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Memoir of a Yankee Doodle Dukie

[Editing note: Dan Kirwan, who is the oldest known living Dukie, celebrates his 95th birthday 21 August 2008. Following is a memoir written by Dan with the assistance of his daughter, Patricia, now a grand-mother with a grandson who is following the family tradition by serving in the army, except in his case, in the U.S. Army.] In celebration of his 95th birthday, Dan's memoir follows:

My father was a Company Sergeant Major (CSM) in the Rifle Brigade and was killed at the second battle of Ypres, April 1915. I was twenty months old at the time. My brother Eddie - later to be known as Pat was nine. He went to the Duke of York's the next September, just before his tenth birthday.
     My mother died in January 1919 and so I was an orphan at the age of five. My Aunt Nell, my fathers' sister, took us in and on September first, 1923, I became a Dukie. We lived in Sunderland and I had to get to Dover, but times were were tough. Aunt Nell managed to scrape barely enough money for a one-way train fare, so I had to travel alone. I have blacked out all memory of that trip. I know I had to change at Kings Cross in London to Victoria Station to get a train to Dover. I have no recollection of doing that neither, nor do I remember going from Dover to the schooL My brother Pat, who was a prefect at the time, said he met me but even that's a blank in my memory.
     My first recollection as a Dukie was being assigned to "B" Company and watching boys practicing high jumping in the grassy area outside the Day room of the H-block in which we lived. I enjoyed my five years as a Dukie and I was on the school cricket team. At that time, holes in socks had to be darned, though you didn't get to darn your own socks. A sock-darning detail did that job, which was carried out in the evening. I was assigned to darning socks in time and, if I do say so myself, I was a darn good darner.
     Then I got lucky by being transferred to signalling, a subject taught by CSM Prescott of"D" Co. In time I became head signaler in the Company and was allowed to wear crossed flags on my dress uniform. It also earned me a couple of pennies more a month.
     We all bad to box according to height and weight with cash prizes for the winner. One year, I think it was 1925, I would have been twelve years old, fighting a boy from "E" Co. in the semi-finals. My brother Pat was his second, for seconds was a job handled by the prefects. I lost that fight, but I was awarded a good loser's prize of about 3d or 6d, something like that and very welcome. The next week I had to fight for 3rd or 4th prize and lost again. Again, however, I got a good loser's prize, so maybe I am the only one to get two good looser prizes in one year. So maybe I wasn't a winner, but I sure was a good loser.

    During my time at school quite a few things happened: in 1924, we were at Wembley Stadium, London, for the "British Empire Exposition of 1924." A big attraction that year was the first showing of the Queens' doll house. For accommodation, we slept in tents, but I have no idea where. Most memorable was marching into Wembley Stadium with the band playing Sons of the Brave.
    In 1924 or 25, the inspecting officer for Grand Day was the Duke of York, later King George VI. The only thing I remember about that was his speech, which thankfully was short, for he had a very bad stammer. We all felt sorry for him, but I understand he was pretty well cured of that when he became king. The year 1924 was also the year when the Royal Hibernian Military School, which had been moved in 1924 to Shorncliffe, Kent, was closed and those who wanted could joing the Duke of York's school. I think about 120 came, enough for two companies. Two barracks

