A Very Ordinary Story Chapter 6.

A Very Ordinary Story

Chapter 6


I mentioned in an earlier chapter how I had failed to enter the banking profession and spent an extra year at school. Just before leaving school in 1935, I applied for a post with the London and North Eastern Railway Company for the position of a Probationary Clerk, a condition for which I had to have passed Scottish Higher Leaving Certificate examination, and, after an apparently successful interview with the District Goods and Passenger manager at Dundee. I received a letter of appointment instructing me to report to the Goods Agent at Dundee Tay Bridge Goods Station. In those pre-war days youngsters were not nearly as sophisticated as they are today and it was with some trepidation I went with my mother to find lodgings. I, feeling very daring, thought it was time my mother knew that I smoked, so, during our journey to Dundee in the train, with a self conscious flourish produced my cigarette case and offered her a cigarette (I knew that she had smoked the occasional cigarette). My mother was marvellous. She never blinked an eyelid, took one, lit up and never said a word. I think it was then that I really felt grown up. I got fixed up with digs in a top flat in Whitehall Street, right above Largs, the music shop. It was handy for my work, but I wasn't very happy there. I didn't enjoy the food and felt lonely in a big city, knowing no one, after being accustomed to village and farm life for as long as I could remember.

You will probably appreciate why I didn't enjoy the food served up to me in those first lodgings after being used to the good, wholesome food at both of my Grannies. In my very first lodgings, the food, which was served up to me in my own room, was of poor quality and not very well cooked. Many a meal, or most of it was surreptitiously empted into the 'loo' and flushed away. I filled up with fish and chips or a pie and sometimes a Forfar Bridie, made famous by Wallace the baker in Dundee. In defence of landladies in those days there were some who were good, being quite good cooks and providing me with homely fare. They made me feel like one of the family, particularly later on, in Falkirk and Tillicoultry, but none ever reached the standards of my own home cooking. My dirty clothes were saved up and taken home at weekends to be washed, luckily I had plenty of changes, as, later on when I was at Tillicoultry station, shift work only allowed me to manage home every second weekend!

I did not make a terribly good start on my first day at work either. To get to Dundee from St Monance I travelled with the first train, at about 7 am from St Monance to Thornton Junction, then joined the Edinburgh to Dundee train. Of course I arrived late! I had cleared the time of my arrival with the staff office but they hadn't passed the word on to the Goods Agent, my new boss. So my first encounter with him was to get a reprimand for being late, no explanation of mine was good enough. At the time I wished the floor could swallow me up, but as time went on I made many good friends among the staff there and quickly learned to keep out of trouble. Office hours were from 8 am to 6 pm Monday to Friday, with an hour off for lunch and 8am to 12noon on Saturday (a 40 hour week). Eventually I was given permission to arrive a bit late on a Monday morning and leave Dundee for home on a Saturday, by a train which left Tay Bridge station just before noon so that I could have a short weekend at home.

The Goods (Freight) depot was a large one and the office work was split into specialised departments. The General office, which looked after the Administration, the Forwarding office dealing with the invoicing and despatch of goods, the Delivery office that looked after all received traffic and arranged for its delivery, where applicable by the carriers, Mutter-Howie & Coy. They used four wheeled horse drawn drays.
The Accounts section had been recently been 'mechanised' by the introduction of comptometers, worked by girls. The female sex were a small minority on the railway in pre-war days, although, as a boy I seem to remember there was a lady Station Master (or is it Station Mistress?) at Lundin Links station on the East Fife railway. Men nearly always performed the clerical work, at both large and small stations and at Head Offices. Finally there was a small Claims section whose main purpose in life was to try to avoid having to pay compensation for damage or loss to articles in transit.

Being the junior, I was given the boy's job, based in the General Office, under Harry Watson, Goods Agent, who resided in a special office, all to himself. We were all supervised closely by the chief cashier, Donald Birse, who sat on a high stool in his glass fronted office overlooking the General office so that he could oversee us all. My job was to make out the advice notes for the coal and mineral arrivals to the various merchants in the city, deliver by hand the inner city ones and post those too far away. I was in charge of the postage stamps and had to produce my postage stamp ledger, properly balanced, in which was recorded every stamp used, to the chief cashier once a week, and woe betide me if it wasn't correct down to the last ha'penny.

During the afternoon I was required to go round all the out-baskets of all the departments, collect the mail, mostly for despatch by the internal mail system. Because of all this I didn't learn a lot about actual railway work during my stay at Dundee, which, fortunately, was not for long. My starting salary was � per annum, which would rise to a maximum of �0 at age 30, by annual increments. As I had to stay in lodgings, costing me 25/- (�25) per week I had to be subsidised from home!

A Probationary Clerk was required to study Railway Law, Railway Geography, Railway Operating, and was given what is now called Day Release to attend classes at Edinburgh University in these subjects. The more mundane Rules and Regulations, Goods station work and accounts and Passenger station work and accounts were studied by correspondence courses organised by the Railway Company. After four years study we were required to sit the Traffic Apprenticeship examination, with a chance to re-sit the following year, if we flopped. The top few from this exam were selected for Management training. I studied all these subjects while serving variously at Falkirk Grahamston, Corstorphine, Tillicoultry, and finally at St燤onans station. I gained a wealth of experience at those smaller stations, gaining a good, all round knowledge of railway work and by 1939 thought I would do not too badly in the forthcoming Traffic Apprentice Examination. If I flopped both attempts at the exam there was the option of remaining on as an ordinary Grade 5 Clerk or leaving the service.

