Letter: Recalling happy memories of rail strikes

Hebden Bridge Train Station
Hebden Bridge Train Station

Not all rail strikes cause problems for travellers.

The recent strikes took my mind back to 1955 when the NUR called a nationwide strike two days before I was due to return from leave to my army unit where I was finishing off my national service.

When I was able to eventually return to my unit five days late, I found myself standing rigidly to attention between two burly MPs (Military Policemen) facing a charge of AWOL (absent without leave).

Stranded national servicemen like me had been instructed in radio announcements to report to their nearest TA (Territorial Army) unit, which I did the following day.

We were conditioned to obey orders without question so I joined a couple of dozen or so fellow squaddies there as instructed

The Captain in charge of the TA HQ seemed to know nothing about this arrangement and obviously didn’t know what to do, so he told us all to report there again the following day.

This went on for four days and when I turned up on the fifth day alone, he said “Where the hell did they post you to, the Outer Hebrides?” I was actually stationed in Perth, Scotland.

He pointed out that the strike had been called off a couple of days earlier, which I knew, and told me that he didn’t want to see me again and to get back to my unit, which I immediately did.

On my return I was immediately arrested and brought before the Camp Commandant to answer the AWOL charge.

After being officially charged and receiving a stern and angry lecture about the serious nature of the offence, I was asked if I had to say anything for myself.

“Couldn’t disobey the Captain’s orders” I replied, trying to look as dozy and sheepish as I could.

“What’s he talking about?” said the Camp Commandant turning to the sergeant in charge of the proceedings.

“Don’t know Sir. What are you talking about, Gunner?” said the Sergeant glaring at me. (Gunner was my Royal Artillery rank.)

When I explained, they were faced with a lengthy investigation involving the TA Captain which would have verified my story anyway, so they decided to drop the charge.

As part of our training, blind obedience was drilled into us.

We were conditioned not to use our own initiative and to blindly follow instructions from a senior officer to the letter - which is precisely what I had done.

I had beaten the system. My mischievous manipulation of Queen’s Regulations gave me much satisfaction - and three extra days leave!