Born during the first World War, on the 19th of January 1917, at five o’clock in the evening, in “The Bungalow,” Gravel Castle, Barham, near Canterbury Kent, one of twins. A story told by a ninety-year-old aunt was, our mother was expecting triplets, she lost one of us when she fell down some steps. I have never confirmed this story.
Wilfred in front of “The Bungalow” before it was demolished.
The time of day is shown on the left-hand side under the date on my birth certificate, from St. Catherine’s House, it relates to a multiple birth. From a very young age I was raised with the help of a step-father, who, being an ex-naval rating, liked his booze a bit too much. He had also briefly deserted from the navy in 1905, his service was from 15 Sep 1898 to 21 Mar 1919.
Wilfred with mother, stepfather, grandfather Hawkins and sisters.
I started school at the age of five years (1922), at the Barham Church of England School. The schoolmaster being a Mr. Francis Lee, who was very fond of using the cane. He was known to send a boy out into the lane passing the school to cut a hazel switch, this boy would be the first one to have to hold out his hand. Mr. Francis Lee who had been headmaster since Oct 1892 resigned at the end of Sep 1926 – he would pass away on 5 May 1936. Mr. Lee was replaced by Mr. J. W. Godber, a very keen gardener. He started garden classes for the boys in the upper or top class, which I took part in when I moved up.
We exhibited a collection of vegetables and chrysanthemums at the Annual Chrysanthemum Show in Barham in November 1929 and won an award of merit. We were also presented the Lady Collet Challenge Shield by the Rector (the Rev. W. T. Mallorie) supported by Major Bowman, Mr. W. J. Godber, and Mr. W. P. Wright. The Shield was made of bog oak, and the engraving on the wood and silver was done by Kentish craftsmen, so it was a real Kent product. The competition was open to 205 schools, which had their own gardens in Kent. We had competed for it on three occasions and had done better each time until this year we had won it. Mr. Wright paid glowing tributes to Mr. Godber and the school. You can read about this in the Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald of 23 Nov 2919.
Gardening was the only thing I really got interested in at school. Other teachers at the school were, Miss LeFebre, infants, Miss Bayliss, the next class up, and Mrs. Godber, standard two or three. I do not recall a fourth teacher’s name. Mr. Godber resigned in April 1932.
Barham Church of England School about the time that Wilfred attended.
When I was about 11 or 12 years old I started doing odd jobs after school hours, and sometimes before school started in the mornings. We were a very poor family in those days, and these jobs gave me some pocket-money. My mother received some support for my twin sister and myself, from our natural father. She also earned extra money by working in the fields and orchards in season. Our stepfather worked at the local coal mine but spent most of his pay on beer.
One part-time job of mine was looking after a herd of cows belonging to the local dairy farmer, Mr. Clement Gausby of Derringstone Dairy Farm. After school I drove the cows to some common ground. My job was to see that they did not stray on to the roads that passed on three sides of the common ground, also to see they did not wander into nearby corn fields. Just before dusk the farmer would whistle for the cows to be brought back to the farm, where they were put into cow sheds, ready for milking early next morning. I always looked forward to a treat at the farm when I arrived from school., The farmer’s daughter, Elsie May, always gave me a glass of fresh cold milk and a very large piece of home-made cake. Some weekends I earned extra money doing odd gardening jobs for local people.
In January 1931 I reached school-leaving age, and the following Easter left school. Much to my delight, as I never did like school, except the gardening classes and my interest in history. At Easter I went to stay with my cousins of the Otto family who lived about 10 miles from Barham at Willow Woods. I had only been there a couple of days when I received word there was a job opening in my village at the local grocers. Dashing off home right away, I went and applied for the job and was interviewed by the owner of the store, Mr. John Perry.
I passed and the job was mine. I started work the following day at a wage of two shillings and sixpence a day, not much money by today’s standards, but a fortune in those hard times. I started as an errand boy, delivering groceries, by bicycle, in the village, and surrounding area. This was followed by a spell serving behind the counters, and then I was taught to drive the delivery van, eventually taking groceries to surrounding farms and villages.
