Truckerson, the Missing Chapter

 

(this is a 'chapter' which is not in the book, but gives a flavour of the humour)

 

 

It was a fine summer afternoon in the sleepy seaside town of Hastings. Along the parade a figure came into view. Just a schoolboy, but quite a striking one, probably a sixth-former. His bulky figure stood tall, his head set at a noble angle, chin high. His steps were steady, positive. He strode – no, he marched. A faint oompahing sound could be heard as his arms swung moderately and steadily as he progressed.

Barry Truckerson was remembering the year before when he’d met that chap Watson-something and the one he’d skimmed stones with – Barnes-Norris – funny how boffins all had double names.  A lot of chums at school had, but when he’d asked Pop about it he’d just cuffed him gently and told him to get on with his prep.

      He’d come down with his parents for a long weekend. They were staying at The Grand, which Truckerson had already decided wasn’t very. But they’d been lucky to get bookings. It was the annual Boffin’s conference again, as he liked to describe it to the annoyance of his father.  This morning, his mother had decided she wanted a new hat and Pop had taken her into the town. Truckerson could see the need for ladies to have new hats, but couldn’t abide the process of acquiring them and tended to get rather fidgety sitting on a hard chair in some stuffy, smelly shop. This was unpopular with his father, so much so that he was prepared to sacrifice some of his hard-earned dosh to keep the boy occupied. Ice-cream seemed to be a universal answer in these cases. After being instructed not to get into trouble, where not to go, and exactly when to return to the hotel for afternoon tea, Truckerson was released into the community.

 

The boy’s dark eyes spotted the kiosk. As he approached it at a rate of knots, the woman inside smiled at him and spoke. ‘Hello love.’ Truckerson wished sometimes ladies were not so familiar.

‘A cone please, miss.’

‘Oh, “miss” is it? Well I never…’ The middle-aged woman giggled. ‘Penny or twopenny?’

This was a fundamental test of Truckerson’s character. His father admired thrift, but Truckerson admired ice-cream. ‘Twopenny please,’ he said firmly and clicked the coins down on the counter.

‘Yes, I’d say that’s right, for a big boy like you …’ The woman glanced at him coyly, filling the cone. ‘Would you like some raspberry on that?’ The boy looked eager, then downcast. He had no more money, and it cost a farthing more. The woman read his face. ‘Oh, have this as a present, my dear.’

Truckerson beamed appreciation. ‘Thank you very much miss, you are a very kind person.’

The woman reddened slightly, looking rather confused. ‘Well I never … you could charm the birds from the trees, young man, there’s some very lucky girls out there waiting for you.’ She giggled again, girlishly.

 

Truckerson was puzzled, but also polite. With a small bow, he left the woman, wondering why on earth he should charm birds, and why on earth girls should be waiting for him. He strolled along, licking his ice. Women were funny creatures, he thought. In the sweet shop in the village where he and his school chums went, a new couple had recently taken over. The man was a gardener at the school, and his wife ran the shop. The other boys said she was really cross with them, but he’d always found her pleasant and friendly as he chatted to her and called her ‘miss’. The man told him his wife thought he was ‘a real little gentleman’ and ‘a handsome lad’. The other boys ragged him when they heard this, but Truckerson was more than compensated by an extra gobstopper or piece of chocolate in his paper bag on a Saturday. He never said anything to the others as he scoffed them quietly.

 

As he walked, licking gently, he wondered about Germany. There was lots of talk of war – you’d think after the last lot, those bally krauts would have learned their lesson. But there was one thing he admired about them – marching. They were really good at that – he’d seen newsreels of loads of them marching all over the shop, all in step, wheeling and turning in perfect formation. One thing he couldn’t stand was their arm-waving, like demented trolleybuses. But for sheer technical skill, he did admire their precision.

 

Truckerson was well into the last third of his cone when he came opposite a beach shelter. He was rather startled to hear a man’s voice shouting, ‘Damn, damn’. He turned his head and saw a man sitting on the bench, looking down and banging his fist on the seat. Truckerson had never been one for bad manners.

‘I say, sir,’ he called out. The man looked up. ‘That’s bally rude if I may say so.’

The man appeared puzzled.

‘I mean a lady or a young child might be passing and hear you swearing.’

‘Was I?’

‘Yes, sir, quite loud.’

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realise.’

