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Sidelined by Bryony Marsh
Reposted from my blog, Sugar and Spiiice

It had been a long walk and the temperature had dropped. The lights of the Wolds Bed and Breakfast served as a fuzzy, haloed beacon as I made my way up the slope.

“We hoped the lights on the front of the house would help you find your way,” Helen said as she threw the switch to shut them off. “Missed the last train, did you?”

“No,” I said. “I wanted to walk. I got some great photos as the train pulled out and then I walked back along the footpath.”

Helen glanced at my muddy boots.

“Uh, sorry,” I said, and set about taking them off.

“Nasty bloody night to be out,” a man said, emerging from the kitchen.

“Have you met Dave?” Helen asked. “He’s my hubby.”

I shook my head. “Hello Dave.”

“Fancy a pint?” he offered.

I frowned at this, not relishing the idea of going back out into the cold. The pub had to be half a mile away…

Perhaps he understood my hesitation, because he pointed to the corner, where I hadn’t noticed that there was a tiny bar. “Black Sheep? Wold Top? Or I’ve got a selection of ales from Great Newsome, in bottles.”

I smiled. “I’m tempted.”

“Go on, humour him,” Helen said. “He always wanted to run a pub, not a B and B…”

I left my muddy boots by the door and felt the rough flagstones underfoot as I crossed the room. “Pint of whatever you recommend, Dave. Please.”

He smiled broadly. “Let’s start you off with a Wold Top, then,” he said. “In fact, I might join you.”

This, it seemed, was how he hoped to spend the evening.

“So what did you think of our little railway?” Helen asked, as Dave poured her a glass of wine.

“It’s a real gem,” I said. “It’s amazing that the line survived, when so many others didn’t.”

“It wouldn’t survive without the volunteers,” Dave said. “And the tourists, like yourself.”

“Well I had a great day,” I decided, feeling better about the whole business as I warmed up. “There were plenty of other passengers, too.”

“It’s less of a draw on weekdays, when they’re running one of those… what d’you call em? Diesels, anyway.”

I didn’t want to seem too much of a railway nerd, so I decided not to start talking about diesel multiple units, though I was prepared to defend them as a legitimate part of a heritage railway operation.

I cast about for some other topic of conversation. “Was there some sort of event on today?”

Dave looked at me blankly. “Event?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I saw this woman in vintage costume. I assumed she must be involved with the steam railway. This was when I was walking back. I wanted to ask her about it, but when I got a bit closer, she’d gone – which was odd. She was standing –”

“On the steps of the signal box at Meadow Gates?” Helen suggested.

“That’s right,” I said. “Does she do it often?”

My hosts exchanged a glance.

“You could say that,” Dave said, at last.

Even as a railway buff, engrossed in my favourite subject, I could tell that I’d said something wrong. It was impossible not to pick up on the change in the atmosphere in that little room.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s… just one of life’s little mysteries,” Dave said. “Please – everyone who volunteers on the railway would prefer it if you remembered the line and the trains, and not some silly piece of local folklore.”

I took a sip of my beer. “Malton and Driffield Junction’s a lovely railway,” I said. “I’m here for the choo choo, not the woo woo.”

“Nice one,” Dave said.

It seemed that Helen didn’t want to follow Dave’s suggestion, however. “What was she wearing?” she asked.

I floundered, this being outside my area of expertise. “I’d have to call it… Edwardian clothing. A full-length dress with a high collar. She wore a bonnet, too.”

“What was she doing?”

“Just… sort of leaning over the railing and looking up the line, as if she was expecting a train to come by – although of course, the last one was long gone.”

Helen nodded. “She does that.”

“So… it’s some local enthusiast, right? Living history sort of thing? I mean, obviously…”

“Yeah,” Dave said. “Got to be, hasn’t it? Obviously.”

Helen glowered at him. “Don’t be rude!”

“Funny how she’d disappeared by the time I got closer, though,” I said. “I mean, it’s not like there’s any houses nearby.”

“She does that, too,” Helen said again. “She always did.”

“She… runs away?”

Helen glanced at Dave, who was looking cross.

“This better not end up like that time I had to serve breakfast to eight ‘paranormal investigators’ while they tried to interview me,” he muttered.

“There’s only one of me and I promise not to interview you,” I said, intrigued.

He looked at his wife and sighed. “Fine! Go ahead and tell your ghost story: I can see there’s no stopping you.”

Helen paused and glanced between us – clearly for dramatic effect.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” she began.

Dave rolled his eyes.

“Alright,” she said. “It wasn’t really – although there was a storm. But that comes later.”

I shrugged. “I’m listening. Does this story have trains in it?”


I drank some more beer. “I like it already.”

“The disappearing woman who stands on the steps of the Meadow Gates signal box isn’t a new phenomenon. It dates back to the thirties – only she wasn’t always a ghost, if that’s truly what she is – and she isn’t actually a woman. Or wasn’t.”

Helen was confusing me and the best I could do was to seize upon one thing that she had said. “Not a woman?”

She shook her head. “She was a man: a signalman called William Jackson. The way I heard it, he used to dress himself up as a woman and then wave as the trains went by.”

I frowned. “Really?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Really.”

