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Thread: A J's Liverpool Childhood 1916 ?

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    Creator & Administrator Kev's Avatar
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    Exclamation A J's Liverpool Childhood 1916 ?

    It's with pleasure and I feel somewhat privileged that I'm able to provide the memories of a man called A. J. It recounts his experiences of growing up in Liverpool at the time.

    Unfortunately A.J. died in 2001. His son has had his memories printed in a booklet form and has made it available for friends and family.

    Ian has kindly allowed Yo! Liverpool and Talk Liverpool access to this booklet and I shall be posting extracts/ sections over a period of time to allow us time to read, reflect and comment appropriately.


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    A.J. would be chuffed....My dad always had that strong love and yearning for Liverpool and re-visited the extended family and friends.
    Enjoy
    Last edited by Kev; 02-12-2009 at 07:05 PM.
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    Default 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.
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    Exclamation The Family

    The Family

    Johnny knew he had not many years to live and set about consolidating his assets in order to provide for his family after his death. He decided he would leave the Athol Vaults and buy a newsagents, thus ensuring that his family would be provided with an income. He himself was confined to bed and ran the business from there. Cissie meanwhile was proving herself to be no mean business woman. But problems are never far away with children, and at the age of eighteen months I developed cataracts in the eyes and to all intents and purposes went blind. This was a body blow, medical science was not as it is today, and that which was available was only for the rich, but the Kane and Bennet family were a united bunch; the money was found for an operation at the Myrtle Street infirmary and I was returned to full health, for which I am truly grateful.

    At the age of three I was an alert child who could already recall events, and today quite clearly recall my first contact with the police. It happened like this. The social life of Cissie was non-existent, and what there was involved visiting her family and relations after the business had closed after 9.30 PM.

    On this occasion Johnny was in hospital and the children were asleep in bed when Cissie decided to visit her mother in Shaw Street about 10 minutes walk from Great Homer Street where we lived. Cissie set off, it being normal in those days to leave the children for half an hour or so (no baby sitters in those days). No sooner had Cissie set off than Wilfred (who had developed into a foxy little blighter) got up out of bed and woke me, saying that we were going to Grandma?s to see mum. I remember he dressed me, putting my clothes on top of my pyjamas; he also put on my overcoat and hat. Going down the stairs he got the step ladder from behind the front door where it was always kept, climbed up the ladder, unbolted and unlocked the front door and we were out. We walked along Great Homer Street up Prince Edwin Street to Everton Brow when the law pounced. A policeman saw us. He knew we should not be out, saw how we were dressed, and took us to Islington Police station. Wilfred told the story; a policeman went to Grandma?s, who came to the Bridewell with mother to pick us up. I can remember them coming in; I was quite happy, the policeman had given me a cake and a cup of milk and I was sitting in front of a large blazing coal fire. Nothing
    was said to me but I imagine Wilf came in for a few harsh words after that.

    Dad was back from hospital and Wilfred, now about seven, was enrolled at St Francis Xaviours College, a Jesuit school; dad said that the Jesuits would sort him out. Each morning mum would put me in a high perambulator and walk Wilfred to school about twenty minutes? walk from our shop. This went on for a long time, and eventually the time came for me to be enrolled for school. Then the balloon went up. The Jesuits refused to take me. They said that they wouldn?t waste their time with another one like Wilfred, who was absent from school more often than he attended. What had happened was that for a long time Wilfred had been saying to mum that there was no need for her to go all the way to the school gates and that he could run the last few hundred yards on his own. Mum being in a hurry to get back to the shop had been happy to let him do so, but instead of going to school Wilfred had run past the school to Shaw Street Park and Gardens where he had played all day with others doing the same thing. The outcome was that Wilfred was kicked out of St Francis, and both of us enrolled at all Souls RC Elementary school about 150 yards from where we lived. Wilf and I were at school regularly and punctually for the next nine years.

    I can clearly recall my first day at school. We stood with the other parents until the children in the playground had gone into school, then we all went into the playground and eventually a woman in a nun?s habit came out and spoke to the parents. She introduced herself as Sister Margaret, head of the infant?s department. We were enrolled and then we were introduced to two of the happiest women I have ever known, Miss Maxwell and Miss Joyce. I remember they seemed to be old, they were probably about fifty but as teachers of infants they were perfect. I remember being given a slate and slate pencil and encouraged to draw and write, copying what the teacher wrote on the blackboard. For reading there was a large loose leaf folder of objects and letters relating to each other. The system worked for me. In no time at all I was coping with books, and by the age of seven could read almost anything; reading became a regular pastime. I was developing in size and character; it was soon apparent that I was afraid of very little or anybody. I never shirked a fight and was quite adept at football. In 1920 a further brother arrived named John Douglas, he was born at Nurse Brett?s nursing home in Sackville Street.
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    Keep it coming Kev! It makes very interesting reading.

