Tom Harper And A Dark Steel Death

It’s not that long since The Blood Covenant was published, and I still firmly believe e it’s the best book I’ve put out…so far.

But A Dark Steel Death is coming to give it a run for its money in September. It’s the 11th Tom Harper novel, set in Leeds in 1917, the grimmest days of the Great War.

What’s it about? Sabotage, traitors…perhaps. The story isn’t as straightforward as that. Here’s a short extract from somewhere near the beginning for you to read and whet your appetite.

It’s available to pre-order from all the usual sources, but here is the cheapest, with free UK postage. However, please, do give your business to indies if you can.

Oh, keep scrolling after the extract to see the cover. It’s a cracker.

He was starting to believe that he lived in a world made of paper. It never ended: the correspondence from the War Office, the Home Office, the watch committee, divisional heads . . . the minutes of all the meetings. It was probably all important. But Tom Harper felt as if it had nothing to do with coppering. He’d cleared his desk yesterday, starting the week with good intentions. Now it was Tuesday morning and he knew he’d be buried under another blizzard of paper.

            For the last month things had been worse: Chief Constable Parker had been on sick leave with pneumonia. A week in hospital, but now he was recovering. It was a slow process; he wasn’t likely to return before March. And that meant Harper was stuck with two jobs.

            He pulled out his watch and opened the cover. Quarter to seven. Hardly light yet outside. With luck, he’d have the next fifteen minutes to himself. It might be all he’d manage in the days that began and ended while it was still dark.

            Then the telephone rang.

            ‘We have trouble, sir.’ Superintendent Ash. His voice was immediately recognizable, even turned hard and metallic on the line.

            Harper tensed. ‘Why? What’s happened? Is something wrong at Millgarth?’

             ‘Not here, sir. It’s the army clothing depot. You remember they took over the old tram sheds and the King’s Mill next door to it back in 1914?’

            Harper felt the shiver of fear crawl up his spine.       

‘Yes, of course.’ He’d been part of the group invited to tour the buildings before they opened. Ton after ton of garments sorted, inspected and bundled every week before they were sent off to the soldiers. A gigantic operation.

            ‘Two hours ago, the night watchman was making his final round at the mill.’ Ash paused, considering his words. ‘He thought he heard someone dashing off, then he found a box of matches and some torn-up newspaper in a corner. Came straight outside and reported it to the bobby on guard. His sergeant started the constables searching, then he rang me.’

            Christ Almighty, someone starting a fire in a place like that, filled with clothes . . . the place would be an inferno before anyone could stop it.

            ‘I’ve had men going through the place from top to bottom, sir,’ Ash continued.

‘What have they found?’ He was gripping the instrument so tight that his knuckles had turned white.

            ‘Nothing, sir. I’ve had them search that other depot on Park Row with a nit comb, too. It’s clean. That’s where I am right now.’

            Sabotage. It couldn’t be anything else. The thoughts roared through his head, hammering hard against his skull.

            ‘I’ll be there in five minutes.’

‘Yes, sir. I haven’t informed the army yet.’

‘Leave that to me,’ Harper promised. ‘I want someone vetting the records of everyone who works in those places,’ Harper said.

            ‘Walsh is already on it. One of the new detective constables is helping him.’

            He thanked God that Walsh was too old to go and fight. Twice he’d tried to join up; both times he’d been turned away at the recruiting station. Just as well; they needed experienced men like him to stay in the force.

            His secretary was hanging up her coat as he rushed out.

            ‘You have Inspector Collins at eight,’ Miss Sharp told him.

            ‘Tell him I’ll try to be back by nine.’

His mouth was dry and his heart beating a terrified tattoo in his chest as he dashed down Park Row. Another raw winter’s day, coming on dawn, the morning sky pale and mottled with high clouds and a thin north wind. He could have been a businessman hurrying down the street to his office, buried in his overcoat and hat. But he had more important things on his mind than profit and loss. Barnbow last month, and they didn’t know the cause yet. Now this.

