A Very Ordinary Story Chapter9.

A Very Ordinary Story


CIVVY STREET – 1946 - 1948

After I was demobilised, Elspeth resigned from her job at Dunfermline, in those days it wasn't really the done thing for a wife to have another job than that of being a wife, her job was to look after her husband, do the cooking and baking. Housework was not so easy as there were no washing machines, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners, etc. to help ease the work in the house. And now, at long last we thought that we would be able to be together for good, without any further breaks from each other as our lives had been broken in the past. Later events in my railway career were to prove different. One hundred days on holiday seemed wonderful, but of course, 3 months doing not very much soon got a bit boring. We had no house of our own, and, at that time, it was quite normal for a newly married daughter to be given a room in her parents house before getting a house of her own and so it was with us. Our names were on the local town council housing list but there seemed to be very little prospect of our being allocated a house. I advised Railway headquarters in Dundee that I was now ready to return to my civilian occupation as a Railway Clerk. The Railway Company had guaranteed returning service men their jobs on demobilisation. After my call up to the army, my job as a clerk at St Monans station had been given to a local woman, Marjory Aitken, a former classmate of mine, and she was still doing my job on my return. I think it was only because of the war that females started to be employed at stations, before that, it was unheard of, along with many other occupations, to employ girls on the railway. Although as I have said before there was a lady stationmaster at Lundin Links station, but she was the exception. I was called to District Office in Dundee for interview to make arrangements for the resumption of my railway career. There, I was given a warm welcome by the District Superintendent and was informed that there was a vacancy at the neighbouring station of Pittenweem and as Marjory didn't want to go, would I go there instead of St Monans! I agreed. Perhaps that decision along with our inability to get a house in St Monans affected my future. No way could we afford a mortgage to buy a house, my salary, of course, had reverted to that of a Grade 5 clerk. This was quite a large difference. I knew that most stations had a house attached, or nearby, for the use of the Station Master, so a Station Master I would be.

As I was employed in the Commercial Department, I had no practical experience of the Operating side of Railway work, it had been six years since I had done any railway studying, and to be a Station Master, a thorough knowledge of the Rule Book and Train Signalling Regulations for both single and double lines of Railway was required. Fortunately the Station Master at Pittenweem, Bob Currie, was very keen on this side of railway work and gave me a thorough grounding in it and very soon I was in a position to be tested in my knowledge of railway operations by the Chief Inspector for Scotland by Mr Pollard, at Waterloo Place, Edinburgh, the Scottish headquarters of the London and North Eastern Railway Company. I passed out successfully and was given a certificate, which would allow me to apply for a Station of my own. Vacancies for all railway jobs involving promotion were advertised weekly in an internal vacancy list. I applied for several stations, initially without success, after all I was only 29 years old and perhaps they thought that I was too young to hold such an onerous position! We continued to live with Elspeth's mother and in April 1947 our first son, Jimmy, was born. Shortly after that I was successful in being appointed to be the Station Master at Buchlyvie. A station house was provided, above the station buildings.

Buchlyvie station was situated on the Glasgow, Queen Street/Aberfoyle line, a very small country station, situated about a mile from the village on the Buchlyvie/Aberfoyle road. Buchlyvie was actually a junction as there was a line from Stirling joining that line, but passenger traffic between Stirling and Buchlyvie no longer existed and the line served Gargunnock and Kippen stations with freight traffic only. As a result there was a level crossing on the Aberfoyle road, controlled from the signal box and was manned by the signalman-cum-porter, Jimmy Duncan, who took shifts with his wife Jeannie. They lived in a house, which was also a part of the station buildings. They had been there a long time and appeared to think that the station was their property and a Stationmaster was a necessary evil, -- that had to be put up with. For all that I got on quite well with them both. Everything seemed to be going our way. We had started a family, had got a house and I was on the first rung of the promotion ladder. A stationmaster's salary scale was slightly higher than that of clerical staff.

Our dreams were soon shattered. First, the house was not immediately available. The departing Station Master who had gone to Springburn couldn't get into the house there because the man who left Springburn couldn't get in to the house where he had gone, so there was a back-log. It meant that I had to leave my wife and baby in St Monans while I stayed in digs in Buchlyvie. Meanwhile at home Jimmy was beginning to give cause for concern. He seemed to cry a lot, and when he did, his lips turned blue. Eventually he got so bad that he was rushed off to the Sick Children's Hospital in Edinburgh, where apparently at that time absolutely nothing could be done for him. He was a blue baby. He died at only three months old. -- It transpired that there was a hole in his heart and the blood was not circulating properly. As he got older and a bit stronger the demands on his heart had become too much for him. We were shattered - it was as if the world had come to an end, nothing seemed to matter any more. Elspeth had to face all this on her own, certainly she had her Mum and Dad but I was stuck in Buchlyvie it wasn't so very soon afterwards that, that the first heart operation was successfully carried out.. Staff office was very good; they gave me immediate leave so that I could be at home with her. We were able to spend some time together, but, although we didn't think it at the time, life had to go on and I duly returned to my work at Buchlyvie.

I managed to find a place where Elspeth could come to be with me. It was a small cottage on the local estate of Garbonne, nearly a further mile away from the village. The lady of the house, a rather refined type lived alone there and, I think, was rather glad of the company, she also benefited from Elspeth's cooking! There we lived in truly rural surroundings. We made friends with the outgoing stationmaster's wife and one or two other local people; time seemed to pass reasonably well. Eventually the housing situation at Buchlyvie was resolved and we were able to move into our first house, which was situated above the station buildings, entering by means of an inside stairway. There was no gas or electricity, lighting was by means of paraffin lamps or candles, heating by means of coal fires and cooking on a 'Triplex' type grate, which had an oven. A primus stove was used for fast boiling. There was no running water; the water supply was obtained by means of what appeared to be a type of boat's bilge pump. Part of Jimmy's (the signalman) duties was to pump water to a header tank to provide fresh water for the station. His house, and our wash house and bathroom were on ground level at the bottom of the inside stairway. The washhouse had a coal-fired boiler, which also served the bath! When we wanted a bath we had to ensure that Jimmy had pumped enough water, then fill the boiler, kindle the fire and wait until the water was hot enough to be run to the bath. By the time all this was done, we really needed a bath! The header tank wasn't high enough to serve our house, hence the pump at the sink.

I suppose that we were reasonably happy during our stay in Buchlyvie where we were able to be on our own, in our own house for the first time since we were married, even if it was a bit primitive. My work at the station wasn't very onerous - not much to do. There were four passenger trains each day, two in the morning and two in the late afternoon - between Glasgow and Aberfoyle. My main work was involved in arranging for train loads of wagons to be loaded with surplus ammunition from the many dumps scattered around the neighbouring countryside. The Army did all the loading and the stuff was sent off, presumably, for dumping at sea. Despite everything we really didn't feel at home. Neither of us had ever lived very far from the sea and we were strangers in a strange place. - I kept searching the vacancy lists for a more suitable place.

After we lost Jimmy, our Doctor advised us to have another baby as soon as possible. This we did and, at the turn of the year (1948), we were both delighted when we discovered that Elspeth was pregnant again, and as the birth was due in August, we thought that it would be a good idea for Elspeth to be at home with her mother at that time. So I applied for a Summer job in the Fife district as a holiday relief stationmaster and was lucky in being appointed to Burntisland, where the Operating headquarters were, as my 'home' station. We locked up at Buchlyvie and went to live with Elspeth's mum in St Monans once again. This was a temporary promotion for me and it meant that I would get a good experience of all types of railway work, which, hopefully, would stand me in good stead for future promotion.

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