Wolds Wagoner

Farm workers from across the region joined up in their hundreds to fight on the Front during World War One.

Their special skills – including handling horses and pole wagons – were vital in keeping supply lines open.

Ernest West

Ernest West

They were known as Wold Wagoners – a Volunteer Reserve Force. Sir Mark Tatton Sykes, of Sledmere Hall, recruited about 1,000 of them.

There is a memorial to the farm lads who formed the Wagoners’ Special Reserve in the village of Sledmere, and was designed by their founder and commanding officer, Sir Mark Sykes.

The Wagoners, first recruited in 1912, were paid fifteen shillings a year from Sir Mark’s own pocket.

They were given a badge in silver metal showing a bridled horse’s head encircled by the unit title to wear on their lapel and a coloured ribbon button-hole for their waistcoats.

The Wagoners were mobilised within a couple of days of the declaration of war. It was an early harvest that year and many were handed their mobilisation papers in the field with orders to report to Bradford Moor Barracks by six o’clock that evening. Eight hundred Wagoners presented themselves in Bradford by the deadline and were put up in schools and church halls.

One such Wolds Wagoner was Ernest Henry West, the great grandfather of Paul West. He fought in France and Egypt – and, seemingly, never lost his enmity for the Hun.

Here Paul, who lives in Scarborough and works in Pickering, recounts the experiences of his great-grandfather and his family.

“Ernest came up to Scarborough from East Runton, Norfolk, some time pre-1907 – perhaps to help with the latter stages of the Marine Drive construction.

“He was a farm hand and was very good with heavy horses,” said Paul. “I know he worked on a farm near Wykeham and met my great grandma. In 1913 he was living at Staxton and enlisted with the Wolds Wagoners just before Christmas of that year.

“He enlisted at Flixton Village Hall and was CHT 565, CORPS of HORSE TRANSPORT.

“When war was declared in August 1914 they were already trained up to some degree,” said Paul . “A lot of them, though, were just called from the fields whilst working and with a brief visit home were sent to a gathering place at Bradford.

“Then being farmers they had to have quick army training before being sent out with the British Expeditionary Force to France.

“My great grandma was that upset that he had gone so quickly that she set off with her two children to walk from Staxton to Gristhorpe where her mother was staying.

“She set off with their young son Herbert, four, my Grandad, and their other child, a baby girl in a pram.

“It was a very wet, stormy day and the pram was a bit worse for wear and the bottom fell out.

“All including the baby were soaking wet by the time they got to Gristhorpe.

“Unfortunately the baby girl developed pneumonia and died while my great granddad was away.

“He was nicknamed ‘Radish’ when he lived in Norfolk but was called ‘Charley’ when he lived up here.

“Ernest served in France as a wagon driver and recalled that the worst part of his job was having to drive the horses and wagon on the quickest, staightest route while sometimes under fire.

“Often they would run over bodies that were lying in the way because they could not detour while avoiding shell holes .

“Wounded soldiers were sometimes run over too. Ernest’s leg was broken when he was run over by a wagon. He came back to England in 1915 to convalesce.

“When better he was sent to Palestine and spent the rest of his war there and in Egypt.

“He had brothers who fought in the Norfolk Regiment, one was taken prisoner of war quite early on. The other suffered from shellshock.

“Ernest died in 1958 and is buried in Rillington.

“He spent most of his life after World War One working as a shepherd at Scampston.

“He was supposed to be a lovely chap but with a habit of using colourful language at times,” said Paul.

“When Prime Minister Chamberlain didn’t declare war on the Germans to start with in World War Two, Ernest was that angry that he jumped up and down on the wireless.

“He also got told off once by my great grandma when he opened fire on a low flying German aeroplane that came within range of his cottage.

“The plane must have noticed because it came down and machine gunned his front door after he had gone back inside.”