            Leeds had a saboteur.

            And the police needed to stop him.

            Ash was waiting outside the warehouse. He was still a big, brawny man, but with the years he’d acquired plenty of padding. His belly jutted under the waistcoat and his neck had grown thick and fleshy. With his white hair and lined face, and the spectacles perched on his nose, he’d come to look like an old, wise man. Time had left its mark on him, but it had on them all. By rights, he and Harper should both have been put out to grass by now. But with so many good men, younger men, gone to war, they were needed. And they were working longer, harder hours than ever before.

            ‘The army will be here in a moment,’ Harper said, and nodded at the staff car racing along the road.

Brigadier Fox looked too young for his rank, barely forty, but Harper knew he’d earned it, gunned down twice in no man’s land and patched up before going back to the trenches. Now permanently back in England after a third wound left him needing a stick to walk. These days he supervised the garrison at Carlton barracks and was in charge of security at the facilities in Leeds. A war hero and his men loved him for it.

            ‘Brian,’ Harper said as they shook hands. ‘This is Superintendent Ash. You can trust him with your life. I have.’

            A nod and a smile, then Fox’s expression turned grim. ‘What are we going to do about this? We need to discover who’s behind it before he has chance to do any damage.’

            ‘Increase the patrols every night,’ Ash suggested. ‘Vary the times, so there’s no routine.’

            ‘Nobody in or out without proper identification,’ Harper added. ‘Search everyone. No matches or cigarette lighters allowed inside.’

            The brigadier opened his mouth as if to object, then stopped.

            ‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘All sensible. We’ll do that. I’ll post a couple of armed sentries at each of the other places.’ He gave a sad, twisted smile. ‘A rifle and a bayonet can scare people off very effectively.’

            The staff car took them to the clothing depot on Swinegate. The building was faceless, anonymous, the stone black with decades of soot. Royal Army Clothing Depot was stencilled across the wide double gates, the letters beginning to fade.

The old watchman, a worried, defensive fellow with patches of white stubble on his cheeks, stared down at his boots as he told his story once again.

A Brand New Tom Harper Novel

Later this year, there’s a new Tom Harper book coming. It’s called A Dark Steel Death and it’s set during the First World War…

Leeds. December, 1916. Deputy Chief Constable Tom Harper is called out in the middle of the night when a huge explosion rips through a munitions factory supplying war materials, leaving death and destruction in its wake. A month later, matches and paper to start a fire are found in an army clothing depot. It’s a chilling discovery: there’s a saboteur running loose on the streets of Leeds. 

As so many give their lives in the trenches, Harper and his men are working harder than ever – and their investigation takes a dark twist with two shootings, at the local steelworks and a hospital. With his back against the wall and the war effort at stake, Harper can’t afford to fail. But can he catch the traitor intent on bringing terror to Leeds? 

Would you like a very early look at the cover? Scroll down. But first, I’m going to say with pride that the beautiful Leeds Library, the oldest subscription library in Britain, founded in 1768 (read about it here) has listed their most-borrowed titles of the last 30 years, and The Broken Token is in there at number eight, among some huge names. I honestly feel pretty humble.

And now for the cover of A Dark Steel Death. What do you think? Please, let me know.

A Sale Of Effects – 1919

With five matches left in the season, Leeds United might – just might – make automatic promotion to the Premier. If not, we have the agony of the playoffs.

But that means I’ve picked a football story to finish the week of stories (and each one has the subliminal ad making you want to buy my new book, The Leaden Heart. This is what happened after Leeds City was removed from the Football League. It was the first time they had it in for us, but certainly not the last. Like several others, this is from my collection of short stories based around Leeds history called Leeds, The Biography. And since as you asked, you can buy it here!


Billy Cartwright moved down King Street, leaning heavily on the crutch so the cast barely touched the ground. After a week he had the hang of it and he could swing along easily, almost as quickly as someone walking.

