REMINISCENCES OF WARTIME RAILWAYWOMEN
Guard Anna Wolsey
I got married on 1st January 1944, I was 24 years old and lived in London but my husband a civil servant whose office was reserved at the time, was transferred to North Wales. Of course I followed him and had to do my war job up there. At the Labour Exchange the choice was, A bus conductress, B Factory work night shifts only, or C. And the interviewers comments were, of course you will take C, you'll be able to tell your grandchildren "and in the last war I was a railway guard!" So, of course I chose to become a railway guard.
My first job was on the single line railway up to Blaenau Ffestiniog. There was complete black-out. I did not know on which side of the line the stations were as I was supposed to throw out the mailbags at their destination. At one point I saw a little light and as I threw the mailbags out the light went flying up in the air, I had hit the station master's cigarette straight out of his mouth.
The male guards at Mansfield did not like me. I had to cycle to the station for my shift and found several times that my bicycle tyres had been slashed. They had to be 5 ft 10 inches to become a passenger guard and then a dwarf like me, only 5 ft one and a half inches tall, was given that job.
The job was not too strenuous and I enjoyed it. The worst thing was when the train was stopped without reason, we had to walk three quarters of a mile back to put detonators on the rails to warn trains following us.
One of the senior guards was known to be very anti-feminist, but for some reason, after a while we had long conversations, partly political and really appreciated our talks.
After pay day he even took me to a pub and paid for my drink and when I had to leave my really interesting railway job eventually because I was pregnant, he gave me his guard's cap as a souvenir.
Guard Edith Rowe
Transcribed from taped interview
I was to do some form of National Service but as my mother was a sick person I got exempt from the forces so the next best thing was the railway, which were advertising for staff on the painting and decorating gang. So I went on there, we used to do waiting rooms and we used to walk along the tracks and do all the little bridges. We used to have our meals in the platelayers' huts. Some of the bridges were going over a stream, some were up over the top. Whatever it was, we did it, and any station decorating. Then we got this big job at Hastings, which we had to do the Queen's Road bridge. So we went up and done that with all the pigeons, scraped away all the muck and then afterwards they put wire up.
After a time on there, there was vacancies for guards and porters. So I thought, oh well I would branch out: I would like to be a guard. I thought I would like a change I suppose. I was accepted, had to go to school at Ashford for steam training, and then somewhere the other side of London, I think it was Wood Green or Woodford Green, for electric training. After that we sat exams at Ashford.
We learned all about the signals, what you had to do if you broke down anywhere, and to remember always to look at the tail lamp, and all different things to look for on the line. When on the electric it was about if you broke down, the power to be turned off if at all possible, and walk back to put your detonators every so many yards along the line to warn other vehicles.
Then we went to London and had our medicals before we could be fitted out with our uniform. Then we went out then, you had to what they called learn a road, you had to find a guard who would have you in with him. Some did, some said they didn't want women in with them. But then you got the one who said, 'yes, come on my dear, I'll help you'. At that time I was on the line to Brighton. Palled up with very old gentleman that used to take me with him whatever shift he was on. I always went with him because he was like a dad to me. He taught me everything really, this old fellah. We went on from there and then you have so long until they feel you know the road well enough, then you go out on your own.
We had to do another exam afterwards to what we knew, an oral exam. That was done at Ashford too. There were some four women guards going to work at Hastings. I know one was Olive. Well her name then was Olive Clifton, but she divorced that chappie and I can't think what was the name of the fellah she married after that. One lived in St. Paul's Road, her name was Lockier, I believe, something like that. Mrs. Lockier.
We used to go right through to Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Ashford. We weren't detailed to go to London. That was my line. That was on steam. And then on the electric, it was my run really from Ore to Brighton. We used to do two runs on the morning shift. I used to go about half past seven in the morning and finish about two. And then the evening shift I went on about two. That seemed longer, so I don't know if we did more on that one. We used to finish about half ten.
I didn't go on the steam a lot, only now and again. I went through all that training on steam just in case. In an emergency perhaps they'd say would you go on the steam, so and so's ill, or can't come in or something.
On the whole the men were very good, you got the odd one who it was a bit inclined to want take a bit of advantage, but you slapped his hands. One or two tried it on, yes. And of course they were all married. All the young ones had gone to war. They were nearly all married men, so it didn't wash with me anyway. I dealt with it myself. It wasn't the guards it was the motormen that wanted to travel with you. To chat you up. They chatted us up more than the guards did. There were one or two young ones who were on there still, you know on the railway. I suppose some of their jobs was reserve, I don't know. Reserved kept them out of the forces.
Those that didn't want to take us with them, we just didn't bother with them, we didn't approach them to take us any more. We were told to expect it. If you approached one and he said he don't want no women with him, then you knew if you saw him again not to ask him. Never bothered me, I just used to say all right, I will find somebody who will. But the majority of them didn't mind, they didn't mind at all. And this old man I did get on with, he was nearly on retiring anyway, but he was a dear little old gentleman. He'd let me take over, you know. He said right oh girl, get on with it you know and I'll tell you if you make a mistake filling in your timesheet. He was most helpful.
The timesheet was a sheet and you'd fill it in every day, put the time you left, all your stations you had to put in all the way through, all the halts and like Cooden Beach. You put everywhere down and you was allowed so long at each station, I forget what it was now, but if you left late you had to put why you were late in the column, at the side of the column why you were late, and you filled that in every day. Give it to the stationmaster when you'd finished, or if it was late at night you'd give it in the next morning. I was actually based at Ore, so I used to give mine in at Ore.
When we got to Lewes one day I was busting, I wanted to go to toilet, it was no good because it wasn't a corridor train so I nipped into the loo at Lewes, and it was those old fashioned loos where you put your penny in, drew the old brass catches back, great big old things, what happened, I got locked in didn't I? I couldn't get out. I thought oh my god, that blimming train's waiting for me. The train couldn't go until I said so, so I hammered and hammered and hammered and as luck should have it somebody else came in to use the toilet, and she said what was the matter, and I said I'm locked in, and I said I am the guard of that train that's out there. All right my dear she said, I'll see to it. One of the men had to come in with screw driver and get me out. So of course that made me five minutes late or more. I put on the sheet, locked in the loo.
There was no other women at Ore. No toilet facilities were supplied for me. In those days the toilet was the toilet, shared it with the men. Of course Brighton was all right, we used the main toilets, you know, public toilets. We used to have to take our train to Lover's Walk very often and then walk back to Brighton station along the line. We were never stopped doing it, not told not to, because you knew the train wasn't going to come along on up the side. Lover's Walk; we took our train to be cleaned down there. And when we did that, of course, it went through the big washer, used to shut all windows up and go through the big washer and then the women came in to clean the carriages. A big mess room there. Upstairs the old men used to sit up there and play crib. That's where I learnt to play crib.
Of course my twenty-first birthday, that was hilarious. Yes Trafalgar Street in the Holly Bush, during my break. I had about an hour and a half off at night in Brighton, my motorman said we'll go for a drink as it's your birthday. Of course, there were several others we all knew from Brighton depot. I was able to bring the train home yes, but very vaguely. My shoes I didn't find till I got to Warrior Square; they were in the brakevan, under the mailbags. Yes, they took me shoes off, slung them under the mailbags so I come home shoeless to Warrior Square.
