Alfred Reginald Parkin
Date of birth: 3.5.1888
Date of death: 18.7.1948
Regiment: E.E.F, 965 MT Company A.S.C
Family information: Son of John and Christiana Parkin
Service number: 179445
Now I know why I am a compulsive hoarder---- it’s in the genes -- It all began with my Grandmother---- bless her. She kept all the original letters sent by my father to her, his sister Blanche, her husband Ernest Walker and Ruth, their daughter about 5 yrs old, over a span of three years while on military service from 1916 - 1919.
My father joined the army in 1916, where he trained at Bulford Camp near Salisbury.
Later he wrote from Lee camp to Ernest, telling him that he had been made a Lance Corporal and “what it requires is swank and plenty of it. It does not do to be too mealy mouthed with the men, as they take no notice otherwise. I have managed so far without swearing at them. I remember that I have been in the ranks myself!.
He wrote every week to his mother, usually telling her that he was well and thanking her for letters and parcels.
He writes to Blanche “You will no doubt have guessed we came through France, in horse boxes. What a time -- 30 to a truck together with 2 long loads of stores, The sleeping part was the worst, one half on a packing case and the other hanging over the side but through it all the men were fairly cheerful.”
“It is a curious feeling to be sitting on deck at night with the moon in a clear sky wearing a lifebelt looking for submarines which never came.“ ……… “The men were huddled away below deck with the portholes closed during the night & the heat was terrific. I was very thankful for my stripes as we were a little better off. I slept under a table in a cabin aft. We had beautiful weather the whole time and very few were seasick”.
26 Jul 1917 “I think we don’t realize the beauties of the old land until we get away. We are getting a big variety of food, bread and jam for breakfast and jam and bread for tea for a change. I am in a hut made of 3x 2 spars about 16 feet by 24. The walls are made of rush matting and the roof is a tarpaulin. We have had a bit of a sandstorm today ….”
19/Aug/1917 “. I am looking forward with every confidence to going up the line and doing some real work which after all is why I joined the army. I shall be attached to the Headquarters Section doing the duties of CSM”(Company Sergeant Major)”
17 Sept 1917 to Mother. “We are now well up the line & are doing real work at last.”…. “ It is very hot during the day and very chilly in the early morning. We had the first shower since landing but it only lasted 5 mins.. We get water issued as a ration so that you may guess washing is almost a thing of the past. Eight of us had a wash in half a bucket of water twice yesterday.”
My father’s motor transport company were supplying the No 308 Siege Battery RGA (artillery) with ammunition, They were living in bivouacs, which are like small bell tents holding 4 men.
“Where we are now there are a tremendous lot of scorpions crawling about on the tent floor. The sting of these insects is sometimes dangerous. At night the jackals and wild dogs howl around our tents and during the day eagles and vultures are hovering about looking for prey.”
“You don’t realize what a splendid country old England is until you get away, you are able to go to the tap and by turning the key you are able to get an unlimited supply of water, as pure and clear as crystal, but out here the water is brackish and treated very strongly with chloride of lime as a disinfectant. Sometimes we run short of water …” “I have known a man wash his hands and face, shave and wash his teeth in a cigarette tin of water, which is about the size of a breakfast cup.”
Letter to Ernest 25/9/17 “I went up the line last night. I went up behind the front line trenches with ammunitions for one of the batteries. It was a thrilling experience and well worth going for. The position was almost inaccessible for transport. The hills were 1 in 2 with a surface of loose sand…” “ only about 18 inches on either side of the tractor was a precipice, with a drop of about 20 feet. But the machine did splendidly”….." the steering went wrong. As we had no fitter on the spot, I had to take off my tunic and set to repair it,working against time, as we had to get out before daylight or give the position away. The machine guns were rattling away about a mile in front of us. To cut a long story short we were well on the way to camp before daybreak.”
20/11/17 “I should very much like to see Jerusalem and a few of those places if we have the chance of getting that way. A few of our fellows are studying the bible more than they have done for some time. We have been up near to the firing line”
12/12/1917 “I am now back down the line again and am in good health. The major part of the company have gone on a few days trek up the line and, owing to one of our officers being admitted to hospital, I have been left in charge of the workshop, lorries and a detachment of men, the roads being too bad to travel. I have a Triumph 4 h.p. motorcycle to ride about on,”……” I turned a fine somersault over the handlebars when I was tearing along the road and hit a sand drift.”
19/12/1917 To Blanche – “I am still in charge of a detachment of men and a complete workshop about 60 to 100 miles away from my company. I am expecting to receive orders at any moment to strike camp and move up to the Company, which will mean drawing a few days mobile rations and having bully beef for Christmas.”
