The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

THERE have been many people from Dewsbury who were raised in poverty but grew up to lead successful lives and make an outstanding contribution to their town and country.

The lives of these people reflect a great deal of our social history, and in the coming months I plan to record them.

Early starter: Jim Brown pictured as a boy with one of his sisters, outside their home in Ridgeway Street, Eastborough, Dewsbury.

Early starter: Jim Brown pictured as a boy with one of his sisters, outside their home in Ridgeway Street, Eastborough, Dewsbury.

Jim Brown, who had a jeweller’s shop at the bottom of Daisy Hill, is one man whose life is worth the telling.

He was one of five children who excelled at school but his parents could never afford to send him to grammar school.

However, he grew up to become an outstanding sportsman who fought for his country in World War Two, and set up his own successful jewellery business.

This week I write about his early life and next week I will be writing about his war years, and what happened afterwards.

Jim, who died some years ago, said his humble upbringing in a small back-to-back house in Ridgeway Street, Eastborough, and the fine example set by his hardworking parents, James and Ethel, held him in good stead.

His father was a collier and his mother, a rag picker, who earned extra money playing the piano at the silent movies at the old White Hall Cinema, and also at weekends at the Bath Hotel in Halifax Road and the Black Bull in Mirfield.

At the age of 11 Jim got a paper round for which he was paid 2/6d a week, handing over every penny to his mother, including the tips he got for Christmas.

When he got a bigger round he was paid a shilling more but it took him twice as long to do which made him late for school. He was punished for this with the cane.

His teacher asked one day if he had trouble getting out of bed, and when Jim told him he got up at six to do a paper round to help his mother, he made him a monitor and never caned him again.

Jim was a keen runner and at the age of 11 his dad entered him in two races at a Crown Flatt Gala – the under 11 sprint and the under 14 half-mile race.

The prize-money was 7/6d for the sprint, and 15/- for the long distance race.

He won both, handing the money straight over to his dad who gave him threepence for an ice cream.

Later when Jim left school, sporting legend Eddie Waring encouraged him in his rugby career which eventually led to him playing for Dewsbury.

When he left school at 14, he went to work for Tom Senior who had a jeweller’s shop in Bradford Road, working long hours, especially on Saturdays when he worked through until nine at night.

His best friend was Ernest Ward, who later played for Great Britain, and in their spare time they went up to Crown Flatt, where Ernest’s dad was chief coach, and he had them running around.

When Eddie Waring formed Dewsbury’s first boys’ team, made up of youngsters aged 14 to 16, more than 150 turned up for the first training session. Later, at a game against Hull at Crown Flatt, they attracted a crowd of over 7,000.

Jim later recalled that when Eddie Waring formed his famous Black Knights he chose him to play with them.

Jim said: “We must have made a bit of a name for ourselves because they used to parade us on the stage of the Empire Theatre and we were also on the Pathe News. We were unbeatable.”

Jim’s world changed overnight when at the age of 20 he was called up to fight in the war. He joined the RAF and was soon shipped abroad to Singapore.

He later recalled: “No-one thought there would ever be a war out there. But when the Japanese did invade we had hardly any weapons. We were like sitting ducks. The planes came over 21 at a time, wing tip to wing tip.

“I was in the centre of the airfield. I saw them coming out of the mist but had nowhere to go for cover.

“I threw myself into an open drain.

“The planes came straight at us. I looked up and saw the bomb doors open and the bombs lined up. I said my prayers and laid flat on the floor with my fingers in my ears. I saw the bombs come down and just froze. The ground shook as they fell, and I thought I was going to die.

“I said goodbye to everyone back in England. I thought I had gone. Everything went quiet and I opened my eyes. Everything was strange. I felt my hands and my face and my legs and looked around.

“The hanger had been blown up and many of my friends had been killed. I still think I died that afternoon.”

Jim remembered the turmoil and devastation which followed.

One lad came running up to him and gave him a revolver saying: “They’re here – shoot yourself!”.

But Jim Brown’s thoughts were on survival and he and started to run.

Next week we will continue Jim’s incredible story and describe how he spent the next four months trekking through the jungle and living off bananas.

If you have memories or photographs of Dewsbury contact tresham3@gmail.com.