We had a mess room, but I didn't go up there very much because I liked going round the shops if I got any spare time. And we used to have a little while at Eastbourne. One particular motorman, he used to say 'coming down to Woolworth's?' And they used to have a bar in Woolworth's, we used to have a Bovril, nothing in it, you know we just went and had our refreshment together and a sandwich or pie or something if we wanted it. I used to take home a meat pie for my mum and dad from Brighton very often. Just outside Brighton Station there was a little cafe I used to have my dinner there sometimes. We had quite a long break in Brighton sometimes.
I used to cycle to work, down St. Helen's Road, right down by the park, up cross by The Briars and then I used to come up before you got to Queens Road, there was a twitten I used to go up that road, up that little twitten, up this little pathway and then go onto Ore, right up through there. Oh yes, I used to cycle. I was very fit then. I suppose the job kept me fit.
We were given a choice of a skirt or slacks, but I chose slacks. For I thought when you are bending about really I thought it was more decent, well my mother did, you know what parents are, more decent when there are men about, trousers she meant. So of course I had trousers. Used to polish me buttons. Shoes: I used to keep to flat ones except if I was going out at night, then I might put a pair on with heels, but not terribly high. Or else I would carry them with me.
We were given a cap, it was supplied to us. It was SR railway on that badge and then our watch went through our pocket. You just took a lamp, and there was somebody in the depot who used to do the wicks. It had a wick, you'd light the wick. And then it was like a lantern, if you was outside at night you turned red to green. A watch and a whistle. And timetables of course and the flags, red and green - two flags.
I didn't normally work to Rye, unless I was told to. Not my normal run. Didn't normally go to Ashford only if we went through there on a steam train, had to go that way. I was on a train one night, we stopped outside Winchelsea and we were stuck there and we watched these flying bombs go over, hundreds of them. It was awful we weren't allowed to go through on the train, not while the bombs were going over. I don't think there were any sirens, it was just the signals were against you. Once they thought it was clear enough we were allowed to go on. I was never nervous, but of course you get people that are. The passengers couldn't do anything at Winchelsea, they had to stop with us. They weren't panicky or anything, but it wasn't a corridor so I couldn't get to them. I was in the guard's van.
Even on your bike you used to have a cloth over your lamp to cover it up. It was pretty black coming up home sometimes. We used to go out at night us girls, but we never thought about bombs going to drop on anywhere we were. The sirens used to go, but we never used to worry much about it.
I don't suppose they took the signs down at the stations, but they weren't lit up. I can't remember really. I suppose they could have seen the sparks from the train on the electric line. It was a very dangerous job, cause one night we broke down just outside Hampden Park. Well we was coming back from Brighton and we were supposed to be going to Hastings, but when we got to the crossing just outside Hampden Park, the signalman had got us to go back to Polegate. Willingdon Halt. Just as we got to there, he thought he had us on the wrong line so he pulled it. Of course he shot us, so that messed the track up and up the bank, but luckily I didn't have many passengers, only about five. But one was a soldier with only one leg, crutches. The driver came along straight away, said are you all right. Various people came, but of course we didn't get home not all night. We had to stay there with the train, even though it was off the line. A big breakdown thing come, a great big crane, but before that I went back and put the detonators out and the driver came with me actually. They'd got the passengers safe by then. Some old boy from Hampden Park he said come round home and my wife will give you some supper. So we had some supper and by the time we got back we'd got the breakdown crane. So I got up in the van that came with them because it was cold, it was wintertime, and they all sat there and had a chat, played cards. Didn't get home until about half past six the next morning. I had been on duty since two o'clock in the afternoon. It was my late shift. No phones then, but somebody did let my mother know. Another railway worker.
Then I went to bed, but the aftershock came out, I couldn't stop shaking. I think I had to get a sedative from the chemist. On the Monday morning we had to go to Eastbourne for a big meeting there, why did we come off the rail. That signalman at that time, he got a day's pay stopped.
I stayed on there as a guard until the end of the war. I was writing to a pen friend, stationed with my first husband. When he came back here, in 1946, we got married and I left because we went to live in Worcestershire. We had two children, then he died at the age of 42, and then I married a friend that he'd met in hospital and sadly he ended up with having to have both his legs off. And then he passed away, and then I met George, who I've known for over twenty years and he'd just lost his wife and so I felt sorry for him, done his washing and I did him a meal and that's how we ended up, so we've been married now twelve years next March. So it's third time round for each of us.
Guard Doreen Stephens - Bristol
When I left school, at that time there was no way being a lady guard was ever heard of and, yes, I would go back tomorrow. It was a job so different that you realised how narrow life was.
I left school December 1935 and started work at Chapple and Allen Corset Work, Victoria Avenue. Short time started and I moved to Landridge Corset Work, Ebenezer Street, St. George, Bristol. The war came and we were directed to war work. I joined Aero Engines and worked on a lathe. We were made redundant and sent to the G. W. R. for an interview. If we were accepted then we had to go to school to be taught what the job entailed, we were sent out on the trains with a guard who sometimes helped to explain things about signals and points. To other's we were a nuisance but that didn't put us off. We were at the school for about six weeks, then it was exam time and we had to go to the D. S. O. (this was the Bristol and Exeter Offices).
There were about twenty in the class, some with family on the railway, so these people seemed to have more chance to pass than the others, but as it turned out, we all passed (whether it was then, or later, I remember going over the bridge again, where there was a camera crew making a film. New's Reel. But I have never heard of it ever being shown).
We were then sent to be measured for uniform, skirt or trousers, jacket, to coat, hat. We also had to collect. Rule book, journals for recording the journey we were making. Detonators in case of accident to alert other trains, two flags - one red and one green, one whistle, one lamp, one tea can. You were shown the lamp room and taught how to fill, clean and trim the wick to keep the lamp in good order, We all purchased gas masks, service case and packed all this in with tea and sugar tin and bottle for milk. Then your sandwiches.
Lots of incidences, falling from trains, climbing into a train at the sidings and using the wrong foot to get off the ground,. Using the red flag instead of green for right away at halts and stations, forgetting to fill your lamp with oil, no light to signal departure at night, With time between trains, shopping, picking blackberries, scrunching apples, the fireman was always willing to give a hand to these pursuits, then just making it back to the train to leave in time for the return journey and complete your tour of duty.
I think lots of people would have liked to have had the chance to do the job. Summertime was great, winter not so good, big guards van and no heating, until you stopped at a station then you would find the porter's mess room, kettle always boiling and you would make tea and try to thaw out, but travelling around seeing the countryside at different seasons and times, day and night was something not to be missed.
No, I had always worked with females and then in Aero Engines, Kingswood with males and females. But this was so different, again with both sexes, but in a wider relationship where you had to depend on yourself. This made you independent and answerable to you only.
I left school Christmas 1935, aged 14 years. I started work January 1936, I worked until November 1981 when I retired.
Yes, I would go back tomorrow to do it all over again if life was as it was.
We were placed in a link with hours adjusted to early, mid day, afternoons. Early shift started 5.00 a.m. finishing lunch time. Mid day started 11.30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Afternoons started 3.30 p.m. to 11 p.m. But this depended on where you were and what was happening. You could be held up, air raid, connections late arrival so delays could always happen. I suppose wages were quite good £4 to £5 per week. Sometimes there was overtime, which always helped.
Mr. Coulam, who was in charge of the guard's office, and his staff were always helpful in explaining the working of the links and what they entailed. We never joined a union as this was a war time job and would never be used in peace time.
There were lots of things to get used to. Walking to the sidings to pick up your train. Sometimes you would have a lift if an engine was going to the sidings to bring a train to the station, climbing into the train from the ground, walking home at the end of your shift. There was no transport and taxis were few and far between. But because it was so different from the work which women were doing, you felt you were doing your bit for the war effort an enjoying the camaraderie of a way of life that was so different, a lady guard was the best.