At the Metropole Hotel he eased himself up the stairs. A sign with an arrow stood on an easel – Leeds City Sale – and he followed along a heavily carpeted corridor to a large room already covered in a fug of smoke. Cups of tea stood on some of the tables, and men in good suits sat puffing on their pipes and talking as they looked through the list of items for sale.

He saw a hand go up and Fred Linfoot waved him over. All the players had gathered together at the back, crowded around three large tables. The auction hadn’t begun yet but the ashtrays were already full, cigarette butts crushed down together.

“How long before it’s off?” John Sampson asked.

“A week,” Billy answered. The broken leg was stretched out, the crutch lying on the floor, out of the way. He glanced around. There were men here from every club in the league, older businessmen with serious faces and brass in their hearts. Prosperous men who sat straighter as the auctioneer approached his lectern. It was time for business and that was why they’d come to Leeds.

A Sale of Effects, the notice had read. Only four words. Billy had seen the advertisement in the Yorkshire Post, scarcely believing four words could take in so much. Metropole Hotel, 17th October, conducted by S. Whittam and Sons. He’d looked at it again and again before he’d pushed the paper across the table. Another hour or so and it would be as if Leeds City had never existed. Even the goal netting and the balls would be sold off. The players auctioned like they were slaves.

He knew who’d fetch the best price – Billy McLeod. He was the best player by far, the one everyone would want. He sat quietly, listening to the conversations around him.

It was all a stupid bloody mess and if it hadn’t been for Charlie Copeland they wouldn’t be here today. The way he understood it, if Charlie hadn’t reported the club to the FA for paying players during the war, none of this would have happened. Or if Leeds had been willing to produce its books when it was asked. Instead, the chairman had refused and they’d all paid the price. Kicked out of the League, wound up, everything must go.

There’d be more to it, Billy thought. There always was, wheels within wheels, and someone would have made something. They always did, although none of it would come down to them on the sharp end.

The auctioneer banged the gavel and the room was suddenly silent and alert. He was going to start with the players, the club’s most important asset, he said, some short speech about how sad this occasion was, the end of an era.

Billy’s mouth was dry. Everything rested on this. He’d be happy if someone offered two hundred pounds for him. Even a hundred or just fifty. Anything to keep him playing.

The problem was that he’d never run out for the club. He only turned eighteen during the summer and signed for the club in September. Then, during the second week of training there’d been the tackle. As soon as it happened, he knew. It was all he could do not to yell and start crying like a kid. A broken tibia, that was what the doctor said after they’d driven him to the Infirmary. Eight weeks in plaster. And after that it’d be a good three months before he’d be fit again, the muscle built back up and ready. By Christmas – if he was lucky.

They’d been the worst six weeks of his life. Cooped up at home every day, just his mam for company while his father and his brothers went off to work. No brass in his pocket. Just down to Elland Road for the home matches, wishing for time to pass until it could be him out there.

He was good enough. He had to believe he was. He’d played inside right for Leeds Schoolboys until he left when he was fourteen, and then he’d been in the works team at Blackburn’s, the Olympia Works up on Roundhay Road. Saturday mornings off, paid, to play up on Soldiers’ Field. It hadn’t been a bad life. The old factory that had once been a roller-skating rink was fun, a good bunch to work with.

But he’d known he wasn’t going to stay. At fifteen he tried to join up, to follow his brother into the Leeds Pals. A worn-out sergeant told him to come back when he was old enough. He did, a year later, birth certificate tight in his fist. A week later he was in Catterick, learning what it meant to be a Tommy.

By December of ’17 he’d been in France for six weeks. He was already scared, sick and dirtier than he could have believed. Half of those he’d known in training were already dead, He was numb inside, just living from hour to hour. After a week in the trenches he’d wondered if he’d ever feel warm and dry again. After three weeks, he didn’t care, just as long as he lived to the end of this war and he could know some silence again.