By the beginning of 1938 I decided I had enough of the grocery business. As there was no prospect of landing another job in the village, applied to join the regular army. I gave my employer two weeks notice that I was quitting my job. He was sorry to lose me and offered to “Buy Me Out” of the Army if I found I did not like it after I had tried it for a few months. So ended my first job in civvy street, after seven years in the grocery trade.
Reporting to the recruiting office in Dover I chose to join the county Regiment, The Royal East Kent, “The Buffs,” for a term of seven years with the colours, and five years on the army reserve.
At St. Lucia Barracks Bordon, Hants.
Monday morning the 5th of May 1938, I set out to catch a bus from Barham cross-roads to Dover. My mother walked to the bus stop with me and did her best to talk me out of joining up. I remember her saying, “it’s not too late to change your mind.” When she realized I would not change my mind, she made me aware of the danger of anything to do with loose women who hung around the barracks.
I arrived in Dover, at 9.30 a.m. I was attested, given a quick medical, and, taking the oath of Allegiance to His Majesty, King George the Sixth, I was given the “Kings Shilling,” and my railway fare, and sent on my way to join the Buffs at the depot in Canterbury. On arriving at the Regimental Depot, hearing the shouted commands of the bullying N.C.O’s training raw recruits, I now wondered what had I let myself in for. Reporting to the GUARD HOUSE, the N.C.O in charge took me in tow, showing me the way around, and the barrack room that would be my home for the next five months.
Some new recruits had arrived before me and were already settled in. When the required number of recruits were obtained a squad was formed and named “Lucknow Squad,” after the place where the 1st battalion “The Buffs” were serving in India.
The next few days were occupied in getting settled in, getting an army haircut, medical examination, vaccination and inoculation. And finally a trip to the Quarter-masters store to draw equipment and uniform. It required a trip to the Regimental Tailor to be measured and have the necessary alterations made to the uniform so that it was a decent fit.
I was issued a number, from now on I would be Number 6287158. Private W. Young. Sir. No other Buff would have this number for the next one hundred years.
Recruit training over we were posted to the 2nd battalion “The Buffs,” who were stationed at St. Lucia Barracks, Borden Camp, Aldershot. Here I was assigned to “D” company for advanced training, followed by a transfer to H.Q. company, and to the transport lines as a driver.
In January 1939 the battalion moved to Pembroke Dock, in Wales. We were quartered in Llanion Barracks, on a hill overlooking the town. Soon after our arrival here a composite company of us were dispatched to Chorley, Lanc’s under Captain F.W.B. Parry. Our job was to guard a Royal Ordnance factory there against saboteurs of the Irish Republican Army. After many complaints about the conditions we were housed under, we were quickly sent back to Pembroke Dock.
I was now put on a Bren Gun Carrier course, although I had not volunteered for it. We did our training at Angle, near Pembroke, going out from the barracks each day. Two things I remember about the first day on the course, were a carrier losing its caterpillar track when turning too sharply into a narrow lane, it was quite a job to put the track back on. At the end of the day, when we returned to the barracks we had to pass through a narrow gateway that had tall brick pillars on each side. One driver misjudged his distance and took one pillar right out.
As I was leaving the transport lines, headed for my barrack room, I was stopped by the transport officer. He asked me if I would like to take on a job as an officer’s batman, driver. Major B.E. Hammond-Davis had just returned from India where the first battalion, The Buffs were on a tour of duty. The Major had been appointed 2nd-in-command of the 2nd battalion and required a batman-driver. I jumped at the opportunity and agreed to take the job on trial for one week.
The Major lived out in town with his wife, at the “Old House” on Pembroke Street. I had to travel from the barracks early each morning and return each evening when the Major did not require my services anymore that day. Before the end of the week the Major called me to his study told me he would be pleased to have as his batman. If I liked the job I could move in with him instead of going to and from the barracks each day. Taking on this job was to lead me to my future wife.
