Cousin Willy: A Yorkshire Lad

Cousin Willy turned fourteen:
Time to leave school and become a man.
Dad was a collier down the pit
And said, they need a lad down there
To drive the ponies.
Nice job, thought Willy, driving ponies.

The pit was dark and dusty,
Coal dust in your eyes, your nose, your mouth, your hair,
The ponies came out blinking once a year
To feed on fresh green grass
But not too much (colic!)
Then back into the black.
Willy and his pony were a team
Short and sturdy both
Bound by a bond of mutual dependence in the dark,

Willy turned eighteen:

Your King and Country need you!

Screamed the posters
So Willy came out blinking,
Went to war, seeking
Adventure, glory, honour, fun!
He went abroad, to France
And Flanders fields.
And fell.

MUSGRAVE: Pte. William, 15083, 8th Bn. Northumberland Fusiliers. 26th Sept. 1916. Age 20. Son of Joseph William and Mary Musgrave, of 41, Hatherly Rd, Tinsley, Sheffield.

Battle of the Somme

7 thoughts on “Cousin Willy: A Yorkshire Lad

  1. Why do you call him cousin? Was he known to you?
    “The ponies came out blinking once a year”. That’s amazing that they always had to stay in the dark –
    “Your King and Country need you!”
    So he fell at the Battle of the Somme. What a short life!
    Leaving school at fourteen and then straight to work.In our society today kids attend school usually till age eighteen.. Then some go to uni, others get jobs. But sadly too many end up being unemployed. Why are there not jobs for all the young people? And why do some young people constantly get drunk and look for fights in the streets?

    • Hi Uta – He was my mother’s cousin, killed when she was a little baby so she never knew him. But there were thousands like him, one of the early volunteers. His grave is unknown, somewhere near the Somme. And pit ponies were used until the 1960’s – unbelievable!

      • Hi Catterel – I have just came across your blog regarding your cousin William Musgrave, I am currently researching William and his brother Walter as part of a ww1 project, Would you know if Walter served in the war? I know the family lived in Tinsley, what happened to them after the war? And do you know if William is mentioned on a war memorial anywhere.

  2. Peter’s paternal grandfathers had received military training. As ‘Landsturmmann he was in the reserve, As a reserve he was called up when war broke out. He died as a soldier in 1916. Peter was able to find out that he is buried near Lille in France.

    Peter’s father, Richard, was born in 1900. So he was only 16 when his father died in France. Before the end of World War I, Richard joined the army as a volunteer. He was also a soldier in WW II. So he was in both wars and survived them.

    Pit ponies in the 1960s! How unbelievable indeed.

    • If you follow my link to the Battle of the Somme, you will see the staggering numbers of men killed and injured on both sides of that dreadful, mishandled conflict. Peter’s father was very fortunate.

      • Terrible, terrible war. A lot of Australians died not only at Gallipoli, but in France too. If the young Richard had died in this war, there would not be any Peter!

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