Childhood and Youth: a Yorkshireman Remembers

By John Moore


This is an extract from John Moore’s memoir A Yorkshireman Remembers. It was written in 2018.  John died earlier this year at 96 years of age. For many years John  and his wife,  Heather, who predeceased him,  worked as houseparents and teachers at St Christopher School, Letchworth, known for its progressive approach to education.


Childhood Days in Yorkshire 

I was born in 1924 in a house that was also the business premises of my father. The business occupied a row of terraced houses and my father employed a number of people there. He was very much a businessman and fairly well off. We had a big house at the end of row on a road that led to the village of Oakworth near Keighley in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The building also accommodated bake-houses and a shop, for my father’s business was confectionery. He made the confectionery himself but he had other bakers and assistants, about 5 in all, to help him. He used to display his most decorative cakes at exhibitions at Earls Court in London. He exhibited them at other national events too. He had not only the premises which we lived in. He had other shops in Riddlesden and Oakworth, as well as an old property he had inherited from his parents who owned a row of houses. Other members of the wider family owned property in Oakworth too. My father inherited the business because though both he and his brother served in the 1914-18 war only my father returned. His brother, Jack, was killed. Many, many years later I went to a village near Rheims in France to see where my uncle was buried but I never knew him because he fell in 1918, a week before the war ended and six years before I was born. All I have is a framed photograph of him, Jack Clifford Moore, in his Yorkshire Regiment uniform, with my father, Cecil Asquith Moore in his kilted Black Watch uniform and beside them their sister. I keep this photograph in my bureau. It originally hung in my family’s drawing room which was so called because while my father was running the business, my brother, my sister and myself had very little to do with the business and we would withdraw there. My brother’s name was Pat. He was about 18 months younger than me so it was quite a shock for me when he died before me. We had moved south and my brother then lived in the Midlands. My sister Barbara is about three years younger than me. She married and became Barbara Eaton. My sister and I still write to each other or ‘phone each other. I have been up to stay with her. She now stays in an apartment in Southport, Lancashire. 

My sister went to the Girls Grammar School in Keighley and I went to the Boys’ Grammar School but I recall quite clearly that in order to move from an elementary school to the grammar school you had to take and pass the 11+ examination and I, unike my sister, failed the 11+ and so I was kept down in the local Elementary school. 

The Holycroft Elementary school which I attended in Oakworth was within walking distance of my home as was the chapel, and when I went to chapel I was given collection money and Mother used look through the drawing room window to see that I went to the Sunday school, but I had found a sweet shop that was open on a Sunday and when I was out of sight of my mother’s eagle eye watching from the drawing room I went into the sweet shop and used my collection money to buy sweets. I was never found out. 

My mother was deaf. She was one of ten brothers and sisters. Her family came from near Shrewsbury in Shropshire. After the First World War there was little work available on the land for young people in Shropshire so my mother and most of her siblings moved across the Pennines and settled around Keighley, Otley and Ilkley. One or two went south to Ockenden in Essex and one went to Australia. 

My mother and father were never an intimate couple in the way Heather and I were. I was never close to my parents. I was closer to my brother and sister. Mother kept a cane by the side of the fire in the sitting room and would grab me and smack me with the cane if I was teasing the other children. I think I must have been a bit of a nuisance to my mother. 

There is an event from those years that I recollect. My father had two elderly aunts and an uncle who lived across the fields from us. They were quite comfortably off and lived in a house beside a terrace of about eight houses owned by my father. My grandpa and grannie also lived in a large house beside the terrace too. I remember the houses well for the gardens fell down steeply towards the Oakworth Railway Station where the film of The Railway Children was made. My grandfather was very keen on gardening but the gardens were steep and steps had to be cut into them and on the day I am recalling my grandfather slipped and fell on the steps. One of my duties was to go these houses every week to collect the rent that was due from every house in the row and it was on one such day that my grandfather had his accident. My Granny was in the house when my grandfather fell and on my arrival she cried “John go and get the doctor!” I was about 10 years old at that time and I told her that I didn’t know where the doctor was. She said, pointing, “He’s across the field! across the field!” I remember running over the fields in the direction I thought she had pointed and to where I hoped the nearest doctor would be. When reached the other side of the field I was in a state of panic. I looked around the houses there desperately trying to find the doctor. I spent some time in anxious search but I couldn’t find where the doctor lived. Eventually someone who saw how perturbed I was kindly led me to the doctor’s surgery. When I told him what had happened the doctor attended my grandfather immediately but it was too late. My grandfather never recovered and he died. For three days after this, my grandfather remained in the house laid out in the drawing room and I remember opening the door of the room and I saw where the body of my dead Grandfather lay. I remember feeling it was all my fault. My grandfather was a kind man. He’d peel an orange for you and give it to you whole in your hand. 