We worked trains from Bristol Temple Meads - Severn Beach, Pilning Low Level, Portishead, Cardiff, Plymouth, Troop Trains, Cheddar Valley, Whitham, Salisbury, Westbury, Weston-Super-Mare, Chippenham, Bradford-on-Avon, Exeter, Stoke Gifford, Bath, Swindon.
No, we were never allowed anywhere near to where the coaches were coupled together, not the men guards. This was done by a shunter or the fireman. When running around which takes the engine from one end of the train for the return journey, on the slip coach which was coupled to the London train for Reading the senior guard was allowed to slip this coach as it approached Reading station, we were allowed to watch, but never touch.
One of the nicest things about early shift. You took your breakfast, bacon, sausage, egg, bread and lard, for the fireman to cook your meal on the shovel, after scalding and drying it off in the fire box, it was ready. Nothing ever tastes as good as that breakfast. Toast again with poached egg, another favourite, boiled eggs as well, wonderful memories to recall. Not many people to remember those days.
I organised a reunion in 1968 after a feature "Dream Come True" was run in the local Evening Post. We had a wonderful time at the B. R. S. A., The Incline, Temple Meads. We were allowed to use the lounge and about fifty ex guards attended, also lots of firemen who were now drivers, It really was a "Dream Come True" to go back to talk of how it had been and to see so many people that you had forgotten, We kept in touch after and had some good days out, but as usual time catches up and you cannot replace them so things just comes to the end.
I realised that I had said nothing when starting a tour of duty. Depending on your route and where your train started from, you booked on earlier than your train time, if you took over at the station you were allowed 15 minutes, if it was from sidings that for Malago 30 minutes, Ashton Wood you had to catch the engine. When you took your train from sidings or platform you took the tonnage of each coach and number and gave this information to the driver of the engine which gave him the load weight. You made sure you had a tail light and that the electric system of inside light was working in each coach.
In your bag you also carried a day book which you recorded all the stations you were stopping at and the time due and away. Any difference of time and any delay was recorded and written on the day journal for each section you were in, Sometimes you left one section, so each had their own journal to complete the journey from start to finish.
Guard Miss B. L. Pegran - Headington, Oxford
I was a guard for seven years. I enjoyed every minute, time over again I would love it.
We worked between eight and ten hours. We were treated well most of the time, you came across some cross ones, It took about twenty years to become a guard in the old days. We did the same shifts as the men. I left to get married.
My job before was the paint shop in the Press Steel. I was 22 when I started. Some people enjoy my job, I used to go to Southampton on the troop trains, Hereford, London, Swindon, Chipping Norton, Woodstock, Wolverhampton and O. O. C. with empty stock. I think we women did the job very well. We were trained to couple trains. I never had to do one myself.
Guard Mary Marchant
We had no favours from the men I can assure you. We worked the same hours and did the same work, we also had to lift and carry also pull the trolleys the same as the men. Load and unload the trains, also load and unload the milk trains and some of those churns were heavy. We never had our own messroom we had to share with the men, we also had to use the Public Toilets, we had to use the long key off the sardine tin t o open the doors. When I was made a Guard I had to work the same hours as the men signing on early in the morning and working late at night. I was the first woman to take a train on the division. I felt very proud at the time, also my parents were.
If the London train was late leaving Paddington through the air raids we had to wait for it to come in and if there were any passengers going up to the Rhonda Valley or the Rhuenuy Valley we had to take them home, which meat we never got home till the early hours of the morning.
I did have a very upsetting experience, I had to go up Whitchurch Halt with a train of wounded soldiers they were in the evacuation of Dunkirk, the guard didn't know the time so I had to take him up, they were being transferred to Whitchurch Hospital which was turned into a Hospital for the wounded, it really upset me for a weeks after, the worst was watching them take them out of the train and putting them on stretchers on the platform. I just couldn't get them out of my mind, some were only bots of eighteen years old, quite young.
Another time we used to take a train up to Caryton Halt in the lunchtime, well I knew the fireman on this particular day, when we got to the halt the engine had to run around, well he turned around, took the lamp off but he forgot to couple the engine on so he went from Caryton Halt right into Whitchurch Halt and didn't know he wasn't pulling six coaches along, mind you I just stood on the platform laughing my head off, couldn't blow my whistle because I was laughing too much, mind you head office didn't think it was funny, they held an enquiry about it and I lost a day's pay.
Another time the engine broke down in Caerphily Tunnel, I had to get out of the van and walk up the line, well I got so far and fell. I lost my lamp so I had to find my way back in the dark to the van. I wasn't too pleased about that.
We had the same uniform as the men, but we could have skirts if we wanted as well as trousers, the trousers were better for us on the trains especially when you had to climb in and out of the vans, also they were warmer as those vans were really cold in the winter, we had a fire fighting team at Queen Street, we had to go up to Paddington to a competition against the men, we had a nice time to.
I was 18 when I started work on the railway. I met my husband who was a fireman at the time and we married on 23rd March 1946. I can't remember much about the pay but I do know when I got married I come off the trains and I asked for a ticket collectors job which they gave me and I was earning 30 shillings, 1 pound 50 now, more than my husband, we used to laugh about it, that's how I still remember it. Unfortunately I lost him, he worked on the railway for 49 years nine months, G. W. R., then British Rail and do you know how much pension I get form B. R. fifteen pounds 47p a month that's all I get and he worked as a call boy when he started on the railway going out knocking up the men to go to work.
Yes, we did have privilege tickets, also passes, but we hardly ever used them as you were afraid to venture to far because of the war and air raids, but I enjoyed my time I worked on the railway.
Guard Enid Milnes (nee Atkins)
In September 1940 I went to work at New Street Station, Birmingham as a parcel porter. One of the most vivid memories I have is of the barrels containing the material used to make sausage skins. If one of those barrels were broken you definitely needed your gas mask on!
After a few months I trained as a passenger guard and once I had learnt all the rules I went to the H. Q. at Derby to take a qualifying test. I then went to Walsall Station as a passenger guard, the first woman guard in the Midland Region. The male guards were not very keen having women working with them. They did not think a woman was capable of doing their job, but they got used to it after a while.
All sorts of goods were loaded in the Guard's van, bags of parcel post, parts of machinery, wooden boxes full of wet fish straight from the docks and bicycles to be unloaded at stations on route. In those days trains were not made up of regular stock. You may have had a van to pick up (or drop off) at station so the journey. The guard had to make sure that the tail lamp had been replaced on the last vehicle. Without that tail lamp your train was not complete.
On Sunday duty was to work on a train carrying RAF men to camp at Henisford, then take empty stock to the next station, Rugely. When returning to Walsall on the light engine I rod eon the foot plate, as it was the only way I could get back home. Breakfast of bacon and egg ration cooked on the shovel on the foot plate was wonderful and the best I have ever tasted. I enjoyed the job very much and very often now I sit and think back to the days on the railway.
When I worked as a parcel porter at Birmingham New Street station, I remember the male porters being helpful and helping female porters with heavy loads.
I cannot recall day light air raids ever stopping us working, but during night time raids we went into the subways for shelter. When the arrival of a train was announced staff would leave the shelter to load or unload the train. The stations were very dimly lit and all name signs had been removed.
The male passenger guards used to think they were the elite of the railway, they always wore button holes and wouldn't lift a parcel or do any job they weren't obliged to do. It was a blow to their pride when women showed themselves capable of doing their job.
