REMINISCENCES OF RAILWAYWOMEN
HGV Driver Mrs. Annie Brown (nee Hughes)
I was one of them for 4 years from January 1940 - 1944 (April). I was one of the first to start working as a porter at the goods depot at Colwyn Bay North Wales. I was 19 years of age. The majority of the women was, women with families, much older than myself.
The reason I went to work on the railway was, I was from a railway family. My father worked on the railway from the age of 15 years to the age of 65 years he ended his working life as a superintendent on all the North Wales goods Traffic. It was my father that encouraged me to go on the railway.
I started as Porter. I then went as a goods checker on a sub-tranship station at Llandudno. I was the only woman checker. I had to keep six people (truckers) going men and women, there was a period when I worked on that job for six months for seven days a week without a break. I was very fit and muscular. At the same time we all had a lot of fun and we were all good friends. I had to take a 2 ton lorry from Colwyn Bay Goods Depot and pick up men en route to Llandudno to work on Sunday, as not many women would work on Sunday.
I was a heavy goods driver (HGV Group I). I passed my HGV class I licence January 1942 and I have still got that very first licence. I believe I was the very first woman to hold a HGV licence.
I was the only woman on the North Wales LMS that had to go to Chester for a medical and to be trained in how to lift heavy weights and what not to do, so you can see it wasn't up to the foreman it was up to me to train them.
Women worked as cleaners and waiting room attendants, and also crossing keepers, before the war, they lived in the lodges next to the side gates as they were called, they were wives of railway men. I can remember one between Pen-y-Groes and Groeslon, Caernarfornshire, North Wales.
I had a job to do to deliver two tons of flour at two bake houses each bag weighed 135 lbs. Women can do what men can do.
About the hours as a porter, I worked 44 hours a week, when I started January 1940 I was on £2 19s 6d a week, when I was a checker or driver I used to get a bit more I can't remember, I do know I never came out with more than £4 a week, if we did any overtime we didn't get anymore money, for instance two women had to load 500 empty shell cases on to a lorry ready for next day without extra money. We couldn't refuse, there was no union for women then. We were on equal pay and never had, nor anybody else, trouble with men, they had respect for us all.
We had a uniform just one pair of bib and brace overall when I started, then I had to buy my own navy blue slacks after, as the war was in full swing they didn't care about what we wore.
We never created about anything we just got on with the job. The men had to go and fight for this country of ours and the women got on with the work.
Parcel Wagon Driver Joyce Sutton
At the age of 17 I was taught to drive by the firm I worked for then. When I was 19 I was sent to work at the L. N. E. R. Station in Leicester as a parcel wagon driver.
There were only two wagons with self starters, we had to start the others with the starting handles. We had a certain district in Leicester to deliver to.
In the mornings when we got to work the trolleys would be loaded with the goods we had to deliver in our district. The funniest thing I delivered was a grey hound, the poor animal had to be tied in the back.
The backs of the wagons were high, we had to jump up to load up. Pretty heavy work. When we had delivered all our goods, we started picking up from factories and houses for goods to be sent by rail.
All this for £4 two shillings a week.
The L. N. E. R. line is now a steam train line, running from Loughborough to Leicester for pleasure.
Horse Van Driver Grace Moran-Healy (nee Longdon)
How did you come to work on the railway? Out of necessity, at Manchester.
What railway jobs were offered to women, which did you do, and why? Horse van driver
Did you get equal pay? If not, did you do less work than the men? How did you feel about being paid less for the same work? I sure did not get men's pay (I had harder round to do than most of them).
Were there ladies' mess room and toilets provided for you? On the platform before driving off.
What did you have in the way of uniform? Hat, coat, jacket, trousers.
Do you think it was worse working on the railway I wartime, because of the danger of being bombed? Didn't have much time to consider such eventualities.
What other jobs did you see women doing on the railway? Were you surprised at what you could, or at what you saw other women capable of? Not really.
Why did you leave? Could you have stayed on if you wished? Did you or any other women stay on after the war? Made redundant when drivers returned from service, would like to have stayed on.
Do you think women of today are different, or is it just people's ideas of what jobs women can do that have changed? It is the latter.
