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The Dogs of War

by Alan Tossell

Contributed by 
Alan Tossell
People in story: 
Alan Tossell
Location of story: 
South Wales
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
05 August 2003


The Western Welsh bus finally rattled its way into the steel town of Briton Ferry. The roads now gouged and rutted by the tracks of American armoured vehicles pouring into the Welsh ports from the other side of the Atlantic .
Most men of between eighteen and fifty whose fitness fell somewhere in the gradings of A1 to D4 were now in the armed forces. Everywhere you went you saw an almost endless variety of shades of khaki and blue. Our bus conductor a man in his twenties , stooped and clearly unfit was clad in militaristic navy uniform with red trouser piping and epaulettes and a peak cap the front of which was bent upwards in SS Storm trooper style. He had clung to the post on the rear step of the overloaded double-decker using his free hand to indicate to those passengers stranded along the way that there would be another bus following. There rarely was of course.
Food was in short supply, houses were badly heated and not a chink of light shone through the windows of the terraced houses. The slatted wooden bus seats added to the general discomforts of the third year of the war.
As a thirteen year old my leisure moments were often taken up with a search for sweets and chocolates.; invariably the answer was "No, don't you know there's a war on?"
The bright spot of my day however was, that half way through my four hour journey, I was able to buy a small foil wrapped and purple jacketed,bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk Chocolate,
Aunt and Uncle were there to meet me and next morning it was off with Uncle for a tour of the Steelworks.
The first stop was at the Siemens Open Hearth furnace with its vertically opening doors on the furnace front. This monster's cinema screen size maw opened at intervals to reveal a tongue of molten steel. Machines thrust in tons of pig iron, the twisted steel ribs of bombed out buildings and huge ladles of manganese and nickel .
The unbearable heat seared through my school uniform and what a relief it was to move away and watch the tapping process with its incandescent stream of molten steel jetting into the rail mounted ladles below.

The final process took place in the rolling mill where the ingots passed through the giant rollers of the mill. Forwards and backwards, slowly at first, the indigo slag scales being stripped off with high pressure jets of water. Forwards and backwards through the steam shrouded mill.
Here the enormous pressure on the steel caused it to shriek howl and judder in ear shattering cadences Each time the ingot passed through the rollers it increased in length and temperature, glowing red now orange, now straw.
The finished product , armour plate, flashed past, finally to be sheared off into managable lengths and allowed to cool.
Outside the plant snow was begining to settle on the wet streets.Yes, I would give their love to my Mother and Father and yes I would start running now to catch the bus back home.
My fascination with snow flakes swirling around the bus was broken by the shout of "All fares please!". It was the same Storm trooper conductor standing over me and brought an instant response of right hand into trouser pocket. There my fingers met a solid mass and the realisation that I had failed to put my chocolate ration aside before entering the steel works.
Clearly it was a case for quick thinking by way of left hand up the right leg of school shorts and force out the solidified chocolate cone encapsulating my bus fare.
Frantic nibbling under the impatient eye of the bus conductor who at this juncture , thrust his hands into his leather money bag and began jingling his takings whilst I struggled to free my two shilling piece.
Suddenly my tormentor cast a martyred glance at the passengers and began singing loudly, and to his credit in a fine tenor voice, the Christmas carol "Oh come all ye faithful" but using an alternative lyric commencing :-
"Why are we waiting,
always ruddy well waiting,
Why are we w-a-I-ting,
Oh, why do we wait".
The passengers applauded, some of them even taking up the refrain. I tried to shrink further into my wooden slatted seat. Finally I managed to expose the fare, and further treatment by way of licking and wiping brought it to an acceptable state.
"Listen Boyo! If we all stuck to our money like you do , the War Savings "Buy a Bomber " scheme would never get off the ground Would it now?", boomed the conductor to the delight of the passengers.

776 words Alan Tossell 10.07 02

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