Homesickness is a malady with only one known cure. Going home. But sometimes the circumstances are against you. When that happens, people can resort to some pretty bizarre schemes to get themselves back where they long to be.
At age 19, an unhappy Brian Robson was working in Melbourne, Australia but sorely pining for his native Wales. He was so eager to get home, in fact, he had himself loaded into a crate with the goal of being shipped home to Cardiff.
Back in 1964, Robson had signed on for an assisted immigration program. His way was paid by the Australian government and in return, he was committed to a two-year gig with Victorian Railways.
Robson regretted the deal almost immediately, but if he didn’t live up to the contract, he’d be obligated to pay back close to £800 in expenses spent getting him there.
Not having the dough to repay the debt, Robson had to come up with an alternative solution. He and two of his work buddies, Paul and John, hatched a “top secret” plan of simply mailing him home.
Paul typed up the appropriate freight paperwork. Next, the trio secured a 3’x 3’ x 2’ wooden crate and made sure it had air holes in it so Robson could breathe.
Equipped only with a bottle of water, an empty bottle (“for obvious reasons”), a pillow, hammer, flashlight, and a small bag, Robson settled in for what was to be a 36-hour journey to London, and then on to Cardiff from there via more traditional means of transportation.
After nailing the lid closed, his sidekicks marked the box “FRAGILE” and “THIS SIDE UP” but as with many a best-laid plan, this one was fated to go awry.
Robson soon found himself being handled with anything but care. The three-day trip turned into a marathon five-day odyssey, 24 excruciating hours of which, he spent upside down.
As the grueling ordeal wore on, Robson considered calling it quits, but in the end, decided to soldier on. “I played with the idea for a few seconds and convinced myself, Look, you’ve done all this. You cannot embarrass yourself now. You’re going ahead with it and that’s it,” Robson told the host CBC’s As It Happens Carol Off.
When the pretty much numb Robson finally landed, he found himself not in London, but in Los Angeles, where he managed to alert workers to his presence with the beam of his flashlight.
While severely dehydrated and pretty banged up, when he was released from the confines of his crate, Robson was delighted to have survived the journey.
Of course, as an undocumented immigrant arriving via freight, he did get a thorough once over from U.S. officials, but after hearing Robson’s tale of homesick blues, he was sent home post-haste—only this time, as a first-class passenger courtesy of Pan American Airline.
“The Americans, the FBI, the CIA, and everything else, they were brilliant. I mean, I fell in love with America, because I’ve never been treated so well,” told Off. “Everybody there really looked after me. And they just thought, Oh, it’s this silly kid getting himself into trouble.”
Once home, Robson’s story did receive its share of press, but he refused to reveal the names of his accomplices because he didn’t want to get them in hot water. Now, however, with the debut of a book chronicling his adventures The Crate Escape out next month from Austin Macauley Publishers, Robson believes that statute of limitations has likely expired on anything criminal, and he’d love to get back together with his old mates to share a pint.
The trouble is, he can’t remember his buddies’ last names. Robson said he tried to contact his mates once he’d gotten home, but never heard back. “I really don’t remember where they came from in Ireland,” Robson told the BBC. “We used to joke about their wonderful Irish accents. They were both the same age as me. I know they went to school together in Ireland but memories fade over 56 years. I mean, they know how I got on. They must have done because the publicity was worldwide but I have no idea what happened to them.”
Now that the cat is finally out of the bag, Robson is hopeful for a reunion. “If I met them again, I’d just like to say that I’m sorry I got them into this and that I missed them when I came back,” he told the BBC. “I’d like to buy them a drink.”
— BBC News NI (@BBCNewsNI) April 7, 2021
While shipping yourself home in a crate is certainly a unique and highly unrecommended mode of travel, the same year that Robson stowed away as cargo, an Australian stranded in London pulled off the stunt in reverse.
After washing out at the Olympic tryouts, to add insult to injury, javelin thrower Reg Spiers had his wallet stolen. Flat broke, he enlisted the help of a friend to mail himself home—collect—in a slightly larger box than Robson’s, with interior straps to keep him secure.
Suffering only one brutal layover in Mumbai, Spiers arrived in Perth 36 hours later, hardly worse for the wear. After exiting the crate and the airport—pinching a beer along the way—he put on a fresh suit of clothes and hitchhiked home.
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North Carolina-based writer Judy Cole has a new rom-com murder mystery debuting at Amazon: And Jilly Came Tumbling After (from Red Sky Presents).
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