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U3A Writing: Memories Of My Father - James Harker

Marjorie Upson paints a word portrait of her father, James Harker, who was taken prisoner during the First World War.

Reading the recent memories of people whose relatives served in the 2nd world war, I got to thinking about my father who served in the war to end all wars the, 1914-18 war.

James or Jim Harker born Dewsbury,7th November 1898, was the youngest of three boys who were brought up as Methodists by their Catholic mother, who did this because their father, Joseph, refused to have anything to do with the Catholic church. The two elder boys joined the army and navy respectively when the war began, and Jim decided he would like to be in there also and joined the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. I’m not sure when, but I’m sure he lied about his age.

We have pictures of him as a drummer boy and I understand he was just about to be shipped off overseas when his parents found out and quickly put a stop to that, as he was underage. I do have a record of his enlistment with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers Yorkshire Regiment dated 22nd September 1915 stating he has already served with the KOYLI, during his service with the K.O.S.B. he did go overseas, and was taken prisoner on April 19th, 1918.

Dad never spoke much about his time as prisoner, but there is a photo, which he said, cost his a week’s pay of a small group of them. He once gave a talk about his experiences, and I typed the brief notes for him as a reminder.

April 19th 1918 – taken prisoner. On arrival in the German line (interrogated) during the first 10 days of captivity.

30th April transferred to a large concentration camp at Hallum, sent on working part. Treatment V.F. (very fair)

May 12th transferred to a place called Faty. Prussians in charge.

May 28th transferred to Ghent.

June 9th Transferred to Valenciennes came in contact with E. Bryone of Bradford, an incident occurred to me here.

June 20th marched to Mons, up to now we had no change of clothing.

July 2nd arrived in Leige.

July 12 marched to Antwerp. Here, E. Bryone, myself and another fellow planned a get-away, which failed.

August 12th moved to Dusseldorf, Essen, Munster, Hanover, Hamburg, here I took dysentery and was too sick to work, so I found myself in hospital in Danzig.

Nov 2nd 1918 still no change another incident here.

Dec 1st News of the end of the war everyone happy.
Set sail from Danzig, arrived at Leith Scotland on Dec 10th, rather weak but happy. Great welcome waiting.
Left Leith at 2pm for Ripon, and Ripon for home December 19th.
Christmas that year it was Sago pudding for me.

There is no mention of what these ‘incidents’ were, but I do remember him saying that when they were marching, people at the roadside were offering them loaves of bread, and when they reached to get it they were hit on the head. The E Bryone he mentioned was an ex schoolteacher, who I believe died before they could be released.

Shortly after his return home he was discharged from the K.O.S.B. on February 25th, as fit. His father marched him straight back to the recruiting office and told them he wanted to re-enlist. At this they were told he was not fit, when Joseph replied ‘That’s funny they classed him A 1 yesterday’ After that he was re-enlisted on February 26th, serving with the regiment in India, and being one of the guards when The Prince of Wales visited Delhi and Agra, also in Ireland. He was finally discharged on June 6th 1922, the reason being given that there was a reduction in the establishment.

One his return to civilian life, he could not find work as a woollen piecener, so began working for the L.M.S. railway as a porter. In 1925 he married his childhood sweetheart, my mother Ethel Cowgill, and eventually as his job decreed he was moved to Halifax and then Elland, which is how we came to live in this area.

Somewhere along the line Jim discovered an artistic streak and in his spare time at Elland Station he would draw fancy lettered adverts for the train excursions, and wish people A Merry Christmas etc on the blackboards that were in the booking hall. At the time there was an article in the Halifax courier and Guardian about him with a picture, (1936 I think). Eventually of course the 2nd world war came along, and Jim was quite prepared to go off again and do his bit, unfortunately for him he was considered too old (42), so he joined the Home Guard.

He was the sergeant of the Elland Railway Platoon, which eventually was combined with the rest of Elland Division, and he became a corporal. – Later on when the programme Dad’s army was on TV, I used to ask him if he ever watched it and ‘No’ was the answer, but I’m sure he would have enjoyed it as the Elland ‘Dad’s Army’ got up to a lot of things the TV lot did. After the war he was still interested in Army, and used to help train some army cadets at the old Drill hall in Elland (Wainwright Hall). Job wise he became a shunter, and eventually a Goods Guard – he wasn’t tall enough for a passenger guard. He retired on the 4th January 1964 after 41 years on the railway.

He remarried in 1968 and went to live in Manchester. He died quite suddenly in 1981, the only time I remember him being ill was when he was knocked over by a train just after my mother died, and having a boil once.

So there it is, my memories of Jim Harker, my Dad, he loved the army, his KOSB cap still has an outing each Remembrance Sunday when it is on parade at the memorial I prepare at my church, his family, and a good laugh, was always ready to dress up and act the ‘dickey poggie’ as he used to say, - oh yes and a good puff on his pipe.

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