Come Armistice Day he didn’t know where he was. It was simply another muddy hole in another muddy, lifeless landscape. It could have been in France, Belgium or Germany. He didn’t know and it didn’t matter. The important thing was they could put down their guns and not worry about being killed.

He could look forward to a hot bath, Billy thought, and going home. Looking around, he could see the same thought in every pair of eyes.


He ended up walking halfway to the coast. Their transport never arrived and after waiting for three days the brigadier gave up and ordered them to start on foot. It was a slow march. They were all eager to be back in Blighty, but they were weary, half-fed creatures. The leather of Billy’s boots had rotted away in places, he had trench foot; each step took effort. The further they travelled from the front, the more they seemed to be walking into a dream of green fields and houses that hadn’t been demolished by shells. The type of places they’d almost forgotten.

He wasn’t home for Christmas. He’d spent that in hospital while they tended his feet. He hobbled home in January, his mother’s arms around him as soon as he was through the front door. Not his oldest brother, though. He’d never come back.

Billy was still thin, still weak. He wasn’t even eighteen yet and he’d seen enough death for seven lifetimes. His ma made him beef tea three times a day and forced as much food as he could manage down him. He started back at Blackburn’s and began training for the works team again. He ran after work and cut down on to ten Park Drive a week.

Before the end of the season he was the first choice for inside right again, more reckless now, as if he knew there was nothing in the game that could scare him. He tackled hard, he ran and he scored, three goals in five games.

The summer, with no matches, left him restless, too full of energy but with nothing to do until his birthday and his trial for Leeds City. He kept up the running, taking off after work for a circuit of Roundhay Park, along by the big lake, through the gorge and back before catching the bus home. Saturday afternoons, when Leeds were playing away, he’d try to cajole workmates into a kick around, something to keep his skills sharp.

Until the trial he’d been confident. For too long people had told him he was a good footballer. He was always the best in any team. But the others there were his equals. Some were better, he had no doubt about that. They made him sweat, made him play, made him think. And when it was over, for the first time he had to wonder if he was good enough.

For the next three days he was on edge, going straight home from work to see if there’d been any post for him. When it finally arrived he let it sit in his hand, as if its weight might tell him what was inside. It took courage to open the envelope, and he had to breathe hard before unfolding the letter.

Dear Mr, Cartwright…

He read it through twice to be certain he was right. They were taking him on at three pounds a week. For the rest of the evening he couldn’t stop smiling, then couldn’t rest in his bed although he had to work in the morning. He gave his notice, and before the end of September he was training every day at Elland Road, seeing the men he’d only cheered from the terraces. More than that, he was playing against them and just beginning to understand how much he had to learn. He wasn’t good; he’d barely even started.

The divot shouldn’t have been there. They all said that later. But he’d been chasing down a long pass, watching the ball, not the pitch. His studs caught and he went down awkwardly. Barely two weeks into his professional career and he’d broken his leg.


Each club offered a sealed bid for the players they wanted. Billy wasn’t surprised when McLeod went for £1,250. He outclassed everyone else in the side. Glancing over, he could see the mix of pride and relief on the man’s face. Then it was Harry Millership and John Hampson, a thousand each. And then it was down the line – eight hundred, six hundred, five – all the way to Frank Chipperfield, off to Wednesday for a hundred. That left seven of them looking worriedly at each other. The auctioneer coughed. Four had new clubs. No fee. No one for Mick Sutcliffe, Charlie Foley. Or for him.

By the time he was listening again, they were selling off the goal posts and the nets. He pushed himself up, leaning heavily on the crutch, and made his way out, threading through the tight spaces between tables. None of the men from other clubs bothered to look up at him.

Out in the corridor he stopped to light a cigarette. As he was about to move off again, he heard the man say,


He turned. The manager was there, Mr. Chapman, the one who’d picked him out from the trial. Just like Leeds City, he’d been banned from football, that was what Billy had heard, although the rumour was that he was going to appeal. He was growing heavy at the waist, the start of jowls on his face. He gave a sad smile.