Any other comments about being a woman on a "man's job". Mostly sensed later resentment from men, and condescending attitude of male ego.
It was at Manchester that I first applied for a job on the railway. I was about mid 30's then - and had three children to support - Monty (daughter) was about 15, Derek 13, Barry 8, as I had divorced a husband who was an inveterate gambler - always away at race tracks - dog tracks or card playing venues; or serving sentences for "con" man exploits. Actually he had just been "sent down" for some 4 years, and we were in digs (one room!) in a strange town - broke - so I had to get a job quickly.
I presented myself at the station in reply to an advert for trainee van drivers - and in some trepidation went to the stables situated in arches below the station approach. The "boss" there eyed me up - slim, 5'2", "green as grass" and asked me what experience |I had, and as I used to horses? I replied - not really but I love horses (and all animals) - was I scared of them? He asked I faltered, n-n-no, not at all!"
Well the upshot of it all was that I should accompany a man driver and learn the round.
The horses, snorting and stamping in their stalls - looked so big and formidable to my 5'2". I thought what have |I done - but what the heck? The die was cast, so I had a few weeks to learn to drive and handle a horse; and learn the round which was a town round from Piccadilly and environs. So I operated as his van lad whilst I learned the job. I hauled the boxes and parcels up stairs and on to loading bays - whilst trying to remember the shops and firms and where to go to find them - and began to develop arm and calf muscles as I clambered up and down on the back board to unload the goods - or load and stack those that had to be collected.
It took a while before he rather reluctantly allowed me to take the front seat and handle the reins - and that was a time of insignificant, yet real melodrama for me as I embarked on the driving experience. I wondered if he would obey my commands - or sense my hesitance and not respond (pretty high drama!)
However, we eventually established a mutual compliance and I was delighted to have a real live horse as a working companion (having always been a "townee"; despite having a deep and lasting love for all animals and country matters generally).
However, learning the round and negotiating the city traffic took some "hairy" moments of accomplishing, but eventually I became a fully fledged driver - with a van lad at the back - who was a foot taller than me and somewhat resentfully of my position.
One of my first journeys was to load up and go to another station across the city - unload my goods and then reload merchandise. It was somewhat of an ordeal to negotiate thru' the busy town traffic - and find my destination - which was choc-a-bloc with lorries, drays, vans etc., so I had to manoeuvre to get into place.
However I accomplished the return journey - unloaded; then returned the horses to the stables - then waited for a bus to return to the digs - and the children - back from school. They were so relieved to see me safe and sound, they gave a subdued cheer (not to annoy the landlady downstairs!) so I heated some soup and we dined in a flurry of excited questions - how did you manage, was the horse all right, did you find your way round the town and so on, and I asked them how they got on in a strange school and had they sat quietly waiting my return; and so those early days as a van driver clinched my resolve to carry on at the job.
I had been given a pass by then so I could travel to and from the station, by train; and as trains were my other love I really enjoyed the short daily journeys.
In my home town of Sheffield I used to take the kids to the local station, buy 1d platform tickets and we'd sit and watch the bustle and excitement of crowds jostling with their luggage, to get onto the beautiful snorting monsters, to be carried to their holiday destinations. We would pretend we were going away, and so whip up a vicarious pleasure at the bustling, exciting atmosphere, clanking wheels, belching steam, and shrill whistles as they set off to far places.
However, after a time, we were to be rudely ejected from our digs. We had tramped the district trying to get other digs - but no one wanted a woman on her own with three children - so I decided to pack our few possessions and move out next morning - first applying to the office for a transfer to Sheffield, so I could resume duties at the Midland Station there, hopefully.
I eventually found my transfer had come thru' and became the only woman horse van driver at the depot. The others were men, and some were motorized vehicles. I was eventually given a round consisting mostly of steel firms situated from West Bar to Solby Street, Garden Street, Broad Lane and the steep hilly district around. I was usually late arriving at the stable to harness up.
The foreman was a nice kindly typed with a biblical name (Enoch I think). When I'd take the horse round for shoeing - I'd help occasionally with poorly horses, drenching, flowing tablets down their throat, holding and soothing the restive ones.
