My brother Bill joins the army

  "Your Country Needs You!"

In the war years, 1914 - 1918, not much furniture was being made. Most of us were employed making boxes for shells and parts for aeroplanes including propellers. Many joined the army. My brother Bill, and some of his friends, responded to Kitchener's call - "Your Country Needs You !" and joined the armed forces. Bill and cousin Arthur Falshaw joined the army. They were both too young to enlist so they gave false ages - they had it in their heads that together they would fight for their country. They were not together for long, after enlisting in Preston, they were separated and they never met again. Arthur was killed in the battle of the Somme.

Gunner Bill Hanna

My brother, 189329 Gunner Wm. Hanna, became a driver in the Royal Field Artillery. He came home with his health in ruins, he was greatly affected from shell-shock. I remember on one occasion, he came home from France, his uniform covered in mud, so dad swilled him down with a hose-pipe, then hung his uniform out to dry.

Two of my relatives were in a Canadian Regiment. Both uncle Tom and cousin Sam fought in France. Uncle Tom was recognised as a tough and fearless man. As an ex-gold miner he knew the skills of tunnelling and when he saw an opportunity to tunnel under enemy lines and plant explosives - he did it alone, without official approval.

Although his escapade was successful and was admired by his comrades, his senior officers awarded him 'Number 1. Field Punishment' - which meant he spent a hour tied spread eagled to the wheels of a gun carriage. He was not allowed to win the war on his own.

My brother Bill used to correspond with him using a Field Postcard. To Bill's surprise, on one occasion, he received a reply the same day he had sent his card. His uncle Tom was just a short distance 'up the line'.

Bill was given permission to meet his uncle Tom. When he reached the Canadian line he looked a pitiable sight in his mud covered uniform and before his return to his own unit, Bill had been issued with a new Canadian uniform. He was allowed to wear it after he had sewn on his own regiment's insignia.

It was always pleasing to have news from my brother, but sometimes months would pass without a word. How surprised we all were when there was a knock at the door and a man handed s a note which had been thrown out of a train passing through Barracks station. It was a message from Bill, it said that he was safe and well and that he was on his way to Ripon to collect more horses and mules.

Mother had a good cry when she read the note, she was deeply relieved to know that Bill was still alive. For my part I was determined to go and see my brother. So the following morning I put on my Scout uniform, packed my sandwiches in the saddlebag and rode off towards Ripon. The roads were very quiet, by late afternoon I had found the army depot. I had never seen so many army huts, mules and horses. I saluted every soldier I came to and asked - "Do you know Gunner Bill Hanna?" There were many shrugs of shoulders and shakes of heads, until one soldier said that he had seen a bloke that looked like me. When the soldier took me to one of the huts, sure enough it was my brother Bill.

Bill was thrilled to see me. He took me to see one of his officers who gave him permission to let me stay overnight. I was pleased about this, I did not feel like cycling all the way back to Burnley on the same day. A meal was soon provided and I tucked in heartily, it was the mug of tea that I was not too sure about; one of Bill's pals had just been having a shave and I saw him lathering his shaving-brush in the self same mug he was now giving me to drink out of.

Before turning in for the night, Bill took me to see the horses and mules. Suddenly, there was a great hue and cry, two of the mules had escaped and were running round the lines of huts, then one of them careered into the side of one of the huts and almost demolished it. But there were plenty of soldiers there to round up the two runaways. Then it was a case of going to bed, and lights out. I slept really well but reveille came all too soon. The bugler was my brother.

It was not easy to say goodbye, I held back the tears, there was a lump in my throat, I felt very sad, I could not be certain if I would ever see my brother again. The journey home was uneventful, except for a brief moment when I stopped for a rest on the road side at Thornton in Craven. I was stretched out on the grass verge next to my bicycle, when a man gave me a prod with his stick to see if I was alive or dead, he thought I had had an accident and had fallen or been knocked off my bike. I assured him all was well, and so as to prove it, I stepped on my pedal, scooted off on to the road and smartly swung my leg over the saddle and pedalled quickly away.

Back home, other and dad were pleased to see me safe and well. I told them every detail of my meeting with Bill. After tea, neighbours called and I told the whole story a second time.

By 1918 news came that the war was nearly over. Without a wireless set we had to read the notices posted up on the wall of the Town Hall to find out what was happening in the war. Then on the 11th November I saw a large crowd outside the Town Hall as a clerk fixed up the News Sheet, he seemed very excited and was shouting the details out before anyone had had chance to read the notice; there was an armistice - the war was over. I ran all the way home, shouting the news to everyone I met, almost completely exhausted I ran into the kitchen where my mother was getting the dinner ready, I flung my cap in the air "The war's over," I shouted. We danced round the kitchen, then mother plonked herself on to a chair, took my hand and with tears running down her cheeks, she mumbled "Oh, Billy where are you ?" The fact was we had had no news from my brother for several weeks.

It was only when Bill returned to England that we found out what he had been doing in those last few weeks of the war. He was in Germany, constantly on the move, and had not been able to write to anyone. On reaching the Rhine an officer wanted a bugler to ride in front of the victorious troops and cross the bridge - signalling the final victory. Bill had learnt how to blow a bugle in the Boy Scouts, so he volunteered and it was my brother - Gunner Wm. Hanna 189329, who rode a white horse across that Rhine bridge.