“Yes, boss?”

“I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry, lad. I had a word with them, said you had potential. But they didn’t want to take a chance.” He shrugged slightly.

“Thank you, boss.”

“Don’t give up. You have talent. Keep trying, all right?”

“Yes, boss. Thank you.”

He turned and hobbled away.

More Old Leeds Footage (And A Leaden Heart Update)

As you all know by now, The Leaden Heart was published last Friday. However…if you’ve been trying to buy the hardback online, you may well have found a problem. There’s been a glitch with the wholesaler that supplies online retailers and the book is showing as not available. I’m told this should be fixed by the end of the week, so please be patient, and I thank you. That said, a bricks-and-mortar bookshop will be able to get you a copy, as it’s a different distributor. If you’ve already bought it or reserved it at the library, thank you so much. But please may I ask one more favour – cheeky, I know. Could you write a review of it somewhere, please. Reviews really do help. They’re the best word-of-mouth advertising.


Meanwhile, the old footage of Leeds that I’ve posted here and there has proved very popular, so here are a couple more pieces. Nothing quite as ancient, sadly, but the first piece was still filmed more than a century ago. A very large group of Special Constables in the early stages of training in Leeds during World War I. I watched this and then realised that my grandfather is probable among them. His eyesight was too poor for the army, so he became a Special instead.

The second piece seems to be mostly from the 1930s. The focus is far from perfect, but tre’s a royal visit in there, probably to open the new Civic Hall in 1933, and footage of City Square and the building of the new Queen’s Hotel.

Be glad that these glimpses into the history of our city, our own past, are available.

And I’ll finish with this, from the Yorkshire Post.


Improper Coppers – The Roots of Lottie Armstrong

Modern Crimes is out, and the first feedback from readers has been incredibly gratifying – people seem to love Lottie. But how did those first policewomen in Leeds come about? Well, let me tell you a (true) story…

When the First World War broke out in 1914 it took a heavy toll on the police in Leeds. As soon as hostilities began, 51 constables who were in the Army Reserve were called up to their regiments and any more answered the call. The force was already understaffed, so Special Constables were recruited for the duration, men who were unable to join the forces, usually for health reasons. At its peak there were over 2,000 of them, some working in plain clothes, others undertaking crowd control, point duty, even on the beat in the suburbs.

With the start of the war there was also a spike in the number of women and girls who were involved in criminal offences. That needed a response that went beyond the Specials. So, by December 1914, Voluntary Women’s Patrols had been started, initiated by the National Council of Women.

They were limited to a few areas? And where were the hotspots? Perhaps surprisingly, Headingley, near the rugby/cricket ground, Chapeltown Road, and Woodhouse Moor. Soon that also included the market area and Briggate.

What could the patrols do?

As the Chief Constable’s report in 1916 read: “The object of the Patrols is to define and assist in promoting a higher moral code among girls, and so to guide and encourage them that they will have every hope of becoming self-respecting citizens.”

What exactly did that mean? Essentially to try and keep them on the straight and narrow in society’s terms, which were very prim and proper. Remember, there was a dearth of men around as so many had joined up (or later conscripted) – one in four of the total male population. Where many girls might normally have been courting, there was no one to step out with now. Very often girls were working in factories instead of as domestic servants. They had more money and more freedom, always a potent combination. A few probably ran wild, as did a few children with no father at home.

The women of the Voluntary Patrols had no powers of arrest or detention. They might give someone a talking-to or even a clout, but they could go no further. For the system to work the job required tact, empathy, and the ability to persuade. Did it work? Apparently so: by 1916 only six per cent of juveniles brought before the court were girls.

