James McMahon

James McMahon

Yesterday Barry shared with us a story about his mum and a mangle. Today’s story is about his mum’s favorite brother.

James McMahon
Our August Bank Holidays were nearly always spent in North or West Wales – especially Bangor. Other times it would be Blackpool. Whilst Wales remained the firm favorite, Blackpool was very important to my mum with our several visits being akin to a personal pilgrimage. Our Blackpool holiday home was near the beach on the North Shore – Warbreck Hill Road springs to mind. But don’t quote me. Anyway, the significance of these holidays/visits will be clearer further down the page.

My mum was the second youngest of 3 sons and 5 daughters born to Thomas McMahon and Margaret O’Brien. She would always insist that although her paternal grandparents originally came from Cork, her dad was a Staffordshire man through and through. Grandma McMahon, on the other hand, was said to have crossed the water three times before settling down in and around the Burslem area. She originally came from County Down.

The early years of my mum’s life were spent growing up on the sleepy hillside of Smallthorne. But when she reached 13 years it was fulltime employment in a predominantly pottery manufacturing industry working for a Mr. Gibson in Moorland Road, Burslem. In fact, mum was still working in that industry, albeit with a different employer, when we came to Australia in 1960. She was then 58 years old. Her several employers also included Stannard’s Pottery, Wardle & Davenport – silk manufacturers in Leek, and Johnsons.

Mum would tell us that when she first met Thomas Edge in 1921 she knew there and then that he was the man for her – no ifs or buts about it – and that after a lengthy courtship they were finally married in 1927. Their first home together would be in Hulton Street, Far Green before moving to Bucknall in 1939.

There is no doubting my mum loved her Smallthorne family and her verbal memoirs of sitting on Grandfather McMahon’s knees being entertained by his bed-time stories make wonderful reading. I may get back to you with that another day. She would also talk with deep affection of her brother James and would tell us she grieved when he moved away from Smallthorne after The Great War to live elsewhere.

It was something she could never forget. As a 13 year old in 1914 she had just witnessed the departure of two of her brothers, John and James, for the shores of France and the trenches of Belgium with the political promise that it was to be the war to end all wars. John was already regular army; James made up the numbers through conscription. During the course of the war families heard little or nothing of their sons and history tells us that many thousands of lives were lost on both sides of the conflict.

The Armistice in November 1918 came and went. But there was no news of either John nor James. Mum says Grandma McMahon knew that John would stay on in the army if he got back safe. However, she wanted James home and ‘No more army for him’.

The days and weeks seemed an eternity as first one then another of the local lads to survive made their way home. That’s right, made their way home because there were no delousing stations or counseling services back then to assist in their rehabilitation into civvy-street – just the price of a train fare home.

It was early December 1918 and mum was still working for Mr. Gibson and had gone home for lunch. Just as she was about to return to work in walks James McMahon is such a disheveled state as to cause Grandma McMahon to break into the Gaelic to curse to hell all the war mongering politicians.

In no time at all there was hot water being emptied into a large tin bath in front of the fire and, as the girls averted their gaze, James simply fell into it without saying a word. At the same time grandma McMahon was throwing the fetid army clothes onto the fire. Just then, says mum, there was a knock on the door.

A small boy was standing and shivering in the December cold. But before anyone could ask him why he was at the house he blurted out the question “Has Mr. James McMahon arrived home yet and if so Mr. Gibson wants to know if he can start back at work this afternoon?”. To the astonishment of everyone in the McMahon house James found and put on some of his old work clothes and went immediately to start work telling grandma that as a consequence of the war employers were desperately short handed before adding that the money would come in useful.

It was approximately three weeks later when James McMahon told grandma that he needed to get away for a few days to rest and recreate and that he was going to Blackpool to visit a war-time mate.

James McMahon never returned to Smallthorne. Much later he met and married a Blackpool girl and they went to live on the North Shore.

See you later…

Barry Edge
Western Australia
January 30, 2005

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