THE SOLDIER AND THE SERGEANT
first week after arriving at the new camp south east of Selby in the rural
Drax area of Yorkshire in 1947, Billy was in trouble again and placed on 3
days CB (confined to barracks). As part of the punishment, he had to
perform menial tasks each morning at a cookhouse in a camp further down
the road, under the direction of a tall thin efficacious sergeant. To add
to his problems he also had a minor altercation with the sergeant, which
was not a good beginning at his new abode.
the Saturday afternoon, Billy became aware that the camp was deserted, so
he decided to ignore his CB and take a walk to the nearest hamlet, where
he understood there was a dance every Saturday evening at the church hall.
hamlet was a cluster of about 10 buildings consisting of a church with a
recreational hall attached, a cafť, a pub and a few other structures.
Having nothing in particular to do before the dance started, he took
advantage of the beautiful weather and the peaceful outdoors by biding his
time in the nearby park. As evening drew near he observed with interest a
number of young girls in party dresses arriving at the church along a
footpath between the benches in the park and concluded that he was
privileged to preview the evenings dance partners.
girl, who caught his eye, was different from the rest, didnít use
makeup, didnít need it and dressed in typical country clothes, which
consisted of a tweed suit and low heal shoes. She was not glamorous by any
standards, but was an outstanding beauty in every respect. Mesmerized -
his eyes followed her through the park, across the road and into the
church. If love at first sight was for real, this was it and he began to
contemplate the possibility of meeting her at the dance.
thoughts entered his mind as he considered his bumps, lumps and blemishes
and began to wonder what a stunning girl like this would want with a short
young lad with little hair and definitely not the leading man type.
However the negative thoughts passed and a positive attitude took over, as
he began to plan his strategy for meeting this exceptional young lady at
from his experience in such matters he decided that the best plan was to
enter the dance hall early before the competition was aware of her
existence and dazzle her with footwork. The hall filled up very fast and
couples linked to whirl around the floor to the sound of the music, as
Billy searched the room for the target of his affections. The second dance
started and he considered the possibility that she may not be attending,
particularly by the way she was dressed, so not wishing to waste his
Saturday night, selected a lesser mortal to trip the light fantastic.
After circling the floor a couple of times and engaging in small talk, he
was fairly confident of companionship for the evening, but there was no
chemistry, so he didnít linger.
dance came and went and still no sign of the girl in the tweed suit. By
this time the romantic young man was somewhat dejected and decided that if
he couldnít have the girl of his choice, he would rather be alone.
Disregarding all the other girls, he positioned himself with a clear view
of the door where they were entering and contemplated the best strategy if
and when she appeared. It was not unlike a scene from a Woody Allen movie,
with the anxious soldier considering the best approach - Should he rush
across the floor to beat out the competition, or a less obvious saunter
with the casual air of the bon vivant and risk losing her?
his delight he noticed the natural beauty in the next room through a small
window and knew that she was about to enter the hall. Without even
thinking he was face to face with her within seconds and she accepted his
invitation to dance. The next few minutes went by so fast that he was much
too occupied to think about his good fortune, because as they made their
way around the floor he noticed the tall sergeant from the cookhouse, who
knew he was on CB and could easily identify him by his practically
Billy started to crouch as he continued dancing and explained the dilemma
to his partner, who was slightly taller than him, but even more attractive
you like to leave?" the girl asked as they danced towards to exit
door. He was out of the door like a flash and to his amazement, followed
by the girl. They then joined hands and skipped down the narrow country
road, laughing with gay abandon, as though they had known each other all
their lives. It was an exhilarating feeling, which can only be described
as a magic moment!
the way down the winding road to the girlís house they talked
incessantly and he became aware that she was not only exceptionally
beautiful, but also had a wonderful personality and disposition. A number
of times during the evening, he felt like pinching himself to confirm that
he wasnít dreaming.
only did he find it difficult to believe that the outstanding girl decided
to leave with him, but also that they had established such a rapport,
considering that they had only met a few minutes before leaving the dance
and they didnít even know each otherís names. It was all very
cut a long story short, at the end of the evening Billy returned to the
road heading to the camp in semi darkness. A cyclist approached and he
attempted to hitch a ride. The man on the bike was none other than the
tall sergeant, who stopped and beckoned him towards the luggage rack over
the rear wheel. It was a very large bike, suitable to the size of the
sergeant, who peddled away without difficulty. Arriving at the camp the
sergeant bid Billy good night as he scampered away undetected.
