WHENEVER we look back on our childhood, especially those of us born during the war, we know it bears no comparison with the way children live today.
Materially speaking they have much more than we ever had, but they don’t have anything like the freedom and independence we enjoyed.
They aren’t given the kind of responsibility we were given, sometimes at a very early age, which helped us be more self reliant and community minded.
We could go anywhere we wanted without supervision so long as we went about in groups, which we always did.
Dewsbury swimming baths was the place to go for most kids, not only to learn how to swim, but also to have lots of fun.
We never had water wings to keep us afloat, or goggles to keep water out of our eyes and oh the joy of that steaming cup of Bovril which rounded off our swimming escapades!
Mr Grimes, the baths supervisor, taught us not to be afraid of water by teaching us how to swim under water.
He also taught us how to dive in and pick up a wooden brick placed on the floor of the pool and for this we usually got a certificate.
Living in a town surrounded by rivers, canals and mill dams, Mr Grimes thought a few life-saving skills might come in handy if ever we needed to go to the assistance of anyone struggling.
There were many youngsters who performed heroic life-saving deeds, like 15-year-old Allan Stratford, of Crackenedge Lane, who rescued a nine-year-old girl from the river.
She had lost her balance while bending over to look at some fish, and the swift flowing current had taken her into the sluice gate where she got wedged.
The following is an account of Allan’s brave deed which appeared in the Reporter in 1942:
“A remarkably gallant rescue from the river near Lover’s Walk, Thornhill Lees, was accomplished on Thursday afternoon by a 15-year-old Dewsbury boy, who after completing his feat, walked away quietly.
“It was only with some difficulty that Allan Stratford, who is employed by Messrs Ashworth, Ross and Company, was eventually traced.
“A number of girls, including June Whitworth, aged nine, of Pioneer Street, were playing near the footbridge at Lover’s Walk, where there are sluice gates controlling the supply of water to Messrs Wormald and Walker’s mill.
“The girl fell in and was carried under the footbridge and her feet passed under the sluice gates, but fortunately, she clung to some wooden supports and managed to keep her head above water
“At great risk to himself, Alan, who was in the vicinity, jumped over the sluice gate, and, clinging on to supports with his legs and his other hand, was able to bend down, grab her hand and pull her through.
“His two friends, Arthur Spencer and Edward Crawshaw, helped him to drag her to safety.
“Afterwards, Chief Inspector Wilkinson said that Allan had risked falling into the river himself, but in taking swift and gallant action had saved the girl from drowning. The mayor, who presented Allan with the Royal Humane Certificate, said It was one of the finest examples he had ever known, and Allan was a pattern for the rest of the youth of Dewsbury.”
During the Second World War, many young people did do their bit for the war effort while their fathers were away fighting.
In 1939 a squadron of air cadets, aged from 14 to 18, was formed in Dewsbury to help defend the town while their fathers were away fighting.
A Messenger Corps was also set up and one of the first to enrol was 14-year-old Eric Moon, of Ravensthorpe, who told his father – “It’s my duty dad”.
In 1942, a Girls’ Training Corps was started, but before “enlisting” the girls had to take an oath of service to King and Country at a civic ceremony in Dewsbury Town Hall.
The mayoress Mrs J Chadwick, praised the girls for taking part but stressed that this was not something to imitate what Hitler was doing as some people had suggested.
“German children have no choice but to be members of the Hitler Youth organisation but every girl here tonight is here of her own free choice to do something for her country,” she said.
There were other youngsters who also did their bit, like the party of young girls from Wheelwright Grammar School who gave up their school holidays to go fruit picking in Suffolk.
School children also helped the understaffed war-time postal service to deliver mail during the Christmas rush, all unpaid, of course.
I know there are still groups of youngsters working voluntarily in Dewsbury and Batley today and doing enormous good, but nothing like as many as there used to be.
We must encourage our young people to get away from their computers and iPads and get involved in the wider world out there and do something for their community.
If only more of them knew the value of working for the good of others and not just for themselves, they would be happier.
It would also look good on their CVs.
So mums and dads, grandmas and grandads, take note, give your offspring encouragement to do this. They’ll be better people for doing so.