Chapter 4 The leap to independence
One day in autumn Jack was talking to his boss, Mr. Hutchinson, about the threat of Germany invading England. Jack said, “I envisage boats full of aggressive soldiers coming across the North Sea and easily landing on the flat Norfolk beaches. We have no defences there at all. Nor do we have a decent naval force on the North Sea because they assume the Germans will cross to Dover. It would be easy for the Germans to attack overnight to Norfolk.”
Mr. Hutchinson, an ex-army officer, was now a voluntary Colonel commanding a Territorial Force Artillery Unit in Harrowby Road, Birkenhead. He didn’t disagree with Jack but spoke about what it was like to be in the Territorial Force.
“It’s a voluntary army created to augment the regular land forces without resorting to conscription, assigned to home defence. Soldiers could be asked to serve anywhere in Britain and will be paid a normal wage for the hours spent training and in camps. You’re given proper military training and could volunteer for service overseas, if asked. It’s a way of learning new things and becoming an independent, mature man. You would help Britain ‘Be Prepared’.”
It appealed to Jack as a way to become independent. The downside was that T.F. soldiers based in Liverpool were expected to live at home until posted elsewhere. How long would that be? Jack’s objective was to leave home. The army certainly seemed attractive in the longer term. Jack hoped that the pay would help him save enough to eventually have his own home and to marry.
He realised he already hated the Germans. Not only was that because of the books he had read but his hate for the only German he had been in contact with – a company partner called Hirsch at the firm Kleine Fireproof Flooring Co. Ltd. Jack’s employers Hutchinson and Weston, Builders’ Merchants of Dale Street, were agents for Kleine.
Visiting principals of other firms that Hutchison and Weston represented, would tender their cards at the enquiry desk and await their call into the private office, but not so the German, Hirsch. He was a stiff soldier-figure with the ‘Kaiser’ moustache, arrogant, ruthless, and mannerless. He would crash into the office, lift the counter-flap and walk straight into the principal’s office – unheralded and unsung. Jack, in the outer office, heard his staccato stentorious broken English, apparently ‘laying down the law‘. Jack hated this German and was determined to get his own back.
Further news of Germany’s aggressive behaviour made Jack decide to join the Territorial Force. He saw it as a way to become independent and better his position, and, it appealed to his need to serve his country and protect it from invasion. As he was still 20, he would have to wait a few months until he was ‘of age’.
On Tuesday 13th February 1912, Jack walked to the temporary army centre at Princes Park, close to home. A Captain, who asked whether he wanted to join the army, welcomed him.
“Yes, I’ve come to sign up,” Jack replied. “I’ve spoken to Mr. Hutchinson who’s with the Territorial Force. We spoke about the threat of war and I want to be ready to serve my country if that time comes.”
“You’ve taken the right decision, lad,” the Captain said, glad that no further convincing seemed required. “How old are you?”
“I’ve just turned twenty-one, sir,” Jack replied.
“Good, then I’ll take your details for the Attestation Form,” the Captain said.
After filling in the form, the Captain went to call a witness. He then said to Jack, “I’ll read the oath to you and then you need to sign right here,” pointing to ‘Signature of Recruit’.
“I, John Handley, swear by Almighty God, that I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to His Majesty King George 5th, and that I will, as in duty bound, honestly and faithfully defend His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, against all enemies, and will observe and obey all orders of His Majesty, and of the Generals and Officers set over me. So help me God.”
Jack signed and felt proud to be a soldier in the Territorial Force. They assigned him to the Liverpool Rifles, ‘H’ Company and gave him his uniform.
He went back home, rather intrepidly, as he had told no one about his plans. When his father saw him come in with a military uniform, he went berserk. “What are you doing with that uniform? Have you signed up for the army? You fool, wars only serve the needs of capitalists. No son of mine will ever serve in the army to keep the country safe for them capitalists.”
Jack was shocked at his father’s aggressive reaction but didn’t object or respond.
Father shouted, “Get out of my house!”, and pushed Jack in to the hall. “I don’t want to see you again while you’re in the army.”
Jack had wanted to leave home anyway, although not this way. His mother came out of the kitchen and asked what was going on. As soon as she saw the army gear, she knew. Father started repeating himself to Mother. She looked at her son with tears in her eyes, embraced him, and said, “Look after yourself, Jack”
Jack quietly collected his things, said goodbye to his mother, sisters and brother, and left the house saying nothing to his father. He felt a mixture of loss and relief. Now he was free but would miss his family.
Where was he to go now?