Easy Pickings - A World War One short story by Francis McCrickard

Posted on 14th Jul 2023

Introductory Note

Before the arrival of artificial dyes, damsons were much in demand by the textile industry. Depending on the mordant (the substance that fixes the dye in the material), different shades can be produced. Ammonia gives a khaki colour much used in army uniforms in World War One. In her book, The Morville Hours: The Story of a Garden, Katherine Swift writes how “soldiers marched off to Gallipoli and The Somme with the khaki of Shropshire damsons on their backs”


Francis McCrickard

I know where the trees are. I narrow me eyes and the blossom becomes a fusillade. Dad read us that word from newspaper reports. Come September family went picking. I say family but Charlie and Owen weren’t with us. They’d already gone over. Smiles from ear to ear. I took us right up Ennerdale. Neighbours came ’n’ all. Trees heavy with black fruit. Spent the whole day. We had ham and bread and slugged warm milk from bottles we filled at Mawson’s farm. Ate sweet and bitter damsons too as we lay in the fields. Felix Murphy from four doors down bit off half of a plump one. He looked at our Nellie and then took out the stone. The other half he held to her lips. The dull green flesh glinted in the sun. She blushed but took it. He said he was signing up.


“You’re daft,” Nellie told him and lay full stretch. Her long, crimped black hair looked like waves lapping on a green beach.


Betty squished fruit between her lips and the juice dribbled down her chin. “I’m back from the war but I’m still bleeding!”


“Not a bit like blood,” I told her.


We made jam but Wilson from Cockermouth got most of our picking, farthing a pound, and trundled the fruit to Lancashire in a wagon.


“Dye for soldier’s uniforms,” Mam said.


“Uniforms for soldiers to die in,” I said.


She slapped me then said she was sorry.


July ’16 took Charlie and Owen. Just lads. Did they wear our damsons? We still went picking and Wilson from Cockermouth still knocked on our door. Mam was polite but after La Boisselle he got no more damsons from us.


“We’ll have plenty of jam,” Mam said.

Easy Pickings -  A  World War One short story by Francis McCrickard