As to any problems with women and crime, the report didn’t address that…

Towards the end of the war the National Union of Women Workers tried to have women from the Voluntary Patrol in Leeds enrolled as regular police constables. But the city wasn’t too keen on the idea. Instead, in September 1918, two months before fighting ended in France, the Watch Committee decided on a compromise. It would spend £100 a year (plus uniform) for one policewoman, who would have restricted duties (doing little more than the Voluntary Patrols). They placed an advertisement in the Yorkshire Evening Post. 44 women applied for the post, including Mrs. Florence E. Parrish, who was already Chief Patrol Officer and Secretary of the National Union of Women Workers Committee in Leeds.

She was 45 years old, married, certified as a teacher, with a diploma from Leeds University in social organisation and public service, as well as being an experienced social worker. In other words, uniquely qualified for what must often have proved a frustrating post.

By 1921 she’d resigned.

But there, in the First World War, are the roots of the female police officers and PCSOs (and of my fictional 1920s policewoman, Lottie Armstrong) we see on the streets of Leeds today. Next time you’re on Woodhouse Moor and wandering around the market, have a think about morals and the influence of the Volunteer Patrol.


To 2015

Here were are, nestled at the end of a year and peeking over the parapets at what lies ahead. And, if you’re interested, I’ll tell you what’s coming up over the next few months.

Gods of Gold, the first in my new Victorian series, came out in the UK in August and in December in the US as well as in ebook form. It’s been attracting some lovely reviews, which is gratifying.

If you don’t already know, there’s a new Richard Nottingham story on this site. Click on novels, then Richard Nottingham and go to By The Law.

Next week (January 5), Dark Briggate Blues appears in the UK, and it’s a paperback (sorry, but it’ll be several months before the US version). Still in Leeds, it’s set in 1954 and features enquiry agent Dan Markham. It’s darker than many of my other books, a real noir (I think). The official launch is in early February at Waterstones Books in Leeds – if you look at my events page, you’ll see the details.

There’s one more thing to say about the book. A TV production company has asked to read it. Chances are that nothing will come of it, but the request was still very heartening.

April sees the UK publication of the second Tom Harper book, Two Bronze Pennies. At a guess, in the US it will be four months later. I think it builds on the first book and goes deeper into the characters, while exploring some of the anti-Jewish feeling that existed in the 1890s.

Then, finally, in July comes Leeds, The Biography. Regular readers of my blog will have already seen some of these stories. Essentially, it’s a history of Leeds in short stories, and the local Armley Press will be issuing it in paperback and ebook – my first non-crime book!

Of course, the serials on this site will continue, both Jimmy Morgan’s World War 1, and the tale of Annabelle Atkinson in Empress on the Corner.

I wish all of you a healthy, happy, and even prosperous New Year, and thanks to you all.

November 1914

This is the third part of Jimmy Morgan’s story, to be updated month by month, until 1918, if Jimmy survives that long.

While you’re here, I’d be very grateful if you’d glance through the site and take a look at my books, too – right now all the Richard Nottingham ebooks are on sale. After all, writing is what I do (that was the ad segment).

If you’ve just arrived at this serial, the last part is here. The first part is here.

It had been a sombre Bonfire Night. No one had been in the mood, not with so many lads already away. There’d always been a big fire at the end of Jimmy’s street, boys out chumping for weeks before, stuffing straw into old clothes and begging for a farthing for the guy.
Not this time. Not when the country was at war. His mam had made parkin, Mrs. Wilson at number 36 had her special cinder toffee, but it was only the kids who were eating as the stood around the small blaze.
‘You’re eighteen tomorrow,’ Teddy Wilson said. He’d joined the month before, now he was just waiting for his notice to report.
‘Aye,’ Jimmy said. ‘I’ll be down at the depot first thing.’
Teddy glanced over at Jimmy’s parents.
‘Do they know yet?’
He didn’t answer. They must have guessed. In the last two months they’d been over it a dozen times. And from tomorrow they couldn’t stop him.
‘What about that lass you’re walking out with?’
Mary. They’d met on the second Sunday in October. The weather had been balmy, even some sun, and Jimmy had taken the tram out to Roundhay Park. They’d met in the queue for an ice cream and he’d ended up buying her a cup of tea. The next Sunday he took her to the pictures at the Hyde Park. She was a maid in one of the big houses past Headingley, but no side on her for all that. A cheeky smile and dark hair. She made him laugh, then more when she gave him a kiss.
‘I talked to her,’ Jimmy told him. ‘She’s dead proud.’
She wouldn’t be a maid much longer, she’d told him that. Soon enough they’d want women for war work, that was what she believed, and she’d be off like a shot. No more yes sir, no sir and working all hours for next to nothing. She was ambitious, was Mary, and she didn’t mind anyone knowing.

