As a lad he was told his father had been killed in the First World War.

He also buried his young wife at the church where they had wed after she died from cancer. Now his only daughter is fighting the disease.

As a boy he would gaze in awe at the expensive toys in Manchester's department stores - but the doormen never let him in.

"I would stare at the train going round the track, but we were always too poor to afford it," he said.

As a young man Charlie got used to waiting in vain outside grimy factory gates hoping for work.

"When the First World War was on people just accepted it," said Charlie, a former cleaner at St Vincent's School, Knutsford.

"But afterwards the Labour Exchange queues stretched back like people waiting to watch a football match."

The great grandad moved to Knutsford after burglars ransacked his Manchester home - leaving his second wife too scared to live there.

But despite difficulties which would have depressed many, Charlie says he's always stayed happy.

"It's always been better to sing than grouse," he said. "Times have been hard, but you just got on with things and worked together to make it better."

Charlie was born in a tiny terraced house in the heartland of industrial Manchester which he shared with seven brothers and sisters.

Now aged 91, he was lucky to live beyond nine months after a burning blind fell on him when he was a baby.

"Everything was lit by candle in those days and the blind caught fire,' said Charlie, who now lives with his 94-year-old wife Connie in a Mobberley nursing home.

"The whole thing fell on top of me, but luckily my father was there."

Mum had the hard task of raising the family after dad - a bandsman in the Territorial Army - was killed at Gallipoli.

"It was a great struggle for her, but it kept us all together," said Charlie, who says the Catholic faith has also helped him cope.

"I always remember the debt collector coming round every week and mum sometimes had to go to the pawn shop."

The depression of the 20's and 30's left Charlie and many mates desperate for work - and fighting for a better deal.

"My first job was on the railway watching for people pinching stock because they were that hard-up," said Charlie, formerly of Longridge

"You got used to being laid off and there was nothing like sick pay or proper health care in those days."

Charlie, who used to deliver goods to city centre shops by horse and cart, turned to socialism and the trade unions to improve his lot.

One peaceful march in Manchester turned ugly after police turned hosepipes on protesters.

But Charlie, a former branch secretary for the National Union of Railwaymen, reckons his efforts were not in vain.

"People called us communists and troublemakers," he said.

"But we didn't think we should be held back because of where we were born and just wanted a reasonable living. I think our pressure has led to a lot changes in the workplace and concerning health care. We don't know how lucky we are today."

Charlie says he's seen many changes over the years including a quicker pace of life, more traffic and changing attitudes.

"It's sad that people are more for themselves these days where in the past we worked together," he said.

But Charlie has written about his life in prose and poetry to make sure people don't forget the days when he struggled to make ends meet.

"It's important people understand what went on in the past so we never go back to that," he said.

Converted for the new archive on 13 March 2001. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.