The footplate men, drivers and firemen, didn't object to working with women and were usually friendly.
I remember that if there was an air raid in progress when we were due to start a 5.00 a.m. shift, there were no buses so you walked to work. I also remember walking home after the late shift when there were no buses.
I gave birth to my first daughter in 1944 and so finished work before it was necessary for me to be dismissed.
Guard Mrs. Louisa Jupp
There were about six of us girls (as we were then) employed as railway guards during the war. I was there from 1942-1945, and still have some old rule books dating back to 1933. We carried detonators, flags (red and green) and scruffy old lamps, mine was scraped off all the old black on it and I kept it polished. We had a month instruction took an exam, and then out on the road, in those days the rolling stock was the (18) no corridors!
One shift I was on, to collect unit from sidings phone signal box, for OK to come out. Down into sidings now meet my motorman for the first time who was I say was getting on a bit. Notice the unit has no tail lamp, inform motorman, I have to go back to lamp room (rubbish he says we are OK) but knowing the rules I went back to the lamp room, got my tail lamp and proceeded to do the rest, now running late, platform foreman not too happy but off we go to West Worthing and back. Next trip Portsmouth and back, now a cuppa in the buffet at Brighton Station and Mr. Street came with me. Previously I had been warned that the next move on our shift was to take a main line unit from the West Side up to Lovers Walk Sheds, because of the length of train this meant going to Hove, back into the loop and Hove onto Brighton Main Line, then up to the sheds, now you can see we have a lot of tail lamp changes, and as it is getting darker (blackout) it's a dodgy old job, and Mr. Street didn't offer. I was told to have a spare tail lamp on the train, knowing this I wouldn't even ask, BUT having had our cuppa and back on to the platform he said gruffly (Girl go get a spare tail lam and stay on the brake. I'll change the lamps for you). Thanking him he replied (you proved a point this morning the sidings so I've changed my mind) from then on we were always quite good mates.
From Portsmouth Station, particularly at weekends, we had a lot of sailors coming on weekend passes and to get the fare home, they would sell tobacco and anything else, and as quite a lot of the lads knew me, we had a good laugh. But on one occasion from Portsmouth, some trestles were brought along and a coffin, in which was the body of a sailor, he was being collected at Brighton Station by ambulance. Now at Arundel Junction there was a 20 m.p.h. speed limit, but just before then the sirens went, and then the imminent pips, warning of overhead planes, you can guess what happened, speed didn't slacken, me in the back brake holding on to the coffin to stop it tipping whilst listening to machine gun fire overhead. NOT A PLEASANT TRIP. Don't think my nerves would stand the pace today!
Another time on bringing the last train to Brighton from Ore which had to wait for the Ashford connection, motorman complained of smell of burning rubber in his can, decide to drive from read cab, with me in front cab, thankfully all signals were with us, as the platform foreman had telephoned through. Eastbourne Shunter took off front unit and then on to Brighton very tired and weary as the shift started at 4 p.m. and on reaching Brighton Station now nearly 1 o'clock in the morning. On arrival there was a spare motorman to take the train to the sheds, but no spare guard, as the platform foreman had told him to go home. So I was told take this train up to Lovers Walk Sheds, my motorman intervened and said, I think she has had enough and for once I said no way, so the platform foreman a previous guard had to do it. Needless to say the next day I was in the guard controllers office, for a telling off, but on leaving the office, Mr. Hedgecock, the controller, said By the way I would have said the same thing, so I think I scored a point there. Getting towards D Day although of course we knew nothing of this but we seemed to be taking a lot of Canadian and American servicemen to Newhaven, they were a cheery lot, and one saucepot asked me if I smoked, jokingly I replied only cigars, but to my surprise after leaving the train at Newhaven was back quite soon with cigars and believe it or not, ham sandwiches which of course we hadn't seen for a long time.
One other event concerning our own servicemen on the Portsmouth run home to Brighton we had to pick up some Italian P. O. W's at Chichester and lock them in a 1st class compartment, and at Brighton Station they were met with a military escort. On one particular day, the train was full and it was pouring with rain, on locking the P. O. W's in, I noticed about twelve soldiers English, still waiting on the platform with full kit. The platform foreman said they would have to wait for the next train, but I immediately took them into my brake, against the rules I know, but felt I couldn't leave them there. Needless to say he contacted Brighton and again yours truly was in trouble, but again this time all the guards including the remaining males stood behind me.
I finally got my initiation as a guard, in taking a train up the main life, went to give the right away and closed my brake door, found my right hand had got caught in the door, so I had to reach over to the Westinghouse and pull with my left hand, then kick the door open, my thumb had been flattened, but wasn't bleeding, in fact I couldn't feel it, they put a spare guard on to finish the journey, and I picked it up on the return, to be told you are now a fully fledged guard. One sad thing that happened to one of my fellow guards, her boy friend was in the attack at Arnhem, the boy lost a leg and I can still remember, her shocked face when she heard the news. Anyway it was to be, my husband was invalided out of the Navy and it was time for me to look after him. So in some respects sadly I left B. R.
Guard Violet Lee
Form No. ED 340A
Labour and National Service Essential Work (railway undertakings) Orders 1942
Employer The Great Western Railway Co
Worker Mrs. Violet P. Ridler
Workers Dpt. Traffic
Occupation Passenger guard.
This was given to me when I took leave to have my son.
I was a passenger guard on the old G. W. R. stationed at Gloucester.
I was a guard for seven years with maternity leave included during that time.
I must have been the youngest guard to serve on the railway as I was only seventeen years of age when I started - 1940.
WHEN SMOKE GETS IN MY EYES
My name is Violet Priscilla Lee, formerly Ridler, nee Davis.
I was born into a railway family. I arrived into the world on the twenty-sixth of October 1923, at Kemble very near Cirencester.
My father in those days was a shunter at Kemble Station, his name was Frank Davis. My grandfather George Davis was a foreman ganger.
We moved to Gloucester when was I three, my father having taken promotion at the G. W. R. I believe he became foreman shunter and after rose to the position as platform inspector and he worked in that position till he retired at the age of 65. So Must well and truly had the railway in my blood, and that is how when given the opportunity I became a guard during the 1919-1945 war.
I was 16 when war broke out and the job which I held was not of national importance and I knew that I would have to go into the forces or aircraft or ammunition factory, I was of that age.
When I was 17 my father asked me how would you like to become a passenger guard. The answer was yes.
I had to go to the Northgate Mansions. The regional office which was in London Road, Gloucester, to me it was a large imposing building full of staircases, big heavy doors and if my memories serves me right it was painted dark colours. One person interviewed me. I remember him asking me if I was coloured blind. The answer was no.
The length of time before I started was three days. I was asked numerous questions and after 49 years the part that remains clear was his remarks, well you are a tall young lady, I was 5 foot 7, and you look robust. But due to your family connections with the railway we will employ you.
There was another interview with Mr. Powell, he was the station master during that period. The interview was held at his office which was on Gloucester Station, a very imposing gentleman, he wore a frock tailed coat and a round peaked hat, which was smothered I gold braid.
During both interview it was made quite clear to me it was a war time appointment and when the men returned from the force we would have to resign our jobs, Mr. Powell gave me a Rule Book which I had to carry with me and to earn the rules. One I always remember was 55. My first day I was put in charge of Mr. Charles Marchant. You can just imagine what an elderly gent he looked to me a mere 17 year old girl, in those days one must remember it took yeas to become a passenger guard. I very often wondered what he thought of all these young ladies coming to work on the railway. Anyhow he was a very smart man, his serge railway suit was always well pressed and his brass buttons were well polished with Brasso, his boots shone. I can still see him in my mind now with his very wide grey waxed moustache, which seemed to stretch from ear to ear. He was very kind to me. He taught me the roads, points, signals, everything we had to learn on a journey. I forget how long we had for training, not very long as by then they wanted us to replace the men that had gone to war.
