February 2010 newsletter
by J R Ashby
'I was Posted to the Drill Hall, Mexborough, During the 2nd
Inch Heavy Anti Aircraft Gun, similar to the one seen at the
Drill Hall, Highwoods, Mexborough, during the last war.
was in December 2002, while researching the history of Montague
Burton, Gentleman’s Taylor, and Ballrooms, High Street Mexborough,
that I first discovered some of the history of the Drill Hall,
Highwoods, Mexborough. I found, from the SYT, that it was
constructed and opened, in 1938. Then, while interviewing Mr. D.
Scholey, one of the first apprentices to be employed at that
particular retail sales outlet, I was informed that from 1937 to
c1940 the first floor of Montague Burton remained empty, but it was
then taken over by the military as a billet for allied troops
stationed at the Drill Hall, and that it was quite a spectacle to
see troops paraded, outside the shop on High Street, prior to
marching through the town to the Drill Hall.
But what was it
like for those young men, many of them only teenagers, who were
plucked from their homes and sent miles away? Some of these
youngsters had come from the clean suburbs and countryside of
southern England, and had been sent to the highly industrialized,
grimy, mining towns, like Mexborough.
Last month, after
writing the newsletter, which covered members of the Mexborough
Branch of the Oddfellows Friendly Society, who served in the 1st WW,
I received a letter which told me the experiences of just one of
those boys who was stationed at Mexborough Drill Hall during the 2nd
Brian Hulse was 16yrs old at the outbreak of war in
1939. He had left grammar school the previous July, with the
equivalent of O-Levels, and went to work, as a junior clerk in the
Treasurer’s Dept. of the Bedfordshire County Council. By August
1939, it was inevitable, that there would be war with Germany and so
he had volunteered into the local T.A’s, this being the Bedfordshire
Yeomanry. Here he found lots of ‘square-bashing’ and rifle drill,
and as they were a Field Regiment, of the Royal Artillery, was
supposed to be equipped with 25 pounder field guns.
Sept. 1939, Neville Chamberlain, declared that we were at war with
Germany and Brian was paraded and assigned to new duties. He was to
man a Lewis Machine Gun, which was a rusty leftover from the 1st WW,
placed on the roof of the local drill hall. They were an artillery
battery and gun drill practise was done using a couple of eighteen
pounders, also from the 1WW, but couldn’t have been fired without
disastrous consequences to the gun crews as the recoil mechanism was
rusted up and the gun would have shattered.
In October they
received the news that the regiment was to be sent to Belgium to
join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) but, as Brian was too
young, he could not accompany them. At first he was disappointed
until news came that the regiment had had to retreat to Dunkirk.
Meanwhile the youngsters known, much to their disgust as ‘immatures’,
had been posted to join an Anti Aircraft Regiment in South
I will now leave Brian to tell his story of life
at the Drill Hall at Mexborough:
“Our new Regiment
was a converted infantry battalion of the Yorks & Lancs Light
Infantry with its regimental headquarters in Rotherham and the
headquarters of the battery to which we had been posted in
Looking back I don’t recall being depressed
although we might well have been because we still had no guns to
bolster our since of pride in being men of the Royal Regiment of
This is the oldest of our military formations
and if the British Army was ever to be drawn up on parade the
Royal Artillery would occupy the proud position of being the
‘right of line’.
But there we were with little to do but
attend endless parades, perform fatigues and guard duties and,
worst of all, when day was done retire to our beds which
consisted of three blankets and a ground sheet on the hard
wooden floor of the Drill Hall; no beds and not even a mattress.
We went out very little because even in those days fourteen
bob (70p) a week didn’t go very far and I well remember four of
us who were pretty close friends emptying our pockets onto a
blanket to see if we could muster enough to go to the pub and
have half a pint of beer.
Pay parade was on Thursday and
it was following these that I became aware of the Yorkshireman’s
love of gambling.
The older men, most of them married,
would take their pay, all seven bob (35p) of it into the
canteen, sit at a table with a drink and play a card game called
‘blind three card brag’ until one of the number had the lot or
at least most of it. Then the others would sub (borrow) from him
until next week.
Most of us spent our evenings polishing
our brass buttons and our boots and leather cap straps and
blancoing our belts and gaiters, because this was before the
‘battle dress’ uniform had been introduced.
tunics with brass buttons and brass insignia on the epaulets,
green canvas belts with brass fittings and green canvas gaiters
above black boots which had to be polished until one could see
one’s face in them.
our heads we wore a peaked cap with leather hat band and the
Royal Artillery brass hat badge which consisted of scroll
bearing the regiment’s motto ‘Ubique Quo Fas et Gloria Ducunt’
(Everywhere where honour and glory leads) and surmounted by the
emblem of an artillery piece.
The majority of the men
were South Yorkshire Colliers from local pits at Wath-on-Dearne
and Swinton collieries.
They were pretty basic but on the
whole kind to us young boys from the South and many of those who
lived locally would from time to time invite us to their homes,
mostly back to back cottages, and I think they did this
sometimes partly to show us off because we were different in
that we had funny accents.
Of course we thought they had
funny accents too and one -3- realises now how modern transport
and methods of communication have narrowed the gap between the
north and the south of the country.
We also became
quickly conditioned to the way in which the English Language
could be liberally sprinkled with swearwords.
years we have had to become accustomed to the use of obscenities
but I can assure you that the British Soldier has long employed
the ‘f’ word and others like it, with the greatest facility.
