How to Bend the Rules

At around six p.m. one sunny evening in May 1968 the peace and quiet of the town of Haverfordwest, in West Wales, was  shattered by a burst of machine gun fire - or so it seemed. This is what really happened.

As Area Manager, I was responsible for a number of stations including those on the Pembroke Dock Branch. Many of the buildings had been closed although the line was still open to passenger traffic as well as the daily freight trains. On the day in question, I had been searching through the station at Pembroke and had found an old tin box under a pile of rubbish.  Having pried off the battered and rusty lid, I found the box contained over fifty detonators (torpedoes), all of them equally rusty.

All British detonators are colour coded by the year of make, but these colours were some I didn't recognize. Gingerly scraping away the rust from the metal casings the torpedoes revealed their age - 1932 and 1936.

My first reaction was one of ecstasy, after all how many people have genuine Great Western Railway detonators - twenty years after nationalization!  My joy soon turned to concern when I wondered what to do with these potentially dangerous relics.

The instructions are quite specific, all detonators must be returned to Swindon Works five years after the date of issue as marked by the date stamp and colour coding. These should have gone back thirty years ago!  My mind boggled at the forms and explanations this might require if I followed the rulebook so I hit upon a simpler plan.

I took the tin box back to Haverfordwest and carried it gingerly out to the yard. The yard crew were having a tea break in the cabin but we were soon merrily clipping down detonators on the yard lead. We were about to destroy the evidence.

The engineer climbed into the cab of the Hymek type diesel hydraulic locomotive and having made sure that everybody was well clear I called him forward. The tone of the engine changed as it was put into first notch and there was a slight pause while the hydraulic transmission filled with oil. With a loud hiss the locomotive brake was released and the exhaust deepened as the throttle was advanced. There was a loud bang as the leading wheel hit the first detonator, followed by a succession of explosions, rather like a burst of machine-gun fire.

We ran the Hymek back over the yard track just to make sure that we. hadn't missed any the first time and then picked up the still warm casings and put this evidence in the garbage. The only sign of our activities was a thick cloud of smoke that hung motionless over the yard in the warm, still, evening air.

I decided to walk home. There was a beautiful sunset and I began to daydream about the regulations and how to bend them. My walk took me over a road bridge which crosses the railway close to the yard lead. My reverie was interrupted by the sight of a member of the local constabulary (a cop), his bicycle propped up neatly against the parapet, who was gazing intently over the scene of the crime. This stalwart crime fighter seemed to have a bad cold, he kept trying to clear his nose. He said something in Welsh which I didn’t understand, shook his head, got on his bike and rode off. As I watched him wobble his way into the golden sunset, my nostrils caught the faint smell of gunpowder.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, December 1975.

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