Truckerson realised the man was a gentleman. He knew this by his manner, and his genuine apology. But he wouldn’t let him off that easily.

‘You nearly made me drop my cone.’ He gazed at the man steadily.

The man eyed the remains of the cone. For some reason he liked this lad, the set of his head, that open face with the dark dancing eyes. He could see the boy was wary but not afraid.

‘What’s your name, son?’

‘Truckerson, sir, Barry Truckerson.’

‘Well, mine’s Whittle, Frank Whittle.’

After they had visited the kiosk, they both returned, licking their ice creams. Whittle glanced over at the boy. ‘How on earth did you get raspberry?’ he asked enviously.

‘I don’t know sir.’

 

‘Are you a boffin sir?’ Truckerson was not sure. After all, the man only had a single name. He wasn’t sure if you were allowed to be a boffin with only a single name. But what else was he doing here? – he wasn’t a tourist and he was a gentleman, so he couldn’t be a commercial traveller or anything like that.

      ‘I’m an engineer.’

‘Not a scientist?’

‘Well, yes.’

Truckerson was puzzled. Could this man not make up his mind? He decided to change tack. ‘What do you do sir?

‘Engines.’

      ‘What, for cars?’

‘Planes.’

‘Wow! I met an RAF chap here last year, sir he could tell an engine by the sound, Watson … something …’

‘Watt?’

‘What?’

‘Never mind. Well if I have my way, engines will sound very different.’

‘Why?’

‘I want to make a new kind of engine. I’m not sure what yet.’

‘Be good if they could get rid of propellers.’ Truckerson said, idly licking his cone.

‘Oh, I hardly think …’ Whittle broke off thoughtfully.

Truckerson had seen a film where a man had been chopped up by a propeller – you didn’t see it of course, just heard a horrible noise, but it had been pretty gruesome.

‘I mean, couldn’t they put them inside the engine?’ Whittle was too polite to laugh. ‘If they put them in the box, they’d be quieter as well.’ Whittle searched for something the boy would understand.

‘They wouldn’t pull as well.’

‘Make ’em faster then.’ Truckerson spoke confidently, he knew that his Uncle Bertie’s fan blew much harder if you switched it up a notch. ‘And with more blades. And more propellers all in a row inside …’ The boy was enthusiastic now, his eyes gleamed he gazed into the far horizon and a faint humming sound came from him. ‘Whizzing round – it would go much faster, wouldn’t it?’ Truckerson knew from games that small things went faster than big ones, thinking of himself puffing round the track as young Nippy Johnston sped by.

      Whittle could think of nothing to say. The boy was talking nonsense of course, but his head was buzzing strangely, buzzing with some curious ideas.

‘And wouldn’t it be like that fire hose thing?’ Truckerson had recently decided to become a fireman. Although he had the introductory letter and the information from the Watson-something fellow from last year about the RAF, a temporary glitch in his career plans had occurred when he saw a film of firefighters at a big fire. It looked such fun! In one scene, a fireman had been thrown backwards by the force of the water when a hose was switched on.

‘It’s like a hose, sir, if you squirted the air out of a nozzle and revved up the fan, surely it would send the plane flying about all over the bally place?’ Truckerson was waving his arms excitedly, forgetting his ice-cream, the last remaining lump of which flew up and landed on Whittle’s knee.

Truckerson was immediately apologetic, afraid of what the man would say, but the man was quiet, ice-cream ignored, gazing out to sea …. He stayed like that for a while, until Truckerson became somewhat concerned. His ice cream was sliding down the cone, clearly with the intention of joining Truckerson’s.

      These boffins, Truckerson thought. They’re all the same. Queer blokes altogether.

He decided to start a conversation. ‘Are you a marcher, sir?’ he asked pleasantly, peering into the man’s face. Whittle came back to reality with the boy’s large face filling his vision. For a moment he was surprised, and hurriedly sat back.

      ‘What? What did you say?’

      ‘A marcher, sir. Are you a marcher?’

      Whittle’s face beamed. ‘Of course, son, of course.’ Looking down, he noticed the two blobs of ice-cream on the knee of his trousers. ‘Oh dear,’ he muttered as he wiped the cloth, ‘we’d better get some more.’

      ‘Rather!’ Truckerson agreed enthusiastically.

      As they marched together, Truckerson showed Whittle Watson-whatsit’s ‘oompah’ trick.

