My last post prompted a comment from ‘Silver Tiger’ about his days hitch-hiking in Spain when he was a student. I too relied on the old thumb to travel in my youth, but my journeys were made in the UK and often in the blue uniform of a conscript in the Royal Air Force.
After ‘square bashing’ (boot camp) at a camp near Manchester I was sent for training, as a radar operator, at No. 3 Radio School in Wiltshire. During this time I was paid the princely sum of £1 . 8s . 0d per week, that’s £1.40 (less than $2) in today’s money. OK, so that was 1958 and a pound went a lot further then than it does now, but the bus fare to London, where my family lived, was still 85p which didn’t leave much to spend in the N.A.A.F.I. or the local pub.
Now at that time, before the motorways, Wiltshire was home to thousands of servicemen, who were based on army camps around Salisbury Plain and the airfields and training establishments of the RAF and Royal Navy: and those of them who had a 48 hour pass (and some who didn’t) either played dodge the ticket inspector (and the military police) on the train, or crowded the old A4 road at the start of every weekend. This group’s game was … ’beat your mates to the first vehicle that stops’. Mostly this would mean climbing into the back of a lorry (truck), but sometimes you were lucky and got a lift in a private car, and if you were really lucky you got a lift all the way to London.
Of course you always ran the risk of accepting a ride from someone who should not have been behind the steering wheel of a car, but that was rare. In fact the only time I remember this happening to me was when I got into a car driven by a priest who had over indulged in the communion wine, and was in a hurry to take me with him to meet his maker via the wrong side of the road. My other startling experience was when I was hitching back to camp in the early hours of the morning in the hope of getting back in time for duty, when I got into a large dark coloured car, only to find myself sitting next to Group Captain Ian Esplin my station commander ! … ( = US rank of colonel).
During my two years service I stood by many a roadside ‘thumbing a lift’ and I am still grateful to all those kind souls who stopped in the rain and allowed a dripping young airman to sit on their clean upholstery and smoke their cigarettes. Some would treat you to a meal or a cup of tea at a transport café and quite a few would drive miles out of their way to help you on your journey. I could be wrong, but I doubt that …
…. it would happen today.