Dan Kirwan

were built for them. In 1928, I was a drunmer in the Toy Soldiers parade of the Toy Soldiers at the Army Navy and Air Force show at the Olympia. That lasted for three weeks. Each night a different V .I.P. would be in the Royal box, starting of course with the King and Queen. Then the Princes and Heads of the other countries. So as the old saying went we perfonned before all the crowned heads of countries of Europe. That is, if there were any crowned heads left. The Premier of France liked it so much that he invited us to France to perform for a week. [I have a program of the Olympia show I wrote to the headmaster in 1985 and asked him if it was possible that any programs were left, telling him I was one of the drunmers. He wrote back saying he found three copies and he sent one of them to me.] On Saturday mornings we had a full Kit inspection. All of our possessions in the kit were laid out on the bed, neatly folded with our second pair of boots laid out with the tops turned upside. The soles had to be shined. Why? Discipline I suppose, to make sure you didn't keep one pair for inspection. Each pair was laced differently; one pair laced straight across, the other crosswise.
    In 1927 the school changed from companies to houses. B Co. became Wolfe House. I was the last B7 and the first Wolfe 7. Then I was transferred to D Co. and I was told C.S.M. Prescott had requested it. He was C.S.M. of Wellington, the signaling instructor. I became the chief signaler. Whatever it was it was good for me because Prescott made me L/Cpl. then Cpl. so I got a few more pennies. Our CSM in "B" Co. was Mr Arbuckle, who helped us put on concerts in the day room. Once in a while he would ask volunteers to perform. He played a flute and we would go into his office one at a time and he would play his flute. That's how we learned the songs I used to sing, silly songs such as "Pudding" and "Gooseberry tart'. I also learned to sing "Alexander's Ragtime Band", not that I was a good singer, I I did enjoy it and found it a lot of fun.
    I left school on 1 August 1928 and I went into civvy Street. Aunt Nell had to write a letter explaining why I wasn't going into the army, the reason being that my Uncle Joe in America had booked me a passage to America. I didn't get to go to the USA, however, until June 1930 because, at that time, there was a quota system for which each applicant received a quote numer. When your number came up you went and not until, so for two years I worked for Singer Sewing Machine Co. in Sunderland, delivering machines. I landed in America 15 June 15 1930, in the middle of the Depression. Jobs were very hard to get, but luckily my uncle had friends and one of them, named Tom Mooney was just opening a restaurant in the Orange YMCA. He put me to work on the cream counter making ice cream sodas and sundaes and anything else that needed doing. I got $15.00 dollars a week. The rate then was 5 dollars to a pound note. I lived at the "Y", as it was 30 miles from Jersey City where my uncle lived. I paid seven dollars a week for a room and of course all my food was supplied, so I was doing OK. I worked there until 1934.
    Then one Sunday when I was home, my uncle said, "How would you like to go around the world and get paid for it?" I said, "It sounds good, but how could I do that?" He said "I could get you a job on the dollar line. It was a steam ship line that takes passengers and freight around the world and you would be a steward. I said "That sounds good," So I was hired and we left Jersey City going to Boston, then back to Brooklyn and on to Havana, Cuba. We were there for two days, then we went through the Caribbean through the Panama Canal and up to Los Angeles where a friend and I got shore leave and went to Hollywood, but NO BIG DEAL! From there it was San Francisco, and next stop, Hawaii, but hold the phone. A strike is called and after a few days I am running out of money. So what to do? I decided to hitch hike back to Jersey City, three Thousand miles away! I find myself at a railroad where I get talking to a hobo and I tell him my plans. He says, I'd make better time riding the rails, but how do I do that, I ask? How do I get on and off those freight cars, He says, watch me and as freight was pulling into the yard, very slowly, Whitey ran along side a couple of steps, then pulled himself up. Then he got offand said, Getting on is easy, its getting off when you must be careful, always get offright foot first and be sure the train isn't going too fast. After a couple of tries, I got the hang of it. Whitey spoke with a trainman and found out where the next freight was going, then he told me to get off when it slowed down to go into the yard. I did just what Whitey told me and I gradually got more confidence. I can't remember the names of the towns I went through, which was seventy years ago
    I know I crossed the Mojave Desert - I50 miles on top of a hot shot train of fruit and vegetables. I met another man who was traveling, with a roll of 25 blankets. We rode on an express passenger train between Gallup and Albuquerque, New Mexico, for about 120 miles. Sometimes, I would hitch hike. Then toward the end of my journey I rode into the freight yard in Pittsburgh, Pa. In an empty boxcar, there were about 10 of us, and as we started to jump off we saw a couple of bulls. (Railroad police), with drawn guns, so we started to go out the other side. The cops said, "There is a man over there also so we got down and were taken into the police station where we were given five days for trespassing. I didn't mind it because it was cold and snowing and I was hungry. After this comfortable stay, we were told a second offense would be 10 days. Because I still had a few hundred miles to go, I decided to hitch hike and got lucky. The first car picked me up and took me over the Allegheny Mountains to Philadelphia where the driver bought my lunch and gave me a dollar for supper. At that time, you could get a good meal for 50 cents. I found a hostel and spent the night there. So many people, like me, were traveling looking for work that the government had these hostels all over the country where you could get a bed for the night and coffee and doughnuts for breakfast. Now, I was near Jersey City, maybe 100 miles so I hitched-hiked that easily. I was greeted like the prodigal son. It was quite an experience. I also met a lot of very interesting people, but I wouldn't want to do it for a living.