During my training I was treated. No less or better than a male guard, and my conditions of work were the same including pay. The only thing we didn't do was work a straight duty through the night.
I was given a uniform which consisted of a round cap with guard in gold braid across the front (we had the choice of skirts or trousers, I chose the later because of climbing up and down into engines or guards vans - a tunic top. A large pocket watch, it had G. W. R. on the face and was in a stainless steel case, a whistle, which had a very loud shrill. A guard's lamp which was lit by a wick and paraffin (smelly things) we had to clean our own. You flicked the handle round and it had three glasses in green, red and clear, two flags one red, one green. I obtained a leather bag (second hand from somewhere, had two straps stitched on the side to hold my flags in). We also had an issue of live detonators, rule book, road notices (ie speed restrictions) etc.
I always wore white cotton blouses and a tie, black shoes which were flat. The latter being necessary for clambering and also a lot of the country halts were made up of slatted wood and they were really right out in the wilds and I always felt very smart.
Well I must have been the youngest passenger guard ever. I loved it , in all I did 7 years broken service.
I was married when I was just 19. Sadly my husband died of war wounds, he was only 23. I was pregnant for 5 months to be exact when I left and when my son was 9 months old applied for my work again as a passenger guard, there was no such thing as maternity leave. I stayed till I was 24.
We didn't work right through the night. We had one Sunday off in three, Christmas if you came up on the rota or any bank holidays we just took it all in our stride. Shifts were
5.30 a.m. 1 p.m.
3.00 p.m. 11 p.m.
2.00 p.m. 10 p.m.
We did the Cheltenham, Honeybourne run. I remember picking up the American service men. We did that run on Sunday in three, it was a rail car service. Ledbury, which is near Malvern, was or is a junction. Lydney leaving o the down paper train which left at 5,40 a.m. from Gloucester to Cardiff alighting at Lyndney on that trip I always had a cup of early morning tea up in the signal box with the signal man. The glass sparkled and the levers shone just like stepping into someone's posh sitting room.
I picked the rail car up at Lyndney on the previous run to go up the Cinderford Valley through the forest of Dean collecting the school children, railway gangs, coal miners and then the run back up to Gloucester picking up at all the stations and halts, people going into Gloucester Market, to work and shopping.
We also did the Ross-on-Wye and Hereford run and that stopped everywhere.
Stroud Stonehouse, Chalford Valley this was a rail car service, we issued tickets on that run so that was like a railway bus.
Another run was to Swindon we alighted here and had to walk up to the yard which I those days was full of engines, trucks and freight. I always thought the engines looked like big belching elephants and in fact they called some of the long goods trucks crocodiles.
We picked the fish empties up in the yard, hauling myself up in the guard's van (how lissome we are when we are young and might add the vans stank with the smell of stale fish.) The destination was Mill-for-Haven. We worked them back to Gloucester Yard and the another guard took over.
I was always treated like a lady and of course I was one of the boys, there was a lot of young firemen. I worked I all winds and weathers. Sometimes not finishing duty till very late at night - owing to the thick fogs, snow and bitter cold weather. My transport to work was a Raleigh bicycle and it was bought for seven pounds ten shillings and sixpence. I lived outside of Gloucester City so had quite a way to go to work.
We mostly carried to work a packed food bag. They did have a restaurant on the platform. Goodness knows what mysteries of food we bought there.
I used to climb on the engine, have my egg and bacon cooked on the steel shovel in the firebox, also a brew of tea I my enamel pint can which I carried everywhere with me. I knew all the drivers, firemen, porters, staff. Perhaps it was because I was a young war widow, I was always treated with the greatest of respect by passenger and all the people I met.
In my mind still after all the years I can recall the smell of the Jay's fluid they cleaned the footbridge and platforms with it.
Going through the high banks through the Forest of Dean, the single track railway, the tunnels, the dank smell on an early morning. Seeing the fishermen walking out in the channels on The Severn to catch salmon, and also using their coracles. This was on the down 5.40 a.m. train from Gloucester. The banks each season was adorned with different foliage or flowers. It didn't matter what railway track you travelled on, it was God's wonderful railway.
The farm folk. The troopers (troop trains) coming in, families saying goodbye to their loved ones, meeting the trains arriving, heaving with people, guard's vans full of mail and goods. Sometimes we would have to take a musselled dog, baskets of pigeons. You name it everything that could be carried by railways vans, even coffins.
I remember very well meeting and talking to a very tall elegant lady by the ticket gate on the platform at Gloucester. We had a long chat and then she said my name is Miss Bow Lyons, she must have been a relation of our Royal family and know during the war years some of them were evacuated to Gloucestershire.
There was comradeship. I met people from all walks of life and talked to anyone. I wish that all the ladies that did work on any of the railways during the war years were honoured somewhere. We hear about all the other services, A. T. S., W. A. A. F., Land Army, Wrens, Nurse, W. A. C's etc. but nothing about the Women on the Railways.
I knew all the local farming communities on the local runs . I had my war time rations supplemented by all sorts of country fare which I might add I paid for, this was eggs, rabbits, chicken, honey, fruit and the famous Blaisdon Red plums, ducks, bacon from somebody's pig club, vegetables and flowers.
Oh how we were treated like royalty. The restaurant staff gave us a sumptuous meal. I knew them all, No horrible help yourself buffet, white starched linen, waiters in smart uniform and white gloves.
I always remember thinking how do they prepare such meals on the fast moving trains.
The blackout during the war was very strict, before you started a train on its journey, mind the blinds please, pull the blinds please. I would go along the platform shouting and checking each carriage, this was very strictly adhered to, so that when the train was on its journey it could not been seen by enemy aircraft overhead and used as a target.
On the Cheltenham to Gloucester run I remember having a guards van full of crated crumpets from a firm of bakers by the name of Tilly's, they were a local firm. They were crated and packed in wooden crates and packed in greaseproof paper. The van was stacked high. The train gave such a jolt the whole lot was everywhere. I finished the run from Cheltenham to Gloucester which was only a few miles trying to put the lot back into the boxes. I expect somebody ate them, I never heard anything more of the incident.
We also did the Hereford run up to Gloucester at night. I believe the train left at 9, it was always extremely dark in the winter. I could tell where the train was by the sound of the wheels on the ballast, and of course the cuttings and tunnels. The small bolts in the middle of nowhere, leaning out of the guards van window swinging my light on the white light to help the driver to know where exactly to stop and then turning the light to red, to stop and when the country folk had got off, starting on our journey again. I remember on that run Friday nights collecting and signing for a secret document from Hereford to Aldermaston, it had a large red waxed seals stamped on it, of course it was a seal of officialdom, one had to sign for it and to enter it in my train log book and get it signed for on Gloucester platform parcels office.
The troop trains coming in loaded full of (Yanks) U. S. A. Servicemen embarking at Gloucester. So many young men off to war, they would hand us out cigarettes, chewing gum chocolates, lumps of sugar, or on a very rate occasions a pair of nylon stockings, so you see we did like the troops coming in. My son didn't ever know what lemons looked like till a sailor coming home on leave game me two.
The Prisoner of War trains always pulled up in the middle road of Gloucester station, blinds drawn.
