The Chicken Wire Sanction
by CAPT John Wallace, USN (retired)
Forty-five minutes by British Rail, north of Central London, is the small village of Stoke Poges. Though not generally known to the average tourist, it was here that Thomas Gray penned his “Elegy in a Country Churchyard.” Not far from that historic churchyard is a manor house and surrounding cottages once comprising the Moorehouse estate. The cottages have long since been sold off as quaint country homes, and the once elegant manor house turned into a workman’s social club.
During a tour of duty in England, we lived in a house facing the high brick wall surrounding the manor grounds. “The Cottage”, as it was called (our official postal address was “The Cottage, Stoke Poges”, was said to date from the 1700s. Originally just a one room dwelling, in Victorian times a three-story structure was added to the front—six huge box-like rooms—and the original cottage became a roomy kitchen. It had a substantial garden (that’s yard, in Brit), enclosed by a seven-foot-high fence of interwoven horizontal planks. It seemed to be ideal for containing a dog, with lots of room to wander and explore.
Pooker, the Andalucian cockerpoo, had served his time in the British Quarantine facility and came to join us in The Cottage. It became apparent very quickly that he considered that seven-foot fence a minor impediment between him and the exploration of the environs of Stoke Poges.
His first escape was baffling. We put him out to romp in his huge domain and he disappeared within minutes.
Following a close inspection of the fence for open gates or holes (nothing), I tracked him to a nearby field where he was receiving a short lesson in why not to mess with horses. A rather bored mare tired of his yapping and sent him tumbling with a well-aimed kick.
The misadventure with the horse was not a deterrent to Pooker’s desire to find out what was beyond that fence. At the next opportunity, he was gone again. This time, he disappeared for several hours, eventually returning with a tired but satisfied look on his face. I was determined to find his escape route from the yard and seal it off; so the next time I let him out of the house, I cleverly took up a strategic location where I had him under constant surveillance. He behaved as if he had no interest whatsoever in leaving the yard—lots of sniffing and wandering about. When he finally lay down near the back door with a deceptive yawn, I took a break from the surveillance. Zip…he was gone. This time, we had to retrieve him from the Maidenhead jail several miles away, where he had been deposited by a concerned citizen who found him meandering along one of the busier nearby streets.
Having been outsmarted on all my previous attempts to find his point of egress, I decided to station myself outside the yard where I could observe the entire fence line, then have my wife let the beast into the yard.
It worked. Along one stretch of the fence, I spotted a black furry head emerging, followed by a leg, a fat little body, and a stubby tail. He had discovered that midway between the posts the horizontal planks were flexible enough to wedge a determined body through. At last, I had him. I went out the same day and procured sufficient chicken wire to seal off the flexible area between the two bottom boards along the entire length of the fence. Gleeful, after having finally outwitted this wretched animal who had confounded me for so long, I left him alone in the yard to ponder the consequences of matching wits with his master. He, of course, disappeared immediately. He just moved up one level on the fence.
And so it went over the next few months, the contest between man and beast literally escalated. As I sealed off one level of this seven-foot high barrier, Pooker moved up to the next. I was spending a small fortune on chicken wire. I guess I was hoping that eventually the height would discourage him before all of my disposable income had gone into chicken wire.
The chicken wire had reached almost to eye level when the contest of wills and wits finally ended. A pleasant English matron appeared at the door one day to inquire about a dog that seemed to be protruding from our fence. She was walking by when she came eyeball to eyeball with Pooker, who had worked his way up to the escape level, which now stood at about five feet above the ground, but had apparently gained too much weight to get more that a head and a leg through the fence. From that day, Pooker abandoned his escape attempts, I suspect more out of embarrassment than anything else.
I am amazed to this day that he was able to wander around the streets and countryside of Stoke Poges without coming to an unfortunate end. But he was a clever beast, and I’ve still got the chicken wire invoices to prove it.
Entered the Naval Air Reserve out of high school in 1955, serving with VF-782 as an AT striker at Los Alamitos NAS, CA.
After graduation from college, attended OCS and was commissioned in March 1961. His duty assignments included USS Polk County (LST 1084)as Deck and Gunnery Officer; Navy Language School in Anacostia, MD, studying the Russian language; ACNSG Fort Meade, MD. as a submarine rider; NSGA Bremerhaven, Germany as Communications Officer; Vietnam as OIC of Special Support Group to MACV SOG; NSG HQ in Washington, DC; Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA; NCS Rota, Spain as Operations Officer; NSG HQ; ACNSG at Fort Meade; CINCUSNAVEUR London, UK as Deputy DNSGEur; NSGA Puerto Rico as Commanding Officer; NSA Fort Meade; NCPAC Hawaii as Deputy NCPAC.
Retired in January 1989 and remains in Hawaii.