Tag Archives: Woodville

Fred goes to Rotherham

In his early career with the RAF, Fred lived in Rotherham, where he was training to be a wireless operator. He attended the local Technical College, and for his ab initio training in electronics, he studied topics such as radar and the many other technical devices which he would need to use as a Wireless Operator / Air Gunner.

The college is still there today:

Fred was staying at 94, Frederick Street, with Mr and Mrs Childs, as a lodger in their house. The latter acted more or less as surrogate parents, and in actual fact, frequently corresponded with Fred’s own parents, Will and Fanny. They reported Fred’s progress to them, and postcards were sent back and forth quite regularly. This is the reverse of the postcard of the School of Technology above:

The postcard was posted on June 22nd 1942 at 9.00pm. As far as I can see, the text reads

“ Dear Mr Mrs thanking you for your kind and welcome letter I had a letter from fred I am sending you this I though (sic) you would like it it is were fred and the boy went to school I saw it and though you will like it kind regards to fred when you write hoping you are both well we remain yours faithful  E W Childs”

This date proves that Fred had finished what must have been fairly elementary technical training relatively early in his RAF career. More of these postcards have survived and this one is of Boston Park in Rotherham:

The reverse has the same address as the card above and the message reads:

The text reads:

“74, FREDERICK. ST. Dear Mr & Mrs Knifton  First of all I hope that Mr Knifton has recovered from his illness & is getting about again. This is one of our local areas & is only about 8 minutes walk from here. Trust you are keeping well & also Fred. Haven’t heard anymore from him since he was home. Fondest of greetings always sincerely from E (&) W Childs”

Imaginative as most young men are, Fred chose the very same picture postcard to send home. His message was hardly informative:

The text reads

“Have not visited this park yet so I don’t know much about it Fred ”

It was probably when he was still being trained at Rotherham Technical College, that Fred, as a serving member of the armed forces, was invited on a distant, almost forgotten, occasion to be one of the people to meet the Mayor of Barnsley. The latter was the Lieutenant Colonel of the local regiment, and came round, as we would say nowadays, to “raise his profile”. One thing that Fred did remember was how overawed he felt given the high rank of the distinguished visitor, compared to his own status as a simple Aircraftman Second Class.

In similar vein, Fred had also been somewhat embarrassed when, in uniform, he was given a lift back home from Burton-on-Trent station, by Dr Love, the local doctor in Woodville, the village where Fred lived. Dr Love was himself a high ranking officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War, and he had carried this rank with him, over into the local South Derbyshire Home Guard forces. Everybody in the High Street in Woodville was amazed when Dr Love stopped his car, at the time one of the only privately owned vehicles in the area, and out stepped Fred.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, Personal

Fred meets a Flying Circus

My Dad, Fred, spent nearly all of his life in South Derbyshire. In the sunny summers and snowy winters after the First World War, his home was at Number 39, Hartshorne Lane, Woodville. “Holmgarth” was the last house in the village as you went down the road towards the neighbouring village of Hartshorne. Here it is today:

After Fred’s house, further down the hill, there were a couple of large houses near a small lake on the left. They were just a few yards beyond the massive blue brick railway bridge which carried the passenger railway line from Woodville Station towards Swadlincote. A half mile or so further on was the old Saxon village of Hartshorne. Hartshorne Lane itself was made of gravel, and there was so little traffic that it was perfectly possible to play football or cricket all day long without any interruption whatsoever. Boys regularly knocked their cricket stumps into the surface of the road.

Indeed, the whole area was still so countrified, that one day in the late 1920s, a seven year old Fred saw a stray cow walking around in the front garden of the house, and rushed to tell his mother. She was busy with her housework, and just told him that he was being silly and telling lies. Eventually, though, she looked out of the kitchen window and she too noticed the cow which had by now made its way around the house to the kitchen garden. She was very startled and cried out in genuine fear. Young Fred, though, thought that this was a good example of somebody getting their just desserts. Here is young Fred with his bike but just look at the empty field behind him. It used to belong to a farming family called Startin. Nowadays, their field is completely covered in houses:

One sunny summer’s day in the 1930s, perhaps in 1935, an aircraft came in to land in Startin’s field at the back of Fred’s house in Hartshorne Lane. It was an Airspeed AS4 Ferry, a medium sized biplane, and was registered as G-ACBT. It had even featured in a special painting in an aviation magazine:

The aircraft belonged to the famous Flying Circus of Sir Alan Cobham, although it had previously been owned by the popular author, Neville Shute. He had used it as a ferry aircraft in southern Scotland and Northern Ireland. Here’s one of the photographs which were taken of this extraordinary event. The three people are, I think, Fred, the pilot and the mechanic :

Sir Alan Cobham was one of the foremost proponents of the virtues of flying, and with his support for the National Aviation Day, he gave enormous publicity to British aircraft and to the still relatively young RAF. Here he is:

An excited young Fred talked to the pilot while the mechanic went off to find some fuel for the aircraft from a local garage. When he returned, they refuelled the plane and then took Fred for a short flight around the local area.

This adventure, amazing by the Health and Safety standards of the present day, was to inspire Fred, years later, to join the RAF.

Ironically, the year when Fred joined the RAF, 1941, saw G-ACBT being finally dismantled at the scrapyard, in the absence of any potential buyers for this sturdy old aircraft.

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Will Knifton v the Kaiser (Round 4)

This is the fourth, and final, round of my Grandfather, Will’s, tales about his life in the First World War.

The pinnacle, or perhaps, nadir, of Will’s relationship with the upper classes came when he was given an officer’s beloved horse to look after. This was the kind of thing:

In the stable, the highly strung beast decided it would kick Will, very hard and very painfully. Will, however, was not a man to take things lying down, so he took a run up, rather like a football goalkeeper about to take a goal kick, and kicked the animal very, very hard in the testicles. This would have been honours even, perhaps, but unfortunately, the officer had just returned to the stable to see how his pride and joy was faring, and was actually standing right behind Will as he did the evil deed.

For his crimes, Will was charged, court martialled, found guilty, and given Field Punishment Number One, which consisted of being handcuffed, fettered and then tied to a gun carriage wheel for twenty-four hours. This picture is the closest fit I could find:

In similar vein, I remember as a teenager, talking to another veteran, an old man who used to spend all day, every day, sitting on the bench seat, watching the traffic go around the Tollgate roundabout in our small mining village, Woodville. This man had been gravely wounded on July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. When a shell went off in that disastrous attack, he had been knocked unconscious, coming round to find that he had lost both of his legs in the explosion.

Luckily for him, as he acknowledged later, he was found by the Germans, who saved his life. He was always to say that the levels of care among the German forces were so much better than those in the British Army, where the officers’ horses tended to be better looked after than the men. This is a German military hospital:

Much to my very great regret, I have forgotten the name of this man, but I will never forget the bitterness or the truth of his words. Sharply resentful, he told me how every day, for almost sixty years, he had no choice but to put on his two artificial legs. He began with leather straps under each groin, and then the large strap around his waist. Then came more straps over both of his shoulders.

Even after all these years, he had persistent sores wherever the rough leather rubbed into his skin, particularly on his shoulders, and the poor man was in constant pain. Many people in Woodville thought that he was just a moaner, but he had a lot to moan about. Like my grandfather, he was not much of a fan of Field Marshall Haig either.

At the end of the Great War, Will returned from France directly to Woodville, and the life he had known before he emigrated to the New World. He went back to his church in Church Gresley, where everyone was delighted to see him. So much so, in fact, that they presented him with his own copy of “The Methodist Hymn Book”

Inside the front cover, it was inscribed…

“Wesleyan Church, Church Gresley

Presented to Mr.W.H.Knifton as a token of gratitude to God for his preservation while on Active Service during the Great War, and as a momento of the hearty good
feeling with which he is welcomed on his return.

On behalf of the Church and Sunday School,

L.GREGSON
W.WILTON
A.DYTHAM ”

Will never seemed to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but the war certainly affected some aspects of his thoughts and behaviour. In the trenches, for example, there was a seemingly permanent shortage of sugar. For this reason, long years after the conflict had finished, Will would never fail to celebrate the existence of the delectable white powder. If you visited him and he made you a cup of tea, he would normally put between six to eight spoons full of sugar in it, and even when there were objections, nobody ever escaped with fewer than four spoons full.

