My Story (3)
I began to enjoy working nights especially being down at Birmingham New Street at midnight and knowing the staff which also preferred nights, we had time to say 'hello' and have a chat unlike day times when you are trying to keep time and keep the passengers happy. Some nights were very entertaining with drunken passengers hanging onto anything just to make it on to the train and it was also busy when concerts had just finished at Birmingham NEC. When we reached London Euston there were always passengers to wake up as they had over slept and the same again when arriving at Milton Keynes.
One morning we were checking the train at Milton Keynes before going back to the carriage sidings and a passenger got out of the train in a right state and said "I've been attacked by a curry" by now the driver was with me trying not to laugh as someone had I think had a food fight and it was everywhere. He thought he could sue the company for getting his suit cleaned. It was a case of shut the doors and go quickly.
Bletchley, Platform 6. Bletchley to Bedford service.
It was the same usual faces on nights until we had 'a safety briefing' and then we had to do our rostered week of work. Safety Briefings were a refreshing short day with a trip to Watford to watch some safety videos and early finish.
One Saturday night the decision was made to use a two car DMU which we used for the Bletchley - Bedford service instead of a four car 321 as there was engineering work on between Harrow and Watford and the overhead lines were going to be switched off on our return trip.
When we got to Euston the platform was full and the crowd just got into the train any way they could even through the windows. I moved two passengers out of the rear driving cab and was about to lock the door when a Euston driver came down the platform on his way home so he had the privacy and comfort. I had no guards van to work in so had to go in the front with the driver. All the way to Watford someone was switching the lights off and I kept switching them on again. Somebody made a big mistake that night.
I was lucky enough to work two specials chartered by 'The Bedford to Bletchley Rail Users' Association and that was refreshing work being with people that did not moan about trains but just having a day out. One was just to work it from Bletchley to Bedford and back empty and the second was to go to Willesden High level and work back to Bedford. As I did not sign Willesden High Level I had a guard from Euston who knew the line with me as far as Watford. Everyone was so polite and wanted to know why as a female I chose to work as a guard and were actually interested.
Duties varied, it was not all passenger and freight work. I was booked on the wiring train but when my driver and I arrived at Watford Junction I was told I may as well go home as not required.
I was the guard on the weed killer train and we covered the Bletchley area forever changing ends as we covered the triangle from Fenny Stratford , up on the flyover and back through the carriage sidings.
The most boring job had to be when we took a 321 on a radio testing run and we went back and forth between London Euston and Watford Junction, I was only booked on it because we also had the train driver manager and someone from the S&T with us.
Bletchley Shed Plate
The management announced they were phasing out guards and increasing the number of conductors, I applied and was turned down straight away with no reason being given. Some months later I was checking my duties for the following week and to everyone's surprise I was on a conductor training course, I found it easy enough from my experience working in the ticket office and was soon charming my way with passengers to pay up, it worked!
I was the first female conductor in our area!
I admit I did not take a lot of money in revenue but the big revenue collectors went and stood at ticket barriers selling tickets to passengers before they boarded trains and not everyone was happy about this as then all conductors were expected to be bringing in the same revenue. It was impossible to do any tickets on Milton Keynes to Euston all stations service as there just was not time to run through the train and get back to release the doors at the next station.
Bletchley at night with the old mess room on Platform 6
In 2004 Northampton Train crew depot closed down and most came to Bletchley, others took the opportunity and moved away to other depots. We also had been evicted from our cosy mess room and moved to the other side of the station into a large portacabin with two mess rooms and sky TV, male and female toilets with showers. Ok it was clean and things worked but there was no real atmosphere, perhaps a bit too clinical for train crew.
On Monday, August 15th, I booked on amongst the chaos of Northampton depot arriving and went over to the platform to wait for my train to London Euston, everything was fine until we got to into Euston station and we did not stop until the train hit the stops and moved them back a fair way and I hit my face against the door control panel and then fell back. Several passengers suffered whiplash and it turned out that my driver had a suspected heart attack. We were taken to sit in the managers office to wait for the ambulances and taken to University College Hospital. One of the Train Crew Managers turned up to see how we were, I had a whiplash injury and bruising to my face but all I wanted to do was to see how my driver was, so when I was discharged we went to see him and he kept saying how sorry he was because I had got hurt.
It was typical that the strikes were on and the next train back was an Intercity service to Milton Keynes and it was crowded and we stood outside the toilet and then I nearly fainted and ended up sitting on the floor. We then had to catch a train to Bletchley where I was interviewed and just about caught the last train back to Northampton. I had three weeks off sick and when I started back I had to have a baby-sitter for two weeks and then another medical before being allowed to work alone.
Life went on and I met a conductor at Birmingham who wanted to travel in the back cab away from the public, so I said 'why not' and we got chatting and we found out we had both come from Rugby, not lived that far apart and went to the same school and he had even been in the shop that I worked in part time.
That was when I met Paul Brown. When I got back to Bletchley I was non stop talking about Paul and the supervisor told me to next time I was at Birmingham New Street to try to find him and invite him to the Christmas do! I told the driver on the Saturday night shift about Paul and introduced him to Paul while on a break at Birmingham New Street to get his approval and to keep my supervisor happy with information. A few weeks on and Paul used to catch the last train out of Birmingham home after his shift and one night he said he would stay and finish my shift with me, so we went to Euston and then back to Bletchley in the morning where everyone got to meet Paul. Some colleagues wished us well and warned Paul not to mess me about and others thought it was wrong, as if I should stay single.
Paul Brown left Regional Railways and became a bus driver for First Bus Northampton.
I was going to see my Dad who was now living in Margate in January and asked Paul if he wanted to come with me, he proposed to me on the train out of London Victoria. I went back to work wearing an engagement ring but so scared of damaging it and most people where really pleased for me. The saddest part was colleagues that I regarded as friends turned against me as if I did not exist anymore and work started to feel a lonely place.
I just got on with turning up for work and tried to be invisible. There was an incident on a night shift when we were coming back to Bletchley with empty coaching stock from Northampton and were held up at Hanslope Junction with a points failure. I was in the driving cab with the driver we just carried on talking, then he turned all the train lights off and got out of his seat and forced his way over to try and kiss me all I could do was push him away and slap him. When we got back to Bletchley, I said nothing and just caught the first train home and later in the day I called in sick and did not return to work for a year because I couldn't cope with the continual advances.
I had the usual 'Welfare' visits at home from a Train Crew Leader and someone from Human Resources and they tried to understand the problems but I could not tell them anything as it would mean giving names. So the 'managements' next move was to arrange counselling at the Medical Centre at Euston, I went and talked about some of the 'unwanted events' that had happened and then she wanted names, but to me just being able to say how I felt and what had happened was enough. She then suggested a meeting with herself, Paul and the woman from Human Resources and the first thing that was said was "we cant help you unless you give us some names" and then it was decided I was not going to be working at Bletchley again.
I did not get a say in my future and behind my back it was decided that I was going back into the clerical grades. I had a week training at Leighton Buzzard ticket office and another week at Tring. I was then informed there were no full time positions and all they could offer me was part time late shifts at Tring. I worked a few shifts and then I made the biggest regret of my life and just walked away from the railways feeling very let down.
Years later, I have contacted some of the good colleagues and we have chatted and I have been in tears at times when they say they are sorry for not helping me when I needed it and even been told I should never have been sent to Tring.
Driver David Robinson kindly gave permission to use his photographs.