One Sunday evening, the 18th of June 1939 to be exact, I was roaming the town with my pal, Ronnie Hadlam, the C.O.s batman. We spied two young girls, followed them, and eventually got acquainted. We made a date to meet them the following Tuesday evening at Pembroke Castle. This was the first time I had ever dated a girl and felt nervous about it. Tuesday came and we met as arranged, I teamed up with Kathleen, and Ronnie with Ivy Smith. This became a lasting relationship between Kathleen and myself, and we were married nine months later. As I pen this autobiography we have just passed our 51st wedding anniversary.
Before we married along came World War Two, seven days later I was in the south of France, at a place named Blain, twenty miles north-west of Nantes. (The 2nd Battalion was sent to France in 1940 with the 132nd Infantry Brigade attached to the 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division to join the British Expeditionary Force). We were classed as a Pioneer Battalion and our job was to prepare the sites of the petrol depot at Blain and the ammunition depot in the Forest of Gavre, plus we had to do guard duty and patrols, so there was little rest for anyone.
A group of Buffs in Belgium, 1940.
Private W. G. Young may be 3rd from the left, leaning on his rifle.
The first week of October saw the battalion move up to the north-east of France, to Cobieux and Genech. In February we moved to Beaumont, it was here I was granted leave to “Blighty.” Kathleen and I had arranged to get married, and that special day was to be the 9th of March 1940. All too soon my leave was over, Kathleen and I had a very sad parting at Dover, little knowing that we would not see each other for nearly five years.
Dover Express, 12 April 1940
Arriving back in France I rejoined the battalion at a place called Feuchy. Here we did more pioneer work, guard duties and some training. The 10th of May saw the Germans attack and enter Belgium. We moved in, marching as far as the River Escaut. Taking up positions in front of the village of Petegem, scarcely more than two miles from the battlefield of Oundenarde where 250 years before, our predecessors had taken part in the great victory gained by the Duke of Malborough over the French under Vendome. Here we continued to fight where the sixth Buffs had ended in 1918, on the River Escaut.
A full description of our action in front of Petegem can be found in the Historical Records of The Buffs, 1919-1946, chapter IV, pages 46 to 62.
Our next action and our last was on the St. Omer-La-Bassee Line, after we arrived back across the Belgium border, back in France. Taking part in some action, things became chaotic, it was decided to start an orderly withdrawal towards Dunkirk. It was then we found we, H. Q. Company had been cut off from the rest of the battalion.
After escaping an ambush, we came to the main Armentieres-Balleul road, only to find a long column of lorry-borne German troops 300 yards away. After the Commanding Officer had assessed the situation it was decided to surrender. In the words of Captain Edlmann, in a poignant description in his diary, resistance could be ruled out as absurd. Thus then passed into captivity our hard-pressed remnant of the 2nd Battalion The Buffs, which for the past nine days had been so severely tried.
Prisoner of War
Amongst those taken captive with me were, our Commanding Officer, Lieut-Colonel G.F. Hamilton, Capt. H.R. Grace, Capt. Edlmann, R.S.M. I.G.Brophy, who was wounded, and many other ranks.
Aug 9, 1942, Shlablau, East Prussia (German), Front Row, left to right: W. Brignell, S. Sharp, Roger Lewis (Flint North Wales) L. Allan, Wilfred Young. Back Row, left to right: A. Morrison, T. Parker. ?????
Stalag XXA 177 Germany
Pte. W Young (Kent), Pte. McDonald (Yorkshire), Pte. Barcello (Wales)
Cpl. Linton (Yorkshire), Barnard
Escaped from a farm working party near Elbing, East Prussia, with a corporal, Len Blake (Black Watch Regt.) December 1944, captured by a Russian patrol. Returned to England via Turkey, Malta, Algiers and arrived in Scotland 30 March 1945.
