On Sept. 27, 1914 I was born in England in a place called Horden in county Durham. Horden is a colliery, or as they are called in this country, a mining patch; however, there the similarity ends, because the two patches are not very much alike, except for the fact that almost all of the working force work in the mines. There is, of course, the company store, but we called it a cooporative store.
The address was 104 New 7th street. It got the name 'new' because this particular section of the town was an addition after the original part of the town had existed for some unknown number of years. The street itself consisted of two sides, and on each side there were two buildings, each containing nine homes. These were what are today called town houses, and 104 was right in the center of the one.
The residences were all owned by the coal board, and they were all attached. In other words, if you walked out the front door of my house and locked yourself out, you would have to walk half way around the block to let yourself in the back door.
This new section was separated from the rest of Horden by what we called a 'dean', which was just a field of 'clarts' as we called them in England, or mud (there wasn't really much grass on them.)
The school that I attended was just across that 'dean', and across the road which led out of Horden.
I mentioned Sept. 1914, and you may or may not know that World War I started in August of the same year. Naturally, I don't remember much of that, but strangely enough I do remember some things connected with World War I. For instance, I remember the policemen, or Bobbies, would go around and knock on doors the time of day that one would normally be turning on their lights. This was done if a bomb attack from Zeppelins, an air attack actually, was expected.
I can remember an instance, (and I have no idea how old I was at the time, but since the war ended in 1918, I had to be no older than 4), but as Dad explained to me later, he was coming up from his brother's home, that's my uncle Rop, who lived on new 4th street. When he got to the end of new seventh street, he started to come to the front door, but was afraid that if the fire was burning in the hearth that it would cast a glow out into the street, and he thought that there was something up there in the sky. He came to the back door (and this much I swear I remember), and came right to the living room, or parlor, as we used to call it, and noticed that the fire was almost out, and so he opened the front door, and stood on the threshold, and called for me.
My brother and sister (Tom and Ethel) were sitting under a table which had been pushed under the staircase, which had been publicized as the safest place to be in case of an attack. I ran across the floor to him, and he picked me up and placed me on his shoulder, and pointed up to the sky. I looked up, and it seems that as I looked up into the blackness, that I was aware of something even more black, if that is really possible, and I watched it. It seemed to be directly above out home, and then it moved to a position that seemed to be above the house across the street. At about that time a search light went up into the sky, and then groped around a little and then centered on this Zeppelin, and then described a circle around it.
Shortly after that, the whole sky was lighted, and then this Zeppelin, which now we could see, broke just like a hot dog, and of course in those days these Zeppelins were filled with hydrogen, which is highly inflammable. The zeppelin was brought down; I learned later that it was brought down by a plane that had taken off from a town nearby. A few days later, I seemed to recall that a few bodies were washed up on the beach, which was not very far from where we lived, maybe a mile.
We lived between two families, Rowe and Hunter. In the Hunter family there were two children, Roy and Lorna. Roy and I were about the same age and went to school together. Now I know that I remember this day, which was my first day of school, which was to be a sort of forerunner of many others. I remember all my life going through school, and even into when I was working with West Penn, I had one very bad fault, that I was constantly being late for school and work.
As luck would have it, I was late for school my very first day, and then I was afraid to enter school, so I sat down on the steps and cried. I was five at the time. This was 'infant school', which would correspond to kindergarten in some way. Miss Best was my school teacher. She lived next door to me at Rowes.
The school had a very large concrete yard, which is where we had our recess and lunch time. I can remember during the big strike of 1921 that the school fed the children. Every day of our lives for many months we had porridge and cocoa, and for lunch we had broth, which was a very thick vegetable soup. There were dumplings in the broth, and the teacher, when she used the ladle, made sure that each pupil got a dumpling. If you were lucky, you got two.
As I said, we lived near the North Sea. I was not allowed down there without one of my cousins or some member of my family, but needless to say we did sneak down there occasionally. The seashore was lined by high cliffs, and the fields were, of course on top of these cliffs. There was one place were the field ended abruptly at the end of the cliff that went down to the beaches, but the hillside was nothing but sand. We used to start back about thirty yards from the edge, and run to the edge and make a flying leap over the edge, and slide down the hillside to the bottom of the hill. Needless to say, it was useless to tell one's mother that one had not been to the beach after indulging with this kind of entertainment. I remember some of the kids that I went to school with, Albert Elliot, and of course Roy Hunter.
