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To War With The Bays: 4 - A Lighter Side Of Life

...If I could get away early and get a good lift, and if I was in time, and Huddersfield Rugby League team were playing at home, I'd go straight to Fartown to the match. I knew my father would always be there. I'd find him, and after the match was over, we'd come home together. Oh, it was heaven to be home. There was always a dance on somewhere in town on Saturday nights, and that is where I generally went...

Jack Merewood recalls the lighter side of his early wartime service in the Army. Jack would hitch a lift from his training camp at Catterick to his home town, Huddersfield in Yorkshire. He went on to serve as a combat soldier in North Africa and Europe throughout the war. His story will appear week by week in Open Writing.

But there was a lighter side to life too. Near the camp were a few shops and a post office, a cinema and swimming baths. As time went by, dances were held in a local hall. The girls were almost always ATS, and like us they enjoyed these welcome breaks. We also spent hours playing cards, usually brag (three, four, seven or nine card), or pontoon or Nap. Money not spent in the NAAFI generally ended up on card tables or beds or anywhere else we could play. In the beginning the stakes weren't high because our pay was 7/6d (37p) a week. This was paid on Fridays, but instead of 7/6d each week, we were paid 5/- (25p) one week and 10/- (50p) the next. Over the following months we were given rises (one was sixpence a week - cigarette money), so the card stakes would rise a little. Nobody ever missed pay parade of course. Unless it was raining or snowing, a table was set up outside. The paymaster sat at it and as your name was called you went up to the table, saluted, and the officer handed you your pay.

We could go out at night, but had to be in for 'lights out' at 10.30 p.m., at least we were supposed to be. At weekends we were allowed as far as Richmond without a pass, but it was not the most exciting of towns. There were two cinemas there, and it had its historic castle, but apart from the cinemas there was no entertainment for soldiers. To go further than Richmond without a pass brought the risk of being caught by the Redcaps (Military Police). They regularly stopped vehicles on the Great North Road and asked to see passes. Caught without one meant being reported, up later before the C.O. and sentence passed - usually a week or so C.B. (confined to barracks).

We were occasionally allowed weekend passes. I always used mine to go home. Like everyone else I would hitch-hike a lift down the road from the camp to Catterick village about two miles away and on the Great North Road. The Great North Road in those days was just an ordinary two-lane highway, the A1. The Romans built the original road, and it connected all the towns on the way. Nowadays it is a four-lane highway, and over the years all the towns have been bypassed.

It was always easy to get a lift from Catterick village, sometimes in private cars, but more often in army vehicles. Generally I could get a lift to Wetherby, then to Leeds, and then one from Leeds to Huddersfield. One of these varied lifts particularly sticks in my mind. There was a convoy of jeeps coming. One stopped to pick me up. The driver was an ATS girl. I remember she had lovely auburn hair. It was in the winter, there was snow and ice about, and coming through Boroughbridge we got stuck on the bridge, and I had to get out and push. We sang songs most of the way, mostly Christmas carols, and in this particular instance I was exceptionally lucky because the convoy came through Huddersfield and the girl dropped me off at Folly Hall, about a mile from home.

If I could get away early and get a good lift, and if I was in time, and Huddersfield Rugby League team were playing at home, I'd go straight to Fartown to the match. I knew my father would always be there. I'd find him, and after the match was over, we'd come home together. Oh, it was heaven to be home. There was always a dance on somewhere in town on Saturday nights, and that is where I generally went.

On Sunday, to get back to Catterick, it meant catching a train to Darlington. From there special trains for the soldiers ran straight to the camp. On Sunday nights these would be packed. The train stopped quite near to the RAC barracks, so once off the train it was only a few hundred yards' walk to the camp.

Many weekends Ronnie would go home with or without a pass, and sometimes I went with him (always without a pass, but we were never caught). Going to Alnwick meant going north now on the A1 as far as Newcastle. Often Lin Wood would go too and we'd leave him in Newcastle and then catch the train to Alnwick. Alnwick was on a small branch line, and the line ended at the station there. Sometimes Emily came down to Newcastle, and we'd meet her and Lin's girlfriend, Joyce, and spend a little while with them before going on to Alnwick.

Ronnie was a great sportsman; he seemed to be good at almost any sport. He played cricket for Alnwick, and football. His father was steward at the billiard hall in Alnwick, so Ronnie was almost born with a billiard cue in his hand, and he was an excellent player, as was his brother Ian. He was also a very keen golfer, and sometimes he'd take me to the golf course. Emily had a brother, John (later killed in action), who was in the RAF and I'd borrow his clubs. I was useless at golf, but we'd spend a bit of time at the course with Ronnie giving me some instruction. Like me, Ronnie was a keen card player too, so we often played cards.

Ronnie's parents were marvellous people, and so was his granny (his mother's mother) who lived with them. They made such a fuss of us, fed us well and when we left we always came away loaded with buns and cakes and pies.

On the way back to Catterick from Alnwick, as from Huddersfield, it was change trains at Darlington. Often it was a bit hazardous there as the place swarmed with MPs and a considerable amount of time was taken in dodging them if we were without passes.

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