Putting the harness on was quite a struggle - I had to duck under the belly to catch hold of the girth strap and it took me all my time to push up the tail to slip the strap underneath - being such a "pint" size against their height. In the confined space of the stalls it was at times a dodgy procedure. After walking the horse to the van and attaching it, I would drive the short journey to the station and then (being last) had to manoeuvre the horse and van up to the loading bay with often merely a foot either side of the other vans to negotiate.
Then the loading commenced the "bin" space under the loading platform was choc-a-bloc with boxes, parcels and steel goods having to be packed I correct rotation according to the districts and firms to be delivered to; leaving room for return collections as well.
I would then lead down and proceed to the office to collect the invoices and special permits for the factory deliveries (with the war on - one had to take care the receipts were in order) walk the full length of the platform to the ladies cloakroom for the loo and wash my hands and get a drink of water - then get back to the van, climb up onto the high box seat and commence the journey thru' town to my round.
Sometimes when my van was loaded to capacity and I had roped things on to the backboard, a policeman would wave me down to tell me off about it.
Time elapsed till one morning I reported to the stable boss that neither Bonny nor the several other horses I had driven were in their stalls. Only the current "rest" horse (as usually each horse had a periodic one day rest). He led me the very end stall and told me a new one had arrived and it was to be mine. None of the other drivers wanted to take it, so I had no other choice - no wonder I learned later it had come from another city where their stables had been bombed and this horse had become so panicked that they had had to le it stand in for weeks to recover from the shock and fright.
This filly was more of the racehorse build and I fell in love with it - but oh did it need firm but gentle handling. It was highly sensitive and nervous and every morning I went into it, I was very apprehensive as I manoeuvred at each side of her to get the collar over her head standing on tip toe to strap and adjust the harness. But to push her tail up and get the loop under was some feat; she did not like the hind quarters touched at all and it took all the strength of my extended arms to accomplish it, as she would lash out with the hind leg and strike sparks from the iron plate at the base of the partition. I led her then to the water trough for drink - then walked her over the cobbly ground towards where the van was parked - to persuade her into position for the shafts to be attached.
With thumping heart after my exertions and trepidation - I climbed up on to the high box seat - took firm hold of the reins and set off down the path to the main road. With high stepping vigour she raced along till we arrived at the station and there I had the task of backing the van into the restricted space where I had to dock it. At first she pranced awhile and the van oscillated wildly as I made several attempts to back her in quietly without catching the sides of the two motor vans at each side - with the protruding hubs on the large wheels of my van.
That was the first day of high tension and effort to calm and control my hyperactive steed and induce the docile response necessary for the job in hand, and the excitement of anticipation set the adrenalin flowing each morning as I set off to work with my lovely highly-strung "Jill". As I named her.
Arriving last at the stables I harnessed up and set off for the station, to find my loading bay choc-a-bloc.
Set off on my round till I came to the steep cobbly streets where the steel firms were situated - and as I started up the hill saw my horse's shoes striking sparks from the cobbles as her hoofs struggled to get a grip - sad the van was fully loaded with heavy merchandise. Hating to see her panting and straining, I pulled up and got down. Jump down and let's carry these steel rods to the top. We rolled our jackets to make a shoulder pad, I carried them up to the firm at the top - the workmen on the shop floor brought us each a mug of strong sweet tea as we waited to have the receipt slips signed in the office.
Some time elapsed till the morning dawned with the road treacherous with frost and ice on the roads and as I neared the slight slope up to Snig Hill, my horse slipped and fell heavily to the ground. Just opposite was a brewery and men dashed out to surround the horse, and pedestrians flocked round in a crowd also. A policeman appeared and pushed thru' shouting 'where's the driver.' I was enveloped in the crowd, so I started jumping up and down to attract his attention, shouting, here I am - I'm here. He made way for me to get to the horse's head and I knelt to pacify her. As I hadn't the strength to free her from the harness, the men strained and pulled to undo the straps and eventually released her and coaxed her up. My poor Jill was distressed and trembling, but I managed to soothe her; so eventually I could adjust the harness again. They all thought I was a lad till the policeman ordered them to stand clear so I could continue on the round, when they sent up a cheer of encouragement - bless them.
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