Monday, December 14, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 5. Wartime and the reformatory Ships (Reg Keen)

Reg Keen, my father, wrote to me in 1978 about his childhood in Port Sunlight.

During the First World War many aircraft were very active over the village. Many Royal Flying Corps planes flew over as well and some crashed; one landed on Highcroft where Highcroft Avenue now is. I ran all the way from school to Highcroft at 4pm to see the "scout" plane land - it was very closely guarded by police all day. Lots of small planes used to fly up and down the long straight roads of the village, Central Road, Poolbank, etc. They scared the daylights out of us kids at times.

The village showground (now The Oval) was used to accommodate troops on their way to the bloodbath of Flanders. The Cheshire Regiment and the local Bantams (all under about 5 foot 3 inches in height) and many others camped at the same spot, till, about 18 months before the war ended, a gale one stormy night wrecked the camp, and the place has been more or less a dump ever since.
The Oval (posted on Facebook by Diana Parker)

Troop trains ran from Bebington and Port Sunlight station en route to France or Egypt. Two of my relations started out from there, and luckily both returned safely. There were always huge crowds to see these men board their trains, usually led by Major Ormerod (before-mentioned). There was a band stand on what was called The Diamond and when the war ended all the village gathered to rejoice in the victory to which it had given so many lives. The War Memorial to the men was erected near the open air swimming baths, one of the original buildings in Port Sunlight at its inception.

If I misbehaved in any way while at school my parents would threaten to send me to a training ship named "Clio", on station in the Menai Straits. Even the slightest misbehaviour was given as a reason for sending me to the "Clio" and it scared the pants off me. She was a reformatory ship like the three stationed in the Mersey: the "Akbar", the "Indefatigable" and the "Conway". Only the last two were on station in my school days. The two big training ships were always of great interest in the Mersey along with all the schooners and steamships anchored in the Sloyne area of the river.

I used to watch the crews holding their races on the river during summer months and wondered if, very soon, I would find myself rowing for a "Clio" crew in the Straits. It was a nightmare to live under such threats. On one occasion my bag was packed and put by the front door ready for the police to come and collect me for my punishment. Eventually when I left school the threat was dropped and I forgot all about the training ship until last week when a photograph was published in the Echo of the old "Clio" in the Straits. I have cut it out to keep as a memory of my schooldays.

More in the next... 


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