Born at the wrong time – a portrayal of Leeds Life by local writer Dave Foxton

June 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Jenny.Budd in History | Kirkstall Matters | Our Community

Cyril and daveLocal writer Dave Foxton, who lives on Kirkstall Avenue has recently published a biography charting the life of another local man Cyril James during WWII. Born and raised in Burmantofts, Cyril James is a fascinating character whose story illustrates some key times in both Leeds and European History.

The story of Cyril, who now lives on Cockshott Drive, follows his childhood growing up in the terraced streets of Leeds. It outlines the lives of his relatives, the hardships of living on a meager income and the daily life of a young boy living in the first half of the 20th century. It is fascinating to compare the daily lives of people prior to the Second World War to the lives we lead now. Work, education and daily lifestyles for the working class seemed so much harder than ordinary people in the UK have to endure today. Dave, the author, brings these differences to life through the meticulously recounted recollections of Cyril. This truly is an excellent account of daily life, from the mundane tasks of washing and cleaning, to the comic games and distractions of young children.

A very apt account for modern times, is that back in the 1930’s “In Leeds there were jobs for school leavers.”. If you could get yourself an apprenticeship in a skilled trade you could usually find good work, and if not, there was always work as a labourer or other unskilled work. This is in contrast to today, living in a services economy where there is little work for school leavers (aged 16) who are often considered to be bottom of the pile when it comes to jobs. On the other hand, in the 1930’s Leeds was very fortunate in this respect, this was not necessarily the case in other northern towns.

The biography follows Cyril’s work at Burton’s during the 1930’s, where he would have qualified as a master tailor, had the war not come. Work conditions were often very substandard, however Burton’s was considered to be one of the better places to work, providing their workers with good pay, sickness and unemployment cover. Cyril learned if you worked hard, went to night school for additional education and learned how to get ahead it was achievable to make something of yourself as a master tailor.

Another entertaining anecdote recalls the way in which young people socialised – learning to dance, understanding etiquette and wearing the best clothes. Cyril’s social life, at aged 17, appears to be varied and frequent, dancing at various places twice a week.

Cyril had heard of the rise of Hitler through his Jewish friends that he worked with “The Jews were passionate, especially about politics, they knew politics mattered.” Being at the right age, he was conscripted into the Army in September 1939. He was the wrong age at the wrong time; born at the wrong time. Cyril was called up into the Scots regiment and was barely trained before becoming involved in the chaos in France of 1940 and some of the fiercest fighting in 1944/5.

He admits he hated being in the war but his upbringing, work life and involvement in the trade union had taught him to do things right and think for himself. In 1944, now a sergeant, Cyril lead his platoon into some of the most impenetrable fighting of the war, using his skill and extraordinary bravery to secure final victory.

This is the story of an ordinary Leeds man who lived through extraordinary times. Dave Foxton manages to capture the stark frankness of Cyril’s words and present this through a perceptive, compelling and often humorous story of Leeds and war life.

Dave Foxton has allowed Kirkstall Matters to publish the first chapter of his book on Kirkstall Online, read it today: Born at the Wrong Time – Dave Foxton

Dave’s book has been covered in the YEP: cyril article YEP-1

And you can read this flyer for further information: BATWT flyer (links)

His book in full is available to purchase:

E-book version: £3.99 from Kindle store

Paperback: £7.99 plus p&p from or £8.99 to order from all good booksellers ISBN: 9781782990291

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 Both comments and pings are currently closed.