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Son of a Regular Serviceman

by Jack Eckersley

I was introduced to this world on 20 April 1942 at number 45 Georgiana Street, ironically for the time, for this was Adolf Hitler's birthday. My father, James, was a regular serviceman in the Royal Air Force, whilst my mother, Mary, worked locally at Bolton Textile Mill. Being a serviceman during that period I suppose my father's home visits would have been spasmodic. On his home visits however, my father would bring me military badges and sometimes medals gathered from goodness knows where. These were pinned on my overcoat and I paraded proudly up and down the street where I was known as Little Goering. I also amassed a considerable collection of lead soldiers my father and a colleague had made or acquired for me. Today they would command quite a price but alas, they have disappeared into the sands of time. As with many other youngsters born in the 1940s it was inevitable that my upbringing would be undertaken by my mother, grandparents, uncles and aunts. In my case by grandparents Alice and Samuel along with my mother's brother and sister, Norman and Hilda.

In deference to the title of this article, I must admit to being completely unaware of gurgling at passers-by whilst being pushed around in my pram. Funny things, prams: A small baby commands a huge conveyance, but as the child grows, the smaller the transport becomes. Totally illogical to my mind. It is therefore of necessity that my recollections begin at five years of age on admission to Plodder Lane County Primary School, Farnworth. So it was on 14 April 1947 I was led apprehensively, but not willingly, from my home in Georgiana Street over Harper Green playing fields to Plodder Lane. Here I was to spend the first six years of my education and be introduced to new friends and experiences.

Although Plodder Lane was a mixed class school, it may come as a surprise to the current generation, that to be seen associating with girls at playtime risked you being called a sissy. Consequently the friends I made were inevitably boys, some I already knew from the community in which I lived. Since television was in its infancy only the more affluent could boast a set, and home computers were a thing of the future. Many conversations centred around trains, Dinky toys and comics.

The comics in vogue at the time were The Dandy, Beano and Eagle; the latter was my choice. In this publication the front page would always be emblazoned with the science fiction exploits of Dan Dare and his adversary, The Mekon, an evil alien. My other favourite was Luck of the Legion. His adventures in the French Foreign Legion would today be perceived as far fetched and ludicrous. They were, however, totally plausible to me at the time. The centre pages contained an 'exploded' drawing of either an aircraft or a steam locomotive. These were carefully cut out of the comic and stored in a scrap book for future reference.

The highlight of morning playtime would be the appearance of 'Uncle' Denis who owned Guest's Bakers on Plodder Lane, clutching a bag of penny loaves. Uncle Denis was not a relative, just a family friend but in those days everyone had uncles and aunts who were not blood relations. Penny loaves were small Hovis pieces about three inches long, but actually costing three ha'pence to buy. Yet another contradiction. However, these went down well with my friends old and new.

Upon reaching nine years of age, although still attending mixed classes, segregation in a boys-only playground was the norm. It was here that I, and Gordon Leach, a long time school friend, discovered our mutual infatuation with trains and train spotting. Gordon lived in Edward Street, the next street to me, and we both owned bicycles. These had hitherto been used solely to trundle up and down Cawdor Street or 'to the top macadam' as it was known. Macadam was a composition of small stones compacted to form a smooth and even road surface. Cawdor Street and Lome Street were treated in this way, and in the days of the traditional cobbles were known respectively as the top and bottom macadam's.

It was about this time our bikes were released from their aimless meandering along these streets and pedalled to far flung places such as Plodder Lane Station and Bolton Engine Sheds in pursuit of our hobby. Hitherto, Moses Gate Station had been the limit of our 'spotting' expeditions which were invariably taken on foot. Eventually we decided to start small and cycle to Green Lane railway bridge. This was a bit daft really because you would see the same engines at Moses Gate, but it was somewhere different. After our first trip, Moses Gate was all but abandoned and Green Lane became one of our favourite haunts.