Another fear which Will brought back from the trenches, beyond that of running out of sugar, was the much more real one of rats. There were certainly plenty of them about. Here is a French military ratcatcher, “un dératiseur” and his dog:

Will knew very well that besides an entire suite of unpleasant, and occasionally sickening, behaviours, rats carried Weil’s Disease, an ailment which even now, as I write, has no known cure. In 1941, during his ab initio training for the RAF, Fred was to experience the same fear as his father had known twenty or so years previously, as rats, bold and unafraid, ran over his chest and feet as he camped out in the winter woods.

Incidentally, a lot of people nowadays want to think that the First World War was a “war for democracy”. It wasn’t. It was a war for power and empire. Just to knock the democracy idea firmly on the head , the figures I found on the Internet were that 7,694,741 people were eligible to vote in 1914. The population of the United Kingdom and its colony of Ireland was approximately 46 million. That is 16.72 percent who were able to vote. And who do you think did most of the fighting? The 16% or the 84%?

 

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Filed under Canada, Criminology, France, History, Personal, Politics

Earthquakes and Lights in the Sky

At least one physical phenomenon is very rare in Nottingham. Would that it were not so:

Untitled
“Northern Lights,” or “Aurora Borealis” was first recorded as having been seen in the neighbourhood of Nottingham during the winter of 1755-1756. The Northern Lights appear at their best according to an eleven year cycle, and 2015-2016 was quite a good year, so keep yourself entertained by doing a very long backwards calculation!
Here is a website which will tell you when is a good time to look for the Northern Lights.
aurora-borealis-cccccccccccccccccccccccccc

Another physical phenomenon is almost equally infrequent in Nottingham…Thank Goodness!
And luckily, when it does happen, it tends to do little damage, and it soon gets forgotten. Who remembers this one now?…

August 23 1752  The severe shock of an earthquake was felt in Nottingham and the surrounding district, about 7 a.m. Great alarm, but not much damage, was the result. The day was remarkably fine, both before and after the shock.”

And forty years later, another earthquake came to nothing…thank goodness:

February 25, 1792  Between the hours of eight and nine this evening, an alarming shock of an earthquake was felt in the Midland counties, but particularly at Nottingham, many of the inhabitants running out of their houses, expecting them to fall upon their heads. The shock was preceded by a rumbling noise, like the rolling of a cannonball upon a boarded floor.”

Another Victorian source mentions an earthquake on October 6th 1863:

“The earthquake appears to have been felt over a great part of England” and it was decidedly more severe in the western parts of the country, especially the West Midlands:

“At Birmingham walls were seen to move, and people rose from their beds to see what damage had been done, for though the rumbling, grating sound is like a passing train, it was known at once to be something more. At Edgbaston successive shocks were plainly felt, and houses were shaken to their foundations. At Wolverhampton everything in the houses vibrated. The houses cracked and groaned as it the timbers had been strained. The policemen on duty saw the walls vibrate, heard everything rattle about them, and were witnesses to the universal terror of the roused sleepers.
At Cheltenham, a deep rumbling noise was heard, the heaviest furniture was shaken, the fire-irons rattled, heavy stone walls were heard to strain and crack, and the boys at Cheltenham College were all under the impression that the rest were engaged in making the greatest possible disturbance.”

I was unable to find a picture of the boys of Cheltenham College, but, much better, here are the splendid young ladies of Cheltenham Training College around the same period:

chel traoining

And what of Nottingham? Well…

“October 6th 1863  A slight shock of earthquake was felt early in the morning in Nottingham, and in most parts of the country.”

and then, just over a year later:

October 30th 1864  Slight shocks of an earthquake were felt in Nottingham, and in various parts of the country.”

Those two earthquakes were so insignificant that they have, literally, not passed “the test of time” and I have not been able to find really very much at all about them.

