(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.
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.
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
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
‘A cone please,
‘Oh, “miss” is
it? Well I never…’ The middle-aged woman giggled. ‘Penny
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.’
beamed appreciation. ‘Thank you very much miss, you are
a very kind person.’
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.
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.
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.’
‘I mean a lady
or a young child might be passing and hear you
‘I’m sorry, I
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.
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
sir, Barry Truckerson.’
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
‘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.
puzzled. Could this man not make up his mind? He decided
to change tack. ‘What do you do sir?
‘Wow! I met an
RAF chap here last year, sir he could tell an engine by
the sound, Watson … something …’
Well if I have my way, engines will sound very
‘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.
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.
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.
pull as well.’
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.
could think of nothing to say. The boy was talking
nonsense of course, but his head was buzzing strangely,
buzzing with some curious ideas.
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
‘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
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
boffins, Truckerson thought. They’re all the same. Queer
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
What did you say?’
marcher, sir. Are you a marcher?’
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.’
Truckerson agreed enthusiastically.
marched together, Truckerson showed Whittle Watson-whatsit’s
‘Brilliant.’ Whittle said appreciatively.
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.
earth d’you want to do that? You boys, always playing
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
got raspberry again! Why didn’t I get any?’
sir,’ Truckerson said sheepishly. Ladies, why were they
let me take your name, son. I’ll write it down.’
…’ 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
sir. What war?’ Truckerson stared at the man.
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!’
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.
your planes sir! I’ll whiz around the sky and knock the
bloody Jerries for six!’
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.
you will, Barry, I’m sure you will. Now, how about a
march and another ice-cream?’
sir. And … you can call me “Trux” if you like, all my
honour, Trux, an honour. And by the way, never tell
anyone what I said about the war or what we talked
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
another one of your “Boffins”?’ his mother sounded
mum. And I’m going to join the Air Force.’
thought you were going to be a fireman,’ his father
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.’
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
The sun shone
brightly as Squadron Leader Truckerson hauled himself
out of the back of the car and greeted the assembled
is it, the top-secret plane?’
nodded, and ushered him into the hangar.
no propellers!’ Truckerson was surprised. Then he
called Whittle, I think.’ The Flight said.
Truckerson said nothing, remembering his vow of silence
all those years before.
what’s this?’ There was a small plaque on the nose.
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.’
thought Truckerson, you can’t win ’em all. I’ve learned
a lot about history today.