    During the next six years, until 1940, I had numerous jobs and then the war started in Europe and our government decided we ought to get ready and introduced the draft. I was in a dead -end job and I decided to volunteer to go in the first draft, thinking when I got out in a year more jobs might be open. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that!
    The first 1941 Congress declared a state of emergency and everyone in the service was frozen in there for the duration of the emergency, plus six months. So, one year turned into five years, but it it worked out that going into the Army when I did was the best move of my life, because in 1943 I met a lovely young lady named Miriam (Mickey) Dudley and we were married in 1944. She was a remarkable woman who could do anything and do it well, while I could do very little and that not very well. We were married for 57 years so I guess it worked out O.K She introduced herself to me as Mickey and in 58 years I don' think I ever called her Miriam. It was always Mickey Pretty Mickey. Later, this got changed to MIKI. She was going into business selling Made to Order Ladies dresses. Everyone knew her as Mickey but it was to long for her dress labels, so we decided to take Mi from Miriam and Ki from Kirwan and she still had Miki and so Miki fashions was born in the 50's. I'd better
Technical Sergeant U.S. Army 1940-1945
back track to my army days again, 1940 to 1945. Five years in the army and I never heard a shot fired in anger. And I was in the infantry. When I was drafted on 5 November 1940, I was assigned to the 113th infantry division and sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, about 50 miles from Jersey City, across the Hudson River from New York City.
    We were given a paper which asked us what branch of the army we would like to be assigned to, Naturally, I said the signal corps. It didn't make any difference at all; we were all put in the infantry. During the first week I was made an acting corporal and I have a photo of myself as corporal of the guard. The only reason I could see was the fact that my records showed I had spent five years in the Duke of York's Royal Military School. Maybe Lt. Whitehorn, who was in charge of the recruits, was a graduate of West Point Military Academy. The same as Sandhurst for the British Army.
    Then, during the second week Lt. Whitehorn was giving us short order drill and he called me out and asked me if I thought I could drill the company. I said, "Let me watch you and hear you give the commands see what foot you give them on", which he did. So then I I took over for 10 minutes. Of course, the commands are different from the British army. My performance didn't go over well with the regular NCO's, so repercussions followed.
    One evening I was in my tent and a man came in and said, "The first Sgt. (CSM) wants to see you." So I went to his tent, Johnny Farino was his name. He was sitting with the other NCO's and had a paper in his hand, which he handed to me and said" go to the PX. and get these things for us". The P.X. is Post Exchange where we could buy anything. On the list were cigarettes, candy and other items and he held out some money. They were going to make a gofer out of me and humiliate me. They didn't know I had lived in the Horseshoe section of Jersey City for 10 years, the section of a tough city and had crossed America as a hobo and most importantly, I was an X-Dukie.
    So I said, "I'm not going, but if you can get Lt. Whitehorn to order me then I'll go. "Of course I knew he wouldn't try that, so they looked at one another and Sgt. Farino said, "Okay, send Pearlman over. Now Pearlman was a Jewish boy in my tent and I guess he went to the P.X. A strange ending to this tale is a couple of years later, I was platoon Sgt. and Farino got busted to Private and was placed in my platoon. I had never mentioned the P.X. incident to anyone and never did say anything to Farino and he eventually worked his way back to Sgt. After the war, we both lived in New Jersey and Farino worked for a firm that made golf equipment. He gave me a leather golfbag and two dozen balls. I know this sounds like a Jimmy Cagney movie, but it really happened, just as I have told it. Truth sure is stranger than fiction.
    The rest of my army career was Humdrum. The day Pearl Harbor was bombed, December 7th, 1941, we were on the way back from 2 months in the Carolinas on maneuvers. We went back to Fort Dix for a week and then to Long Island, a borough of New York City, where we patrolled the beaches to protect against saboteurs landing. Four agents did land and were caught. In the spring of 1944 we were sent to Camp Picket in Virginia, where the outfit was broken up and sent over as individual replacements. This was a month before D-day. I was now a T/Sgt and the first 3 grades were held back and formed into a training cadre. The first 3 grads were 1st Sgt, T/sgt. and staff sgt. and we trained draftees until the end of the war. Although I was a tech/sgt I did a lot of 1st sgts work in charge of the field training. On my discharge papers I am recorded as a field 1 st sgt - there is no such rank. I was discharged on November 27, 1945 and went to work on the Erie Railroad as an ice inspector. No, I didn't inspect the ice. We were in charge of all perishables. Freight and every thing traveled under a different tariff lode number as to icing and heat. At that time, most perishables traveled under ice and as were the last stop before reaching the markets in New York City, we were very busy in the height of summer. As we would ice 3 or 400 cars with up to 10,000 pounds of ice and if we had meat we would have to put 50 or up to 30 inches of salt on the ice.
When I retired in 1975 most cars were traveling under mechanical refrigeration and after I left my job, which was no more, of course.All in all, I have had a very happy, lucky, life with a lovely talented wife for 57 years and now my daughter Patricia is taking care of me. I have been healthy all my life except for the eyes.
    By way if a coda to this memoir, fast forward 60 years to our 50th wedding anniversary. Miki wanted to take a luxury train trip to Los Angeles, which we did and I traveled almost the same route in luxury as I'd done 60 years earlier except that the first time I was on the outside of the train.
Dan Kirwan on his 94th birthday
with his great-grandson

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