On arrival we would carry our bikes down the steps leading from Green Lane onto the path leading to St Michael's Church and cemetery. Just before reaching the cemetery we would park up and sit on the fence resting our feet on a stone bearing the letters L Y R. Unbeknown to us at the time this was a boundary stone erected by the long defunct Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. It still stands proudly today albeit overgrown with foliage. If there were no trains due this was the time to open our duffel bags, eat our sandwiches and have a drink of lemonade. What could be better, trains, trees, flowers and birds singing with maybe an apprehensive glance over our shoulders towards the cemetery as the light began to fade.

The Plodder Lane railway line was the domain of the erstwhile London and North Western Railway Company. Here there was a chance to see maybe an engine of a class operated by this company prior to its demise in 1923 still dutifully employed. This was a magnet to us. Rather than sit by the line hoping to 'cop' one of these engines the more adventurous spotters would attempt to evade the eagle eye of the foreman and sneak into the engine shed. We were not that brave, so neither Gordon nor myself ever entered that smoke shrouded edifice to steam power.

Eventually our visits to Plodder Lane were less frequent but regarded as a ride into the country and to a certain extent they were. In the early 1950s, Farnworth's urban sprawl had not developed to the extremes that we see today. Apart from the ribbon development along Plodder Lane itself most of the housing and the motorway now evident was open countryside. Only Brackley Colliery and its attendant mineral railway intruded upon a landscape that in all probability had not changed for centuries.

The engine shed on Crescent Road, Bolton, however offered a view of some of the locomotives through the open gate. It seemed also that the shed foreman was not as eagle eyed as his Plodder Lane counterpart. Much bigger and with a greater and diverse allocation of engines Crescent Road became another of our regular venues. Most of our train spotting forays took place on summer evenings or school holidays when the sun always seemed to shine and the days were a lot longer. Summer also brought with it the annual June Wakes Holiday. This two week period was peculiar to the local textile towns. Each town, in overlapping succession, would assume the mantle of a ghost town. Farnworth's Wakes Weeks began on the last Saturday of June when it appeared that a fair percentage of the population would de-camp to Blackpool, Southport or Morecambe.

I was fortunate in that a week at Blackpool would be followed by day-trips to other seaside resorts the next week. Blackpool was a place where it was almost impossible not to encounter someone you knew from home. Farnworth seemed to take over Blackpool for the week. Surprisingly I did not take the opportunity to, visit the railway, there was so much else to see and do. The Pleasure Beach, football on the beach, toy and gift shops and all manner of penny arcades, every one with gaudily illuminated frontages. A walk down the promenade evoked the sense of smell; sea air, fish and chips, candy floss and Blackpool rock. What was not so pleasant was the unmistakable odour of the contributions made by the horses as they ferried their carriages full of holidaymakers to and fro.

Recollections of Blackpool would not be complete without mentioning the trams. These green and cream coloured 'boneshakers' indeed made the pavement shake as they passed by. To ride in them was not a particularly comfortable experience but I regarded them with a mixture of fondness and awe.

Winter months inevitably saw a curtailment in my trips with Gordon to our favourite spotting haunts. Our bikes were re-introduced to the top macadam, not much pedalling was undertaken as the machines were soon parked against the Co-op wall. This was the place to sit on the step and 'chill out'.

During the dark winter nights I had my model railway to occupy my time should the weather be inclement. Unfortunately before operations could begin all the track and rolling stock had to be removed from their boxes and assembled on the table or carpet. The arrival of my younger brother Alan on the scene decreed that a permanent baseboard was impossible to own due to lack of space. Gordon too had a model railway but he had Hornby Dublo, which picked up power from a central third rail. Mine was a Tri-ang, which picked up power on a two-rail system. As a consequence the two systems were incompatible so our layouts could not be combined.

Life seemed to continue in much the same way until at the age of eleven. As a result of passing the eleven plus examination, I was destined for Farnworth Grammar School. Gordon along with other friends went off to attend Harper Green Secondary School. This was not a world-shattering event but the dreaded homework was instrumental in curtailing many of my activities. I think that now would be a good place to end as anyone attending a senior school could never agree to them being childhood memories - or could they?

If my recollections are perceived as being nostalgic - so be it. After all my generation are constantly accused of viewing the past through rose-tinted spectacles. I only hope that today's generations are able to nurture enough happy memories to do likewise.