Fell off the back of a lorry

By Donald Joy

Most, if not all, are familiar with the phrase, "fell off the back of a lorry". Unlike the common use of this expression, this tale recounts two occasions that relate to the actual meaning of this phrase. 

As was often the case, myself and a friend, were playing with our soapbox carts (we called them trolleys) on Church Hill, racing down and then dragging them back up again, ready for another run. Now you have to remember that this was a main thoroughfare back in the '50s and was used by many vehicles including lorries. Lorries then were not like those of today, many were canvas covered and had a canvas sheet at the rear instead of a tailboard or rear doors.

On the first occasion a lorry was climbing the hill and needed to change down a gear to make the ascent. The driver did this and must have done it wth a jerk, for as he did, a large cardboard box slipped out of the back and onto the road. We "rescued" it, but the lorry was gone by now, so we had a peep inside the box. To our surprise and delight, we found that it was full of cartons of Rice Krispies which we decided we would eat. The whole box must have taken us a whole week to devour, a few handfuls or more each day. We hid the rest in the bushes overnight. Inside each carton was a free gift, a plastic spaceman, in a variety of colours, but the best bit was, they each had a clear plastic space helmet. We kept these and took them home but I don't recall how we explained (lied) to our mothers where we got them from. I told quite good lies (I thought), not necessarily believable, but imaginative. 

The second occasion must have occurred in a similar manner as the first, only this time our "loot" or "prize", depending upon how you look at it, was a box containing 48 packs of Arctic Wafers. These were like other wafers but white with a mint flavoured centre, just the job for two growing young boys. Between us we consumed the lot, over a period of several days. This left us both feeling more than a little bit sick and with little or no appetite. This caused a problem when dinner time came and we were unable to eat dinner, yet another telling off. To this day I don't like anything mint flavoured, except maybe After Eights (occasionally). I'm also not fond of Rice Krispies. 

I think that the improvement in lorry design may have ruined things for later generations of soapbox racing enthusiasts, but that's progress.

This page was added by Donald Joy on 08/11/2015.
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Those of us that are old enough (and those not so old) remember with nostalgic affection the stories of "never, in the field of human conflict have so many owed so much to so few." These, and many other quotes reflect our belief in the true bravery and dedication of so many dedicated to our defence in WW2. However, let us be honest and admit that there was an underside to civilian activities during WW2. 

As a child I was well aware that some of my relatives, who worked in the docks, walked out with half a pocket full of tea pouched from a damaged tea chest, or a couple of bars of soap tucked inside their shirt. Or a couple of packets of Players. Not enough to arouse suspicion but enough to give their family a little extra. 

Closer to home, my mother worked at the British Restaurant in Memorial Hall. At the end of serving meals to the public there was always food left over. Accountability was meaningless. The supervisor (eventually fired) encouraged employees to take food home. Stories of restaurant employees taking food home after closing hours are a tale untold.

The story of untied sacks of coal on the back of a lorry, attempting to deliver, in wet weather, to an address in an unmade up road that is little more than a field is typical of the time. It was not at all unusual for a sack of coal to "fall off the lorry" and a private sale result twixt driver and whoever.

One can only wonder at the accounting and auditing of the corporations of that day. I can only recount my experience of Willy Weedon who, after I had collected his paper dues on my route around the Fortune of War and up Noak Hill, simply scooped the money, without any counting or book accounting, into his till! Amazing. Did auditors exist at that time?

I think the important point is to remember that, despite the many heroic and admirable aspects of our parents and grandparents behaviour during WW2 there is, inevitably, an underside of which we may not be so proud.

By Alan Davies
On 11/11/2015
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