It’s out at last, released by Pen & Sword Books on 3 August 2018. Using interviews carried out by the Friends of the National Railway Museum around 2000-2003, my latest book explores the experiences of women railway workers taken on in wartime.
They talk about working with men for the first time, doing men’s work, the problems of workplaces not designed for women, the dangers of bombing raids and how they dealt with tricky situations.
The interviews cover many areas of Britain. In the London area Gladys Garlick started as a porter at Bowes Park Station in 1940, becoming a guard in 1942, one of the first two on LNER. Florence Brinklow joined LNER at King’s Cross in 1940, working on parcels delivery with horses. She later worked at Ilford Car Sheds, cleaning trains in a gang. Irene Barrett-Locke joined the railway on the buffet at GWR Paddington, at a time when there was much bombing. She left to become a ‘nippy’ at Lyons Corner House but returned to GWR as a train stewardess. She recounts her experiences meeting famous people such as Baden-Powell. Doris Maley worked as a typist at LMS Broad St Goods Depot in London and later as a clerk at Southend Central. Dulcible Haines worked for LMS as a typist at Euston but was moved to the Grove at Watford when the HQ was evacuated there in wartime.
The Southern Railway features Irene Adgie, a typist in Traffic at Woking, when it was evacuated from Waterloo. Joan Cox was in a mobile canteen in a goods siding at Redhill, based in a caravan presented by the Buenos Aires Railway to the railwaymen of Southern Railway. She talks about Italian Prisoners of War working there.
In the York area, Betty Chalmers worked on the teleprinters and switchboard at LNER York Station. When the station was bombed in 1942 she worked on the replacement switchboard under the bar walls, with hot, unventilated conditions, while colleagues at the station were clearing out broken glass and sorting wet tickets. Nellie Nelson joined LNER York as a porter in 1940. She talks about how they helped to get injured passengers off the bombed train in 1942 and how her bike was destroyed. She also worked as a blackout attendant on the trains, going up and down to Darlington to check that the blinds were kept down. Laura Scott was a sawdust bagger at York Carriage and Wagon Works, working at the top of a plank and emptying sawdust from the wood into a great hole. She later became a carriage cleaner for York LNER.
Marjorie Cawthray was working as a waitress in the LNER tea room at Selby Station, sleeping over at the station. She helped fill lunch baskets for the soldiers and sailors to take back on the troop trains. Annie Lageu worked as a shorthand typist for LMS at Leeds, and talks about relationships with supervisors and working with men in the office.
In Scotland Mary Buist was a passenger guard based at LNER Musselburgh. Betty Forrester worked as a Morse operator in the telegraph office at Thornton Junction in Fife. Although she had been an expert at this in the ATS, she found Railway Morse totally different and struggled at first but later became adept. Christine Pettigrew was a shorthand typist at LMS College Goods Station in Glasgow. She talks about the horse-drawn carts there, and the Dickensian setting of the office
In South Wales Mary Woodfield was a linesman’s assistant at GWR Undy, on the main line between London and South Wales at the time. She talks about her experiences of working with men and the conditions of the hut.
In Liverpool Dorothy Crawford was a housekeeper in railway hotels, working at the Adelphi Hotel during the war. She describes the impact of bomb damage at the time and also the Grand National celebrations at the hotel, still running in the early years. Doreen Dickenson was a clerk at LMS Canada Dock Goods Station and talks about her experiences in the office, working with men.
In Chesterfield Mary Hodgson worked as a clerk the Goods Depot during the war, and talks about the dangers of getting information on the number of goods wagons there at certain times of day, about Italian Prisoners of War, rules about stockings and food rations. She did well in her exams but was most disappointed not to be able to take her studies further because of rules about married women.
Vera Jones worked as an apprentice fitter in the LMS Crewe Works. She talks about the hot and noisy conditions there but she liked the freedom compared to factory work. Georgina Huber was employed at LMS Crewe Arms Hotel at Crewe. She was sacked instantaneously as an alien in 1940 (although Georgina was born in Liverpool, her father was Austrian). Edith Stretch started work with LMS in 1937 as a booking office clerk at Hanley (an experimental move pre-war). Her experience there, where she had to take on responsibilities and duties as a young women, prepared her for her future jobs.
Joan Richards became a GWR parcels clerk at Hartlebury Station, later moving to Kidderminster. She recounts how her father had warned her about the possible bad language she would have to deal with. Violet Lee Joined GWR at 17 in 1940 as a passenger guard in the Cheltenham/Gloucester area. She married at 19 but her husband died in service in France at 22. She had a child but returned to GWR work with help from family. She left the railway in 1947 when the Essential Works Order finished.
Marjorie Pateman trained on lathes in preparation for a job at LMS Wolverton works. She was unhappy when they moved her to the Frame Shop to work as a rivet carrier. Mary Purell started work as a clerk at Murrow Station in Cambridgeshire in 1941, and later went to work in Peterborough.
The book also features a number of women who worked on the Somerset and Dorset Railway, as crossing keepers, a lengthwoman, clerks, a porter, a guard, and an oiler and greaser.