REMINISCENCES OF WARTIME RAILWAYWOMEN
Clerical staff, including booking office clerks and telephone operators
Booking Office Clerk Ruth Lovatt
I started work as a16 year old I April 1941 at Kirkdale Station, after sitting a maths and English test, and a medical examination. I was assigned to a position as clerk in a booking office at Kirkdale Station on the Ormskirk to Liverpool line.
Kirkdale is on the Liverpool - Ormskirk and Liverpool - Wigan line, and as the line between Liverpool and Kirkdale was closed - due to bombing - I spent some days in the stationmaster's office on the platform, as no trains were operating at all.
Eventually a service was started from Kirkdale to Ormskirk and Wigan, which made us very busy indeed. Buses would bring passengers from Liverpool and Sandhills Stations to join the trains starting at Kirkdale, for Ormskirk and Wigan, and passengers from Ormskirk and Wigan would get a bus to Sandhills and Liverpool. This was a very temporary measure and soon things were back to normal.
My job was to book tickets as the Booking Clerk and weigh and price small parcels for despatch. Each day I had to balance the cash with the number of tickets sold. I worked 13 days out of 14 - one week 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. the next 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. with an 8 hour Sunday duty in between.
I was there about four years then had some months on Relief Work going to different stations to relieve for holidays etc. Quite an experience, sometimes arriving at a strange place, at 6 a.m., in the black out.
I was always respected by staff and customers, and thoroughly enjoyed my four or five years there, before moving on to Fagakeeley station for a 8 a.m. to 5.3 p.m. duty - a half day a week and no Sunday work. I left there in 1950 to get married.
I married a railway man.
Office Clerk Ruby Chatts (nee Snowball)
I commenced work on the 7th June 1943 as office junior in the district passenger manager's office, North Eastern Railway, Newcastle upon Tyne. During this time there was a gang of women who were painters. They came into the office to do the painting.
Women employed in the office had two grades, woman one and woman two. Grade one was the higher grade and the only women who held these grades were, head of the typing pool and the manager's secretary. All the other women were grade two, and their jobs were typists in typing pool, telephonist, and about six distributed between the various sections as filing clerks, tea makers and general dogsbodies. I was given to understand that a few years before the war the majority of women were only employed for the summer season when traffic was busy, then re-employed the next year. It also helped if your father worked on the railway.
Women were paid junior grade up to the age of 18 although they only reached their maximum adult pay on their 28th birthday or after 10 years. They were also paid only a proportion of men's wages.
Women were not allowed to apply for men's jobs; even if you had a higher qualification than them. I joined from Jarrow Central School with another girl and two boys from my class. My exam results were higher than theirs and I continued my education at evening classes up to the age of 20. The others did not. When I was about 21 one of the boys had promotion and tried to tell me he was my boss - even though he worked in a different office. I leave it to your imagination the reply he got.
I went from office junior to telephonist for a year, then into the typing pool. When I was about 22, I transferred to the general office. My job was to take dictation from the head of the section; do general filing; make tea; deal with people at the counter wanting refund of fares; also people wanting season tickets. I also had to help with preparing and making up the wages packets for the office each week. The summer months, before the return of children to school, make out their season tickets - hundreds of them. However, somehow I ended up rating the season tickets as well as making them out. An example of this would be working out 29 365ths of £5 fifteen shillings, plus say 20 365ths of £7 fourteen shillings. This without adding machines or computers. Finally totalling up the cost and sending the tickets and bills to the education offices at Newcastle and Durham.
Any one employed during the war was only temporary, as we had to wait until the people in the armed forces returned, to see if there was a vacancy.
Our regional headquarters were at York and a job was advertised as woman grade one at York doing what I was doing at Newcastle. I applied and obtained an interview. I was interviewed at York by the head of their staff section and the head of their season ticket section. One of the questions they asked was whether I had my signalman's exam? I looked at them as if they had lost their reason and asked what relevance that was, considering I had my Higher National Certificate in Economics, Commercial Law and Accountancy, and knew of no one else who had this, including men. They left the room and came back in five minutes and told me that there was nothing on my history card to this effect.
When I returned to Newcastle, I phoned our staff section and spoke to one of the boys I went to school with and asked what had happened to my history card. He told me he had been told by the head of the staff section to destroy my card and make a new one out with no qualifications on. The head of the staff section had a daughter who was applying for the same jobs as I was. There was a cover up and as I was considering leaving I took it no further.
Two years later I was asked to return. I said I would temporarily, but not to the district passenger manager's office. I went to the good's department, New Bridge Street, Newcastle where I covered for five females over the summer holidays. They asked me to stay on, which I did but left permanently in 1958.
It wasn't until after I had left that women could apply for men's jobs with equal pay.