When I didn’t say anything she went on: “Some men like it. The clothes, I mean. Bill Jackson must have felt that the job was ideal, because Meadow Gates is miles from anywhere and if the line was clear, the trains would be passing at speed.”

A fresh pint had appeared in front of me, Dave giving a little bow as I acknowledged this.

“So there never was a woman working there?”

Helen smiled. “No – but ‘Daisy’ was something of a sweetheart to the railway staff who passed by.”

“Daisy?” I queried.

“That was the name that William Jackson gave. If anybody asked about the woman who was seen outside his signal box, I mean. He said she was his sister and that she used to bring him sandwiches.”

I considered this. “So you’re suggesting that’s who I saw? A crossdressing ghost from the nineteen thirties.”

She was toying with her wineglass. “I haven’t finished. It’s a sad story,” she said. “Shall I go on?”

“Please do,” I said. “What happened?”

“You’ve been to the engine shed?” she asked. “Seen the tail fin from that German bomber, and the photos?”

“Yes,” I said. “I saw them.”

She nodded. “That’s what happened: the German aeroplane came. They were lost, you see.”

“KGR one hundred,” Dave said. “They weren’t lost: they were pathfinders. Probably following the railway line.”

Helen looked irritated. “Either way, the weather was getting worse. For whatever reason, they came down out of the clouds and crashed in the meadow: carved a deep furrow parallel to the railway line, taking out several telegraph poles.”

“And this William Jackson was manning the signal box?”

She smiled. “It seems that Daisy Jackson was on duty, if you catch my drift? Daisy flew into action, dragging two injured Germans clear of the wreckage before they could burn to death, having also ensured that no trains were allowed to move on that stretch of the line, in case the plane’s bomb load should go off.”

I grinned. “That’s quite a story to tell the grandchildren. Bit awkward for William, though, I expect.”

“Awkward for everyone concerned,” Helen said. “If Bill had been in his usual clobber, they’d have given him a medal – but he was still dressed as Daisy when the police arrived on the scene, so they had to throw the book at him.”

“I bet,” I said, imagining how much more prudish things must have been in the forties.

She stared into her wine. “Bill lost his job when they found out that he was the railway’s sweetheart – and that meant he wasn’t in a reserved occupation, so they sent him off to war. You can see his name on the war memorial in Driffield.”

“He died,” I said – which was rather stupid, since it wouldn’t be much of a ghost story if nobody had died.

“He died in Italy in forty-three,” she said, “but Daisy… Daisy’s still around. Just sometimes.”

1,500 words © Bryony Marsh, 2024

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Nice one

Emma Anne Tate's picture

“I’m here for the choo choo, not the woo woo.” Yeah — that’s the sort of come-back I always find on the tip of my tongue . . . three hours too late!

A sad story, but very well told. Thanks, Bryony!


I read this on Sunday

Angharad's picture

On your website and I enjoyed it then, are there such things as ghosts? Cross - dressing ghosts? If there are then I'm sure it's exactly as you describe.


Chattanooga choo choo, won't

Chattanooga choo choo, won't you choo choo me home? ;-)
It looks like the spir, umm, ghost was stronger than the flesh. >:->

Thx for a nice story^^

What a lovely story!

Robertlouis's picture

And almost at my back door, as it were. Living in York, we’re spoiled by the glories of the city itself, the Dales to the north and west, the Moors to the North East and the great secret: the mysterious, silent Wolds to the East.

The Wolds Heritage Railway is very modest, but has great ambitions, and does indeed lie on the path of the old line between Malton and Driffield. Daisy’s story deserves to be true as well. Bravery turned into tragedy by bureaucratic prejudice.

My late father also served in the Italian campaign in 1943 and 1944. Drove armoured cars behind the German lines. Started as a corporal, battlefield commission, ended as a captain, mentioned twice in dispatches. Daft , mad bugger. At least he survived.


Thank you

bryony marsh's picture

Thanks, Robertlouis. It seems we live in the same part of the world.

As you say, the heritage railway in the story isn't real, being one of the many lines that were done away with in the fifties. One might also point out that evidence for ghosts is more than a little sketchy... although I note that York offers regular ghost walks, so what do I know?

Best wishes,


Sugar and Spiiice – TG Fiction by Bryony Marsh

I Believe Every Word

joannebarbarella's picture

And I bet the two injured Germans did too. What a lovely little vignette but I'm sorry William Jackson had to die.

Very nice!

Even to someone like me who does not believe in anything spiritual. But I won't let lack of belief prevent me from appreciating a good tale well told!

A quite enjoyable little vignette…….

D. Eden's picture

Perhaps you should think about expanding it and telling Daisy’s story?

Needs a love interest though………

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

Not from me, but...

bryony marsh's picture

Hello D.,

I'm not intending to expand upon this one as I have too many projects underway, but a friend of mine at TransScripts wrote a 15,000 word novelette from the very same story prompt. A wonderful story: I can't recommend it enough.

Sugar and Spiiice – TG Fiction by Bryony Marsh

Love it

Podracer's picture

And nice beers too. Gt. Newsome's is only a few miles away, and I'm fond of the Black Sheep too. Our local railway went the way of Beeching.

"Reach for the sun."