Incidentally, there was a custom in England that whenever a baby girl is about to be christened, that they bake a cake and put some coins in it. They take this cake with them when they leave for the church for the christening. Now the custom is that they give this cake to the first young person of the opposite sex. I am sure that this was all prearranged, because I remember my mother telling me to go outside because the Hunter's were about to leave. Of course, when they came out, I was standing right by their door, and I got the cake.
This Hunter family eventually came to America in 1921, and it was to this family that my family came. They were sort of our sponsors. I don't really remember much of the school building there. I visited it in 1960, and I do remember having what I think is a distinction, at least in the county of Westmoreland. I was walking across the playground one time, and a bunch of boys were playing Cricket. Just as I was passing by, one boy hit the cricket ball, which is a leather ball, smaller than a baseball, and hit me right smack in the center of the right eye. (Who else do you know that was hit in the eye with a cricket ball?)
Actually, that was probably a blessing, since if it had hit higher or lower, it might have broken something. As it was, it only gave me a black eye. On one occasion, we were repeating a prayer, and in the prayer there was the expression "manna from heaven", and the teacher asked the class if anyone knew what manna meant. I was the only one who stuck up his hand, and replied "it's when you don't eat with a knife." I don't remember if anyone laughed or not, but I remember that my parents laughed about it for years, because the school teacher lived next door to us. This school, also, launched me into my musical career.
There is a holiday in April called Empire Day, and there was a practice of each kid making up a bouquet, or nosegay, of daisies, which was the Empire flower, and we would wear this in the lapel of our jackets. Well, on this particular day, we were all wearing our daisies, and Roy Hunter and I had been selected to sing together the national anthem, or "God Save the King."
The piano of the music room was pulled over to the door, and a chair was placed in the doorway where Roy Hunter and I were supposed to sing. The rest of the pupils were to march around the perimeter of the hall, saluting George V at one end and the Union Jack at the other end while we sang. At the very last moment, Roy Hunter got cold feet, and Bill Pringle sang his first solo.
Roy Hunter and I were friends of a sort, but there really wasn't much affection. First of all, due to a birth defect, he had a bad left arm which he had to carry bent at the elbow, and he would swing it across in front of his chest when he walked or ran. Later, an operation corrected that, but he had been holding his arm like that so long that he continued to hold it there. I also remember my mother told me that I was never allowed to beat him in any race, and if he wanted any of my toys that he could have it, but I was not necessarily allowed to have his.
In England, we almost never heard a foreign language, primarily because we seldom went to the city. The three cities that we went to for shopping were Newcastle, Sunderland, and West Hartlepool. Some of the shop keepers were of different nationalities, Jewish, particularly. To hear so many people in this country talking in foreign languages fascinated me. I think we moved on a Saturday. On Monday my mother took me up to a school that was just up the street from where we lived. My mother went in, and explained my background, and the teacher told her to leave me with her at least until the end of the day, and she would decide where I should go. I took home a note that evening saying that she should take Willie up to Valley Heights School, and get him into third grade. It was shortly after that that I brought home another note to take home to my mother indicating that I could have been advanced to fourth grade, but my mother wrote back, "Leave him where he is, he'll get out soon enough.", or words to that affect.
Perhaps I was a little spoiled, because I was getting a lot of attention. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was because of my speech. The teachers would have me go from room to room and read, and I thought it was because I could read well, but I was soon to realize that they were just being entertained by my speech. I can remember on one occasion, that I was reading and I came across the word, "CALM". I hesitated just a moment, and I said, "CAM". The teacher stopped me and said, "No, William, that's wrong." I then said "CARM", and the teacher said, "No, William, that's not right either." I didn't know how else to pronounce it, and the teacher said, "It's CALM", and I said, "No, it can't be". She asked, "Why not?", and I said, "Because that's how we say it in England."
I was so conscious of the different pronunciation, that I was not going to use the British pronunciation, because I was sure that it was going to be wrong. But strangely enough, that word is pronounced the same in both languages. Of course, the vowel sound of the letter "A" is the big difference between the two languages, notwithstanding the adding and dropping of the letter "H".
wcp0108Well, I went to 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade at Valley Heights School. One little experience that I remember at winter time, was when we would slide down this mile and a half hill of unpaved street on boards that we found in an abandoned lumber mill at the top of a hill. Of course, the pile of boards was at the foot of the hill by the end of the winter. It was this hill, too, that we used for sled riding.
I dressed, for the most part, the same as I did in England. I wore what you would call a freshman dink, shorts, and bare knees. When we started to study the American Revolution, it was then that I hated this country. I hated going to school. I fought that Revolutionary War eight times a day for six years. They tried to tell me that the colonists had beaten George III. It was all to change eventually, of course, and I have come to appreciate how much better it is here. Even though during the last eighteen I have visited three times. I still think that we are better off here.
