Where you are: Living Memories - Ken Brown
  Ken Brown


Interviews with Ken Brown

held in November and December 2008

These interviews were conducted by John Millington

Ken‘s family can be traced back in Tickhill to the mid nineteenth century. Ken, an only child, was born in 1920.

His father, 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.

Ken’s grandfather worked as a wagoner at the Stud Farm, Tickhill Castle.

For the 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 -fired range.

Later the family moved to Walnut cottages, Back Lane.

When asked 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 castle walls.

Ken recalls 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 razor.

On another 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

Secretary 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.

Ken’s father loved to sing and Ken clearly recalls the words of two of the songs.

“If those lips could only speak,

If those eyes could only see,

If those beautiful golden tresses,

Be there, in reality.

If I could take your hand

As I did when you took my name.

But you’re only a beautiful picture,

In a beautiful golden frame”.


The second 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 dells.

I listened with joy , as I did when a boy

To the sound of the old village bells.

The logs were burning brightly

‘Twas a night that would banish all sin.

The bells were ringing the old year out

And the New Year in.

Although 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.

Ellen Brown 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.

When asked 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.

During his 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.

It was while at Maltby that Ken went on a school holiday to the Lake District. Previous holidays had been spent with his parents in Blackpool.

In holiday times, Ken and his pals used to cycle around the area. “There was little traffic in those days”.

On other 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.

Ken joined the Royal Engineers in 1940, and, as a member of 65th Field Company he served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Europe.

While he 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.

Ken was 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 up”.

Ken recalls 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 better.

Ken found himself back in England in the December of 1943.

He had 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.

Ken was 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.

Throughout 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.”

The 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.

The 65th 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.

Later, Ken 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.

Asked to comment on the bitter winter of 1944/45 Ken simply says “It was very harsh”.

And on the war in general, “I was very fortunate, but I certainly got around a bit”.




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