Homecoming in 1945
Previously reported Prisoner of War in German Hands (Germany) now Not Prisoner of War
Served in England 31 Mar 1945 to 6 May 1946. Relegated to Army Reserve, section B on 7 May 1946.
From 1946 to 1957 I worked as a tram conductor in Dover and then as a hard rock miner at Snowdown Colliery. Snowdown was the deepest mine in Kent at 3083 feet. In 1945 the workforce was 1,876, with 1,523 being employed sub-surface and 353 above. Wanting a better life for my family I decided to emigrate to Canada.
On the 5th of February, we were 1,202 miles out on our journey, 1,696 on the 6th and 2,005 on the 7th of February, journey fairly smooth.
Arrived at Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Friday evening of the 8th of February. Very cold, the whole ship covered in ice from sea spray. Not allowed to land until Saturday morning 8:30 a.m. Hungarians first, who were given V.I.P. treatment. Les, Frank and I had to walk 2 miles into the town to find somewhere where we could get some breakfast.
Caught train to Montreal 2:30 p.m., short wait there, then train to Toronto, arrived 10:15 p.m. on the 10th of February. Met by an immigration official and taken to lodgings at 43 Dundoald (Dundonald?) Street, for $2 a night, no meals or heat provided. Went on Yonge Street next morning for breakfast.
Appointment with Dr. Brennan for further medical and x-rays, although we had passed these at Canada House, London, before we left. Had to go back two days later for results of tests, turned down for jobs at North Shore Goldmine at Kirkland Lake, Ontario, no real reason given except that we had been working underground for 10 years before we left England. Advised to get a job in the open air, and come back in one year’s time, and try again.
Immigration found us jobs with the Hudson Engineering Company at Quirke Lake, Ontario. Caught the train from Union Station on the 7th February, to Spragge, North Ontario, nearest stop for Quirke Lake.
Arrived at Spragge 10:30 a.m. on the 18th of February, had to wait until evening for the truck to come in from Stanrock Uranium Mine to pick up mail and supplies for the mining camp. Had a rough ride to the camp, on top of supplies, no road through the bush, just a roughly bulldozed track. A dirt road was made after. Arrived well after dark at the Hudson Engineering Camp, was given a good hot meal, issued with a wash basin and allotted bunk beds in a cabin with about 20 French Canadians.
Next morning up at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast from 7 to 8:30, start work at 9:30, break for lunch, 30 minutes, at 11:30 back to work until 5:30 p.m., one hour to 6:30, then back to work until 9:30, under floodlights. There were approximately 3,000 men in this camp. Les, Frank and I were drilling and blasting rock to make way for a crushing mill. On February 25 I went to fire guard duties from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Part of this job was to watch for bootleggers bring beer through the bush, no beer was allowed in camp.
We were paid $1.25 an hour, no money paid until we left the job. Necessities, like razor blades, toothpaste, soap etc. were obtained from the commissary by means of a numbered disc and charged to our work number. This was deducted from our wages each week, plus a charge for food and board, the rest of our wages were banked for us. The weather was very cold at this time of the year, temperatures dropping to minus 40 degrees at night.
On March the 15th we received word our families were sailing from Liverpool on the 13th of March, as we could not get leave of absence we had to quit the job, and were paid off on the 16th of March. The family arrived at Halifax on 19th March 1957 on the RMS Carinthia.
I started work at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, 1 p.m. 2nd April 1957 at $1.25 an hour, this was part of the Toronto Trust Cemeteries (now the Mount Pleasant Group) company and I later became a foreman at Prospect Cemetery. I retired from there in January 1982 and worked at Meadowvale Cemetery after retirement for several years.
By 10 Feb 1993 Wilfred was gone. His time at Snowdown had caught up with him and he died from Silicosis (previously miner’s phthisis, grinder’s asthma, potter’s rot and other occupation-related names) is a form of occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust, and is marked by inflammation and scarring in the form of nodular lesions in the upper lobes of the lungs.