My Mother was I think often left out of our family’s social life in the local community because she was deaf but she was interested in encouraging us to go out to make a career or life for ourselves. She didn’t want us to be sitting around at home. 


Teenage Years 

In my teenage years I was sometimes employed in my father’s business. There were occasions when I was employed to go down to the cellar very early in the morning to light up the big ovens but I remember one occasion when my father said he wanted me to help the man who drove the company van and delivered the bread and cakes to my father’s other shops in the surrounding area. I think my father got me to do this because he suspected the driver was flogging off some of the bread and cakes to people he knew and pocketing the money for himself so think I was there to keep an eye on him. My father of course never told me this but I do suspect this was why my father asked me to assist the driver in loading and unloading goods. 

I was the first to leave home to study at Loughborough. Pat, my brother was not really interested in education. He left school when he was about 14 years of age when Father found him a place to work with the famous rose grower, Harry Wheatcroft at Gedling, Nottinghamshire in the North Midlands where he learnt to cultivate roses, and after he had been sent by his employer to do a course in Oxford he qualified as a horticulturist. 

To skip a bit, many years later when I was down here in Totnes, there was a company set up in north Devon that organised holidays by coach. These coaches would travel anywhere you’d care to mention and when I found out they were going up to Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire, I decide to go. I visited Keighley, the area that was the scene of my boyhood. As a boy I was very proud that I was first a cub, then a second class and then a first class boy scout. For me that was a great thing and I so wanted to go back – years after – to Temple Street Church. I remember parading from Bradford where we used to collect and start to march and I had a drum and underneath it was a lanyard that was getting lower and lower as I marched into church somewhere near Bingley. It eventually slipped altogether and I caught my foot underneath the lanyard. I sat there I caught in my lanyard while all the rest went marching past on to Silsden. This was an embarrassment for I was quite keen on getting different proficiency badges and I was very fussy about my second class uniform and I never got the first class uniform. 

When I failed my eleven plus it was considered to be somewhat letting the family down and I had to stay at the elementary school I was at, Holycroft. I was particularly ashamed of failing because my uncle was the headmaster of the technical school, Keighley. He lived up the road from us and every Saturday I had to go to his house and have coaching in Arithmetic and meanwhile I was kept down in the elementary school and eventually as a result of my uncle’s teaching I was able to take the exam again and I passed but instead of going to the school when I was 10 or 11 years of age I went to it when I was 12 years of age. When I finally got through to grammar school I started in the second form not the first form. I was in class 2B, and from there I went to 3C and then descended further to 4X! 

The war had broken out and I was very patriotic if you like and very military. I used to fill the sacks of sand used for defence against air attacks outside Victoria Hospital up Devonshire Street in Keighley. I also helped dig the trenches in the park. Those were my scouting activities. 

Other than these activities, at the age of 16 I was not particularly achieving anything and it was again decided that I should coached by my uncle, the headmaster. His wife, a sister of my mother’s was an actress and I was interested in theatre and I went to see her when she took part in musical productions at the Hippodrome Theatre in Keighley. 

Somehow at age of 17, when I hadn’t succeeded academically, I found Swift, Gilbert Swift, my PE teacher, who was for me a god! Gymnasium classes were heaven. However I was never pleased about walking all the way down Lawkholme Lane to the playing fields for rugby – not  because of the rugby, I enjoyed that – but in the changing rooms after rugby we all had to pile into a big communal bath which was a bit chilly in winter. We played rugby union and I played scrum half. Also along Lawkholme Lane was the ground of Keighley’s professional rugby league club.  


