Bolton Remembers the War Logo
John Makin - Telegraph Boy + Home Guard
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John Makin
John Makin



John Makin

3 August 2005

John was born in 1925 in Haslam Maternity Home, Chorley New Road, Bolton. His father served in the First World War and was manager of Robert Entwistle's Lincoln Mill in Washington Street, Bolton. He went to Chalfont Street School and at 14 got a job as a Boy Messenger - popularly known as a Telegraph Boy - with the Post Office.

He delivered telegrams for two years during the War, and was often the bearer of bad news, riding to each address by bicycle and carrying a gas mask and helmet. John then trained as a telephone engineer and was entitled to an extra 2 ounces of cheese because he was employed outside.

Because of his job he had to join the GPO Home Guard and remembers the experience with amusement. He went to the Palais about three nights a week, socialised with American GIs and was a member of Bolton Harriers, being a keen wrestler. After the War he had a long career in the Post Office and BT on the engineering side.

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Good news and bad...mp3 sound clip - 852k Good news and bad...mp3 sound clip - 852k

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Good news and bad...

Delivering telegrams... sometimes it was obviously a telegram the message of which would upset people and I think there had been occasions where lads had taken telegrams to mothers, ladies, wives - with bad news - and it became evident that the telegraph boy should know what the content of the message was so that he could be aware that the person receiving the message might be upset. So, after Dunkirk, we began to be told that the message contained bad news, specifically - it was a death. On some occasions we was advised to see if there was anyone available next door and just say would they please wait until you'd delivered the message and then the lady next door could give assistance... was it needed. Thinking back on it, it seems as it might have been a little unwise to do that, but that's how I remember it. They were difficult times. When we rode into a street, everyone started coming to their doors to see which door we were going to, of course, they would be wondering what the message was. There was a great deal of telegrams then, each time we went out. I suppose on a working day I travelled six miles per hour - that was the official speed at which we were supposed to ride our bicycles. And we would go out, I would think, with about ten telegrams on each journey out and we would do about six journeys per working day, so, I suppose we would deliver between fifty and sixty telegrams. Of course, there were telegrams which were pleasant to deliver - greetings telegrams, taking telegrams to a wedding at the Pack Horse Hotel, and the best man would receive those and he had a silver threepenny piece or a sixpence specifically in his pocket to give to the telegraph boys who were taking telegrams of congratulations.

There was one where... I didn't know it was bad news and I had pushed the telegram under her door and seemingly, it had gone under some lino so that it was missed for a couple of days and I was hauled in and what had I done with this telegram. Really we weren't supposed to leave telegrams like that. We were supposed to take them back and it was always policy for us to ask to see if there was a reply and sometimes a telegram would be ‘Reply Paid' - the sender had paid for a reply. So when it was Reply Paid we had to deliver it in person to the person it was addressed to and wait for that reply. Very interesting, going to the Grand Theatre and the Theatre Royal and seeing famous band leaders and George Formby on his motorbike in black leathers with Beryl, also in black leathers.

The Battle of the Town Hall steps...

Yes, well I'll try not to laugh, but... We were called up into the Home Guard, I think, at seventeen, and being employed in the GPO I had to join the GPO Home Guard. The GPO had it's own Home Guard because the intention was that, that battalion of Home Guard were there to defend the Telephone Exchange, and that's where I nearly start laughing, when I say defend the Telephone Exchange, because, it does cause one to smile when you think of what went on! There were a lot of... thousands of Americans at... that place near Warrington - Burtonwood, and they had nothing to do before D-Day and in order to find them something to do, they used to do exercises. Certainly on a Sunday - that's when we came in contact with them - attacking Bolton. And their objective, so we were told, was to capture the Telephone Exchange and capture the Town Hall. And once they got into the Post Office yard, we had an old postman there, he was about seventy with a revolver strapped round his waist... He was the only one that was armed. We had our rifles, but we never saw any bullets! Maybe they had some hidden away somewhere, but... We had a bayonet, 1914 style, the ones about 18 inches long... And the Americans used to come in on trucks, and I know for a fact that they disembarked at the bottom of Chorley New Road at the junction with St George's Road. Because, on one or two occasions my point of duty was to go and stand at the end of Vernon Street and St George's Road and watch for any trucks coming down, and as soon as I saw them, we had people that we could wave to, and get word back - mind you we were in the telephone service and we didn't use telephones! We either waved or shouted to get word back to our officers at the Post Office that the Americans had been sighted. Sometimes, the Americans would go down Chorley Street, and that would deceive us, and then they would go along the bottom by Brydson's Croft, following the River Croal, under the high level bridge and onto the back of the Post Office. I can't remember that the Telephone Exchange was ever captured. I know the Town Hall was captured because I actually saw American troops at the top of the Town Hall steps, and that said that the Town Hall had been captured. On one occasion, we'd finished, I was going home... going to catch the tram home and I was crossing the Town Hall Square when someone, foolishly - and I don't know which side had done it first, whether it was the Americans, or the Home Guard - had fixed their bayonets and that had caused some upset between one side or the other with some choice language being used about the you come near me with that, about what would happen and it all had to be smoothed out by an officer coming and telling them to keep their cool and (laughs) nothing was meant by it and shaking hands!