We moved from Valley Camp to 1717 Kenneth Ave. in Arnold. Here again, it was a duplex. We lived in the upstairs apartment, and a family by the name of Clarkin lived on the first floor, and this family and ours became very close. It was through the influence of Mr. Clarkin, that your uncle Tom, my brother, started in 1926 with West Penn Power Company, and from that time on, my one ambition was to read meters for West Penn Power Company. That might not seem like a very lofty ambition, but, back in those days, just having a steady job was an accomplishment, and the West Penn people, who were identified as West Penners, were sort of a family atmosphere. People who worked with Tom recognized me because I looked so much like him. It is very flattering for a twelve year old to be hailed by some big lineman from the top of a pole, asking if my name was Pringle.
Nevertheless, that was what I wanted to do, and it was ten years later, when I was 22, that I finally got a job reading meters. But before that, of course, I went to Arnold from 5th to 7th grade, moved to Parnassus, went to Parnassus from 7th grade to sophomore, and at that time the two boroughs, Parnassus and New Kensington consolidated, and the following year, then, I went to Ken High, or New Kensington High School.
wcp0110I just realized that I skipped through a number of years without giving very much detail. One thing, that I'm sure should be said, happened not too long that we moved to Valley Camp. It had to be in the first year, we were only there two years. My sister Ethel was working as a domestic in one of the boroughs outside of Pittsburgh, I think Sewickly. Ethel was about 18 and wasn't even allowed to date when she met an Arthur Bradshaw, so you can imagine what a shock it was on January 2, 1925, (your grandmother's birthday), my mother and dad were sitting at the table, and I was standing in the doorway eating some bread and jam. A knock was heard at the door, and I went to open it, and here it was Ethel and this Arthur Bradshaw, and they came in with funny expressions on their faces, particularly Art, his lips were quivering, and they stood there for a while. We had thought that she was down in Sewickly working, and when Arthur dropped the bombshell, "Ethel and I were married this morning.". My mother went completely to pieces. She went stiff as a board, and had kind of a seizure. She was aroused by my dad, helped by me. Art was ordered out of the house, and Ethel stayed with us that night. There was talk of an annulment, but I think my dad was bluffed out of it, really.
In any case, he was not to allow this young interloper into our house for some years, not until the first grandchild was born. That was Art, from Cleveland. My dad went up to visit the new baby, and when he came home he told my mother that he had been in his house, so he couldn't very well keep him out of ours. That was quite a shock.
I can't think of anything that was really exciting during my elementary and high school years. Probably the only thing that afforded me some recognition was that I was asked to sing often. I sang at practically all the school functions. Later, when I was a junior in Warwood, West Virginia, I sang with a dance band. We played the Ohio valley between West Virginia and Ohio, for which I was paid $2.00 plus travel expenses. The other members got a percentage, because there was some objection to my getting the percentage because, after all, I did much less than the rest of the band. But there were nights when my $2.00 was more than their percentage. I would have done it for nothing, it was enjoyable.
wcp0112When I was a junior in New Kensington High School, the Clarkins planned to visit my parents, who had moved to live with my uncle Rop in Warwood, or Windsor Heights, W. Va. These were very bad times, 1932; my dad hadn't worked for some time, and they went down to WEest Virginia with the understanding that my dad would look for a job, and my mother would keep house for uncle Rop, who was, as I reminded you, was her husband's brother, and also her sister's husband, or late sister's husband. I wanted to stay in New Kensington, so I stayed with your uncle Tom. The Clarkins' were going down to visit my parents', and had invited me to go along, so I went to the principle's office and asked permission to take the time off. Well, of course, this revealed the fact that my parent's didn't live in New Kensington, so that made me a tuition student, and I would have to pay $11 a month. Well, one of the reasons that I lived with my brother was that we didn't have $11 a month, so I realized that I would have to move to West Virginia, and boy, I hated that move. But a Mr. Lasher interceded for me with the principal, and they bent the rules a little bit, but it wasn't to work out anyway. So I stayed there a few more weeks, and finally decided that I wanted to go down to live with my parents. I was out of school for a few weeks, but then started about two weeks before the end of the first semester at Worwood West Virginia, with the class of '33.
Well, I finished the junior year, but by the time of my senior year, we were living in those Peebles Apartments that I told you about in Wilkinsburg. My dad took the job as janitor, and his only compensation was free rent in the corner apartment of the basement. I, of course, worked with him, cleaning windows, dusting, whatever.
