Interviews with Ken
held in November and December 2008
interviews were conducted by John Millington
family can be traced back in Tickhill to the mid nineteenth
century. Ken, an only child, was born in 1920.
Horace had served with distinction in the First World War, and
had been awarded the Military Medal. He became a miner who
worked as a banksman at Maltby pit. Ken’s mother, Ellen, nee
Laycock, was originally from Wadworth.
grandfather worked as a wagoner at the Stud Farm, Tickhill
first few years of his life, Ken lived on Westgate. Like most
houses in Tickhill, at that time, there was neither electricity
nor mains water. Lighting was by hurricane lamp, water was
obtained from a well. Heating and cooking was done on a coal
family moved to Walnut cottages, Back Lane.
if I know where that was, I shake my head and the story Ken
tells goes back to an account given him by his father relating
to the beginning of the 20th Century. Billy Good was
a groom at Stud farm and lived there, cared for by a
housekeeper. This was the time when the horses bred at the Farm
were paraded through Tickhill on their way to the Bloodstock
Sales at Doncaster Market. When Billy died his housekeeper had
two cottages built on the back lane. She moved into one and the
Brown family moved into in the other. Eventually these cottages
became 26 and 28 Dadesley Road. “They were just built in the
middle of a field” comments Ken.
As a small
boy Ken contracted the “dreaded” scarlet fever. He was sent to
the Crookhill Road Isolation Hospital, at Conisbrough. He
recalls looking through the windows at Conisbrough Castle and
the older children and some adults, attempting to frighten him
with stories of “ghosts” that could be seen walking on the
little of the 1926 strike, but does remember going on the
crossbar of his father’s bike to Maltby pit to collect the
“dole”. On one occasion they had gone via Oldcotes, and his dad
had seen a fungal growth on a tree. This he had cut this off,
and he used its leathery surface as a strop, to sharpen his
occasion they were passed, on the last uphill stretch to Maltby
by a couple riding a tandem. “Suddenly”, he recalls, “The man
jumped off the tandem, slapped his partner across the face and
said ‘Now will you b……..pedal’ ”. The couple then rode off
As he grew
up Ken and his father spent a lot of time cycling round the
area. He was close to his father, who he loved and admired.
Horace Brown, Ken remembers, was an intelligent man of socialist
principles, and a member of the Working Men’s Club. He could
quote Shakespeare and great chunks of the Bible from memory, and
was very good with numbers. The Military medal he had won “Came
up with the rations”, he modestly claimed, though the officer
whose life he saved corresponded with him for the next thirty
years. He grudgingly admired Winston Churchill as a great war
leader, but could never forgive him when, as
of State he turned the troops against the miners. He was also
insistent that whatever happened, his son should never work in
the mining industry.
father loved to sing and Ken clearly recalls the words of two of
“If those lips could only speak,
If those eyes could only see,
If those beautiful golden
Be there, in reality.
If I could take your hand
As I did when you took my name.
But you’re only a beautiful
In a beautiful golden frame”.
is the slightly better known “Miner’s dream of Home”..
“I saw the old homestead and
places I knew,
I saw England’s Valleys and
I listened with joy , as I did
when a boy
To the sound of the old village
The logs were burning brightly
‘Twas a night that would banish
The bells were ringing the old
And the New Year in.
Horace had a very strict upbringing “He never once raised his
hand to me “says Ken. It was Mum who was the disciplinarian, and
administered the occasional slap round the legs.
also was responsible for the smooth running of the household,
which made it that Ken was able to pass through the hard times
of the thirties with comparative unawareness. She paid “so much
a week” into Jarvis’s and the family was newly clothed towards
Christmas time. Ken clearly remembers his Coop number. Orders
were collected and delivered to their home.
about interesting local characters, Ken recalls “Watercress
Charlie” who lived out towards Wellingley and came into Tickhill
selling watercress, which he had gathered from a local stream.
Ken describes him a “a fine looking man with long white hair…
well spoken and well mannered”.