We did have Italian prisoner of war men working on the railway. They did very menial jobs, their uniform consisted of brown overalls with a large orange circle stitched on the back, and when they called after us girls we would cock a snoot.
Our duties were, I suppose, like guards of today. Clock on for duty. I always had a chat to the firemen and driver in other words show my face to let them know it was me, check the tail lamp was on the train and lit paraffin was used then. Take the weight and description of each vehicle and coach, look to see if the emergency chains the outside of each vehicle was not pulled, look into the guards van as the vacuum clock to check that the brakes would be acting when the train was on its journey. Give the bare weight to the driver, enter all this in my log book also the number of the engine, with the driver's name, see all the doors on the train were closed. No fancy sliding doors. The station master or platform inspector would give the all clear to the guard and then a blast of the whistle, a wave of my green glad and off we would go. We had to enter I the log book if and when we were delayed, which signal why and what incidents delayed us.
I remember during the had winter of 1947, it was bitterly cold with very heavy falls of snow, there was n coal for the engines, everything was frozen solid and I tied my overcoat with string, placing it on my head like a cowl and putting the string round my neck.
Sometimes we would take a stint of duty on the main entrance, collecting tickets and punching tickets so I knew all the ticket collectors.
If my memory serves me right there were seven lady guards at Gloucester during the war period.
I trust that I haven't made my work as a lady guard sound to rosy, but that is how I look on my war work.
Guard Phyllis Mortimer
I was working at F. W. Woolworth when war started and was given three deferments, allowed if in charge of food or food production. I was I charge of seeds, plants, potato seeds, any way my idea was to go for the Services, but my father met me before I got to the interview rooms and asked me not to as a man was upset as my brother had volunteered for Air Force, and we were just getting home a bit more livable after an air raid. He said women were wanted on the railway, he himself had been a railway man all his working life. So I went for the interview and asked if I could go, so down for a talk with the super at Glouster Head Office and was taken on as a ticket collector. This I did not like as the chief because I came from a railway must have thought I was a natural. I took quite a bit of stick from him, the men the gate had a go, anyway I signed at 2 o'clock the next day, and he shouted hea little m how about a guard's job, he always called me this so next morning I clocked on at 5.30 a.m. travelled down to Sydney on the 5.50, that was when the knocking started when joined the railcar, my tutor was the man's job I was taking so it was most uncomfortable anyway I had six week training and passed the rules and took over on my own, but each time you met one of these men it was, can you manage or can I have my job back.
I enjoyed the work and the passengers who were mostly regulars I those days, days I shan't forget was
Taking the 6.20 p.m. to Hereford when there was an explosion while we were passing through Holm Lacey Tunnel, putting out al the lights, my lamp too, when we came out we could see damage and debris everywhere, as there had been an explosion in an armament factory. The told us windows had been broken in the town about one mile away.
Another time, still on the same line, we had a greyhound that had been tampered with and had a fit, so I got Longhope to phone Gloster and had someone waiting for him, needless to say he didn't run that night.
Then there was the girl about ten had been getting to the window, she had never seen a lady guard, windows had been closed for Mitchedean tunnel, which she forgot and smashed the sliding window in the door.
Another time I had a small wooden box, about 8 square inches, on leaving Gloster. I was told not to move it, this was impossible. When we arrived at Ross the Porter said anything for us, so I put the letter bags and said this box, well they laughed at me and said come on someone the week before had got the wrong side, so they were working to rule, well I said it will go up and down the track until you do. I had the last laugh over this, can you see two men with this small box, it turned out to be a ball bearing for a factory at Lydfood.
Chalford was an enjoyable turn as you got to know passengers with their children. We used to get about eight or nine prams and toddlers on this trip. Very friendly all round. Christmas times I used to have five or six mince pies put in the letter rack, something for your tea Phyllis, at different times. This was another time when somebody upset people getting personal about the size of the family.
We left Chalford, on this particular day everything went fie until passing Haresfield (L M S) and the engine shuddered to a halt. I got to the window to be told by the driver we got trouble with some on the engine, and can't get far enough for signal coverage so you will have to go back and protect the rear, that's carrying out Rule 55. It was day light when I started and just spitting with rain after about half an hour. While I was doing this the fireman had a wrong line order and had to walk about two miles to get an engine back wrong road to pull us in, the rain started swilling down and I had to get back to the coach to change the red flag for a red light. I was wet through to the skin and so was Ron, the Fireman. We should have arrived in Gloster at 5,40 p.m., but arrived at 7.45, holding the London back as that was due in at 7.10 p.m.
I was the first lady guard to go main line at Gloster, and besides two more, but only worked a branch line. We never had a room to ourselves, all the time sharing with the male guards and no lockers until two more females had joined me, then we were given lockers in a corner of the male room, we also had a key to the toilets in the ladies waiting room.
I only made one special friend among the guards, she died about three years ago now. I was friendly and had a good relationship with all the guards, male and female (male when they were used to the idea) there was at most about three in the room at one time and mostly always, Cardiff, Swindon. All Cheltenham trains were manned by females. I don't like trousers so I always had skirts.
I started on the railway, I am not sure of the date, some time late April I think, 1942, and finished on 7th September 1946. This I know for sure as I still have the Daily Mirror for the day I left.
I left on my own, as we were getting later and later turns added on and my husband and dad said I should pack it in, anyway we were married in 1947. My husband was a P. O. W. from Dunkirk till the Yanks liberated him and many others.
I tell you another little tale. Roses grew on Newnham station, one day the old station master said you should have a button hole, as one or two of the senior guards always wore one and told me to take one each morning. I was on the same one spoilt that for us by picking a lunch. We had a R. Y. O. office on the platform where we ran in manned by English and Yanks. One morning I was asked for my button hole to make his girl friend jealous, he carried this on for a week and my duty was late the next week with one hour on tickets and this little Yank wanted to know where my rose was, so next day I cut two red hot pokers and some Bracken. That evening he introduced me to his young lady, now his wife, I met them in town a couple of years ago and had a chat.
I worked on the G. W. R. for four and a half years as passenger guard and relief ticket collector. We had quite a selection of women working there but a lot have died in the past few years. I give you a list of jobs done by women that I know of, but as I said not many of us are left.
We had 1 goods guard, about 4 passenger guards at Gloucester; 2 passenger guards at Chalford, about 4 porters who had very hard jobs as they unloaded the same parcel traffic as the men.
One was in charge of the fishdock, those days each fishmonger collected his own delivery from the station.
We had a train announcer, 3 women ticket collectors; 3 booking office staff and others in the station master whose duties were various.
There was also a team of carriage cleaners, until P. O. W. from Italy arrived, and they took over.
There were also travelling porters who worked different routes.
I have copied out from my old rain book some of our duties, we had early morning shifts as well starting at 5.25 a.m., the two Hereford shifts were worked from 2-10 weekday and 2-11 on Saturday, the train leaving Hereford at 8.15 Monday-Friday. Chalford was 2-10; Gloster 8.30 till 10 o'clock gate (ticket collector) duty till 10 o'clock. Oh between the Herefords we did a train to Cheltenham and back and Saturday night we worked through to Kemble to work down before the London as it only stopped at Stroud and we the Chalford car followed down to pick up other stations to Gloster finishing at 12.30 a.m. if we were lucky.
The lady porters did the same as men, unloading the vans postal mail and all other goods, there was only one lad porter and two elderly men besides the foreman. Their turns of duty were fro 6-2 and 3-11, the porter on the fish dock worked from 8-5 and only dealt with the fish supplies, which all fish mongers fetched from the station. We all took a lot of stick from the men such as when am I getting my job back.
