A legionary at the back door

When the house was owned by Langport Rural District Council, there was a scullery at the back. It was a lean-to containing a kitchen sink and the back door. Beyond the door a concrete path to the left led to the toilet (the 1926 builders of the row of houses had built them with bathrooms inside, but had decided that toilets were properly left outside). To the right, the concrete passed the kitchen window and went down the side of the house.

The house was small and anyone calling would generally just knock at the front door, the living room and kitchen were both just off the small hallway. The only people who came to the back door were the baker, who would open the door and leave the bread inside, and the hardware merchant who would call with paraffin for the stoves.

It was the rarity of callers to the back door that made the sightings a cause for comment. Various people including my sister and a neighbour caught sight of someone passing the kitchen window and said someone had come to the door, only for the door to be opened and there to be no-one there.

Being sceptical about figures that appeared and disappeared, and firmly disbelieving in ghosts, the claims concerning the figure passing the kitchen window became silly when it was suggested that what had been seen was a Roman soldier.

Not that there weren’t Roman soldiers here at one time. From the front window, the site of a major Roman villa can be seen. At the speed a legionary might march, it is no more than twenty minutes away on foot. Roman coins have been such plentiful finds that their presence is hardly a cause for comment.

If a legionary was to be posted among the cold and damp of Britannia, there were probably worse places to be. It would have been much milder in Somerset than in postings further north, and the local tribes appear to have been peaceable people. Arriving among these undulating lowlands, among hills that became island in the winter floods, what might men from southern Europe have thought of the countryside in which they would serve? If good health endured, they might have been here for years to come. If they completed twenty years here at the edge of the Empire, they might have been granted their citizenship and pension. How might it have seemed to live out one’s years so far from home?

When the soldier walked across  the land on which this road was built, what future could he have imagined?



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