A Lorry Driver’s Life.

Location : London. Norwich.

I'm Tom H. I was born in 1927 inNorwich, Earlham – Elizabeth Fry Road. I moved from there to Catton. From Catton we went to London.

I went to Colman Road Infants School, next to the Catholic School near where the swimming pool used to be.

St. Augustine's?

St. Augustine's. And from there I went to London.

How old were you when you went to London?

Seven,

Was that your father's work?

Yeah. My father's work.

What did he do?

He was a lorry driver.

And did your mother work at all?

No, my mother didn't work. No. We had a big family.

How many brothers and sisters did you have?

Thirteen all together.

A lot!

Yeah.

Did they have any unusual jobs?

No. Shops and things like that. Lorry driving. I had two brothers lorry drivers.

Family trade almost.

Yeah. Father was a lorry driver. I was a lorry driver.

So what was your first job?

My first job was in London, I learnt to drive a removal van.

And how old were you when you started there?

Sixteen and a half, seventeen.

So what year was that roughly?

Before the war. '39 – '38. Round about 38. No sorry, 1944!

I was going to ask. Because you'd have been called up!

That's when I got my first driving licence, in '44.

So you just missed out on being called up, then?

I was called up.

You were called up.

Yeah. I was called up on my 18th birthday after working for that man in London, Battersea, where I learnt my driving skills. It was an hourly work. Did work for different people, going all around, hourly work. Weekends that was removals. Then I went in the army from there. In the army I come to Norwich, the Royal Norfolks.

How long were you in the army for?

Two and a half years. Went to the Middle East for a year and a half.

Would that have been just after the war?

Yeah. Just after.

So after that you said you came to Norwich.

Yeah. Then I came back to Norwich, got demobbed, back to Norwich and that's where I met the wife, so we went back to London for two years. I went to the same firm, and the wife got homesick so we came back and this is where I finished, in Norwich.

So what was your job when you came back the second time to Norwich?

Lorry driving.

Who was that for?

Well, I did start working in Norwich for Pordage (you don't remember Pordage?) and Fitts in Ber Street. They were furniture removers and undertakers. So it was a furniture removal in the morning and …

And a smart coat in the afternoon …

And a smart coat in the afternoon.

That's a bit of a difference.

From there I went to London and back again. And I went to Boulton and Paul's. Boulton and Paul's used to be the steel works in Riverside. That was a big place. And from there I went all over the country.

So what did you do for them?

Carrying steel. Fabricated steel work.

And how long were you with them for?

I was with them for five years. I got fed up with long distance work. I'd leave Monday, come home Wednesday, go away Thursday, come home Saturday. I done that for five years.

Did you have a family by this point?

Yeah. I had a family by then and I hardly saw the children grow up. I had two children then. I thought I'd leave long distance work. So I went to Walls Ice cream.

Right,

That used to be just down Bessemer Road, just round the corner. And that was just for the season. The summer season.

You were an ice cream seller?

No I did shop deliveries.

Was that just in the local area?

All around the coast. All round the coast. Just for the season. Then they stood me off and I went to the Milk Marketing Board.

So roughly what was the year you went to the Milk Marketing Board? Would it have been the early ‘50s?

No, sixties. Yeah, ‘60s. and I was there for six years. Then I got fed up with it. I was a lorry driver.

You were always a lorry driver.

Yeah, unloading milk in different places. You know, dairies. It was hard work, because it was all hand work, and you had a lorry load of milk in crates and you were unloading all the time. I was fit. I was like a he-man type! So I went onto farm work with churns. You know. Going round farms collecting the mill churns. That was heavy work.

Was that still for the Milk Marketing Board?

Yeah. The job finished, the Milk Marketing Board went on tanker work. They delivered tanks to farms, in tankers. So I finished with that. And I went with Mr Peruzzi, the scrap metal merchants. Lorry driving.

Was that in Norwich still?

Yeah.

What was his name again.

Peruzzi's. Scrap metal merchants. Delivering scrap metal to mainly steel works. Sheffield, Rotherham.

So back to long distance?

Yeah. So I got a call from the manager from the Milk Marketing Board, he came to see me. He said he desperately wanted me back, so I went back.

