Harry Mickleburgh (1897)
Harry Mickleburgh was born on 12th.July 1897 of Lillian Mickleburgh and Henry Minns Riches, in Horningtoft, Norfolk.
He was registered and christened as Harry (or in one case Henry) Edward Riches Mickleburgh, but was always known as Harry.
His mother married his father shortly after his birth and became Lillian Riches and lived at Whissonsett. Although he was close to his mother and later siblings, he was raised by his grandparents, Tom & Sarah Mickleburgh, who lived in Dodmans Lane, Horningtoft and to whom he had a tremendous loyalty and affection.
Harry went to school at Whissonset and claimed that there were not many days that he wasn't caned for something. It was often for being late as he rose at 4.30 a.m to start tending the animals on the local farm at 5.00 a.m. before going to school. Any bother with the animals would cause him to be late for school and he would receive a beating that would raise clouds of dust from the animal feed in his cord breeches. He also returned to the farm after school to bed the animals for the night. During the lambing season he would be away from school for three weeks to a month, while he lived, worked and slept with the shepherd, in a little wooden hut on wheels, that they moved from field to field.
A summer evening pastime of the village children was to walk to the Hurdle public house to see the Royal Mail petrol driven van roar past, on its way from Dereham to Fakenham, at precisely the same time every evening. Petrol driven vehicles were still a rarity at this time.
Throughout his life Harry had a passionate love of raw eggs, be they wild bird or hens eggs. He would prick a hole in each end and suck out the contents. He did this on the farm where he worked. One day the farmer visited Thomas and said "Your young Harry is stealing my eggs. We have set a trap and it must be him". Thomas who had a formidable reputation for straight dealing and honesty asked Harry, "Have you taken his eggs ?" Harry in a panic at the thoughts of a beating with a heavy leather belt, denied the charge and Thomas turned to the farmer, who was his employer and landlord, and said " I have brought that boy up straight, if he says he didn't take them eggs, then he didn't take them eggs, so get out of here." Harry, in later life said it was the greatest lesson of his life. He felt terrible and wished he had taken the beating and he never ever lied to the old man again.
On a sadder occasion when he was in a group of children who had just come out of Whissonsett school they were overtaken by a large traction engine and clambered up onto the bank to let it pass.. One girl lost her grip on the hedge and was instantly killed by the large rear wheel passing right over her. The driver was unable to hear the children shouting above the noise of the engine and probably could not have stopped anyway. .The next day on the way home from school Harry climbed the bank and carved a large cross on the bark of a hawthorn bush to mark the spot and many years later we never passed that way without him checking that it was still there. Thinking back I was struck by the fact that they all went to school as normal on the following day. Nowadays they would be under stress counselling for weeks but they were more used to life and death in those days. I believe that the incident is recorded in back issues of the Dereham and Fakenham Times but I have never confirmed that.
Harry kept some of his old school text books for many years although I do not know where they ended up. Everything was learned by copying or chanting by rote but he wrote a beautiful copper plate hand, that I could never emulate, and passed the examination in the three Rs that enabled him to leave school shortly after his 13th.birthday.
Each year Harry's Christmas stocking contained an orange, an apple and a few nuts. It was the only time he had an orange or bought nuts as he always reminded me when I had a surfeit of toys on Christmas morning.
When he left school Harry immediately went to work full time on the farm and he spent his entire first weeks wage in having the large photographs made of Sarah and Thomas.
In the spring of 1914 he joined the railway at Dereham as an engine cleaner but six weeks later he enlisted, underage, in the army together with thousands of other young men and after a very short period of training was in France for his 17th.birthday. He served throughout the war, going over the top five times. To me as a boy he would talk very little of the war, he would not wear his medals and would not join the British Legion or any such organisation, saying he just wanted to forget it all. He did say that none of the men went over the top out of bravery but because as well as the leading officer who was usually the first to be killed there were other officers behind them to shoot any man that dropped out or turned back. On one raid, towards the end of the war, he was seriously wounded by a shrapnel burst and lay in a shell hole for three days before he was rescued, and returned to England on a hospital ship. After a four month "Blighty" he was returned to the front for light duties and was assigned to a senior officer as a batman. The war ended soon after that and he went with the officer in the army of occupation to spend some time in Paris, Warsaw and Egypt. Finally returning to Horningtoft he was one of the fortunate ones with a job kept open for him on the railway. Fed up with cycling to Dereham each day he moved into lodgings in Dereham but returned to Horningtoft every weekend. While on leave from France he had met my mother, Gladys Victoria Myhill of Whinburgh, (who was is service at the family home of Thomas Mack and Sons, Builders at Dereham ) They were married in Horningtoft church, where Harry had been in the choir, with the reception held in the cottage of Thomas and Sarah with the next door neighbour, Oscar Nix, providing music on the mandolin.
Harry developed into a very strong man and did not suffer too much from his wounds.However, up to 20 years later, he would be off colour for a day or two and then a piece of shrapnel would emerge from his back. He was brought up to the Victorian ethic, that pain was good for you, he had a tremendous resistance to pain. A fact which was much remarked on by surgeons and doctors, when in his later years, he was one of the first people to receive a hip transplant in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital, where this operation was pioneered.
After 3 years engine cleaning, he served 16 years as an Engine Fireman at Dereham. Later moving to Norwich for promotion in 1936, he worked his way from Local Goods, driving through various grades and finished his railway career driving the Norwich -London, East Anglian Express.
While Thomas and Sarah lived, he remained very much attached to them. After Thomas died, scarcely a week went by that he did not visit Sarah to cut her corns with an old cutthroat razor (to the accompaniment of much squawking from Sarah), trim her hair and attend to the running of the house.