There was drizzle in the air the next morning. Jimmy washed and dressed, ready to be out of the house early. Sod work, he had something better planned. Serve the King and see a little glory while he could. If they were right he’d be home in the New Year, anyway. He’d just made a pot of tea and was scraping dripping over a slice of bread when his father came into the scullery.
‘Eighteen, then?’
‘That’s right,’ Jimmy answered.
‘Are you going to do it?’ his father asked.
‘I am.’
Terry Morgan gave a small nod.
‘I think you’re daft. But if you’re sure, cut me a piece of that loaf and I’ll come down with you.’
‘You won’t change my mind.’
‘I know that, lad,’ Terry said quietly. ‘It’s your right. But I’ll testify that you’re old enough. If I were them I’d not believe you otherwise.’

It was easily done, quick enough. In as Jimmy Morgan, out as Private Jimmy Morgan. They measured his height and his chest and gave him the nod.
‘Go home and back to work,’ the NCO told him. ‘We’ll send you a letter saying when and where to report.’ The man sounded bored, the words spoken too many times.
‘Yes, Corporal.’ Jimmy stood at attention, back straight. ‘Thank you, Corporal.’
‘Next,’ the man called, already looking down the line.
The Scarborough Taps was close by.
‘Fancy a drink?’ Terry asked. ‘Celebrate your birthday.’
‘Aye, all right,’ Jimmy said. He’d never had a drink with his father before. If they called him to fight soon, who knew when he would again?

September 1914

He’d seen the tram down at the Swinegate Depot. All done up like a bloody dog’s dinner, God Save The King in lights on the side and Berlin as its destination.
Dog’s dinner was right. He read the slogan on the window – Wanted At Once, 5000 Recruits From Leeds. British Bulldogs. Airedale Or Yorkshire Terriers. Line them up and watch them run at the Hun. Still, he couldn’t help feeling a bit of pride.
There was already a queue hundreds long waiting to join up. In one end of the tram, out the other with big smiles on their faces. He joined at the end, smoking, listening to lads chattering away, full of spunk and fire about how many they’d kill and still be home by Christmas.
He didn’t care when it was over. However long it took, it would be better than what he had here. Grafting away in a factory for next to nowt. No future, just years of the same. His dad drunk Friday and Saturday nights, battering his mam when he came home.
Finally he stood in front of the corporal. The uniform was neat, the moustache clipped, buttons glinting in the light. Eyes full of pride.
‘James Morgan.’
The corporal looked up.
‘If you want to be in the army, son, you’d better get used to rank.’ He pointed at the stripes. ‘See those? They mean I’m a corporal. So you address me as corporal or sir. Got it?’
‘Yes, corporal,’ he answered. It was like talking to the foreman.
’31 East Park Road. Corporal.’ And he’d be glad to get shut of that place, too. No room, nowhere to think. Not that he expected the army to be much better. But at least he’d be a man, not just Tommy Morgan’s son.
‘Eighteen, corporal.’
The man snorted.
‘Pull the other one, lad, it’s got bells on. How old?’
‘Then come back on your birthday.’ He looked down the line. ‘Next!’
Outside, all the ones who’d joined up were congratulating each other, off for a drink to celebrate. He walked off, hands in his pockets.