One example that sticks in my mind was the occasion of a
church parade when the Sergeant Major leant over the back of a
pew and with mouth close to an unsuspecting ear said, in a
sibilant whisper, “Take thee f****** ‘at off in the ‘ouse of
Gawd thee ignorant sod thee.” The Christmas of 1939 is the only
Christmas of the war that I really can remember and that was
because one of my fellow ‘immatures’ had relations in Sheffield
and he and I were invited to share the festival with them.
It was before food rationing had really got going and we
were treated to the full gamut of Yorkshire hospitality.
Each morning we were awoken by our hostess bringing us tea in
bed, not only a cup of tea but also a few biscuits and a banana
to keep us going until breakfast.
Then, apart from the
feast of Christmas Dinner, we were daily presented with a large
cooked breakfast, lunch, high tea (a feast in itself) and before
we went to bed the sideboard was again dressed with a ham, a
pork pie, tongue, and an assortment of pickles and what else I
To us this was all a treat indeed
because, whist army food was plentiful and we never during the
whole of the war had to suffer the privations of rationing that
were visited upon the civilian population, the army cooks
managed to make almost literally a dogs dinner of good
provisions and I imagine the pigs who were fed our leftovers in
the form of ‘pigswill’ did marginally better than we did.
The classic example of army cooking was right at the
beginning of the war when the sergeant cook in Bedford was
appointed to the job because he had experience of mass catering.
In civilian life he ran a fish and chip shop! The winter of
1939/40 was one of the most severe in Britain for many years and
the Drill Hall floor got very cold and hard but we did
eventually get mattresses and in the end beds which provided a
Worse of all was being put on guard duty and
I shall never forget sentry duty outside Mexborough Drill Hall
in the ice and snow and in particular the seemingly interminable
two hours from two ‘til four a.m. when life is said to be at its
There was some light relief on the next shift
when the ‘knocker up’ progressed along the small cottages on the
other side of the road, tapping on the windows of the bedrooms
with a long stick to awaken the men who were on the day shift at
It was during this cold spell that we were
equipped with proper guns; the 3.7inch (93mm) Heavy Anti
It was said to be mobile but was the devil
to get off its wheels and ready for action.”
long before Brian was moved to Treeton, Sheffield, with quarters
in wooden huts, in the bottom of a disused quarry. The ground
was deep in snow and the coal burning stove had to be kept
almost red hot to keep the hut warm.
The water pipes in
the ablutions hut, frozen solid and for a couple of weeks snow
had to be melted to get a wash and shave. He was trained as a
Gun Position Officer’s Assistant which meant that he was under
cover in the Command Post and didn’t get covered with oil as the
Brian became a Lance
Bombardier, and finally a Lance Sergeant, towards the end of the
war, and on completion of his war service went back to work in
finance which culminated in him running a large finance department.
Acknowledgements To: Brian Hulse. ‘BBC. What did you do
in the war Daddy?’ BBC WW2 People’s War.
from the Local History Room
What Happened to Peter Barron?
As I have stated, last month’s newsletter told of the gentlemen
who served in the 1st WW who were members of the Mexborough Branch
of the Oddfellows Friendly society.
In this newsletter I
spoke of the sad death of Peter Barron, in the Battle of the Somme.
I concluded the newsletter by asking if anyone had any
information on any of the men covered in this article.
Luckily Molly Beardsall could help and came forward with a letter,
written by a serving soldier, who actually witnessed the death of
Peter Barron, and wrote back home telling of his bravery and how he
should have been awarded a V.C. Please find it below: Somewhere in
France Dear Mother & Father Just a few lines to let you know how I
am fairing it is a long time since I wrote to you so I thought I
would drop you a line or two and I am still in the pink and I
sincerely hope this finds you the same.
The chief reason I am
writing you this is relative to the death in action of the late
Peter Barron, although it is a long time ago I think it will
interest you to know the way he died.
We were at Thiepval a
place you will no doubt of seen very frequently in the papers, and
we had took two lines of trenches from the enemy and hold them to
days, when the made an attack in main formation in a thunderstorm
and Peter and a Sergeant were the only two left on there feet and
they held them for forty five minutes with bombs when they had to
retire fighting like demons every yard, two men to as many hundreds
when Peter had the misfortune to get knocked out and the Sergeant
came through all right.
But poor Peter died like a Briton it
was a most wonderful feat and a credit to the town he comes from,
and you ought to have had another V.C. in Mexborough for never was
one better earned.
You can show this letter to his friends
and relations if you like for it will be a bit of consolation to
them to know he died like a true British Soldier and a hero.
I think this is all this time, from your loving son.
In Feb. 1892 construction began on a new building in Montagu Square,
Mexborough. This was to be the Prince of Wales Theatre, known later
as the Hippodrome Theatre.
It seems a strange coincidence that it was on 11th Feb. 2010 that
workmen, digging to the fore of the premises once occupied by: the
Job Centre, Global Video and the Mobility Centre; in Montagu Square,
discovered, what is believed to be, the extreme eastern external
wall of the Hippodrome Theatre.
Work continued, on digging out the trench, for seven days revealing
more of the wall, informing us that it was constructed using the red
brick of Mexborough Brickworks, Dolcliffe Road, Mexborough.
It also showed the black mortar, which was the trademark of the
constructor of the theatre, George Henry Smith.
The trench was filled in on Wed. 17th Feb 2010 to accommodate the
construction of an extension to adjacent premises.
Owning to the filming of the TV Programme, Paranormal, at the Miners
Arms in March, our talk for that month has had to be cancelled.
Preliminary arrangements for our next meeting are: Tuesday 27th
April 2010. AGM, which I will try to make as short as possible,
followed by a talk, which has still to be finalised.
This newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its entirety,
without the permission of J.R. Ashby.