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Memories of Bilston

The Battle Wagon
by Geoff Roberts

We were young then, my recollection was about 10 years old. My twin brother and I were at Villiers' and Mike was at Etheridge. Little did we know that we were to be despatched to boarding school in little more than a year after the trials of the eleven plus, but of course that was a lifetime away and all that mattered was the present or at most, the end of the week. We were inseparable and shared everything; sweets, pets of the moment, jokes, stories, experiences and much more including an event I vividly remember when we attempted to eat a whole 4 lb. can of shredded pineapple. The results were predictable and colourful!

Naturally enough at that age girls were objects of curiosity at best, derision at worst but mostly we didn’t take any notice of them and to my recollection they didn’t take too much notice of us either although we did get involved in the girlie games particularly at birthday parties. No doubt it was just the start of what was to become a rather more focused agenda later in life!!

Now we, the gang of three, would try most things for a dare. The usual things come to mind such as ringing door bells and running away, scrumping apples, looking through any window we could gain access to and generally giving cheek to anyone if we could get away with it. We had bikes of course, but the centre of attraction and the one vehicle that made us the envy of most of our peers was 'the battle wagon'. Some might just call the wagon a cart, with two seats set one behind each other, large wheels at the rear, small wheels at the front attached to the steering yolk and a sort of brake consisting of a wooden handle with a rubber base (sounds good eh?). However to us it was a tank, speedster, spaceship and anything else we wanted to imagine at the time and it served that purpose magnificently.

To ride in the wagon, was an art form just from the seating aspect since three into two only works with difficulty and so comfort was minimal and so of course was safety. The wagon was not stable with three kids wedged into it and so we went to lengths to protect ourselves with helmets preserved from the last world war and, if driving, the protection of a full size German army helmet (the Jerry helmet as it was known). In full war kit, the wagon and its occupations were a fearful site and a particularly unstoppable and dangerous weapon in its erratic course down Prouds Lane. On one side was the road, on the other a large green metal fence, in the middle was us trying desperately to keep the wagon on a straight course and heaven help anyone coming the other way. Imagine the scene...this contraption hurtling toward you with a obvious lack of control and nowhere to go, three grinning moronic kids with army helmets and, believe me this is Gospel truth, waving what looked like (and in fact were) actual hand grenades. The number of adults we scared witless was legendary and of course was bound to reach the ears of the local law.

After the visit we had to cool things down and get rid of the grenades, the wagon had been in many colourful crashes and began to look and feel the worse for wear, so we had to turn to other things. We tried other things like smoking, living in some old abandoned air raid shelters (at least until the food ran out and we got cold!) and we even joined the cub scouts. Now that was an interesting story and one I'll tell another time.

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