I don't know how many carried out Rule 55, I think the safety rule but we had engine failure on the main line, I got one quarter mile; one at half and three at three-quarters 10 yards apart and what a night it just poured with rain. I was wet through and so was the fireman who went forward to bring the relief engine. So you will see we really did do men's work and the same hours.
Guard Audrey Brown
I began work with the L. M. S. 1st June 1944 and served for six years until October 1950.
The latter three years were spent in the Telegraph Office working as a telephonist. It was during this time that L. M. S. became British Rail.
During the three years as a guard I cannot recall too much resentment from male counterparts.
The only incident was that one of the guards destined to be a goods guard refused to go and went on a one man strike for six weeks or so. He evidently won his point as he was absorbed into another link but I don't suppose he was our biggest fan. This did not affect me personally and otherwise I do not remember any other unpleasantness.
On the contrary I only remember helpfulness and kindness. Of course this was wartime, plus the fact I doubt we were expected to stay in the job for long once the war had ceased.
We therefore did not represent any threat so they seemed quite happy with the novelty of having women colleagues.
Wolverhampton was blessed with six ladies which was a large proportion of the normal complement of twelve or so guards. Strange that the surrounding area through which I travelled, Bagham, Coventry, Rugby to the south, Stafford and Stoke to the north, the only other women I met were two from Lichfield. There were however many women employed as porters in fact most of the local stations were manned by women and Whipton must have had 20-25 to cover the three shifts.
You asked about bombing etc., but by mid 1944 that was all over as indeed were the blackout regulations for which we were thankful.
The only anecdotes I have I'm afraid are purely personal as I was never involved in accident or break down so it was all routine.
My friend and myself were both directed as the term was described for war work on the railways to be trained as guards. This was 1944 and we were both 20 years of age.
Wolverhampton then boasted two stations. The G. W. R. Low Level and L. M. S. High Level. We served with the latter.
My friend trained to be a porter guard myself a passenger guard. The idea being to release the male guards for the heavier work on goods trains. Thereby helping the war effort.
Our training consisted of learning from the Rule Book particularly about the protection of the train in the event of accident or breakdown as the safety of the team is the most important part of the job and the responsibility of the guard. We also had to learn the Road as it was called, this was the names of all stations, signal boxes, speed restrictions etc., on the routes we travelled.
We worked 8 hour basic shifts and although the hours were unsocial we were spared doing night shifts.
In the winter it was extremely cold at 4.30 a.m. and quite often the trains standing in sidings all night were frozen up so that no heat supplied by steam from the engine could get through and the coaches and guards vans were like tombs.
It was a good thing to be athletic too as quite often we had to go to carriage sidings to fetch the train to the station and of course no platforms were available there and it was quite a step up to the van from the ground.
Another memory is of the length of the Euston Expresses. Nowadays the trains seem to consist of eight or nine coaches but then 15 or 16 indeed I have seen 18 coaches handled by the magnificent steam locomotives. Likewise more people seemed to travel, especially of course service men and often the trains were so crowded the guards van was full as well and I frequently only just squeezed in myself and yet grumbles were few.
Isabella Gilder (nee Anderson)
I worked on the R. N. E. R. in Scotland (Glasgow) from 1941-46.
It was an experience I would not like to repeat. I was a porter at my home station, Kirkentilloch, and then I became a guard.
You can well imagine the difficulties and dangers working in the Blackout among moving trains with no help.
Prior to the war 1939-46, it was very difficult to get work. I wanted an office job, as I had a good basic education, but I had no qualifications for office work. I had attended an Academy and had a classical education, without further education, at this period of time was of no use whatsoever.
I was sixteen and managed to get an apprenticeship at Gent's Bespoken Tailoring.
When the war started I still worked there. We started making battledress and Army Great coats. At that time it was a reserved occupation.
HOW I CAME TO WORK ON THE RAILWAY
My cousin had gone to work at the local station, as a porter. Later she moved into the goods office. She thought this would be a good idea to take her job as a porter and the station master said there would seen be a vacancy in the booking office. That seemed feasible as no shorthand or typing had been needed. This did not work out, when the vacancy arrived the station master discovered I was likely to be called up. The other females were either younger, older or married. In fact my younger sister went to work in the goods office. She was a Number Taker. I remained a porter for over a year.
WHAT JOBS WERE OFFERED
I never knew of any railway job to be advertised. The jobs seemed to be passed from one friend to another.
I started as a porter and progressed to guard. The town I came from was a small town Kirbentilloch - before, the population 11,000. The town is large town now.
Women worked in the offices and porters on the platform. In the city there were more railway jobs for women.
The women worked in the signal boxes but did not stick it for long. They could leave as they were married women.
The pay was equal. The women did more work than the men. Specialized jobs such as, bill posters, painters and men who filed the signal lamps (oil) were done by platform staff. (The porter did not do these jobs before).
HOW DID THE MEN TREAT THE WOMEN
I found the majority of the men were helpful and showed no resentment. There was always the odd awkward one. The worst bit was the scarcity of men to help.
MESS ROOMS AND TOILETS
The porters had a little brick building with a coal fire. It was called a bothy. We used the platform toilets.
The uniform provided was, jacket, skirt, trousers, great coat and cap. This took all the clothing coupons and left none for off-duty clothes.
WORKING ON THE RAILWAY IN WARTIME
I think working on the railway in wartime was much harder than peace time. The women had to do extra jobs the men had never done. There was the hazard of the blackout.
WHY I LEFT THE RAILWAY
When the war finished, the men started returning and needed the jobs. I left before I was asked to go.
JOBS WERE BEING OFFERED as carriage cleaners. I went to work at a Mental Hospital in the sewing room. I did not particularly want to sew but I wanted a job near home. (My sisters had died in five months time.) I did not want to leave my mother.
After two years there was a job at a railway station a mile up the road from my home. (Station Lenzie.) I got the job and had the date to start but discovered I came under the essential works order and could not leave my job unless I got married. (I was unmarried at that time.) Sad to say I never got an office job.
WORKING ON THE RAILWAY IN PEACETIME
I think ideas about women's work has greatly changed. I am now married and live in a small market town. We had two stations I the town but we do not have any railways now. It seemed they could not be quick enough to pull up the rails. Although I said I did not enjoy my railway work, I still have an affection for the old L. N. E. R.
The jobs you mentioned - I did not know that women were shunters, drivers etc. The only women workers I see are the ticket collectors, on the main line between Peterborough and Edinburgh (when I go home alone).
I think it would be easier working on the railway now. If I were a younger woman I might enjoy working with the old firm. I haven't any comments about women doing men's jobs. If they like the work and can do it successfully, that is up to the person, but I do think in the world of today, working married women have caused mass unemployment for young people and men.
When travelling home to Scotland, I notice the train staff look more untidy than wartime. We had to observe the uniform. Before the war the guards were known as the gentlemen of the railway. I think they wanted the women to keep up the tradition.
There were two lady guards at Lennoxtown. The original guards one became porter-guard (his home was out in the country and he had no means of transport but his bike). The other man went as a goods guard.
I went with one of the original guards to learn the routes. The men were very considerate and did their best to help us. We observed signals (Upper Quadrant) catch points, signal boxes etc. We also attended lectures given by a guard. We had to learn about wrong line , how to couple up and couple off and protection of train.
I worked two shifts 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. approx., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. approx. I worked Sundays.