In fairly recent times, my Dad experienced an earthquake in South Derbyshire:

“On one occasion when he was walking home from his job as a teacher at Woodville Church of England Junior School in Moira Road, Woodville, Fred was the hapless victim of an earth tremor. It must have been quite frightening because, as he was to relate many times in subsequent years, he was able to watch the pavement rippling up and down with the force of the shock.

Seismological records for the local area show that this event occurred most probably on February 11, 1957. Here is my Dad’s quiet little mining village around that time, in the late 1950s:

 

If you want to check the history of known earthquakes in England, then this is the link to the relevant Wikipedia page.

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1937: The Clouds of War (1)

What must have been among the most magical moments in my father, Fred’s, long and eventful life, came one day, or rather one evening, around 1937. In a long golden English summer, he and three of his childhood friends decided to use their knowledge from the Wolf Cubs and the Boy Scouts and to go off camping. Those three other boys were Jonty Brearley, Bernard Swift and John Varty. Here’s my Dad, with his bicycle. Behind him, there is nothing but fields. Nowadays, there is nothing but houses:

AG with bike 1930 8

The boys all went by bicycle down Hartshorne Lane, into the village of Hartshorne itself, past the Georgian coaching inn and the haunted old Elizabethan house. Look for the camouflaged orange arrow which points at Fred’s house. The boys rode into the top right hand corner of the map, towards the church with a square tower:

journey 1

They cycled resolutely past the old Saxon church of St Peter:

Hartshorne_Church_web

Then they took the road westwards out towards Repton. The next orange arrow on the map below points to Hartshorne Church.

Repton, off to the west, was the village where, in the winter of 873-874 AD, the Danish Great Heathen Army, led by the reputedly nine feet tall Ivar the Boneless, spent a few months resting up and slaughtering the locals:

Fred and the boys ignored these ruffians, though, and they turned off to the north, the top right corner of the map, towards the villages of Ticknall and Foremarke, home of Fred’s ancestors from the days of the Stuarts:

journey 2

At the very top of the hill, though, by now high up on the horizon, they turned yet again, eastwards along the yellow-marked Coal Lane, before they turned for the last time into Green Lane, indicated by the orange arrow. They followed this grassy track for a good distance until it joined the steep orangey road towards Pistern Hills:

journey 3

Just look how many features on this map refer either to types of tree, the shape of the landscape or the name of a long forgotten landowner.

Just before the road junction, they put their bikes in the hedge and made camp.

journey 5

Green Lane, originally, formed part of an ancient trackway, dating back perhaps to Stone Age times. I don’t have a photograph, but this is what it would have looked like in that more countrified era:

green 1xxxxxxx

No insecticides then, or petrol powered machines to cut back the homes of the bee, the butterfly and the wood mouse:

green-lane-narrowing-11xxxxxxxxxxxxx

In a word, it was a countryside paradise. We’ll see who plays the part of the Serpent next time.

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A good man doesn’t stand by (1)

Some time ago, I showed you a picture of the England football team all making their Nazi salute at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on May 14th 1938:

England-Germany 1938 nazi.xsderftgyhb

They were not the only foreigners to greet the Führer with a cheery “Sieg Heil”. Here, just a year later, is the Republic of Ireland football team engaged in pretty much the same behaviour:

Ireland-Germany-1

Let’s just leave that for a short while, and move westwards to the English Midlands. To South Derbyshire, and more precisely, the little village where my Dad, Fred, grew up.

During those long sunny summers and cold snowy winters after the Great War, Fred’s home was at Number 39, Hartshorne Lane, Woodville. The house was called “Holmgarth”, and it was the very last house in the little village of Woodville as you went down the hill towards the neighbouring village.

After Fred’s house, the only dwellings were just a couple of very large detached houses set well back from the road, either side of a small, shared, lake. This was just a few yards beyond the massive blue brick railway bridge, which carried the old passenger railway line from Woodville Station towards the neighbouring town. Here it is, being demolished in the early 1980s:

demolition

Hartshorne Lane in the 1930s was made of gravel, and there was so little traffic that it was perfectly possible for boys to play football or cricket all day long without any interruption whatsoever. Boys, including Fred, regularly knocked their cricket stumps into the soft surface of the road:

hart road 2 START HERE

Indeed, the whole area was still so countrified, that one day in 1929, a seven year old Fred saw a stray cow walking around in the front garden of the house, and rushed to tell his mother. She was busy with her housework, and just told him that he was being silly and telling lies. Eventually, though, she looked out of the kitchen window and she too noticed the cow which had by now made its way around the house to the kitchen garden. She was very startled and cried out in fear. Fred though, thought that this was a good example of somebody getting their just deserts.