Just after the war when the Durham Miners Gala commenced and Durham station would have the busiest day of the year with trains coming in from all the small stations with collieries; I was asked to go as station announcer. After about two years they got their own full time announcer. It was a privilege to see all the Miner's Lodges with their banners and bands setting off to march to the race course.
Booking Clerk G. Margaret Penning
I worked as a booking clerk at Penistone Station for two years plus, and left in 1947 at the age of 21 to get married. Penistone is in, what is now South Yorkshire and was nationally known as the coldest station in England. On the main London (Marylebone) - Manchester London Road (L. N. E. R.) route (the old great Central) together with a junction with the L. M. S. line from Huddersfield, Halifax and Bradford.
I thought it would be rather boring at such a comparatively small station - but not at all. All trains stopped here, and in fact was important enough, connection wise, to be listed on the boardings above the carriage windows of the London trains.
Charlie was my opposite number and we worked the two shifts alternately - 5.45 a.m. to 1.45 p.m., or 4.00 p.m. to midnight (or after the mail train (11.45 p.m.) had gone). I loved cycling to work on a summer morning, seeing the sun rise through the viaducts, to get there in time for the first workman train from Huddersfield. On the other hand, I was rather tentative riding past the churchyard as the clock was striking twelve midnight.
I worked - alone - in a Passimeter, sort of cabin about 3 x 4 yards area, set in the luggage entrance hall. This was probably a wartime arrangement as, some years later it was removed and the clerks returned to the original Victorian booking office.
Locking the door was haphazard, except for peak periods, various staff would pop in for a chat or a train service, even the stationmaster. The train register lad from the nearby signal box called in one day and he began swinging his legs, with both arms on the desks either side. He somehow brought down a full rack of tickets - hundreds of them. We were accused of larking about!
There were individual tickets to almost everywhere. Monthly returns, daily returns, singles, workman, privilege, and blanks for those we had to write out if they weren't in stock. We had a reference book for every fare. We also had four timetables, Blue for L. N. E. R., Red for L. M. S., Green for Southern, Brown for G. W. R. There was a special rack for L. M. S. tickets, mainly workmen. Somehow L. M. S. always seemed alien country.
Tickets were booked at one window and collected at the opposite window, tickets being about two inches of green card, returns printed in two parts for tearing off at the end of the outgoing journey. The card was date stamped by punching it into a noisy gadget. It had a name, but it escapes me. The return fare to Sheffield, the most popular destination, was, when I left, 3s 1d - about 15p.
We worked every third Sunday. There were fewer trains of course, but I had to do more travelling with my having to cycle the two miles each way three times - for the early trains, the midday trains and the evening trains. The L. N. E. R. must have saved a lot of money that way. Sunday evening was the busiest time of the week - three or four deep on the platform. A lot of them were Military; they all had warrants of course. The second busy time was when Sheffield Wednesday were at home, the station inspector often having to hold the train several minutes or more, whilst everyone got their tickets and scrambled on the train.
The refreshment room staff (about eight of them) also worked shifts, they had their own sleeping accommodation, when necessary, and kitchen, for early rising and late closure. There was second class refreshment room on platform 2, plus a first and third on platform 3 (there were six platforms).
We all had a shock one day, when we heard the Sheffield Railway Police had arrested five members of staff, who, when on night shift, persistently pilfered goods from the 2.30 a.m. newspaper train from Manchester, which every night split up at Penistone - part to Cleethorpes and the other part to Sheffield and beyond. They all went to prison for six months.
I only ever saw one celebrity - Hutch - Leslie Hutchinson, the black singer. He arrived on the last London train, changing at Penistone for Huddersfield. Never thought to ask for his autograph.
My husband was a signalman for 48 years, so have been in touch with the system most of my life. Over the years the family travelled a lot with the free passes and quarter fare privilege tickets. Each privilege ticket had to be applied for and signed by the station master or inspector.
I dealt with all enquiries, train times, train routes. The very first time on my own a soldier wanted to go to Oswestry on a Sunday. Answered phone enquiries - our phone number was Penistone 198. Also dealt with messages, the internal phone i.e. water replenishment for a refreshment car. Train delays and many a time we got the message VANCO and time of train, This meant a coffin, a van attached to the end of a passenger train. It would be detached from the train and shunted to the cattle dock - to be collected by the local undertaker.
One day the porters deposited a coffin just inside the entrance hall. Yes, it had come in the luggage van from Manchester, yes, they'd notified the undertaker. Yes, there was a body in it. Travellers tripped over themselves trying to avoid it as they came off the platform, such surprised faces. It was there two hours. I went for a cup of tea (2p for staff) from the refreshment room. (Of course, locking the door) when I returned the coffin had gone.
I also dealt with incoming and out going parcels including weighing foundry patterns from various works in the area. Also wrote out a delivery list every day for the drayman. He had a horse and cart when I started the job, but evolved into a lorry eventually.