One Sunday I worked the train to Clydebank with the ship yard workers, mainly John Brown's. The other Sunday I worked the train to Contairs (Glasgow), Contairs is where the railway engineering works were.
Sundays I think we started just after 7 a.m., finished about 4 p.m.
WEEK DAYS EARLY SHIFT
First train went to Clydebank ex Lennoxtown 6-7 a.m. arrive Clydebank 7.15.
Went as a passenger to Glasgow. At Queen Street Glasgow, loaded vans. Everything went by rail as petrol was rationed. Took empty carriages to Contairs to be cleaned and brought down new sets. Normal proceedings were to see the train was all in order - steam pipes - lighting - vacuum pipes, as the trains had Westing-house brakes. We were very busy until 12.15 when we worked our train back to our depot Lennoxtown, as I lived in other town I came back as a passenger.
I had to walk about one and a half miles to the bus depot to get the first bus going to Lennoxtown. It was not a service bus until it got to Lennoxtown, so I was lucky to be allowed to travel. I got up at 4.15 a.m. The bus left any time after 5.30. When I got to Lennoxtown, I had to examine train, take the numbers of the carriages, the weight and give the weight to the driver. Take number and class of engine and name of driver. After a bit of manoevering out of the yard and up and down the line we got into the station and soon got going. These were the blackout days, which made everything very difficult. The only light we had was our hand-lamps. It was all blacked out except for a little hole in the middle of the glass.
I was nervous in the dark. A man who lived in the same road, used to call in the passing. I walked part of the road with him (this was early shift). Further in the town I sometimes got a bus driver part of the way.
There was no transport to suit so I had to cycle 6 miles. The road was very undulating so it was a hard run. Lennoxtown is a little town out among the hills. Although not far from Glasgow it is very scenic - very similar to the Lake District.
Got train to Lennoxtown. First run was to suburbs of Glasgow. When we returned to Lennoxtown we went on the single line to Blanefield. This was a very picturesque run. We returned to Glasgow. We had a very short stop and left again at 6.15 p.m. for Lennoxtown. En route there are two large mental hospitals so one evening (Wednesday) we had a load of fish for the hospitals. They had 10 cwt each. The load was too heavy to handle. The platform staff were also females and had platform duties as well as trying to unload the fish. However, the engineering works worked late that evening and the workers used to unload the fish and put it on the trolley for the lady porters.
We had another run from Lennoxtown - Glasgow and then Glasgow - Lennoxtown. As that was my depot I had to make my way home. Most occasions I got a bus to the bus depot, that was the last bus. If I missed the bus I had to borrow a bike or walk it.
The loads on the train were very heavy - parts of machinery used to come for the local soldiers. It was a very hard job to get the parts on to the platform and very difficult for the porter to move it away from the edge. Another thing, was transporting coffins (empty). This was a bit of a laugh, I could handle them myself they were so light. One day the undertaker came rushing up to help me. He said not to lift them myself as the passengers would notice how light they were.
BLANEFIELD is right out in the country and there are deer about. I had a stag once (dead). It was given a van to itself, it needed it, it was so large. At Blanefield we often get a van to attach with goods - sometimes sealed.
Twice I had a dead soldier to bring home. They had been wounded and died in Britain. I new them both as they were from the same town Kirkintilloch and went to the same school, Only empty coffins came in the guards van. Corpses were given a separate van.
We had live stock to carry also. Dogs, cats, ferrets, pigeons, pigs, goats, bees etc. Horses had a separate van (horse box). At every station I had to look to see if the horse was up right, I don't know what I would have done if he had lain down.
SUNDAY LENNOXTOWN - GLASGOW
The Sunday I went to Contairs, I stayed there are ally.
We took empties up and down to Queen Street (Glasgow). We also took messages from the telegraph office. Some of the goods guards would be called out or sometimes passenger guards were called out for the troop trains.
I used to go up and down the tenements knocking doors and delivering notes.
The man whose job I had taken offered to do my Sunday shift. It meant a little more money for him and a Sunday off for me. It gave me a rest.
LENNOXTOWN - CLYDEBANK
Sundays I had to cycle to work. We left Lennoxtown just after 7 and got to Clydebank about 8. The station was closed except for access to the platforms. I had either to sit there or go back to Glasgow. It was difficult to get trains to suit. I was very lucky. A family I had got to know only briefly, asked me to come and spend the time at their house. The Clydebank people had been evacuated to our area but some had gone back. It was the man I knew first because he travelled on my train. After I was invited t his home, I never saw him again. When I went to his home he was at work and I left before he returned. I spent the day with his wife and two children. I cannot remember whereabouts they lived. Lots of people were so kind I often wonder where they are.
I think partly my dislike for my job was the period of time I worked there. The blackout was so horrible - not knowing where one was. Going into strange yards, and listening to trains moving and not seeing them, not knowing where the points were and nobody to ask was very alarming.
Another thing was the protection of trains. Walking back the line and laying detonators and finding one's way to the signal box was a great trial. Good thing it did not happen too often.
Apart from the work, there was the sadness the war brought. Lots of the drivers lost their sons - not only the drivers but many others.
My two sisters who were younger than I both died in the war time. One was 20 - the other 23. They died five months apart. One had her appendix out and ailed for a time. The other had a premature baby that died and she seemed to have no will to live after my first sister died.
I had two brother in the Forces. They survived but it was a worry at the time.
I found my job lonely. When I went to Loch Lomond in the summer, people were out enjoying themselves. I felt the odd one out.
I met my husband I the wartime. I was a porter then. My youngest sister knew him first. She thought he would be a nice man for me. She was 17 then. She thought he was old like me (23). Another thing he is very tall 6 foot 2. She thought he would be handy for putting out the gas lamps for me at the station. Unfortunately she never knew whether we got married or not, as I did not get married until after the war.
The first run I had on my own was to Clydebank. Clydebank had been bombed and our usual station was out of order for sometime. We went into another station, we then had to shunt up the line. I'll never forget, when I had to get out the van to change the rear lamp. There was hardly anything there but rumble. I did not know where I was. I had the greatest desire to run, it seemed there was no place to run. I however climbed back and hoped for better times.
On my early shift the engine came out from Glasgow. We had an engine shed at Lennoxtown but they did the other local runs.
I used to go down a little lane and came out next to the engine. I would call to the driver and let him know I had arrived and then I went back to my van. One morning when I was taking the number I looked across and I saw a white thing floating in the air. I ran up to the engine and told the tale. The driver sent the fireman to investigate. There was a high bank, near the engine shed. A baker had come out to take some rolls to the other drivers and had walked along the bank, so I had my ghost laid.
I was always afraid of the rats in the yard. One night when I had put the train in the yard, I was leaving when I saw something I thought was a kangaroo. I was not going to pass it. I have heard that they swipe you with their tails. I went to the engine shed and told the driver and fireman, who came to see the kangaroo which turned out to be a folded wagon sheet.
This happened when I was a porter. It was the duty of the lad porter to deliver any livestock that came in. One night there were some hens come off the last train. It was winter and pitch black. The boy was afraid so I agreed to go with him. We carried the hens between us for two miles. The farmer barely thanked us and closed the door.
On the way back the boy suggested we try and get a lift. We both lived at the other end of the town, ,which was quite a distance.
A motor came along so the boy waved it down. It stopped, we got in. The driver mistook us for two boys, as we were both dressed alike. We were hardly seated until the driver said take off your caps, have you no respect for God or man. This is a hearse you are in.
Find out about the book "Railwaywomen"
Return to the wartime index