant for me.