At one point, William R. Pringle was staying at a house a few blocks from the apartments.
It was at this time that Roosevelt went into office in Jan. 1933. This was some time in the summer, but they started the CCC (Civilian Conservation Core). The age limits were from 18 to 22, and it was necessary that your family had to be on welfare, and you were signed up, and the camp that I went to was up near Renova, and is now called State Park, but it was a reforestation camp. We had been on welfare for a short time. I didn't go to school at the time. The arrangement was that we got $30 a month, and your keep, of course. $25 went home to your parents, or anyone else that you designated. The $5 you were given for spending, and I thought I had finally arrived. Mother and I went down to the 5 and 10 to buy little things that I needed to take, and I was telling her, "Oh, don't bother with that, I can buy that when I get up there." I thought that $5 was a fortune. Well, of course, I finally got into the CCC's, and it was quite an experience. It almost opened what might have been an entirely different career for me.
The adjutant of the camp (it was supervised by military personnel, either army or navy), were very strict about the civilian aspect as far as the boys were concerned. There was no saluting or drilling, or anything because the authorities were concerned that people might look at this as an impending standing army. What we did was to cut fire trails in these forests in the mountains around Renova, which is in Center county.
Lieutenant Polliard happened to be a personal friend, an old school buddy, of a man named Jack Pettis, who had one of the big name bands at the time. He was playing at the William Penn Hotel at this time. Lt. Polliard was interested in my singing, we used to gather in the store room. There were other guys there with guitars, violins, etc., and other guys that sang, of course. But this Lt. Polliard promised to get me an audition with this Jack Pettis. He was going to visit Jack the following weekend, and asked if I could go along. When I talked with my boss, a navy doctor, Dr. Waddell, (I was a nurse, incidentally, a doctor's assistant), there were only two of us, and the other man was on leave at the time, so I couldn't go. I was told when I got back to Wilkinsburg, that I should ask for an audition with Mr. Pettis, and he would be prepared for me, and would give me one. W hen I finally did get back to Wilkinsburg on the first of October of that year, Jack Pettis had left Pittsburgh. I might add, that shortly after that, he got out of the band business, so you can see what kind of influence my singing did have.
We were to stay in Wilkinsburg a relatively short time. Dad got a job at Barking Mine, I believe. We moved back to New Kensington, and I ran into a Mr. Weaver, who was the principal at New Kensington, and he recognized and remembered me, and he asked me if I had finished high school, and I told him no. He was quite excited about that, and he went so far as to call at my home and talk to my mother and dad. My mother was not too excited about my going back to school, it was her opinion that you learned nothing but tommyrot there, but dad was interested in my at least getting my high school education.
Oh, I glossed over one little that I think you will agree I should mention. It was while I was on this job rerouting, that was the job that I had with this Otis Hecker, that on this one assignment I was to go down to McDonald, Pa. When I walked into that office I was dressed in my meter reader uniform with a big metal badge on my cap, with West Penn Power written across my breast pocket, dressed in whipcord britches with leather pattees, and I walked up to the counter and I said, "Good morning!" I noticed that there was a little, quite attractive brunette, and a very lovely blonde sitting behind the counter, and a man, and in a separate office to the rear was another man. And nobody even looked up. Nobody even responded! So I hit the counter with my hand and repeated, "I said, Good morning!" Everybody's head looked up, including the brunette, and she just laughed and said, "Good morning". Well, then they all said "Good morning", but I looked at the little brunette and I said to myself, "Bill, I wouldn't be a bit surprised" Well, you've guessed, of course, that brunette is your mother.
This was on a Monday, very early in December I remember, and Thursday night I called this Miss Gill, whose first name I didn't even know, and asked her if she wanted to go to the movies. She hesitated for a little bit, and then, much to my surprise, she said yes. So, we went out on our first date. And I think that your mother and I dated at least every Thursday after that, then it got to be quite often during the week. And quite often we would spend weekends together, either I at McDonald or she up at my home.
I worked in McDonald for probably a couple of months, that's usually the length of stay. After that district I was supposed to go to Butler, but Miss Gill and I continued to see each other. And probably the next big thing that happened to me was Pearl Harbor day. I happened to be with her at her home when that announcement came on the radio. After Pearl Harbor I decided that I might as well enlist, because they were going to come and get me anyway, but I wanted to wait until after New Year's, because New Year's was probably the biggest night in the Pringle family. It was always a time for family reunion.