My undying thanks to the weather Gods. The volcanic ash that was threatening to seriously disrupt my plans drifted away and I was able to travel all the way to Yorkshire and partake in what was to be one of the best weekends I have ever spent.
Flying to Manchester and driving a rental to Cawood in Yorkshire, my plans were only marred by a two hour delay in Copenhagen waiting for the maintenance crew to get the aircraft airworthy. At least, that was the excuse they gave us once we were on board. Never mind. At least I got there.
My quarters, if one may use that old fashioned term, were to be at the Ferry Inn. A lovely old sixteenth century house, now a pub and hostelry, on the banks of the river Ouse. Happily ensconced there, I went looking for my old friends. I found the right pub but alas, no old chums had turned up yet. Even my host and old friend was still busy doing his day job and wouldn’t be turning up until the following day. I stayed there for a while, ate a huge plate of pie and chips, drank a few beers, told his daughter old “war” stories concerning her father and finally retired to my home from home and bed. I slept late. Breakfast was at a civilised 11.00 hours and was absolutely delicious. They don’t mess about in Yorkshire. You want the full English breakfast, you get the full English breakfast, black pudding and all.
Friday afternoon then, I returned to the scene of the coming soldiers reunion that had brought me all the way from Denmark. And yes, the first of the old crowd had turned up. Hand shaking, backslapping and generally disparaging comments about our size, age and appearance abounded and then the bar was open. The cameras came out, old stories were retold, new stories told, beer in bucket loads and laughter and repetition of all that, as each of the others drifted in. The first fifteen, the advance party if you like, were in place by Friday night. Some in caravans, some in campers and a few brave ones under canvass in the pub’s own camping area. There was mention of slit trenches and foxholes and “standing to”. I was dead on my feet by closing time and once again, I slept like a log on returning to my digs.
Saturday came and the remainder slowly arrived. Everyone was greeted with the standard cheer and questions. How have you been, where have you been, what are you doing now and do you have the money I lent you thirty years ago? By early evening, we were assembled in the Castle Inn and the festivities began. We mingled, swarmed, drank and ate. We laughed till we cried and at one point we all got together for the obligatory photo and choir practice. We were particularly good at remembering the words. The few songs encompassed a certain Zulu chieftain warrior called Assegai Zumba, a young man born too beautiful who ended his days tied to a West country garden toilet (which sounds nicer than “shithouse”) and my personal favourite, concerning a poor, tired and shiftless coloured gentleman having an altercation with a rather large bumble bee.
We partied till later than we should have done and I finally had to give in to tiredness and the vast quantities of beer I had consumed. It took me an age to get back to the Ferry and I don’t truly remember getting to bed.
Sunday was reparation day. Some had left by the time I got back to the camping site, having disappeared in taxis and buses or bravely for some, driving their own cars back to wherever they had come from within the British Isles and directly neighbouring countries. I had the dubious pleasure of seeing them all depart again and finally, left somewhat alone, I returned to the Ferry, packed my bags and spent the evening trying to find somewhere to get something to eat.
Foolishly, I had not realised that all the pub kitchens closed early on Sunday!
I flew home on the Monday morning after a pleasant drive back to Manchester.
I have to thank my hosts, you know who you are, Bob and Bridget.
The ferry Inn; thanks Louise, for a pleasant stay in lovely surroundings.
And finally, my heartfelt thanks to all the lads and the few lasses that turned up for what had to be the best reunion ever. Despite the lack of shemoulies and thunder flashes, I’m definitely up for the next one, whenever that may be. You were friends and comrades then, you still are now. We were our own family in a foreign land and all of us a long way from home. I get the feeling, that somewhere, in each of our hearts, we are still there.
Until we meet again then, take care. All of you.