I don’t really need an excuse to share these wonderful photos, but a book birthday does seem like a good opportunity to do so. So below are some of the images that first inspired me to write about The Automobile Association sentry boxes in my story The Automobile Assassination.
Below is Beadnell Sentry Box, near Seahouses in Northumberland – on the road opposite Beadnell. (For anyone who doesn’t know, this is close to Bamburgh Castle AKA Bebbanburg, for fans of the Saxon period). And Ardgay Sentry Box, North Scotland, which I visited on my way to my holiday in Orkney in 2021. I had to include the view from the Ardgay sentry box, which is absolutely stunning. And it makes perfect sense as to why a sentry box would have been needed there – it is very remote.
Very few of these sentry boxes remain in their locations – and the majority are in Northern England and Scotland, and are, hopefully, now listed buildings. But, there would have been a time when these sentry boxes would have been a regular sight throughout the United Kingdom. A list of all the sentry boxes known up to 1962 reveals that there were 862 boxes (although not all of them may have been constructed) and just to add to the joy of them, these numbers make very little sense. Boxes located close together are not numbered concurrently.
Inside one of these sentry boxes would have been a telephone, and if you were lucky, a petrol canister so that you could make it to the next petrol station, if you did happen to run out of petrol. Patrolmen (yes, sadly, they were all men at the time) would have followed a specific route, to begin with on peddle bikes, but eventually using motorbikes with sidecars stuffed full of tools to help the stranded motorist. And the phone, in the 1940s, would have been answered by someone in the head office based in London.
AA members paid a subscription fee, and were then given a key which allowed access into the sentry boxes. Can you imagine how cross you’d have been to need to use the telephone only to discover you’d left your key at home. Cars also had a very dapper badge, often attached to the front grill, which proclaimed they were members. AA patrolmen were to salute to all cars showing a badge.
But enough about the sentry boxes, and the AA organisation in the 1940s. here’s the blurb for the book.
Erdington, September 1944
As events in Europe begin to turn in favour of the Allies, Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is once more prevailed upon to solve a seemingly impossible case.
Called to the local mortuary where a man’s body lies, shockingly bent double and lacking any form of identification, Mason and O’Rourke find themselves at Castle Bromwich aerodrome seeking answers that seem out of reach to them. The men and women of the royal air force stationed there are their prime suspects. Or are they? Was the man a spy, killed on the orders of some higher authority, or is the place his body was found irrelevant? And why do none of the men and women at the aerodrome recognise the dead man?
Mason, fearing a repeat of the cold case that dogged his career for two decades and that he’s only just solved, is determined to do all he can to uncover the identity of the dead man, and to find out why he was killed and abandoned in such a bizarre way, even as Smythe demands he spends his time solving the counterfeiting case that is leaving local shopkeepers out of pocket.
Join Mason and O’Rourke as they once more attempt to solve the impossible in 1940s Erdington.
The Automobile Assassination is currently available in Prime Reading in the UK, and in Australia, and can be read in ebook, paperback, hardback and audio version (narrated by the wonderful Matt Coles). I do hope you will check out the birthday blitz.
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Chicks, Rogues and Scandals (Guest post with a fabulous Youtube of an AA training film)