Authors: Griff Hosker
from near Cambridge, UK
Sword Books Ltd 2014
Griff Hosker First Edition
The author has asserted their moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
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A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
To the fictional soldiers like Doddy and Tiny, as well as the real heroes like Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon. To those pilots like McCudden, Roy Brown and Albert Ball who pioneered combat flying. They died for the country and they should be remembered. To the families who lost sons, brothers and fathers. This is dedicated to you all.
Thanks to Ian Ritchie for supplying the gaps in my research.
They call it the Great War now but when it all started we thought it was a lark. We pictured a war like dad had been in, the South African War; a few months away and then back home with a sun tan and some strange souvenirs. We never thought that it would last so long and kill so many. We just did our duty and followed orders. That was how we had been brought up. We were in for a shock when it lasted four years and took away so many of the boys we had grown up with.
We were nothing special as a family. We lived in a
cottage on Lord Burscough’s estate. We had two bedrooms and there were seven children. It was not remarkable in any way. We adapted to four big lads in one bedroom. We were better off than the girls; they had to share a room with mum and dad. Even when we grew up and were earning money we still had to share the bedroom. That was the way of the world. You had to work long hours and the money you were paid was coppers. There were some who went on about socialism and how the high and mighty had too much money. I heard lads say as how we ought to take what they had and share it out. We never said that in front of mum and dad. We would have been out on our ear. They had both worked for the Burscough family since they were old enough to work. Serving the aristocracy was in their veins.
Dad, John Harsker, was the chief groom for Lord Burscough. He had worked for him since he was a lad. His father had been a groom too. It was where he had met mum, Mary, she had been a below
stairs maid. They had married when she was sixteen and dad was eighteen. The two up two down cottage had been their first home and we still lived there. It was on the estate and life was pleasant. The village of Burscough owed everything to the Burscough family and it was an extension of Lord Burscough’s domain. When we went into Wigan or St.Helens or even Liverpool for a night out we saw the dirt and the crime. The estate the was; it was a peaceful place. Some considered it boring but we were happy.
My name is
William and I was the fourth child to be born into the family and the third boy. It meant I got the clothes that John and Tom had outgrown. Poor Albert, my younger brother, had to have them third hand. I felt sorry for Bert.
I was the only one of the lads to survive the war. My dad had four brothers and all of them lived to be old men but my brothers
all died before they were thirty. Poor Bert died before he was twenty. They didn’t see much of life. And the funny thing was, I was the one who was in the army first and I was the only one who saw the end of the war and lived to talk about it. I still wonder about that to this day. Why? What was so special about me?
John wanted to be off the estate as soon as he could
. There were fewer jobs now that we had more steam traction engines on the estate. The day he turned fourteen he left home and went to Manchester to earn a living. There was good money to be made in the factories of Manchester. With the new railways it was not a long journey but we had no money to go to see him. It was not a good parting. Mother and father still hoped he could do something on the estate but John was pig headed. He knew his own mind and he went. He wrote and, every holiday, he visited. He was still the same big brother who had given me such a hard time growing up but he seemed worldlier now. When he came home on the increasingly rare Sunday he was different. I know that my mother frowned on his new habit of smoking and the jaunty way he wore his cap. I thought he looked sophisticated but to Mother he was being polluted by the city.
Of course the direct effect was that Tom wanted to join him and the minute he turned fourteen he upped and left too. The lure of money and a little equality with others suited them both. I knew what they meant; on the estate we had to tip
our caps and say, “Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir!” to almost everyone. Mum and dad never minded, it was the old way and they were used to it. However John and Tom had seen the new world and they wanted some of it.
That left my sister Sarah as the eldest
girl and me as the eldest boy. I was always close to my sister Sarah. I think because I was the next one to her she had someone to care for. I think my mother was with child almost every year. She accepted it and seemed to think that was her role. She was always a mother; a homemaker and someone who deeply cared for her children. We were her reason for living; along with her deep love for my father. The closer I came to fourteen the more nervous and worried became my mother. I think she thought I would join my big brothers. She needn’t have worried. I liked the life on the estate and that was because I loved horses.
Dad was a quiet thoughtful man.