for the ride," shouted Billy as he disappeared in the darkness. Could
it be that the sergeant didnít recognize him with his hat on at night,
or was he really a nice guy and gave him a break? Billy would like to
believe the latter!
following week Billy was posted out of the area and never saw the girl who
made his heart throb again. Later he borrowed an army vehicle one Sunday
afternoon and drove from Halifax to track her down, but he was unable to
find her or anyone else who knew her and was forced to give up. He
considered additional visits in army vehicles, but decided against it when
he encountered civilian police roadblocks looking for black marketers of
petrol, which was still rationed at the time.
those days with telephones a rarity, computers unheard of and public
transportation in the country leaving much to be desired, communication
was difficult, to say the least.
1947 the Drax area was all country with farmland, hamlets and villages.
The army Return Stores Depot, RSD was a huge complex of sheds storing army
surplus goods and equipment shipped in from all over the country by train
to a dedicated rail line going directly into the RSD. Soldiers from the
Pioneer Corp camp just up the road and some civilians from the surrounding
area worked in the stores and the soldierís small RASC attachment
provided the trucks to shunt the material from the trains to the sheds.
was only stationed there a couple of weeks, which was not long enough to
confirm the rumors that sheets were being burned and valuable equipment
was being destroyed. Word had it that the civilian population had
protested the burning of sheets, which they and the Ku Klux Klan would
have appreciated. Had Billy known of the protest he would have also joined
in, not having seen white textiles since he was called up.
that valuable stuff was being destroyed, he decided to find a better use
for it. Acting on another rumor that a farmer close to their camp paid
good money for such items, he drove out the RSD gate one day with a bunch
of large heavy spanners (wrenches). Presenting his booty to the farmer and
expecting to negotiate a fair price, he was ushered into a barn where he
was shown a particularly large container full of similar items.
would like to sell you some," said the farmer to a now confused
that he had been buying the spanners from the soldiers for years and had
no idea what to do with them. Deciding that there was no way he could
overcome that objection, he inquired about petrol, only to be shown
another shed with the largest tank he had ever seen, and advised that the
tank was full and there was no where else to store it.
knew a losing situation when he saw one and excusing himself from the
friendly farmer, retreated with his tail between his legs carrying the
heavy spanners. They were now a liability vs. an asset, because he
didnít know what else to do with them, so he decided to dump them in the
farmers duck pond. He was tempted to take a few duck eggs for his trouble,
but there was nowhere to cook them.
hoping to find the lady in the tweed suit, he returned to the Drax area in
1992 to bathe in nostalgia and possibly find out what the farmer did with
the spanners Ė the ones in the shed - not the ones in the duck pond! The
ex-soldier started out from Selby on a road to the hamlet, which he had
taken many times before back in 1947 and was astounded to find that the
road came to a complete end in the middle of nowhere.
he could see in front of him were hedges and mountains. Questioning a
nearby resident who was comparatively new to the area, he was told that
the mountains in front of the road were really not mountains and just
large piles of slag covered with green paint.
resident went on to explain that a monstrous generating station now
occupies practically the whole of the Drax area and itís the largest
coal-fired power station in Western Europe, with at least a dozen
humongous chimneys and a similar amount of green painted mountains.
wishing to leave with out seeing something he could reminisce about, Billy
drove several miles south hoping to find evidence of the railway line,
which used to enter the RSD. This time he was lucky and observed the rail
line entering a field and going directly towards a mountain. It was as
though the slag was deposited directly on top of the rail line and the
ex-soldier wondered if they had done the same thing to the RSD, because
removing all those tools and equipment would present a monumental task and
it was all used material. The fact that the RASC detachment with the
trucks moved out in 1947, lends credence to the theory that nothing was
moved from then on.
was unable to find anyone who remembered the hamlet or the RSD, because
like the young lady in the Tourist Information Office in nearby Selby,
everyone he talked to was too young to remember the areas history. Driving
towards Chapeltown, Billy couldnít help thinking that the farmer no
longer had to be concerned about what to do with the spanners, because
they were probably all under a mountain of slag.
Soldier and The Sergeant is copyright ©Bill Hawksford
Hawksford has compiled his memories of army life into twenty-two chapters
of short stories similar to the above. We are in the process of
displaying his entire works on our Images of Yorkshire website and we
would urge you to visit and view Bill's wonderful accounts of his younger
days, much of which was spent in and around Yorkshire.