      ‘Brilliant.’ Whittle said appreciatively.

      They arrived at the kiosk out of breath and flushed. The woman looked at them curiously. ‘What you been up to?’ she asked, smiling.

      ‘Marching,’ they said in unison.

      ‘Why on earth d’you want to do that? You boys, always playing games.’

      As she cheerily prepared their ice-creams, little did she know that in just a few short years she would be thanking providence for the marching and marching-related abilities that would win the war for Britain. Yes, the Germans were fine marchers, but maybe their style was too rigid, to regimented? It could be that the more flexible and imaginative marching skills of the British would prove superior in the long term. Only time would tell.

      ‘You’ve got raspberry again! Why didn’t I get any?’

      ‘Dunno sir,’ Truckerson said sheepishly. Ladies, why were they so funny?

 

      ‘Anyway, let me take your name, son. I’ll write it down.’

      ‘Why, sir?’

      ‘Because …’ Whittle’s eyes fixed on the far horizon. Truckerson instinctively began to hum gently. ‘ … you have given me a great idea, one that may help us win this war. One that may result in a new engine for our aeroplanes that will enable them to knock Johnny Hun out of the sky.’ Truckerson’s humming crescendoed as Whittle flung his arm upwards, propelling his ice-cream into the path of a passing gull.

      ‘Hang on, sir. What war?’ Truckerson stared at the man.

      ‘Ah … Well, don’t tell anyone I told you this, but it is likely we shall be at war with Germany again. It may be several years, but …’ The man’s head dropped, then rose again. His gaze bored into Truckerson. ‘But with a generation like you coming along, we shall not want for brave men. It’s you, son, and chaps like you who will save our country and keep it great!’

      This was a turning point, both for Barry Truckerson, and the world. No longer did Truckerson wish to be a fireman. His resolve was set. He would join the Royal Air Force and become a flyer.

      ‘I’ll fly your planes sir! I’ll whiz around the sky and knock the bloody Jerries for six!’

      Looking at the boy’s honest expression and keen, eager gaze, Whittle was reassured. The future was indeed safe. All he had to do was get the job done, and give this boy and others like him the tools to do theirs.

      ‘I’m sure you will, Barry, I’m sure you will. Now, how about a march and another ice-cream?’

      ‘Rather, sir. And … you can call me “Trux” if you like, all my pals do.’

      ‘An honour, Trux, an honour. And by the way, never tell anyone what I said about the war or what we talked about, promise?’

      ‘Scout’s honour, sir.’

 

Truckerson arrived back at The Grand, late for afternoon tea, and curiously had little appetite. His father looked suspiciously at him. ‘What have you been up to?’

      ‘Marching, sir. And I met a man who makes ’plane engines.’

      ‘Not another one of your “Boffins”?’ his mother sounded amused.

      ‘Yes, mum. And I’m going to join the Air Force.’

      ‘I thought you were going to be a fireman,’ his father queried.

      ‘Well, for a while, but now I see flying’s what I want to do, really want to do. I’ll be bally good at it.’

      His mother shushed his language and looked around, but his father tousled his hair and said, ‘That’s good, son. I’m proud of you. We may need boys like you soon.’ His mother gripped his father’s hand and they glanced at each other. Truckerson felt they had some secret that he did not share. He suspected he had an inkling, but he couldn’t reveal even to his parents what Whittle had told him.

 

*

 

The sun shone brightly as Squadron Leader Truckerson hauled himself out of the back of the car and greeted the assembled crew.

      ‘So this is it, the top-secret plane?’

      They nodded, and ushered him into the hangar.

      ‘It’s got no propellers!’ Truckerson was surprised. Then he remembered.

      ‘Who invented this?’

      ‘Chap called Whittle, I think.’ The Flight said.

      Truckerson said nothing, remembering his vow of silence all those years before.

      ‘And what’s this?’ There was a small plaque on the nose.

      ‘Oh, it’s a dedication to someone he knew, said he was instrumental in getting him to clarify the idea for it. Some chap he met at a conference once.’

      Truckerson swelled with pride. Getting close and peering at the small, engraved plate, he read: ‘Dedicated to the schoolboy who helped me achieve this: Harry Parkinson.’

      Well, thought Truckerson, you can’t win ’em all. I’ve learned a lot about history today.

      And he had.