Fred’s father, Will, used to work at either Wraggs or Knowles clayworks, a couple of miles away. He would finish his working week at lunchtime on Saturday, and then return home immediately to make sure that he did not miss the football match at Derby, which started at three o’clock:

aerial 1

First of all, though, he would always strip to the waist and wash off all his grime in the kitchen sink.

When Fred was too young to accompany him, Will would walk to the match at the rather strangely named Baseball Ground in Derby. His knowledge of shortcuts, and his willingness to walk over the fields, meant that he could reduce the usual distance by road of twelve or thirteen miles to a walk of only some ten miles or so.

This all came to an abrupt end, though, when Will began to take his young son Fred to the match:

AD with grandma 3

Everything had to change. They would both stroll the short distance down Hartshorne Road until they reached the so-called Lovers’ Walk, a path, complete with romantic tinkling brook, which ran as a well-known short cut, up to the end of Station Street. From here father and son would take the train together from Woodville Station to the Baseball Ground at Derby, hiding away in the middle of a thousand terraced houses.

baseballground_ssssssssssssssssssssssss

Sometimes, though, they preferred to catch the ordinary bus in Hartshorne Lane. There was, in actual fact, great competition between the train and bus companies, with occasional, but regular, price wars. The usual fare was one shilling and a halfpenny, but first one, and then the other, company would knock the halfpenny off in a bid to steal a march over their rivals.

Whatever method of transport they used, Fred and Will always left for the match around one o’clock or half past one.

In the early 1930s, Derby County’s goalkeeper was a man called Jack Kirby. He came from Newhall, a mining village just the other side of Swadlincote from Woodville. Kirby had joined Derby County, a professional soccer team in the top division, from a little amateur team, Newhall United, in April 1929. He made his debut for Derby at the top level in the 1929-30 season:

kirbhy

In those days, footballers did not assemble for a pre-match meal at some prestigious hotel. Indeed, Jack used to travel to every Derby home game on his bicycle from his terraced house in Newhall. This was a distance of some thirteen or fourteen miles.

On alternate Saturdays, therefore, Kirby would come slowly past Fred’s house on his bicycle at around one o’clock.  He still had, perhaps, an hour and a half to travel the twelve or so miles to Derby. Fred and his father Will would watch out for him, have a quick chat, and invariably joke that Jack was going to miss the start of the game. Kirby never hurried, though, keeping always to what Fred and Will both considered to be a worryingly snail like pace.

There was more to Jack, though, than just banter about the speed of his cycling. Jack really was the good man who refused to stand by and do nothing, so that evil might prosper. For now though, here is Jack in action against Newcastle United:jfk0072211209 - Copy

The English First Division could be a really rough place in 1934:

jfk0072210208

Jack was a handsome devil, and like all proper goalkeepers, his doting old mum always knitted him a nice warm pullover:

jfk0072210208 - Copy

He was very good at latching on to the heavy, invariably wet football of the era, with hands as big as buckets:

jfk0072209207

The secret was practice, practice, practice. Even if people in the house next to the ground keep spying on you as you train:

jack again

Soon, we will all hear the story of how Jack proved to the whole world that he really was the good man who refused to stand by and do nothing.  Jack was not prepared to let evil prosper.

 

 

 

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Off to the Great War (Part Two)

I wrote about my grandfather, Will Knifton, in a previous blog post:

A1 hard man

When he first joined the Canadian Army in Toronto, he was soon sent across the Atlantic to receive his initial training in England. He started at  Shorncliffe Training Camp in Kent, learning how to be a Canadian soldier from late July 1916 until the end of November. There was a Canadian Training Division at Shorncliffe and I suspect he was stationed there. Will seems to have enjoyed his stay in Kent, the so-called “Garden of England”. I have already shown you some of the post cards he sent to his fiancée, in an article imaginatively entitled “Off to the Great War (Part One)”.

