Veteran Stories for Remembrance Day 2020

Earlier this year we collected a number of incredible veterans’ stories from people, friends and families associated with our pubs to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the end of World War II.

For Remembrance Day 2020 we’d like to share the stories again and remember the true heroes who fought for and protected freedom.

We’ve been humbled to read these stories and would like to share them with you below.

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Veteran story: Lt Peter Kershaw, Royal Navy

Story told by Richard Kershaw

To celebrate VE Day, I wanted to tell you a little bit about my Father, Peter Kershaw, who fought in the war and was also Chairman of Joseph Holt for over 30 years.

Peter Kershaw (PK) was the  4th generation of the family to work for Joseph Holt between 1947 and 2000. He ran the company with the second Sir Edward Holt in the tough times after World War II. PK was always adamant that the quality of our products was the key to our success and was an early voice in promoting cask beer in the 1970s, as being vastly superior to the likes of the early keg brands that were then emerging, such as Watney’s red barrel. At the end of his life he successfully oversaw, with myself, taking the company private which has protected the business in the long term. PK built a number of our pubs during his time and often used his naval links, where possible, to name such pubs as The Frigate, after a ship he served in. He would often also refer to someone who had not worked for us for that long, that he hadn’t as yet been with us for a Dog Watch. This is a naval term which referred to the shortest watch for the enemy which was in the early hours of the morning.

PK spent the Second World War predominantly in destroyers. The ship that he principally served on was the HMS Venomous, which had a history written of its war time exploits, to which my Father contributed. The Venomous played a key part in the evacuation of Dunkirk and because of this and what PK told me specifically about that time, I wanted to share it with you.

The author of the book was very excited when PK told him he kept a diary throughout war. However, due to the full on nature of Dunkirk, his diaries in 1940 over the evacuation were a bit of a let-down. He wrote:

May 29th – one trip to Dunkirk

May 30th – one trip to Dunkirk

May 31st – My birthday. Two trips to Dunkirk

In total the Venomous made five trips to Dunkirk rescuing 4410 troops. PK told me all the docks had been destroyed and there were not enough small ships to ferry the troops off the beaches. The Venomous therefore evacuated troops off the concrete breakwater (also known as the Mole) which stuck out on the north side of Dunkirk. It was never intended for ships to berth alongside it, especially as it often had a strong tide running and was even higher than the deck of a destroyer.

PK later described that, “It was my job to climb onto the breakwater and push the soldiers on board. It was a six to eight foot drop and they were very tired. We of course did not want to stay any longer than we had to. For some reason we had quite a lot of grapeshot fired at us, which we heard go whistling by.”

He also went on to say that during the five trips, “We were understandably subject to a good deal of air attack and although our 4.7 inch guns were not able to generally elevate high enough for aircraft, we did manage one direct hit. Many of us had our own machine guns which we had taken off the army after the earlier evacuation at Boulogne and Calais and we had plenty of ammunition. It was a great relief to be able to fire back.”

At the end of the last evacuation they brought back, amongst other people, General Alexander. They were subject to a fair bit of bombardment and damage to the destroyer on that particular trip. The Captain agreed that the damage was sufficient to support a plausible story that a cask of rum had split as a result in the spirit room. It was then suggested as they could not repair it, they would issue an extra tot of rum to all the crew by writing it off. ‘Up spirits’ was therefore piped again on the Bosun’s whistle. A fitting end to the five trips they made to Dunkirk and one of the reasons that my Father always enjoyed, when he wasn’t drinking a beer, a tot of dark rum to remind him of his naval days.

Below left shows Lt Peter Kershaw and right the HMS Venemous waiting to berth at Dover after the last trip to Dunkirk (photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw 1940)

Veteran story: Norman Smith, Royal Navy

Story told by Craig Smith

My Grandad was called Norman Smith and worked for Joseph Holt brewery from the early 1930s through to his eventual retirement in 1989. He started as a clerk and went on to be in charge of the bottle stores.

During the war, he was conscripted into the Royal Navy and served as a Torpedo-man on HMS Duke of York until he was eventually demobbed.

His war service saw him go all around the world. He saw action in the Atlantic and was part of Arctic Convoys sailing to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk to take essential supplies to Russia. He was part of the famous action that saw the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst. His ship acted as a ‘taxi’ (his words) for Winston Churchill, taking him to a summit with President Roosevelt in the USA and was part of the allied fleet in the Sea of Japan at the time of Japan’s surrender.

He lived in a ‘brewery house’, on Hinde Street in Moston, until he died in 1993 (the brewery kindly allowed my grandmother to continue living there until her death a few years later). I remember the family were very grateful to Mr Kershaw for attending his funeral. He drank in the Blue Bell on Moston Lane and took me (with my Dad) for my first pint in there in February 1989.

norman smith veteran story

Veteran story: John Fearick, British Army

Story told by Vicky Wrigley

John was born in Tyldesley to parents William and Lily on 1st June 1922, closely followed by his twin brother William (Bill) seven minutes later.

As John and Bill became adults the pair became separated, with John joining the army and Bill the navy. Although fiercely proud, John didn’t speak much about his army days until later in life. I can only assume this was down to the horrendous things he witnessed whilst serving in Burma during WWII. Although one story he was always happy to tell was when he watched the ‘Forces Sweetheart’ Vera Lynn singing to the troops. He always had a twinkle in his eye when he spoke about that.