On the dark evenings, I would pull the cord to light the gas lamp, and at the window, hang up a piece of red flag material onto two hooks. When it was quiet and the weather was decent, I liked to go on to the platform and take it all in, with the gas lighting, the big two faced clock, the tiny newspaper kiosk, which only opened in the mornings, the letter box on the wall, the red penny chocolate machine and the barrow, ready for action at the end of the platform. Looking back on it, it was like the film sets. There was even a roaring fire in the third class waiting room with a bucket of coal at the side for passengers to use. The long horsehair benches, and large framed seaside etc. paintings.
I remember it with affection, but almost everyone has passed on now.
Penistone is still a working station to Barnsley, Sheffield and Huddersfield, but with no permanent staff. Yet again it is under threat. The once vigorous Manchester line through Woodhead Tunnel is now part of the Trans-Pennine Trail.
Booking Clerk Rosemary Blackman
Small stations, such as Battle, were very busy as everything was attended to by one clerk. For heating we had an iron closed in stove (Tontise I think). When the wind blew it was almost impossible to see across the room for smoke.
We were informed of a corpse to be sent on a certain train, so I made certain the station master was present for arrival and departure.
My Saturday afternoon shift was quite daunting at first (after only about a month's training) the Canadian soldiers were billeted in Battle and a whole crowd would be off for the weekend, London or beyond. After London all tickets had to be priced and written, and also I had to ask for their pass, which I didn't always do.
I twice attend Tower Bridge Magistrate court, soldiers had been caught without tickets.
The evenings in winter were quite scary, platform lights were dim, there was just myself and one porter, but we managed.
I look back with very fond memories, loved the steam trains and we did have fun.
Goods Clerk Mrs W. M. Bush
During the second world war I worked on the railways in the goods department to replace a man who had been called up to serve in the forces. I worked there for about three years until I was called back to nursing for which I was trained.
The railway I worked on was between Carnforth and Lancaster in Lancashire.
My actual job involved finding out how many open and closed trucks would be needed to transport the goods around the country. At that time Carnforth station was a very busy place to work. Lots of lorries would arrive with their goods to be distributed by rail.
Various members of my family had worked at Carnforth and Lancaster. My father worked in the goods department, my brother worked in the office. Also my uncle worked in a signal box and my grandfather worked in the railway, but I don't know his job. Also my mother worked on Carnforth station during World War One, but I don't know what she did.
Booking Clerk Hilda Higgins (nee Greenfield)
I was conscripted to be a booking clerk on British Railways in 1941, I was also offered a Civil Service clerical position but chose Railways Service as possibly being more interesting, also the station I was sent to - Crystal Palace - was near home, when transferred to Charing Cross the work was much harder, also shift work - 6.00 a.m. till 2.0 p.m.; 2.00p.m. till 10.00 p.m., plus Sunday shifts.
Regarding the attitude of the men to us women temporarily copying with their work, I found them to be sympathetic and helpful, after all we were assisting them and sharing the work load.
Goods Clerk Mrs. V. W. Lingley
I worked on the LNER at Sudbury (Suffolk) from January 1942 until I married in June 1948. I worked morning in the goods office and afternoons in the passenger booking office. One of my memorable occasions was when King George VI left the train at Sudbury to travel by car to a meeting of higher forces ranks 'somewhere in Suffolk'.
Clerk D. Margaret Steal
As a nervous 16 and a half year old I went for an interview for a TFC (temporary female clerk) in the Advertising Department of the LNER as it as then known. There were 14 of us sitting around and I was sure I'd no chance as I'd only a smattering of shorthand and typing an was very shy. I did my test and left with "We'll let you know" and to my amazement I got the job. There were two large offices with 12 men and 4 girls in each and I felt really petrified. My boss, luckily, was young and very tolerant and I began to learn the ropes.
All went well until our head boss, advertisement manager became ill and was threatened with sacking if he didn't get back to work. He committed suicide over the weekend and the chief clerk took over his job. He was a pig of a man but things went okay until he and I had a row and he did all he could to get rid of me. Finally I got another job as secretary to a solicitor and when this man sent for me and said the office was going to be altered and turned into "pooling" and I was to be head of it, I nearly died, but got my own back as I said "Sorry, I wish to give a month's notice, and as my two weeks holiday is due, I wish to leave in two weeks." He nearly exploded. My salary was 34/- per week, with four free passes per year. It was a happy time except for this one man and we had many lovely outings and dinners in London which I those days was just something.
Each summer we took in young boys to learn the work and do the dogsbody jobs. Whilst one was away, my friend and I took over his filing and roared with laughter when we found a file entitled "Papers that should be in files and aren't".