He used his pipe as a way of meditating and it gave him time to think. As I grew up I realised that more men should pause before they speak. It would save many arguments. He had never tried to dissuade my brothers from leaving home. As he had said to me, “It’s this way lad, a chap will be happier doing what he enjoys. You canna make a man like working on the land. Me? I’d hate to be in one of them factory places but each to his own.”
I agreed but my motive was different. I wanted to be around horses. This was not the cart horses
who pulled the ploughs or the working horses who pulled the carriages, these were the hunters that Lord Burscough and his son, Master James, rode. I had shown an ability to ride from an early age. There was a time I thought I might have been able to be a jockey but I grew too tall. Still, Lord Burscough liked me and liked the way I looked after his horses. He let me ride his hunters. There was one, in particular, Caesar, who was special to me. He had been the first horse I had seen born and I looked after him when he was growing. I schooled him and I was the first to ride him. Lord Burscough encouraged me to ride him every day. As he said, “Fine animals like that deserve to be ridden as often as possible.”
That suited me down to the ground. Every day I
rode Caesar and I rode him as fast as I could. Sometimes I would ride two or three a day. It was the speed I liked; I liked the wind rushing through my hair and the thrill of making instant decisions. I would not be working in the factory I knew that. I would working with the horses on the estate. I began working when I was twelve. I was too young really but my father and Lord Burscough thought it was a good thing. The money was coppers but I was frugal and I could save. Besides, had they but known it, I would have worked for nothing.
I think that made up for the disappointment of Tom and John leaving home.
Mother became much happier when she knew I would not be leaving the nest. My brother’s visits became increasingly rare. When our Sarah began working as a scullery maid in the
, as we termed it, then order came into our house once more. The departure of the two big lads had also made the house a little bigger and we enjoyed that.
I worked happily for the next four years learning about horses and becoming a bigger man as I filled out my frame. Caesar was now the only horse for me. He too was big and we made a fine pair; at least I thought so. I suppose the mo
st important event that happened was that Lord James Burscough joined the Lancashire Yeomanry as a lieutenant. He was only four years older than me but had been to University and was a well educated man. He wanted and needed a servant and the logical choice was me. It appealed to me, too. The Yeomanry did not serve abroad and was a part time unit. There was a dashing ceremonial uniform and a fine regular one. We paraded more than we worked and were only needed when the police had a riot to deal with. Ironically the one time I did have to draw ammunition was when the factories in Manchester had a protest. I get ahead of myself; that was some time in the future.
I was sixteen when we joined the Yeomanry and Mother cried when she saw me in my dress uniform. The tears were of pride; the war and tears of despair were two years away.
I know that I was lucky to be joining as an officer’s servant. The colonel of the regiment was Lord Burscough himself and so his son was afforded a great deal of both latitude and tolerance. The troop sergeants shouted at the other troopers who were no more incompetent than I was but as the servant of the lieutenant I got away with things. We trained and drilled just like the regular cavalry and we were paid for the time we served.
The troop sergeants had all served in regular regiments: the 17
Lancers, the Dragoon Guards and many others. They had joined when they retired as the pay allowed them to drink more than they would otherwise have been able to do. I think they were all career soldiers who could not face life in the outside world. The ordered world of the soldier appealed to them. Many of them told sad tales of comrades who had left the service only to end up drunks or in the workhouse. That was no way for someone who had served their country to end their days.
Having said that I could get away with things the fact of the matter
was that I didn’t. I enjoyed being a trooper and the things that the troop sergeants liked, such as smart tack, a well presented horse and an immaculate uniform, were not a problem. My problem was keeping at the same pace as the others. I forever wanted to gallop off. The sergeants did not like that. However they did admire the way I rode and the control I had over my horse. We had to provide our own horses. Normally that would have been impossible for the son of a servant but Lord Burscough and his son liked me and they allowed me to ride Caesar. All of the horses were named after great generals. Bizarrely it didn’t matter if they were a male or a female; they were all granted a grand title. There was no doubt that I would ride Caesar.
Caesar was one of the bigger horses. I had grown into a big lad and I knew there were few others who could ride him. Lord James was much smaller. Caesar was jet black with a white blaze; he had one long white sock and three short ones. However, the best things about Caesar were his speed and his ability to jump fences.