As a young
child, Ken went to the infant school on Tithes lane and later to
the small private school run by Miss Goodwin.
11 plus year he was transferred to the National School and was
successful in obtaining a place at Maltby Grammar School. His
friend Frank Newbourn also “passed” that year. The school took
pupils from a very wide area and Ken travelled each day by bus.
The bus began its journey in Rossington and picked up pupils in
Tickhill, Wadworth, and Braithwell. There were both girls and
boys on the bus, but Ken recalls that there were fewer girls.
while at Maltby that Ken went on a school holiday to the Lake
District. Previous holidays had been spent with his parents in
times, Ken and his pals used to cycle around the area. “There
was little traffic in those days”.
occasions they went bird nesting or simply exploring the
countryside. “We didn’t take any notice of paths” he says “We
just went where we wanted.”
Ken left Maltby Grammar
School in 1938 and went to College to train to be a teacher, but
there were international events that were to prevent him taking
up his chosen profession for the next 6 years.
the Royal Engineers in 1940, and, as a member of 65th
Field Company he served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and
was in Egypt, in 1942 it was feared that Rommel would advance on
Cairo and the 65th were engaged on creating road
blocks and preparing bridges for demolition. Ken was one of six
sappers who, while laying demolition charges, were arrested, at
gunpoint, as suspected saboteurs by the Egyptian Police, and put
into jail. Fortunately they were not there long and were
“bailed out” by their Commanding Officer.
involved in the invasion of Sicily on “D plus One. This meant
that his Company went ashore 24hrs after the main assault. “As
we went on, Italians were coming this way, giving themselves
that in Sicily much of the heavy labour was done by Italian
Prisoners of war. A hundred prisoners would be marched out of
camp in the morning. At the end of the day the count of the
returnees would be 97. The following day 100 prisoners would be
marched out of camp and 103 would return. ”Some of them used to
sneak off home, but over a period the numbers tallied, they
always came back”. Ken maintains that the food in camp was
himself back in England in the December of 1943.
travelled by rail from Palermo, in Italy, to Taranto. The
journey took 36 hours and every time the train stopped the
driver was asked to release hot water, from the regulator, so
that the troops could wash and shave. The troop ship docked in
Avonmouth at the same quay that they had embarked from in 1941.
later sent to Scotland in January for six weeks. Apart from
training in the building of pontoon bridges, it was here he was
to meet his future wife, Jean.
the early months of 1944, hundreds of thousands of men and vast
amounts of equipment was being gathered for the D Day Landings.
This was done under strict secrecy. Just before D Day, Ken,
with thousands of others was confined to a camp, surrounded by
barbed wire, where no one was allowed in or out.
On D plus
one Ken landed in France. “Twenty four hours after the main
assault, but it was still a bit hairy”, he comments. “I
remember, First night I had to ‘out ‘a dead German before I
could sleep in a ditch.”
principal role of the Royal Engineers was concerned with such
activities as mine clearing, recovering damaged tanks and heavy
vehicles, bridge building (often under fire) and road
maintenance so that the advancing troops could be supplied.
Field Company was concerned with clearing a route through the
town of Caen; checking houses for booby traps; and setting up
water points. On the first night in Caen, they found a very
nice house that was more or less undamaged. They went upstairs
and lay down to sleep. They soon realised that this house, being
one of the few buildings standing, was a very good target for
the German artillery. If it was less comfortable it was
certainly safer to move below ground level to a slit trench, and
they did this very quickly.
was involved in setting up some “Bailey” bridges, and
dismantling others. One particular bridge was dismantled,
hidden nearby and then rebuilt. The aim was to fool the enemy
into thinking that there were no plans to move tanks or troops
into that area.
On D plus
One, again, Ken crossed the Rhine, via Nijmegen into Germany. By
this time, things were beginning to “wind down” and spells of
duty were interspersed with skating on the frozen rivers.
comment on the bitter winter of 1944/45 Ken simply says “It was
And on the
war in general, “I was very fortunate, but I certainly got
around a bit”.