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    Default Tragedy

    Tragedy

    Grandma and Grandpa Bennett came to stay at the shop to look after both the shop and the children. Tragedy struck the family soon after. Irene, who had never been a strong child, died from fever, and a few years later their father died though he had lived longer than expected. Credit for this must go to the nursing care of both his wife and Grandma Bennett who always seemed to be available in a crisis. She was a wonderful person who never spared herself where her family were concerned. On the morning our dad died, it was early and we boys had known the night before that our dad was extremely ill. We were still in bed when mum came in and told us that dad had gone to heaven and that from now on there would only be her and us. I remember her crying. After this mum qualified for a widow?s pension for which the moguls granted her the princely sum of half a crown for each child and half a crown for herself which was paid weekly, what a reward for the loss of the breadwinner and the promise of a Britain fit for heroes to live in. After his death life was very different; mum concentrated on the business and we were introduced to the privilege of having a live-in-servant. This came about because mum was overworked. She set a high standard of keeping her home clean and comfortable and was determined that we would not be disadvantaged by the death of dad. One of the customers who had a large family was worried about the future of her 14 year old daughter who had just left school with no prospects at all of getting work. Mother suggested it would be mutually beneficial if the girl came to live with us as a sort of adopted daughter; the girl would receive a payment, her keep, and above all a good training in all aspects of domestic work. Annie Watkins entered our lives as our new big sister, (poor Annie), we ran rings round her; we were far sharper than her, she was always second best in a battle of wits, she was a good sport. One night mother had gone to visit grandma, and Wilf and I started to play Annie up, she could not handle it so we tied her to the settee; we really bound her up like we had seen people do on the pictures.

    What we didn?t realise was that the people on the films were loosely tied, and Annie wasn?t, so we nearly strangled her by tying the ropes so tight that we cut off her blood supply. Fortunately mum returned before it was too late. It took an awful long time for her to recover; both Wilf and I got our just rewards. Annie was very nice really and we began to like and respect her. We accepted her as a big sister, and mother trained her well and found her a tremendous help. In another incident mother had shown Annie how to iron and starch sheets, pillow cases etc, which was something she had not experienced in her own home. On this occasion Annie was holding the flat iron behind her back after removing it from the gas stove where it had been getting hot. I came running in from the yard and without looking or thinking grabbed Annie from behind, a trick I was in the habit of doing; the hot iron went full on the side of my face, what a scream, what a fuss, I was lucky I didn?t lose the sight of one eye, the skin peeled off and once again I was visiting hospital. Poor Annie was distraught and blamed herself for not being more careful, she really did become one of the family. She grew up to be an attractive young woman and married very comfortably thanks in no small measure to mother?s training. I was nearly seven and the school and the district were beginning to know that I was around. At seven we left infant school and were segregated into either the boys or girls school (a system of which I heartily approve). The ?big boys? as our new school was called was an entirely new world, discipline was the name of the game. We were considered to be entering a man?s world and must start to behave like men, and learning became a serious preoccupation, the intricacies of the English language unfolded as punctuation marks and grammar were drummed into us and sums became arithmetic. Poetry and the introduction to Shakespeare were a new world. Many are the Liverpudlian children who took their first faltering steps to the stage through spouting Portia?s plea with a gusto that would have thrilled Sir Lawrence Olivier. Mind you, we were also very quick at learning the fruity rhymes we continually made up and for which Liverpool?s wit is famous. All children are natural actors, and as the stage and theatre world are well aware Liverpool has produced an enormous amount of theatrical genius. Needless to say I trod the footlights performing at St Martin?s Hall in Scotland Road and on two famous occasions sang in Picton Hall. This resulted in being chosen to perform in the church choir. I was a natural, church Latin proved no difficulty; I did everything well.

    Thanks to the comments so far
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    Default Sports

    Sports

    At eight I was given a trial in the school junior eleven and immediately won a place at inside left, a position I held until I was promoted to the first eleven.

    By now I was recognised among the gang as one who would have a go at any daredevil stunt. I remember the occasion when after a game outside the church where we regularly played, the idea was put forward that we should try to ring the church bell from outside the church. This meant climbing up the church steeple from the outside right to the top and then reaching up to get hold of the bell hammer and bang it to make a sound. Kaney (my nickname) was the only one to succeed. We nearly always met outside the church and the school. The road which ran alongside it had been covered with a tarred surface to deaden the sound of the horses and carts as they passed by. This piece of road was known as the tar pitch and was recognised as our home ground, when we challenged other streets to play us. It was also recognised by the parish priest, who knew that he could always get a group of boys to do a job for him whenever he needed. Father Joyce the parish priest was a very decent man, he often gave us the money to buy a rubber ball as a reward for helping him.

    At nine I was also playing cricket in the street. Lancashire were the cream and all the players my idols, but Dick and Ernie Tyldesley were the ones whom I tried to emulate; the intricacies of finger and wrist spin to right and left had to be learned, and until one had scored a century one was a rookie.

    Such were the Liverpool sports mad kids, and we were quick to learn anything given the chance. I was also a fast sprinter, generally the first picked in the street games. At 11 the games master entered me into the inter school contest. I was a regular winner of awards at Polly Jays in County Road with vouchers for prizes won at various sports. My biggest disappointment was in the sprint final on Liverpool?s football ground. To reach the final I had to win area finals, zone finals and a semi final. In the final I was away to a flier, but sensed that I was on my own and thinking that I had jumped the gun I hesitated and in a split second someone had passed me, I recovered but only managed to come third. Mr Kirby the games master was furious as it was my last chance before I left school.

    Swimming was a must in the area; many children were drowned in the river, docks and canals. Liverpool City opened a free swimming pool, and there was also a baths in Bevington Bush. I swam a mile.
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