13/1/1918 “Dear Mother, I rejoined my company yesterday after travelling nearly a fortnight through the heavy rains and mud.
1/1/1918 “We had a concert in the workshops last night given by the men of the company.” “ We had a splendid time”. “ I was chairman, can you imagine it? But I managed to get through better than I expected.” “The programme was headed --
GRAND CONCERT TO BE HELD IN THE ALBERT HALL
(965 MT CENTRAL WORKSHOPS) IN THE FIELD
JANUARY 30th 1918
Chair to be taken by a/CSM Parkin at 18.30
Many songs were sung and a reading “If your carburetter doesn’t flood”
Interval at 20.00 hours Lights out by Klaxton - Sgt Shapland”
1/2/1918 “Dear Mother, I can now say I have been to Jerusalem”.
While there he visited many religious sites.
24/2/18 To Mother.
“I am expecting to be re-inoculated in a few days against cholera and typhoid so that I shall no doubt be feeling fairly sore for a few days.”
In March he tells Ernest that the mosquitoes are buzzing about all night long and he has about a dozen good samples of bites on his face and hands.
“last night as I sat and watched the shrapnel bursting like fireworks and saw the flashes of our guns, I wondered what would be the finish of it all and how long this would last, but there will be an end sooner or later.”
“Since last writing we have moved again and are just beginning to settle down.
I killed a snake this morning in our camp lines, 5’6” long and about 3” in the centre. I don’t know whether it was venomous. We get any amount of lizards about 12 to 18” long but they are harmless. There are also millions of locusts hopping about and lots of fireflies at dusk.
I have heard that leave is commencing to Cairo and Alexandria. If this is the case I may manage a trip to the Pyramids. The journey takes the sugar off the cake as it takes 2 days each way in cattle trucks.
I am back to summer dress again I.e. shorts, puttees, cap, riding breeches and leather leggings,”
July ‘18 -- “I had a trip round the other day in a Ford car and was about 700 yards from the frontline trenches. It was very rugged scenery and I expect after the war people will visit here, but there will be no evidence of war as everything is cleared away systematically.
During the latter part of last year I awoke one morning to see a whole division encamped on the desert about 2 miles away, but by the following morning everything was bare and not a sign was to be seen. Not a paper, tins etc. had been collected, burned and buried.”
“You would laugh at some of the repairs we make in our clothing. The other day I had that light striped shirt repaired and, in order to get the same pattern material, I got one of the men, who is fairly handy with a needle, to cut sufficient off my shirt tail to make a couple of patches for the elbows.”
There are no more letters from Father until the 26th Dec.18, but he did get his visit to the Pyramids with his friend, Ashby.
My grandmother was anxious for Regie to be home:
26 Apr 1919
“To- Sir Joseph Compton Rickets.
I am extremely obliged for your kind reply to my letter asking for your help to get my son’s release from the army. I am glad to say he has now been demobbed from the East and is resuming his business.
We shall always have a grateful remembrance of your courtesy.
Mrs. C C Parkin
March 1919 --- Home at last”
Alfred’s mother, Christiana Charlotte Parkin (nee Harrison) was born in Wickersley 1858, where she married John Faulkner Parkin 24th Dec 1881. He was born 1857 in Knottingley, educated at the King’s School Pontefract and was an engineer working in Rotherham. He was described as a kindly giant.
He brought his family, my grandmother and 2 children, Blanche (1884) and Austin (1885) to Castleford , where he set up a mineral water factory in Beancroft Road. My father was born while they were staying with my grandmother’s sister, Mary Jane Kipping and her policeman husband, William Joseph Kipping, so he was born at the Police Station, of all places, on 3 May 1888.
My father, Regie, was apprenticed at Veritys in Leeds and became an Ironmonger and Builders Merchant in Bank St., Castleford in 1908 and my grandparents and father moved to Kingston House in Bank St., which was the house and shop which would become my father’s business premises and remained in the family until 1974.
It was not surprising that my father was in Army Motor Transport as he had always had a keen interest in cars and motorbikes before he joined up. He was also a really good swimmer, played with the local water polo team and was a distance runner.
