Monday, 7 December 2015

Music and memories Down at the 'local'

Darwen folk have been relaxing and enjoying Monday afternoons of memories at The Old Function Room in Watery Lane. Big attraction? – Large black and white photos of old Darwen, kindly supplied by Darwen Days.

Maxine Walsh, manager of the popular pub, said: "A lot of our customers have friends or family or neighbors’ who aren't in the best of health and they were saying round the bar what a good idea it would be if the old folk could have a get-together in a local pub for a chat and a few games and a bit of music and perhaps a drink or two.

"I told them – I know just the place! It was all sorted in a few days and 16 rolled up for our first party. It was brilliant. And the old photos went down really well. They were passing them round and having a laugh." One old boy told the group: "I used to go courtin' rahnd thee'ur!"

Maxine said there were so many people these days who suffer from early dementia and short-term memory loss, Parkinson's and strokes, and who had difficulty getting about like they used to. "This is just the thing for them and it's was really touching when everyone was saying afterwards how they'd enjoyed it.

"Most have had enough of clinics and hospitals and we want to give them a good time in the sort of relaxing atmosphere they used to know."

One of the Old Function Room customers, cabaret singer Tony Monroe, went along and sang a lot of the old songs. "My treat," he smiled. "Glad they enjoyed it." The old photos went down well. "Everybody got quite animated," said Maxine.  "They were such a talking point." And Darwen Days have promised to put together another batch of their old photos for them to enjoy in the New Year.

"We're more than happy to help," said Dave Owen who runs the free web site. "This is just what we are all about."

Darwen Days supporter Patricia Turner has been liaising with Maxine and setting up the photo session. They are pictured here.

German tank commander with a sense of humour

Local historian Harold Heys wrote the story of Darwener Peter Medd's war for the Bygones section of the Lancashire Telegraph. He is a regular contributor. Sadly, just a few days after the story was published. Peter passed away. He died quite suddenly in hospital with his family around him. This is a longer version of Harold's Bygones story.
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IT'S OVER 75 years since Peter Medd's first encounter with a German tank. But he remembers it clearly. Instead of the tank commander blasting the Brits' scout car into a million pieces he roared with laughter, swung round and disappeared, still laughing.

Peter, heading for his 97th birthday and as sharp as champagne, explained at his home in Darwen: "Understandable, really. The driver of our pile of junk rounded a corner and suddenly came face to face with this enormous beast. He crashed us into the nearest ditch.

"We lay there dazed, expecting to hear shells crashing around us, but all we could hear was this bloke laughing and ordering his driver to swing round and leave us amateurs to it. They say Germans don't have a sense of humour, but it saved our bacon."

Peter had an eventful war.  A native of Hull, he was out in the first wave with the East Riding Yeomanry and fought in the Dunkirk rearguard. He was captured as he walked back towards the beaches and tripped over a squad of sleeping Germans. Bit unlucky, he reflected.

Peter, who has lived in Westland Avenue for over 60 years, spent five years in Stalag VIIIB in Silesia, south west Poland. What does he remember of that time? Just the constant hunger, he says. He dropped from over 14 stone to seven.

As the Russians closed in, the PoWs were marched west by their captors and his gang joined what became known as "The Death March." Hundreds died from starvation and disease.

It didn't take long for Corporal Medd and a couple of pals to escape and by chance they came across an old tractor unit, full of fuel but abandoned as no one seemed to be able to start it. They did ¬– and embarked on a dangerous 200-mile journey west towards Prague.

The Russians had beaten them to it and they were holed up there for weeks till one day a US General arrived to pay his respects to his opposite number. When he returned to the American lines Peter and his pals joined the convoy on their trusty tractor.  That first meal with the welcoming Americans was, says Peter, the best he has ever tasted. After five years of potato soup, rotting vegetables and an occasional piece of bread it wasn't surprising.

Peter got back to England in the bomb bay of a Lancaster and became friendly with wife-to-be Kathleen as she drove him in an army ambulance for daily hospital treatment. He returned to his job in the civil service and they married the following year. In the early 1950s they moved to Darwen where Peter worked for Customs and Excise.

They loved living in Darwen and had two sons and when Kathleen was struck down with Alzheimers he nursed her for years till her death. He is nearly six foot, drives every day and enjoys daily lunches at Derwent Hall.

"Great company and good food," he says. But perhaps not quite as good as that memorable meal with the Yanks over 70 years ago ...

Peter looks back rather fondly to his days in the Army, even though most of the time he was a prisoner. He recalls that he might have got a quick commission. He was called into the office and was told he was being considered for promotion. "How much does your father earn?" he was asked. "What's that to do with it?"  he countered." Well, your army pay won't cover your mess bills," the officer explained. Peter told him he wasn't prepared to "sponge" off his father and settled for one and then two stripes.

The scout car was ancient enough but the uniforms they wore for training were even older. They'd been mothballed since the end of the Great War.

One thing that stands out was that the French hated the Brits. As our lads were being marched through northern France the locals would spit at them. They put out buckets of water - which the Germans kicked over. "We thought it was a rotten trick," said Peter. "But they explained that it was stagnant water." He got a very bad case of dysentery after drinking some.

And on the night that the news came through of the French capitulation he recalls that the French soldiers marching along with them cheered the news. The French officers were so disgusted that they moved over to be with the Tommies and stayed with them on the long march into captivity across southern Germany.

"Damn poor show after what we'd done for the Frenchies," said Peter.

Memories of Darwen

Darwen Days' glossy new publication Memories of Darwen sold out within an hour of its launch at the library at the end of November. And now another 100 are being run off as soon as the printers can find a slot.
 There was a queue for the book, which has more than 250 photos of Darwen, contrasting the old with the new, before the library opened for the Friends of Darwen Library coffee morning launch. Many folk were disappointed and a want-list in the library immediately began to fill up.
 Dave Owen, who founded Darwen Days nearly five years ago, said: "It's amazing. But of course it's an ideal present for folk to send to friends and relatives all over the world."
 A lot of the old photos have never been seen before while others figured in Darwen Days' six-week exhibition in the library's exhibition room which attracted record viewing figures.
 Memories of Darwen is the third successive book to sell out at a library launch.
 The FoDL launched their first book, the short, colourful life of artist James Hargreaves Morton, early in 2013 and late last year they published Darwen and its Characters.  Both went to reprints.
 Journalist Harold Heys edited and largely wrote the Morton book, backed by a team which included Alan Duckworth, Mary Painter, Roger Davison, Steve Irwin, Tony Foster and Paul Taylor and he wrote the Characters book.
 Dave Owen said: "The Memories book had come to a full stop. We had admitted defeat. There were just too many problems. It was dead in the water.
 "We realised how difficult it is to throw a glossy A4 book together. In fact it's a nightmare. Luckily, out of the blue, Harold took up the challenge. He threw out more than 70 of the photos we had planned. He said a lot weren't up to it – and he went out and took his own. He then spent several weeks editing it and pulling it all together. And, of course, he wouldn't accept a penny. He did a fantastic job."
 Darwen engineering company WEC sponsored the printing of the book by local firm Ronset and Darwen Days asked anyone who wanted a copy to make a modest donation to their funds.