At this time, Will’s fiancée, Fanny Smith, lived with her family in Woodville, a little village in South Derbyshire. Will sent Fanny many postcards. This one is of Sandgate, a little seaside resort in the area. It shows the High Street East:

sandg high st

The message reads:

“Sandgate is about 5 minutes walk from Ross Barracks. Love Will”

five mins ross back xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ross Barracks were themselves part of Shorncliffe Camp.

This next postcard was posted at 10.00 am. on August 4th 1916. It shows the low cliffs in this small village near Shorncliffe Camp and close to Folkestone:

sandgate cliff xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Here is the back of the postcard:

baxk of snadgate c;liff xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The message reads;

baxk of snadgate c;liff eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Once again, Will is able to retain an almost surreal quality in his writing:

“It has been so warm today and we walked 18 miles. Send me lots of news dear. Love to all. Yours Will”

This postcard was franked at 11.00 pm, on August 20th 1916, and had been posted in Folkestone, perhaps after a visit by train to the famous cathedral, only some twenty miles away in Canterbury:

camterbury cathedrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here is the back of the postcard:

back cathedralzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here is the message enlarged:

back cathedra jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj

The message reads, as far as I can decipher it….

 “Sunday 1pm

I didn’t get my pass yesterday so couldn’t see Stacey. (name slightly illegible) May go next week. Trust you are alright. Fondest love, Will ”

This postcard shows the Lees and the Shelter at Folkestone:

folstone colour

The message reads:

“Yours to hand love (?) A letter is coming. I wish I were too. wont be long Fondest love Will”:

back folkstome colour

Here is the message enlarged. This seems to be in his more florid style of handwriting:

back folkstome colour enlarged

 

In retrospect, this next postcard may perhaps seem a little insensitive. Just a few short weeks after being asked to join the blood soaked antics of the Western Front, and due to depart on November 17th for the trenches, Will sent his fiancée a postcard of the large convalescent home in Folkestone. Presumably, the lone soldier on the seat is the only one left after “The Big Push”:

convalaecscnt home

This is the reverse of the card:

back hospitasl

Can you decipher the message, written in best quality pencil?

Here it is enlarged:

back hospitasl wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

And notice too, how the young prototype Canadian, once again, says “I will write you”, rather than the more usual English of “I will write to you”. In actual fact, the message reads……

“I will write you again tonight. Trust you are well. Love to all. Fond love to you. Will”

The postmark of 9.oo pm on September 5th 1916 reveals that Will could not have been convalescing at the hospital, as he had only just arrived in England from Canada on July 25th 1916, and he did not set off to join the Great War until November 17th 1916.

I am fairly sure that this was Will’s last card before he moved on in his Canadian Army career. I suspect that it was sent from Folkestone in Kent, just before Will embarked for France and the Western Front. The reverse, unusually for Will, is blank. Perhaps what faced him in the future was enough to take away his inspiration temporarily:

old sldier channel

The inscription on the front of the card reads:

“Crossing the Channel was quite a thrilling thing. But an old B.E.F. man rather spoiled the trip by swanking without his life belt, and otherwise showing everyone that the entire thing was far from new to him.”

On November 17th, Will left Shorncliffe, Folkestone and Kent to sail for France and the “3rd D.A.C.” He was “taken on strength” with the “3rd D.A.C.” on November 23rd, and could now be considered a fully fledged soldier.

Like many soldiers on the Western Front during the Great War, Will was shot by a German machine gun on at least one occasion. He had two wounds in the legs, and I believe that he may have gone back to Kent to recuperate. The position of his wounds was doubtless because German machine gunners were trained to sweep their guns backwards and forwards close to the ground:

a23_world_war_1_german_machine_gun_1

They were told to try and imitate a man cutting down grass with a scythe:

giphy

Germans, machine guns, bombs, mud, trench foot, sudden death, whatever. Will survived it all:

old age

 

 

 

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