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.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The two Goslings - "six of the best across their back sitting rooms"

A school in Sheffield, c. 1900

The person Walter was closest to during his years at the Sheffield Children's Homes was his brother Bert, who was older than Walter by one year. With the family scattered to the four winds, the two brothers formed a very tight bond and formed their own abbreviated version of the larger Wildgoose clan. Day to day life at the homes and in school went something like this, according to Walter's letters:

Bert and I were in the same class, but the teacher would not allow the “two Goslings” to be together. (He had reasons, I suppose.) Scripture was the first lesson for 15 minutes. We had moved into a new school which had been built alongside the old one. Our old headmaster’s name was Mr. Laycock, a portly gentleman who asked no questions as to why you was late for school (and he had a nice cane). We done some walking during the day. To school in the morning, home for lunch, back to school after lunch and finally we return home for our evening meal. We were allowed until 6pm to return, so the preparation for the evening meal would not be completed until then, so that gave Bert and I more time to look around to see who we “could assist” for the purpose of earning a honest penny. We were successful on many occasions, which didn’t entail too much time. We were able to buy little luxuries for a ha-penny, or a farthing. We would buy some marbles to play with in the playground. We were in a mixed class, and the little girl who sat next to me was very careful I could not copy from her lesson or she would put her hand up for the teacher to hear what she had to say. I was made to stand on the desk seat for punishment so that all the class could see me. (I could see Bert having a good laugh.) I felt so guilty that I used to blush with fury. We were both very dark-haired and rosy-appled complexions, and the nickname soon passed around the school “the Goslings.’’

Both boys were enterprising and precocious. Here's one example of the Goslings' habit of fending for themselves.

On the following Friday, we both feigned illness and asked to be allowed to sit in the playground which was granted. It didn’t take us long to leave, and soon, we were looking for new fields to conquer. We went to a mission hall, and offered our assistance in tidying up, for which the ladies were grateful. This earned us a shilling each, which was a lot of money those days. We went to see a magic lantern show, where there was a phonograph with cylindrical records playing. Quite a nice evening, I may say, but the time was running out and we would be late to get home for 630pm so we decided to stay out. We went to have something in an eating house and some tea. We had had a very busy afternoon and were tired. We crept into a hayloft and laid down among the straw and we both were soon asleep. In the early morning, I heard a crowing of the birds which was a signal to get up and get moving. We got up and brushed all the bits of straw from our clothes. We got on to the street which was as silent as the grave. We were talking as we walked to give each of us moral support, when I heard footsteps behind us. It was a policeman. He came up to us and asked us where we were going? I said “for a walk.” “Where do you live?” We hesitated at that question. He then took our caps from off our heads, which had our names and the letters S.C.H. taped inside (Sheffield Children’s Homes). “You had better come along with me,” he said. He took us to the police station and the sergeant asked us if we would like something to eat. (They had apparently been informed of our absence.) He brought a chunk of dry bread and a mug of tea. We did our best to eat it, as there were no butter or dropping on it. We enjoyed the tea, though! Later on, an official arrived from the Homes to collect us. We were dirty from the afternoon’s frolics. Mr. Sykes, the superintendent, was at the lodge gates to receive us. We were taken into his office, and he did not ask us any questions. Mr. Perry, the farmer, was there, and he got hold of me and pushed my head between his legs and held me for Mr. Sykes to give me “six of the best” across my “back sitting room.” Bert was next, and we were allowed to go to our home to Mr. Leeming. That knocked some of the spirit out of us both. Mr. Leeming just told us to go to the bathroom and have a good bath. We were glad of this, and we made ourselves tidy again, but Oh! My bottom was sore! We were given a good lunch. This was Saturday and no school. She told us that after we had finished our lunch, we would have to go to bed as a punishment. I considered it as a relief, as we could do with a good rest. Next day, Sunday, we felt much better and we had to go to church – another long walk. We were marshaled to the church and then we could come home as we wished, but we were never late for lunch. Then it was Sunday school in the afternoon. It was the Sunday for our visit to Father, but we decided not to go that week, as we had a guilty conscience.

I suspect there were more episodes like this, though Walter didn't write about them, and that such behavior led to Bert and Walter being sent to the training ships.

Walter's letters make it obvious that Bert was the major influence in his younger brother's life (the other force, later, was May), and he was devastated when Bert was killed at Aubers Ridge 9 May 1915.
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posted by MaryB @ 11:42 AM  


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