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“Going my way ?”

Posted by Big John on July 14, 2011

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.


5 Responses to ““Going my way ?””

  1. I think we do today live in a more selfish and less caring society. To be fair, people are much more cautious about helping strangers when the media are full of sensational crime reports.

    This makes it all the more heart-warming when help is spontaneously given. As when I fell over in the City the other day, in the rush hour, and several people dashed over, hauled me to my feet, asked if I was all right, and wouldn’t leave until I assured them that I was. Or when we missed the last bus from a village and asked a lady if there was a cab office nearby (there wasn’t, of course) and she drove us into town in her car.

    For me, the tone of our society is set by the fact that the elderly, the infirm and the pregnant are left standing on the tube and bus while well-dressed young executive types (never mind scruffy school kids) are comfortably seated reading their Kindles.

  2. Ginnie said

    Ah, youth. You’ve reminded me of an instance with my son and hitch-hiking which I will try to write up as a blog entry. Thanks.
    I agree that our world today seems much more self absorbed than in the past but I so see acts of kindness that give me hope. A young girl recently told me of watching an elderly black lady with her grandaughter standing out in the almost-100 degree heat waiting for a bus. They had just missed one and it would be at least 1/2 hour for the next. The girl started to drive away and then went back and offered them a ride. She took them home … which turned out to be in an area that she would never have gone … and their gratitude was so sincere and touching that she couldn’t tell us about it without crying… and perhaps it will go a long way in breaking down color barriers!

  3. Dick Klade said

    Well, now I understand it all. Although I could make to heroic claims regarding American soldiers being “over sexed,” nor could I claim to ever being “over there,” I always griped about the “over paid” part. Just out of boot camp in 1958, my pay was $70 a month, which I considered altogether inadequate. From your post, I calculate a Tommie’s pay at about $9 a month. A gross injustice any way you look at it, I’d say.

  4. Grannymar said

    If I see somebody I know at a bus stop, I will offer them a lift and drop them off wherever they are going. I will not pick up a stranger who is hitching at the side of the road, blame 34 years years of living with the troubles in Northern Ireland. My car is my lifeline and I have no wish to lose it.

  5. Rummuser said

    I do think that it would happen today if someone wore a British armed forces uniform, unless I am mistaken. It would certainly happen in the USA. I would and have given lifts to soldiers in India.

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