Archive | October, 2018

When the Army came to WN5

23 Oct

When the Army came to WN5

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The long grass afforded me some cover as I crawled forward on my belly. The enemy was near and sweat dripped down my nose and onto my rifle, glistening in the overhead sunshine. I cautiously moved forward towards my target and the end of my deadly mission not noticing the spider until it crawled onto my hand. “Shit!” I jumped up and with a cry of “Banzai!” Sean stuck the plastic bayonet repeatedly into my body while I danced about checking for more creepy crawlers…

I wasn’t cut out for the Army, my great grandfather was killed at the Somme, his brother at Gallipoli, my grandfather spent all his life in the Army and my dad was in Malaya. Then came me and I’m sure they picked up the wrong baby from Billinge Hospital in 1954.

Boys in the sixties were obsessed by war and toy shop windows reflected this. Guns, toy soldiers, hand grenades, rocket launchers all jostled for position to catch the eye of the mini marine. Badly assembled Airfix planes hung from my ceiling whilst a little platoon of marines attacked a unfeasibly small Bismark on my window ledge. In time they would all be replaced by models of Frankenstein, Dracula and friends but boys all over the country had bedrooms that resembled a World War 2 operations centre.

Comics reflected this mood and I was an avid reader of the Valiant, Victor, Hotspur and the king of war comics “Commando” In these pages the British always held the moral high ground and the foes they faced were sneaky murdering low life’s. Maybe it had a lot to do with the horrors of the two World Wars being within peoples living memories. Despite the Peace Movement of the sixties and the seventies war still continues to feast upon humankind.

But once upon a time we welcomed the tanks that rolled into WN5 with the fervour of a besieged town being repatriated…

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I don’t know which bigwig at the Ministry of Defence thought it would be a good idea to bring the army to our little corner of North West England but I’d like to shake his hand. It was the military version of Disneyland to the WN5 urchins. Laithwaite Park was a battleground during the football season as 40yr old men kicked lumps out of spotty faced 18yr olds but in summer we had our own assault course.

Kids from all over the estates flocked to the event as the army looked on bemused and a little nervous. They had a right to be wary; when the Fire Brigade moved its headquarters to Newtown they thought it would be a good idea to have an open day. A couple of hours later they had to prematurely close the event after kids threw the sign “Do not slide down the Pole” into the hole and hurtled down the pole like badly dressed lemmings on speed.

The Army event was ace; they had motorcycle stunt riders, dogs chasing armed gunmen and dragging the blokes to the floor whilst our famous WN5 bumming dogs looked on in awe for a few seconds before continuing their canine coupling. Kids, some still in their Spiderman pyjamas from Wigan Market (with a “Don’t stand near the fire!” warning hidden inside) threw themselves down Death Slides, launched themselves off Parachute Jumps, scrambled over high walls, climbed up cargo nets, swung on ropes, crawled under camouflage nets and had a brilliant time.

The peice de resistance of the show was the appearance of a Scorpion Tank! I pity the personnel who had to stand watch over this monster as kids crawled over it like ants over a bowl of sugar pops. Amazingly they allowed some kids to actually go inside the tank but sadly the controls were not available and the chance to blow up Tommy More School remained but a dream.

The only place on the field that wasn’t busy was the little Army Recruiting Hut. A rather forlorn Sergeant Major figure stood there trying to give out leaflets encouraging kids to seek out a career in the forces. That would require discipline, motivation and an ability to follow orders at the very least, a trait not common among the WN5 rabble rousers…

All too soon it was over and Laithwaite Park once again became the kicking fields. Still the Army visits left its mark on us youngsters and on the pitches as well. The sight of a fag smoking football player shouting out “What the f**k!” when he went arse over tip on a rutted tank track would have us laughing about the day the Army came to WN5…

Tony Topping