WW II, a British focus



Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008poppy.gif - 1571 Bytes


"Tick f---n' tock, do we 'ave tu' listen tu that fn thing every fn day," moaned one bloke who was laid on his bunk trying to read. "Shut yer moanin, yu miserable turd" said a voice from behind another bunk. I was laid on my bunk and listened to this banter and having a quiet chuckle to myself. I had made a boat in one camp probably just because there was a pond to sail a boat on, now I had made a clock, because it gave me something to do. At first no one took any notice of me metal bashing. I would get an empty tin and with a small piece of sharpened metal bar and with another metal bar as a hammer, I would cut the tin and make cooking trays, so if one of our lads, or any of the others, --we got the odd bloke would wander into our barrack room, "who's the bloke as makes tin trays?" they would inquire. And to a chorus of "oh God, not agin, bang bank fn' bang y'don yu f---koff.

The bloke would approach and with a nod "hi, dyu' reckon yu cud mek me a trae hap'n so ah cud cuk me spuds en et ave ony got two fags, (all in one breath,) I think mabye so I couldn't say "no" before he'd finished talking. But I would have made him one for nothing if he had no fags. I was just glad I had the nack to make things, but the two fags were as good as money, well better because money had no value in a POW camp. Some blokes were not as free and easy as I was, so I said I usually charge 4 fags for a tin tray and he looked disappointed and mumbled "shit ah've on'y got two", so seeing he was genuine I said ok you keep one fag and give me one and I'll make your tray.

For a while I lay on my bunk and found myself analyzing the conversation that from time to time would float round the room or through the open window from blokes out side, and one time I heard "we could start tomorrow" and it would fade as they moved away and I thought "yea, walls have ears, you never know who is listening". Another time "I'll swap you this for two of those, they are easier to carry when we go", and I thought why doesn't he borrow Jerries camp speakers and let every bugger in the camp know. "What time is it," asked a voice, just four little words, but the response sometimes to a simple question could bring the house down. Trouble was most blokes with nothing to do all day would lay on their bunks and if someone was thinking fondly about his sweetheart who would be waiting for him when he got home, yuc, yuc, clean pinny on, and hair permed, cherry lips, and loads of red roses growing round the front door, get the picture,? When suddenly this coarse voice comes up with "wot toime eset then?" Our mate who had just been mentally adjusting his tie and whetting his lips with his tongue in anticipation of a smacker on the gob replies with, "ow the fc should oi know, bleed'n Big Ben oi ain't" and as this bit of enlightening info permeated most brains in the area, someone would start to chant "why did yu flog yu watch, why did yu flog yu watch, knees up knees up, don't get the breeze up, if I catch you bending I'll saw yu legs right off, knees up, knees up, why did yu flog yu watch, and soon everyone would join in.

Sometimes the guard on the wire would pause in his walk to the next tower and he would look toward our barracks and slowly shake his head and one could almost hear him thinking, "what am I doing here watching a load of idiots from England singing their heads off, what they got to sing about, they are the prisoners and singing, I'm out here and as soon as it pisses down I get wet through while they sit by a nice warm stove.

Well we had a picture of a scantily dressed girl on the brickwork but it was a cover for a map on the reverse side, we also had a notice board, and to my mind all that was missing was a clock, and I suddenly thought what a challenge , make a clock with nothing more than an old hacksaw blade (nicked from a pub tool shed) with the back of the blade sharpened and some cloth and string wrapped round it, it could cut metal and whittle wood so there was no way I would part with it. So armed with my tool kit, to whit, one old hacksaw blade, one iron bar (me hammer) and a sharp nail, ground down on cement to make it a chisel, I began collecting various tins. The bloke in the next bed noticing all the tins under my bunk saw me stash two more and resting the book he had been reading on his chest he leaned over and whispered, "yu will need someone to navigate fer yu, I can navigate good" and reaching up he turned his battledress so I could see the N in the circle and half a birds wing above the left pocket, so he was a navigator in the R.A.F. I said "what are you whispering for" and he did a quick look left, then right, and screwd his face up as he hunched his shoulders and whispered shssssssssssssssh, "I know what you are going to build". And I asked "who told you?" And again the finger upright on the mouth "not so loud every bugger will want to come with us" and I said "what the hell are yu burbling about". Suddenly the hair on the back of my neck began to stand up, "I was sleeping near a nutter, he could think I was a Jerry in the night and cut my throat , I gotta move. "We got to save grub up tu take wi'us," he was still in a fantasy world, what stupid book was he reading, God, Treasure Island.
"Do you need a hand to build it?"
"build what?"
"the submarine"
"what submarine, I'm building a clock".

A long silence, and I could imagine someone putting the corner of a sheet of blotting paper on an ink blob and watch the ink as it crawled up the paper. His brain was doing just that because it just looked like buying a pound of bacon, you watch the needle on the scales sweep round, then crawl to the correct weight, so it was with his face as the information registered and the look on his face changed and a faraway look took it's place. He picked up his book again and turning his back on me he lay and read his book, this bloke was ready for home.

I started work on my clock and came across problems straight away, there was no way to put a spindle through a tin lid and fit another tin lid on the same spindle and drive both because the lid has no grip on the spindle and since I had no welding gear I had to sit and think about it. Now I came up against lots of problems but I will bypass most otherwise this could get suddenly boring, but this spindle and lid problem had to be solved, or no clock.

It was tedious but it worked some thing like this, I cut a cross in the center of each lid then hammered the four triangle outward, then I did ditto to another lid, then I put them face to face and riveted them together using small cut down nails. Next, I removed the rims, then carefully measuring I cut teeth, and I now had a large gear wheel. Now I got a bit of wood and shaved it square until it fit into the square of the wheel, then I did ditto to a smaller wheel and mounted it to the same shaft, the wooden center was then removed and cut length ways and a red hot nail was laid to make half a groove in the wood the same was done to the other half and when put together there was a clean straight hole through the wood. When it was assembled I had a spindle bound tight with cotton and laquered with a big cog wheel about 4ins across and a little cog about 1ins. across, I made three like this and one with a big cog only but with a drum to accept the string with a weight to drive the clock. The escape wheel was different in that each tooth had to be shaped to push the pendulum at the end of it's swing.

A huge cheer went up as we mounted the clock, not because we now had a time piece, but to quote one bloke" thank f---k fer thaaat now mebbe we can ger a bit o' piece an' quiet in the afternoons. Well it had taken me off and on about two months, and with all the noise complaints I had moved into the wash house to make my clock. Let's face it it's not everyday some one makes a clock that keeps perfect time with just a hack saw blade and tin, not forgetting a bit of wood and nails as spindles. For what it is worth by the way we had an air raid one night and the clock fell off the wall due to vibrations of the bombing. We thought we had an unexploded bomb in our barracks until some one pointed out the clock had fallen off it's nail. The big thump was the bucket of concrete needed to drive the clock as it hit the wooden barracks floor. T.O.B.1997


2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.
Tom Barker