Bill Hanna’s life

In father’s absence at first – for six months or so – we stayed at Grandfather Bicker’s in Poyntzpass. Then my two sisters were fostered to two married aunts. 

I was taken in by Granny Hanna who had already reared nine sons. She was more comfortable with boys. This was to my advantage as she was a lovely person and respected by all. Her life had been hard, helping grandfather to run the farm as well as rearing so many sons. It was a sad day for me when grandmother died when I was fourteen. 

During the period 1926-1941 my life revolved around school at first, and then the farm. Only one of the nine sons remained at home, my uncle Jack. He went round the country with a steam engine (later a tractor) and a threshing machine. From the age of eight I worked with grandfather around the farm. I had to learn fast. This mixed farm had many crops – potatoes, corn, barley, wheat, flax and turnips – and many animals – milk cows, beef cows, pigs, sheep and horses. I enjoyed this life, not knowing any other. I suppose I’d have liked more time to play with friends such as Harry Poole, Reggie Clarke and Harry Brown. 

There were never any toys at Christmas, just an orange and a bar of chocolate. I was grateful for this: I knew my grandparents were short of cash. There were two big occasions in my annual calendar. Cremore Church sports day for children took place on James Shaw’s (the eggman) field.  At the finish mugs of tea and currant buns were distributed. Then there was the annual Sunday School outing. We went to Newcastle or Warrenpoint for the day. Grandfather would give me sixpence to spend, but would remark: Mind you don’t spend all of that! I expect something back! With this large sum I would get a bottle of pop and a couple of currant buns. There were times when I would bring back a penny or two to hand over to grandfather.

My first bicycle was a real museum piece. There was no saddle and no tyres on the wheels. I rode with my leg through the frame. To brake I pushed my foot between the frame and the wheel. This bone-shaker was just for us to play with round the farm.

When war broke out, I was just fourteen. Hearing all the stories of the Battle of Britain I decided I would join the services as quickly as possible. My mother seems to have smoothed the way for my entry with Sgt Taylor of Poyntzpass, the Recruiting Sergeant. Although I was two years under age I was accepted. I joined the Royal Ulster Rifles and caught a train to Ballymena. I embarked on a new way of life which was to occupy me for the next twenty-four years. I served all over the world and found a wife in Hamburg, Germany. We’ve been married for almost forty years.

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