I think my father does not tell his mother too much about the ravages of war and concentrates on describing the scenery and the food any little funny things that happen, because he does not want her to worry about him. He is obviously worried about her and his father and writes :-
“Dear Mother, I note from your letter that trade is very slack. Well it is only to be expected. Never mind if there is nothing left at all and you have health. Things will soon turn round for the best after the war as I intend to give someone a run for their money”
The following extract illustrates the kind of things he wrote about:-
19/12/1917 Enclosure for Ruth.--aged 5
“Dear Ruth, I am sorry I am not to see what Santa Claus brings you this year. I hope he will bring some nice toys. We have a tortoise and an owl which we have caught. The tortoise is very slow and only comes out when the sun shines, but the owl is very solemn and bobs up and down when anyone bows to him. You would laugh to see him. He lives on mice and rats. How would you like to live out here? There is no snow and we live in a tent or under the ground. Your loving uncle, Regie”
My grandmother sent many parcels to ‘Regie’ containing := biscuits, cakes, toffee, Pomfret cakes, mints and sometimes tinned fruit. When they were up at the front in Palestine, he asked not to send food as he suspected they had more than the people at home. She also sent socks, writing pad and newspapers and films for a Kodak pocket camera. My father sent some flowers from the Holy Land which were pressed, and we still have them.
While my father was on active service, Grandmother was doing her best to keep the business trading until 1919. My grandfather was now suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and the main burden fell on my grandmother. I will try to explain the effect on her life and also the business. My grandmother kept the counterfoil book for 1919, showing how she managed in a man’s world.
While my father was away, he paid an allotment of money to her, through the Regimental Paymaster at Cambridge Barracks, Woolwich. When he was able to, he increased this, for instance by 11d a day, which seems to us today very little, but was probably quite a lot then. He says “I also sent £10 from my credit at a later date. Will you advise me when same arrives.”
My grandmother had to order the stock for the shop including garden rakes, shears, solid swan-necked turnip hoes, watering cans, wire netting, kettles, 5 pronged manure forks and also fireplaces and cooking ranges etc.
Early in 1919, there was a terrible flu epidemic, causing many deaths and so my grandmother ordered children’s shrouds and coffin furniture.
After my father returned home from the war, there were a number of problems to sort out, not only concerned with his business, but also family matters. His brother-in-law and friend, Ernest Walker, who was only 32 years old, had died in the 1919 flu epidemic just prior to his return. Ernest left a grieving family, his wife, Blanche and his daughter, Ruth now 10 years old.
I really find the business counterfoil book, which includes orders for goods, requests for price lists, advertisements and letters, really enjoyable. It gives us an insight into the effects of the war on the family at home and brings to life the struggles they dealt with them.
To Secretary Military Service (Civil liberties) Dept
“Dear Sir, With reference to enclosed memo, I was demobilised 24-3-19 but was unable to commence work until 31-3-19 owing to a severe cold from change of climate. I am at present overhauling the stock which has become very much depleted during my absence and cannot yet give an exact amount of my income. May I beg to remind you that the cheque for the amount of the grant for last quarter has not yet been received and as the rent is now due it is very urgently required. It would be appreciated if you could inform me if any grants are being made to help to re-establish a business partly lost through absence”.
I don’t know if he had any success with this --- but I remember as a child it was said that my father could “sell a snowball to an Eskimo”. It would be nice to think that he had success.
There is a letter slipped in on April 17th, written by my Grandmother, to:-
F. Slagg Esq..
Dear Sir, I enclose cheque £12-10-0 rent due on April 18th.
So perhaps my father did get his money, after all.!!!
There are numerous letters asking where to buy Army surplus but I don’t know if he had any success.
There are also a number of letters to customers eg :
Mr J Illingworth,
Dear Sir, May I take this opportunity of thanking you for your continuous support during my absence overseas and can assure you that same is much appreciated.
Yours faithfully, A.R.Parkin”
When looking through the documents, I found one that I thought very significant -----
“ In consideration of the help I have received from my late father and my Mother in building up my business and according to promise .. I agree to give my Mother, Christiana Charlotte Parkin -- half of the Nett profits of my business as Builders Merchant or half the value of the stock if it is dissolved , during her lifetime, or if I should predecease her, then half the nett value of the said business and stock is hers, but if my Mother dies before me no claim to be made on me by her executors or any other person,
Hereto I set my hand this day. Dec 23rd 1920
A.R.Parkin Witness E.F.Beach (his friend )”
My father married my mother, Winifred Mary Townend , of Blind Hardwick Farm, Pontefract, 2 days later, on Christmas Day 1920.
I never knew my Grandmother, as she died when I was a baby, but I wish I had. I have tried to find out more about her --- and I am still trying. I know that she was well educated and not easily phased by her responsibilities. It was necessary for her to look after my grandfather when he became disabled by his rheumatism, as well as looking after the shop, in my father’s absence, and the needs of the rest of her family. My grandfather was a big, tall man and she was only small but I think quite formidable but also loving. This project has led me on this path ---- and I am really glad.