We did all the advertising of excursions in newspapers from the Lancs. border to Newcastle-on-Tyne and it was a big job. I was then asked to write a short paragraph outlining them all in précis form. How glad I was I got credit in English.
I was there four years and now there are only three of the originals left. One being my first ever boss, who is now 87. One very prim young lady in the other office wouldn't allow anyone to make his tea or wash his cup up and it became a standing joke amongst us as she always in the little tea room, "I've come to wash his cup up."
Telephone Operator Edith Porter
I worked in Margate Railway Station as a telephonist on their one-position switchboard. I expect you know that the railways have their own internal phone system, but when I was taken on, it was the first time they had employed women.
When it became possible that women would be called up we all thought that I would be quite safe as I was in an important class of work. However, the Rail Co thought otherwise and they decided that women over the age of 49 would be taken on temporarily to replace younger ones and so in October 1942 I was sent for a medical and passed A1 for the Call-up. Within two weeks I was sent to a training centre in London (to learn what I had been doing for 8 years) and I was sent within two weeks into the A. T. S.
Telephone operator Molly Eagle
I joined the Great Western Railway at Oxford when I was just 16 years old in 1932. I was employed in the Telegraph Office as a morse code and telephone operator. It took me about a year to learn the morse code and to be able to read and send messages on the "sounder" key and single needle until I as fully proficient I was known as a learner. There were three men and three women telegraphist who had to work round the clock and an overseer called the clerk in charge.
The males worked three shifts as the office was always open day and nigh, Sundays, Bank Holidays, Christmas Day. They worked 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and they had to arrive on time to relieve the other clerk.
The women were never left alone in the office so they worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. and (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.). Half days on the middle turn were from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on the later turn from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. We frequently had to work overtime if a clerk failed to report for duty and we got 1/6d an hour for that (7 and a half pence). It was nothing unusual to work 12 or 14 hours a day with no break including Sundays. The days seemed endless especially as the windows were stocked up with Sandbags and passed with strips of brown paper with only a very small chink of daylight.
I was 23 years old when the war broke out and before that we were the only three girls on the station until more came on to do war work.
After the first year of the war - the two younger girls were conscripted into the forces and the joined the ATS but I as too old and my age had not yet been reached - because it as a reserved occupation. The work was very exacting and we h dot be very accurate with all the messages we transmitted dealing with the movement of rains and troops and freight. On the early turn we had to work the switch board with 5 public lines and 32 extensions always in use and extremely busy.
There was literally not a second to stop, although if we didn't answer the calls at once we were accused of doing our knitting or drinking cups of tea. This was so exasperating it was a job to keep ones temper, but as a rule all the office staff were friendly and helpful and we had many a joke.
The staff always used our office as a restaurant because it was always staffed - a warm fire in winter and a cup of tea I the pot. The late night Inspector would come and say "what time are you 'drumming up'". Sometimes on a cold night he would lace his tea with a drop of whisky.
We also had an arrangement with the engine drivers - they would exchange a bucket of coal for anew pencil or note pad.
We had to have a pass to come on to the station and enter our office and I the dark it was our job to go along the platform and extinguish all the lights as we were advised when there was an air raid alert, and then we had to put the lights back on after the "All Clear".
The Telegraph Officer always had to be on the alert for any important messages which came through so we could never leave our post.
I well remember the day of Dunkirk when we were passing messages on the phone - asking anyone who owned a boat or river craft to be prepared to lend it for the evacuation of soldiers across the channel - at the time we didn't know what it was all about but later when dozens of trains came through Oxford Station loaded with soldiers we realized what the messages were about. As the trains went through the soldiers would throw out scraps of paper with their name and address on them asking us to get in touch with their families to let them know that they were safely back in England. It gave one a tremendous feeling of patriotism to feel that we could help them in this way, and our telegraph boys would go on the line or platform gathering up the messages and bringing them into the office for us to sort out. Not many people had telephones in those days so it was quite a problem getting I touch.
I remember one night when I as on the switchboard talking to the telephone operator at Paddington Station and she said to me "Can you hear the noise?" As I listened I could hear the noise of bombs banging and whining as they fell and exploded. She told me that there was a terrific air raid going on at that very moment over London.
I think she was very brave and frightened as she stuck to her post on the switch though I imagine it was well barricaded up.
I also recall that as I cycled home after late duty at 10.15 p.m. about two miles up the Banbury Road I could hear and almost make out the forms of the Luftwaffe in the blackout droning along in the sky as they went to bomb Coventry - it never occurred to me that one of them might possibly drop a bomb on me.
The sky was brilliantly red from the fires even from as far away as Oxford. It was a fearful and awesome experience.
In spite of the long hours, blackout hardships and sacrifices which we all had to endure it never once occurred to us that we would not be victorious in the end and so we all worked hard with cheerfulness and good humour for six years.
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