The Wildgoose Chase

I met Chelsea Pensioner Walter Wildgoose in 1977 when he was 87 and I was 26. Through a series of letters written over the last year of his life, he passed along his life story - the workhouse children's home, a life in the British Army witnessing the opening battles of World War I and life in India, a remarkable family surviving the bombs of World War II London. This blog will document my research and progress on the novel I'm writing about this amazing man.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The games people play (in 1903)

Walter wrote more about his childhood in the Sheffield Children's Homes than he did his World War I experiences (which is probably not so surprising). Despite the workhouse environment, the "two Goslings" managed to find a bit of fun.

The Christmas of 1902 passed by without any regret, as we were unaware of the spirit of the occasion. The time had come to think more of my school lessons, as I realized I would be leaving school next year. All the boys in the Home were very friendly, as we were marshaled to the lodge gates to be checked by the superintendent, we were then allowed to go independently to school which was quite a distance. We didn’t loiter, as we would get the cane if we were late. We got to the school playground in plenty of time to play our favourite games: Marbles, Peg Top, Buttons, and Cherry Wobbles. The cherry stones were a great source of fun. Four boys would play, by each one throwing a “cherry wobble” up a gutter spout to see it come down and stop. The others would throw their “wobbles” up the spout and if they hit the ones which were on the ground, he would be the winner. Cigarette cards too were another interesting hobby. A series of fifty footballers or cricketers and to get a complete set, much exchanging took place between the school boys. We obtained our cherry stones by purchasing a pennyworth of cherries, and then we would put the stones in a little bag. These games gave us great fun.

When Saturday came, and there was no school, we all had to go on the farm. Some boys cleared the cowsheds, others would clean the stables and supply them with fresh hay and straw for bedding, but the task I did not like was weeding between the long rows of cabbages. It was a damp and cold job. The turnips had to be sliced in a machine for fodder. Some boys would work in the shoemaker’s shop. Mr. Leeming (our foster father) was the cobbler. It was a large area which included the cottage hospital and the sports field together with the market gardens. We would all return to our home for lunch and in the afternoon we were allowed to go on the playing fields.

Sunday was our special day. We put our best suits on to go to Church, we were marshaled to this place of worship in Sheffield, and we would all be accommodated in the gallery overlooking the congregation. The service used to get so boring that Bert and I devised some fun by rolling pellets of paper and flicking them over the gallery rails on the people below. We got some fun from this, but not for long. This habit was reported to the foster father, and he punished us all by denying us to go and play in the afternoon, and we had to stay around the home compound. Discipline was strict here, so as the days were dragging on, we paid more attention to our lessons.

We used to go to father each Sunday now, as he asked for this favour, as he wanted to have little talks with us, as he must have got lonely in the Infirmary. He asked us how had we got on at school, also at Sunday school. We went to Sunday school each Sunday afternoon and the teacher used to give us a text card, and these, we showed them to Father. He always gave Bert and I a penny, and we treated it with much respect, as we took it to school the following morning to be put in our Penny Savings Book.

Ah - the glorious spit-ball. A classic in a kid's book of tricks called "How to Amuse Oneself at Church and School." As far as I know, kids are still flicking those little bits of paper (and church and school janitors are still sweeping 'em up).

I love that Walter went into detail about Cherry Wobbles and the cigarette cards. The boys managed to find a lot of fun - whatever the situation. Just like children everywhere have had to do.

It's hard to imagine the kind of day-in/day-out life John Wildgoose had in the workhouse infirmary. He was paralyzed on one side - was his mental capacity effected in any way? Walter never says one way or another. Still, it must've been quite a come-down from his military days in India.

(Thanks to Picture Sheffield for the photo.)

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posted by MaryB @ 11:34 AM  


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