Salt of the Earth
Salt of the Earth
As the weapons of Europe (1916) destroyed the lives and limbs of the flower of Europe?s manhood in an attempt to satisfy the politicians, moguls and financial vultures, the thoughts of Johnny Kane were concentrated on a drama more close to his heart and mind as he and his trusted assistant Jim Donnelly, a free state Irishman who enjoyed neutrality, prepared the numerous rums and coffee so much in demand at *6 AM by the hardworking dockers and carters of Liverpool?s docklands. Johnny?s thoughts were with Cissie his wife, who was in an advanced stage of labour in the room upstairs, and about to give birth to her third child. He knew she was in good hands, Dr Sheridan had arrived, and her mother-in-law Sarah Bennet was the most experienced unqualified midwife to be found. Grandma Bennet, as she was affectionately called, had delivered all her many grandchildren, and was completely competent. Johnny had faith, the good Lord had arranged that he would be on leave when the *There would be a queue of drays outside the pub at 6 AM. The drivers or draymen would drop off the cart and go into the door on one side of the pub for their morning shot of rums and coffee which would be lined up along the bar. While the drivers were doing this the driverless carts and horses would slowly shunt their way from one door round the corner of the building to the next where the drayman would come out of the building and again climb aboard.
Baby was due, and Jim Donnelly vowed that come what may he would be loyal to the Kane family until the hostilities finished.
The drama was soon to be over, the child arrived and was found to be as normal as could be ascertained under the circumstances, and the relief could be felt by all. Cissie?s previous birth had been difficult; Irene, the first, had been a weak child and had barely survived. Wilfred, the second, had been a five month premature baby whose survival had been nothing short of miraculous. It was an act of genuine thanksgiving when four days later the family presented the baby at St Sylvesters to be baptised Albert Joseph; Liverpool had another son.
The first twelve months were uneventful as far as we know. I was a good feeder and put on the usual three or four ounces, my faculties developing as was desired and hoped for.
Johnnie Kane returned to the front to be engulfed in the carnage of war. Little did he know how ill-equipped he was and how unprepared he would be when disaster struck. The genius of man?s inhumanity to man was unleashed when the German army struck with the first gas attack. As the gas clouds drifted towards and into the British lines, Johnny Kane and his comrades in arms were as helpless as the new born baby he had left behind. As they retreated in an attempt to avoid an enemy they couldn?t see and didn?t understand, the comrades of the ?Liverpool pals? as they were affectionately known did what they could for each other; some with weaker chests died on the spot, others where the gas was thinner managed to survive only to be affected later in life. Johnny Kane had the presence of mind to place a wet cloth over his nose and mouth as he stumbled out of the holocaust but the damage was done; he like many thousands would pay the price of an early and at times very painful death, his lungs eventually disintegrated as a result of the mustard gas. He was invalided out of the army and returned to the Athol Vaults, to his wife Cissie, his family and loyal Jim who was true to his vow.
Read the rest of A J's memories of Liverpool: Here