While I was working away from home at those various stations, living in an assortment of lodgings, some good and some not so good, Elspeth was at home and did not leave school till a year after me and was more successful in her group Certificate than I had been, (she was quite brilliant at school, and, I think one of the Rector's pets!). Like me she was not able to try for University for financial reasons. As I was away in digs it was only at weekends we could see each other and after working at a few jobs, including one in the local sub-post office at St Monans, Elspeth sat the Civil Service examination for Scotland. She came out near top and was appointed to an established post in the Civil Service as a Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist ( SC & T), at Dunfermline Post Office. This happened at about the same time as I was transferred to St Monans station. So again it was a case of only at the odd weekend that we could see each other. Life was hard on us young ones in those days!

After my stint at Dundee Tay Bridge, I was transferred to Falkirk Grahamston Goods depot, where I began to learn something about railway work. Looking back, things there were a bit primitive. Falkirk had a very large number of foundries and ironworks and, of course, most of the traffic went by rail. Every item of goods despatched had to be accompanied by an invoice, a copy of which was kept and became the basis of the accounts. The copy of which accompanied the goods, if they were 'smalls', recorded the journey, being endorsed at every tranship point. To send goods by rail, the sender was required to complete a consignment note (which contained all the disclaimers and the 'small print', which we hear so much about now-a-days) and the railway clerical staff calculated the charges and completed the invoice. However not at Falkirk Grahamston! Here the senders half completed an invoice form, written in black ink, the railway staff completed the charges part, also in ink, and it was one of my jobs to make copies of the invoices. This I did by placing them, face down, on the dampened pages, which looked as if they were made of tissue paper, of a huge book. The book was closed and placed in a large press and was squeezed tight to make an impression, or copy, of the invoice on the tissue pages and left enough ink on the invoice to keep it legible. I hadn't spent long at Falkirk when I was despatched to Corstorphine station to be an additional Goods Clerk, as the volume of that department there was increasing. Thompson Norris Ltd., the paper people, was our biggest customer. Corstorphine was a comparatively small, but very busy, commuter station for Edinburgh and my entire railway experience up to then had been on the freight side. At Corstorphine I was able to have a go at everything, including going back in the evenings and learning a bit about booking office and parcels work, rather than just learning about it from a correspondence course.

My next appointment was to Tillicoultry station at the foot of the Ochil Hills. I had my first experience of shift work there; I was appointed as a passenger clerk, with duties in the goods department every afternoon. Tillicoultry was the home of several woollen mills and, right across from the station was Samuel Jones & Coy. of Devonvale Mills, who processed paper. Huge rolls of untreated paper would arrive from Radcliffe regularly and the processed paper, made up in huge bales, were then despatched all over the country. (The paper mill is now a large furniture showroom). The products of the woollen mills were sent mainly by passenger train. It was a very busy little station and I enjoyed the company of a very friendly and helpful staff. I was also fortunate in having good lodgings.

I stayed at first with a Mrs Rennie in Jamieson Gardens, whose husband, Jock, was the golf pro at the local nine-hole course. He introduced me to golf and gave me a small set of clubs. I started to do a bit of practice, but I never kept it up. I lived latterly with a Mrs燙rosbie, also in Jamieson Gardens. Both extremely good landladies where I was made to feel at home. The only slight drawback with being on shifts was that I was able to go home only on every second weekend. My Sundays in Tillicoultry, during the summer months, were spent walking the hills and many a time I have scaled Ben Cleuch!

Then in early 1939 I managed to get a posting to St Monans station. The clerk there, John Dewar, took a drop in salary to become a Class 5 Station Master at Tulloch. It was great, being home again, but as I've told you, Elspeth was away in digs at Dunfermline.

The layout of St Monans station lent itself to have garden plots. Immediately behind the Down line platform. (The Up line was the one which eventually led to London and, of course the line going in the other direction was the Down line), was a strip of grass extending practically all its length approximately 2 metres wide. In this was cut a variety of rectangular, diamond shaped and circular plots.

St Monance  Station

Behind that the fence was covered with rambling roses. This photograph was taken from the Signalbox. The plots were well maintained by all the staff and annuals were planted out, mainly Antirrhinums, Asters and Salvia as they made a beautiful show. The plants were purchased with the proceeds of the prize money received for winning Special and First Class awards for the annual Best Kept Station Garden competition. There was great rivalry between stations that had facilities like ours at St Monance and staff who were interested enough in gardening to do the needful. St燗ndrews and Largo were our greatest rivals.

Me W Hogg Tom

This photograph, taken in the summer of 1939, shows myself, clerk, William Hogg, Stationmaster and Thomas Wood, porter, seated on a platform seat framed by rambling roses on a rustic frame near to the entrance of the station.

I went back to live with my grandparents in Rose Street. By this time I was a fully experienced Railway Clerk, my studies practically complete and felt I was ready for the Traffic Apprenticeship Examination in early 1940. War was declared on 3rd. September 1939 and my first contact with action was having a grandstand view of the German air raid on the Forth Bridge and on naval vessels in the Firth of Forth.

Not long after that I was called up in January 1940 for military service. Good-bye to any thoughts of a Traffic Apprenticeship.

World War II � 1940-1943

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