In 1947, John left the army and returned home to Tyldesley. About a month or so later, John and his best pal Ken set sail to Australia as a ‘Ten Pound Pom’. On the way over, he met a man called Harry and a lifelong friendship had begun as the three friends set off around Australia and New Zealand.

It was on a trip back to the UK that John’s life changed dramatically. Upon making a trip to Worksop with his wife Connie, John met his future wife Doreen Bloomer and her son Martin. After a short courtship, all plans of returning overseas were scrapped and Doreen moved to Tyldesley, eventually marrying in Sacred Heart Church. Their first child, Billy was born in 1957, followed by Jayne in 1968. During this time, John had begun his training at Astley Pit and eventually worked at Mosley Common Pit and Parsonage Colliery.

The family moved into a house on Ullswater road, Astley, in 1976 where they would stay for the next 42 years. In 1996, Jayne gave birth to the couple’s first grandchild, Bethany. Bethany was the apple of their eye but unfortunately 5 short years later Doreen passed away. John was understandable devastated and more sorrow was to follow with the passing of his twin brother Bill in 2003, his sister Kathleen in 2006 and most recently his son Billy in 2018. Despite John going through a lot, he kept his head high, spirits up and always enjoyed a natter and welcomed two more grandchildren into the world.

John was a very well known man in the local community and the oldest member of the Tyldesley Royal British Legion until his death in July 2019 aged 97.

Below shows John is his army days, his medals including the Burma Star and on his 97th birthday.

john fearick veteran story

Veteran story: Private Harold Baxter, British Army

Story told by Sharon Baxter

Harold Baxter, my grandad was a WW1 veteran. He served in the army and saw his fair share of action on the battlefields of Europe. In 1915, Harold was gassed on the Western Front in the Battle of Loos, gassed again on the Somme in 1916, wounded in 1917 and wounded again during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1918.

Despite his heroic effort during the First World War, my grandad still wanted to do his bit during WW2, so he went to sign up for the Home Guard in Tyldesley, where most were stationed on top of the buildings on Tyldesley Market. Due to the injuries sustained during WW1, including shrapnel in his leg, Harold walked with a limp. Upon interviewing for the Home Guard, he was turned down because of his injuries. He was absolutely gutted and didn’t take it lying down. He bustled out of the office, shouting, “I don’t shoot with me bloody leg!”

A proud story passed down to me, my sister Maureen and brother Stan, and now to the grandchildren and great grandchildren.

After the war, Harold drank in The Mort Arms, as did his son Rex, who has also passed away. It’s true that Rex was one of the last people in Tyldesley to uphold the tradition of taking his own jug into the pub to be filled up with Holts Ale and then take back across the road to drink at home. He stopped doing this in 1977, probably due to my mam nagging him not to make a ‘show of her’. Now Rex’s son, Stan Baxter drinks in The Mort Arms and the Atherton Arms.

Below shows Harold’s name and description on attestation, Record of Service and letter of thanks with medals.

veteran story harold baxter

Veteran story: Freddie Feather, Royal Navy

Story told by Brenda Moorhouse

My father, Freddie Feather, was born in 1921 and enlisted for the Royal Navy in 1939 aged 17, and opted for the Signals.

Time passed and my dad spent time on various war ships. Then in 1942, he was assigned to the US Lease Lend Ship, The Hartland. He came home on leave and didn’t tell his family and young wife, Isabel, that he had volunteered for a ‘Suicide Mission’, area unknown, and he was on leave because the ship was in Liverpool to be armour plated.

They set sail and the mission was set for ‘Crashing the Boom’ at the Algerian harbour of Oran. The mission was called Operation Torch. When they arrived there, the shore guns were firing and my dad’s ship was the lead and was hit and sunk in the harbour. There were many casualties and fatalities. When it became clear that the ship was sinking, Dad tore off his shirt, which would have alerted the enemy that he was in Signals and might have crucial information, and he jumped over into the harbour. From this day until his death he suffered from stomach ulcers which they say was caused by swallowing oil.

Dad and many other crew members were taken Prisoner and the telegram home said ‘Missing in Action’ because they didn’t have the names of those being held. Not long after, Dad’s younger cousin, Irene, who lived in Trafford Park, was at the Longford Cinema on Chester Road in Stretford. She was watching the film when the Pathe News came on, showing the brave Royal Navy prisoners taken in North Africa. Unknown to her, she saw her cousin drinking a cup of tea and standing with other prisoners! You see, dad’s family did not know that he was in North Africa.

At that, young Irene, jumped out of her seat and ran to her home to tell her mother. They both then ran to Freddie’s mother’s house and told the story. Back in the day, people didn’t have cars and taxis were not used much, so they all ran back to the Longford Picture House and were taken to speak with the projectionist. At that time, the picture houses were important to keep morale high and were open all day and played the films in a continuous showing. The projectionist listened but said that he could not stop the film but would put the Pathe News on as soon as it finished.

He did just as he promised and they were thrilled to see that Freddie was still alive. He returned home for leave once he was released as a prisoner. Freddie was onboard a HMS warship in the Far East when Victory in Europe was announced.

Image below shows Freddie’s writing upon a picture of HMS Hartland. 

veteran freddie feather hms hartland

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