Bullet Holes and Excuses

An Ian Hogben story


Page last updated 19 January 2013


John Parkin's fine shot of RF516 on a 219 BAC Works journey south of Weybridge Station shows at least two of the 'bullet holes' that are the subject of Ian's story - above the rear left flasher.


'Did you ever wonder why most RFs (at least those out of Kingston) had a number of what looked like bullet holes, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, across the rear panels, about five feet above the ground?  These holes weren’t anything to do with enemy action (unless the night running shift was classed as ‘the enemy’).  Careful exanimation would show that most were dents rather than holes, as few of them completely penetrated the panels.


The story (or one of them) behind these holes is the way the buses were parked up at night on the Kingston garage forecourt after they had been cleaned and fuelled up for the following day.  As soon as nine-thirty pm arrived, all the late terminating buses pulled into the bus station at the front of the garage to stand across it awaiting their next journey, rather than entering via the rear entrance in Cromwell Road and standing in rows (front to back) as they did during the day.  The running shift shunter would then bring the ‘dead’ buses through from the fuel pump and back them up against the wall which separated the forecourt from the workshop at the back.  So far so good.  But often the ‘shunter’ worked without the assistance of a banksman to guide him back.  No problem.  When the bus reached the wall, it naturally came to a stop (the law of opposing forces).  Job done. 


But during the run-in they had to get three ranks of buses in, and from the wall to the pavement there wasn’t really room for three ranks so they had to keep the gaps between vehicles to an absolute minimum – or less.  And without a banksman to see him back, the shunter occasionally (well about ninety-nine per cent of the time), misjudged the distance. And the part of an RF that sticks out the furthest is the three-quarter inch diameter stud/rivet that holds the nearside windscreen wiper.  Voila!  One hole per night per vehicle.


Now the shunter couldn’t always be blamed for these holes. Occasionally the drivers were the culprits.  Not me of course because I would never do anything so childish.  However, I do recall an incident late one night at Staines West old station bus stand in Wraysbury Road involving two 218s, when another driver did it.


Because the 218 running time to Kingston was so ridiculously generous (at 10 o’clock at night it could be done at a comfortable thirty mph in around forty minutes instead of the hour and eight minutes given), and with a ten to twenty minute stand and a half-hour headway, one bus often wouldn’t depart until well after the one behind pulled in. In other words, the drivers were leaving anything up to thirty-five minutes late and you’d still be early in Kingston.  Of course Gold Badge Lenny Britton and his Silver Badge mate Mr Wiggins were well aware this sort of thing was going on and did their best to put a stop to it, but they couldn’t be everywhere and they had a big area and a lot of routes to cover.


However, to return to the incident at Staines West: I was sitting in the cab of a 216 taking my stand (the running times were less generous on the 216s and therefore we didn’t push our luck to quite the same extent) with a 218 parked over to my left in complete darkness (the driver had gone ‘up the top’ for a cup of tea).  'Up the top' at Staines West was an expression we used when going off to find liquid refreshment.  There was a cafe up the hill in Bridge Street (just before the foot of Staines Bridge).  My wife's late uncle (George Hook, a long serving conductor at Kingston) always said; "a good busman can always find a cup of tea no matter what the time of day or night".  Mind you, it wouldn't surprise me if some of them found something a little bit stronger although, as a teetotaller, I couldn't attest to that.


A second 218 arrived and swung round in the forecourt and pulled up behind the first, but at a slight angle.  From somewhere, a voice shouted out something about running up the a**e of the one in front.  We all knew about the little dents that would appear as if by magic if you did.


Thereupon the second 218 inched forward until it made contact with the one in front . . . with disastrous results.  Because, unless the two buses were in an absolutely straight line, the leading part of the second bus was not the round rivet holding the nearside windscreen wiper, but the offside mirror bracket . . . which was made of chunky, heavy duty metal. So, on this particular occasion, instead of an almost inaudible bump, there came the sound of shattering glass, as the bracket went through the rear offside window of the bus in front.


"Now what am I going to do?" asked the recently-arrived driver in dismay, upon realising what he’d done (by this time the instigator had gallantly declaimed all responsibility).  The driver of the first bus was equally distraught when he returned because they knew that one or other of them was going to get the blame and be required to ‘sign up for it’. (More than three signatures in a year and that was the end of your £200 annual bonus).


"Not a problem," said I, who should already have departed before the second 218 arrived (and could therefore not be called upon to perjure myself as a witness, even if I could invent a good story). "It goes like this: As you pulled into the stand there was a group of youths throwing stones near the bus. They ran off as you pulled up so you didn’t get a good look at them, but when you got out, you spotted that the window of the first 218 bus was broken, so it must have been the youths. I’ve no doubt that if you look inside the bus you’ll probably find a large pebble."  And it just so happens that that is exactly what they did find.


And so neither lost their Christmas bonus that year.  I never did find out if they claimed the fifteen minutes overtime docket, to which each driver was entitled for filling in the occurrence reports...'

More of Ian's memories of driving RFs at Kingston are on the 216 page, his recollections of high jinks on early 218 journeys are on the Operations in Practice page and he tells the story of one of his passengers here.