Oldham Historical Research Group

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OUR MEMORIES & STORIES

This memory is from Norma Eaton and is about her father in law, CHARLES EATON. Charlie, as he was known, was born in 1899, in Motherwell in Scotland, although his father, Charles had been born locally and his mother, Annie, in Rochdale. Charlie was the 5th of the 12 children from their marriage. A stonemason, by trade, Charles and his growing family had spent the first few years in Oldham and then moved to Scotland, where they hoped work was to be found, for a period of 2 or 3 years. They returned to Ashton for a short time and finally back to Oldham about 1909. Charles senior died at the early age of 43, in 1916.

Charlie would enlist in the Great War and later marry Mary Ellen Oliver, in 1923.

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"CHARLIE AND THE ROYAL SCOTS FUSILIERS.

The 3rd Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers was the Training battalion preparing recruits to be shipped across the Channel to fight the enemy in France. As a result there were always recruits or "squaddies" based at the Head Quarters in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. The local girls knew this and waited on the street comers for them.

Jimmy Clancy particularly fancied one of the girls, although he had been warned to stay away from her as she was the girlfriend of one of 'The Tartan Gang', a group of local yobs who carried, and used, knives and razors. ln spite of the warnings, one evening Jimmy went out of the Barracks to meet the girl, first calling at a pub to buy a bottle of whisky.

The Tartan Gang were waiting for Jimmy and quickly surrounded him, with knives and razors flashing in the street lights. Charlie and fellow squaddies seeing one of their own outnumbered, all ran down the street to the rescue and a full street fight began. Soon the whistles of the Civil and Military Police could be heard and ten minutes later Jimmy, very much the worse for wear, was taken back to the headquarters. Charlie, seeing a large damp patch on Jimmy's uniform, asked him if it was blood. Jimmy said he hoped it was, and he didn't give a b*** as long as it was not Whisky!!!

CHARLIE'S WAR

Around 1917, Charlie and J imrny , now fully trained soldiers were shipped overseas to France and then to Flanders (Belgium). This is not the place to attempt to describe the conditions in the trenches in France and Belgium during the first World War. Sufficient to say that apart from the continual Artillery bombardment, to spend days, even weeks, in fear of death and in the filth and mud of the trenches could result in the destruction of both body and soul. Food and hot drinks were the highlight of the days and when the food ran out, the troops desperately depended on their 'brews' of tea.

The following is my recall of one of Charlie's stories. "They [his mates] ... were shouting for a brew. That b*** sergeant sent me to get some water for tea ... The only clean water was at the other end of the trench and two blokes had already had their b*** heads blown off trying to get there ... l got so far and thought b*** it!! lf he wants fresh water he can get it himself ... So ... l p***d in the can and brewed the tea!! They said it tasted like it, but they drank it!!"

Charlie, Jimmy and their Company were under fire and the constant strafing in the trenches by enemy aircraft. The Aircraft of the 1st World War on both sides were light flimsy machines usually made of wood and linen. All afternoon Jirnmy Clancy had been taking pot shots at the German planes, as the pilots radioed back the positions of the English soldiers to the aimers of the big German guns. Ammunition was running low, so in desperation Jimmy Clancy picked up 'a Jocker' (a large heavy stone) and lobbed it at a low-flying enemy aircraft, damaging the wing quite badly. "One up to Jimmy!!"

Another enemy plane was shot down about two hundred yards from Charlie and Jimmy's trench. Both the pilot and the Gunner were dead and could clearly be seen in the plane. Jimmy, risking Court Martial. entered No-man's Land and quickly searched the uniforms of the dead German airmen, he took their cigarettes and a hip flask full of Schnapps from the crews' pockets but left both their wallets with their family pictures.

Rarely did Charlie speak ofthe horrors of the trenches, on only one occasion has he been known to tell anyone of the terrible conditions. At that one time Charlie told his eldest Grandson of the stench, the terror of the horses both dead and dying, his disgust at the sight of Refugees eating the entrails of these dead and dying horses, and the German soldiers bayoneting both the English soldiers and the Refugees.
Ten days before the end of the war Charlie's left leg was badly injured. Immediately after the injury he tried unsuccessfully to crawl back from 'no man`s land' to his own lines. Hours passed and he heard German troops looking for the injured. At first he called out to them for help. then he heard them shoot or bayonet anyone who responded ... played dead for two days... "l couldn`t feel my leg but I could smell it and knew it would have to come off ... it was only hanging by a bit of skin ..."

Charlie's leg was amputated at a Dressing Station and he was returned to England. For the rest of his life Charlie wore an artificial 'wooden leg'. He got around on this quite well; in fact on occasions he has been known to play football in his wooden leg. His artificial leg was also his personal safe to save a little of the small pension paid by the Government and earned by him through the loss of his youth.

The Glengarry (hat) that Charlie can be seen wearing in several of the photographs is now a family heirloom. The hat had been the property of Charlie's Sergeant who wore it throughout the Boer War 1899 -1901. The hat was given to Charlie by the badly injured Sergeant during their front-line service in France in 1917. The Sergeant later died from his injuries. Charlie greatly treasured the Glengariy and alter the War and for many years, he wore it on parade with the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.

Following discharge from the army, Charlie returned to live in Honeywell Lane, Oldham. He and Nellie Oliver married at the local Congregational Church. Unable to afford to rent a house they set up home in a Caravan on Broadbent Road, Watersheddings, Oldham, Later they moved to Pembroke Street, off Lee Street, Oldham and again later to 6l Primrose Bank, Oldham.

Unable to return to work in the Cotton Mill, like many others, Charlie was unemployed until 1932. He then found work as a Cleaner in the Mail Sorting Office of the local General Post Ollice. He retired in 1953 following a period of ill health.

Charlie's wooden leg was later replaced by a metal one - which also served as his Bank - until he died in December 1979.

Following his death the manufacturers of Milky Way Chocolate bars, sweets named Chocolate Eclairs and Uncle Joe's Mint Balls, lost one of their best customers, and the kids of the family and of the surrounding streets, to whom he gave the sweets, lost a good friend."

by Norma Eaton

Charlie Eaton chatting with the Duke and Duchess of York,

Charlie chatting with
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
1938

Charlie Eaton with his mother, Annie

Charlie Eaton with his mother, Annie,
at the wedding of his son in 1957

Story and photos contributed by Norma and Brian Eaton

See also:

Charlie Eaton before 1914

Charlie Eaton in 'Servicemen We Know'

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