Training to be a PE teacher at Loughborough College 

At the grammar school I was known for my sporting attributes – athletics, cross-country running and gymnastics – rather than for any thing else and through my father I was able to be successful in getting a place at Loughborough College which was the top physical educational college in the country. I remember during my interview for Loughborough College having a talk about my reports from my school and the only good ones were to do with athletics, swimming, and cross country running, I didn’t achieve very much in anything else but I was taken on at Loughborough through my father because he was quite influential in Keighley through his gentleman’s club and the masonic order. I remember him asking me in later years when I came on leave from the navy to join him in his club. 

In my interview at Loughborough the member of staff who was responsible for deciding whether you were an acceptable student or not said ‘I can’t say that your academic subjects are strong but we will accept you.’ My father had fought hard and had paid for me to go there. I went through my first year at Loughborough and I wasn’t very successful but I put in another year there before I was called up. 

When war broke out I was 17, still in the scouts and I used to help in digging the defensive trenches in Victoria Park and around the hospital which was up the road. 

I had to choose which service I would enlist in. I wanted to join the air force because I wanted to fly a Spitfire and so I joined the Air Corps at Nottingham University with that aim in mind but I failed to get into the RAF because I couldn’t distinguish the silhouettes of different aeroplanes so I was just as likely to shoot down as Spitfire as I would a Messerschmitt. 


In the Navy 

I was 17 going on 18 so I felt I had no choice but to choose to enlist in something quite quickly and so I joined the Royal Navy and I didn’t leave it until July or August 1946. On enlisting I was sent to HMS Collingwood, a shore based establishment in Fareham Hampshire for training. After this for a time I was given shore based duties and told them I’d joined the navy to go on a boat. I remember at exactly this time I was playing scrum half for a navy rugby team when one of my own back row forwards who was supposed to heeling the ball back from the score somehow mistook my head for the ball and kicked me. I was badly concussed and was taken away to a naval hospital where I recovered quickly and when a medical officer on his rounds discovered me showing off doing a handstand on my bed I was discharged immediately and dispatched to Scapa Flo: a long journey by train from Hampshire. So my wish to be on a boat was fulfilled. I was posted to a destroyer, HMS Grenville. 

There was an incident in all this that I remember. I had been granted some leave and I was on my return journey to my ship which we had recently sailed from Scapa Flo all the way down the west coast of Britain to dock at Devonport near Plymouth. I’d reached Paddington Station in London to board the Plymouth train when I encountered two young women who required help to get home when the air raid siren sounded and being ‘Jack the Lad’ I told them that I would walk them home which I did. I returned to Paddington and of course I’d missed my train. My desire to be a hero to these two girls meant that I missed the boat! HMS Grenville had sailed without me and I was given seven days detention. I was sorry about this because HMS Grenville was the lead destroyer in our flotilla which was supporting the D Day landings. We had sailed all the way down the west coast of Scotland from Scapa Flo to be part of the assault and I had missed it. When I rejoined my ship, we sailed to Immingham on the Lincolnshire coast where it was re-painted for it had to have camouflage which was suitable for the Mediterranean. While I was there I phoned my father. For security reasons I couldn’t say where I was but I did say, “ I’m going to see Uncle Jim.” He was my mother’s twin brother who’d gone out to settle in Australia some years before. After our ship had her paint job we sailed through the Bay of Biscay, down to Gibraltar, through the Mediterranean, along the Suez Canal, down through the Red Sea to Aden. We crossed the Indian Ocean where we were attacked by planes flown by kamikaze pilots and although we suffered some damage we made our way to Freemantle in Western Australia and when our ship had been repaired we made our way around to Sydney, and there a most extraordinary encounter occurred. In Sydney there was a hostel you could go to where you were given a mattress to roll out on the floor upon which you could sleep. As I went to the counter to get my mattress I looked at across at the adjacent bar and standing there was my brother, Pat! I discovered then that he had joined the navy after I had done. He was serving on an aircraft carrier. 

We saw each other a lot in Sydney. We were based there for about nine months. We met a family in the suburb of Ashfield who made us feel like heroes. I went down to Melbourne to meet up with Uncle Jim at a time when I was feeling adrift and when I got back to Sydney I was told that the navy had been trying to call me in Melbourne for it had been arranged that I was going to board a boat that would be leaving Sydney, crossing the Indian Ocean and going to South Africa before returning to the United Kingdom. We docked at Cardiff after crossing the world. At the time I remember feeling confused and uncertain about my future. I fell ill. We sailed to Edinburgh and I recovered after the voyage. After this our ship sailed down to Portsmouth and I was demobbed.