‘The first time the war became a reality for me was when I heard the Germans bombing Hartlepool, not so very far north of the Cleveland hills.’ (37) Despite surviving both World Wars, C.V. Horner is able to detail his experiences of war in a rather short number of chapters; perhaps this is due to his service in the Royal Navy rather than on the front line. Regardless, this is not to say that he does not have a number of wartime stories to tell.
Horner states that by 1915, he had to adjust to some unanticipated changes, as did most people, as they ‘began to realise the war was not going to be quite as easy as they had imagined’. (37) As such, he began his military training at Catterick Camp, where he met Jack Horner, a cousin of his father with very similar tastes to our own Horner. He moved on to Gretna Green for a short time before eventually reporting to Carlisle Castle, where he was supposed to officially join the army. Things did not pan out that way; when he arrived, he encountered a domineering Sergeant who was already attempting to order him around. Horner recalls:
I told my friend I didn’t like the idea of joining the army to be pushed around by the likes of that particular Sergeant and so it was that I never entered the Castle but went immediately to Lowther Street and volunteered to join the Navy. (40)
This landed Horner in a spot of trouble, as an arrest warrant was issued after he had not reported to Carlisle and was thus declared an absentee. However, the warrant was dropped due to Horner joining the Senior Service.
Horner claims that there was not much action at sea; his primary job was to drop depth charges when an enemy submarine had been sighted. He also remarks that ‘luck was on [his] side’ (42) during the war, with one such incident being when he was ordered to change places with someone named Gutteridge when they were swinging the lifeboats out in stormy weather. Moments later, the davit snapped, flinging Gutteridge into the sea, only for his body to wash up days later. At the funeral, Horner realised ‘it could so easily have been [his] fate.’ (41)
He was later promoted to Captain’s coxswain, which saw him become the Captain’s servant, in a manner of speaking, as he had to keep his cabin clean and wait on at his table when he had guests, among other jobs. He notes the he enjoyed the position, however, and it had its ‘“perks”.’ (43) This position would also see Horner through to the end of the First World War, when he was eventually demobbed.
‘So much for fishing’, (97) declares Horner, who sounds greatly disappointed that the Second World War ‘dragged on’ (97) and halted one of his leisurely activities. He believes that the Second World War was not as difficult for the working-classes as the First, yet ‘there was more danger and fear of aircraft.’(97) Somewhat ironically, given what had happened in World War I, Horner became a Sergeant, though this was for the local Home Guard; he also maintained a nightly watch on Melmberby Moor for signs of the enemy.Occasionally, an Officer would come from Catterick to ‘drill’ (98) Horner’s Home Guard. He adds: ‘[s]uch events were not usually anticipate with any enthusiasm by the majority of our little squad most of whom were farmers.’ (98)
Horner recalls a bombing that took place near West Witton. He writes: ‘[n]o one was sure, but at that time, the road into the village was being made wider and a few dimly lit red lamps had been left as a warning to motorists of the road works.’ (100) He believes that the enemy thought the red lights indicated a railway station and decided to drop bombs there. He adds that his eldest daughter was in West Witton that night and she returned home the next day with a piece of shrapnel. Once the war years passed, Horner states that things began to return to normal. ‘Instead of gunning for the enemy, army officers once more took up the more leisurely pursuit of shooting grouse and pheasants and the world began to breathe again.’ (100)
For the sake of making sure his memoir does not become sombre, Horner decides to include few negative stories from his war years, in favour of more harmless tales. Though he did not participate in direct combat, Horner is not without his experiences, but he seems to go to great lengths to ensure his readers maintain high spirits throughout.
- Burnett, John, David Vincent and David Mayall. Ed. ‘C.V. Horner.’ The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. 3 vols. Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989: 2:422.