By this time you had been on the tankers?

Yeah. So I went back. I was on tankers from there. The big ones. I was on the long haul tankers.

What kind of places did you go to?

Derby, Wales, London, no further than that. Butter factories. And Wensleydale cheese factories and places like that. That was interesting. To go round and have a look. When you got there you'd got an hour or two to spare, you'd have a walk round there.

From there they asked me to do yardman. Loading and unloading lorries. So I took that and I done that for 15 years.

You did that until you retired?

I did that until I retired, yeah.

So when did you retire, roughly, at what age?

I was 64 when I retired. Well, they shut down. The dairy shut down. And I was 64. Twenty years ago.

… And that's where I finished.

So have you had any other jobs since you retired, any activities that you get up to?

No, I just go fishing, that's all.

What kind of fishing?

River fishing.

I used to do that when I was younger but I was never very good at it.

I still go. If you hadn't have been today, I'd have gone!

Whereabouts do you go fishing around here?

Any rivers around this way. Thorpe, Bramerton, the Wensum, Riverside.

If you can remember, your very first job. how much did you get paid for it?

How much? My very first job […] Oh, my very first job? my very first job, I got a pound a week.

Was that considered a lot?

My very first job, when I was 14, I started on my fourteenth birthday.

What was your first job then?

Bike boy. In London. In a grocery shop. A pound a week. And I was there for two and a half years. From there … there was a little bit … I asked the guv'nor could my older sister in the army … she come home on leave and I asked the manager for a little bit of margarine. He wouldn't give me any. So we had a little bit of an argument and he give me a week's notice. And the guv'nor come down from the head office, which was in Minories, Tower Bridge. He say, "You've been a naughty boy. Come and work up the main office." So I went up the main office.

So you were sixteen at that point.

Yeah. Sixteen yeah. I was there till I was sixteen and a half and he said to me, he says, "I want you to take the van out this afternoon." I hadn't driven a vehicle in my life!

Did you need to have a licence back then?

No. He told me this in the morning. So I got on my pushbike, went to Westminster Town Hall, I got a licence, two and six – half a crown – which is 25 pence. I come back to the shop, loaded the van and I went! I just got in that and I drove it. And the first delivery was at the Bow Bells public house at Bow, in London. The second one was at Dagenham. I went from there to Dagenham. Albrow (they used to make bit and brace), that was my second. And I went from there home. Run out of petrol. So there was controversy over that. ‘Cos that was all coupons then and he never gave me the coupons. So I left…

Bit of a baptism by fire, to drive around London.

So after a couple of weeks he says, "I'm afraid you'll have to go," he says, "I can't keep you no longer." I said, "All right." I said to him, I said, "You've got to give me a day off to look for a job." he gave me a day off, I went to the labour exchange in Battersea; the lady said "What do you do?" I say, "I'm a lorry driver." I'd never driven a lorry in my life! I say, "I'm a lorry driver." "Go there …" So I went to the removal vans and that's where I started driving big lorries. And from there I went onto all types of vehicles.

So which do you think out of all the driving jobs you had was your favourite?

Police work.

You worked for the police?

Yeah. Well, police escorts. Used to have a lot of police escorts. I used to do a lot of that. Wide loads and long loads. You'd get two or three police in front and back for the traffic. But the best ones were when we went to Ascot racecourse. We done … case steelwork. It was big. Very big and heavy. We done the Royal Box.

They made it?

They done the Royal Box at Ascot. Every county you go you'd pick a different policeman up. ‘Cos they didn't go no further. And when we got to South Mimms in London, you'd pick up the Metropolitan Police and they were good. All motorcyclists. Six of them.

I imagine that made you feel very important!

It did, yeah. And we never stopped from South Mimms, which is in Hertfordshire, to Staines, Ascot Racecourse. Never stopped a minute! You'd go round everything. You'd go round the wrong ways of roundabouts, you took all the road off and that was lovely! I used to like it.

So that was your most interesting?

Yeah most interesting.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I have been in every car firm in the country.

Delivering for them?

Delivering steelwork for Boulton and Paul. All the lot. Bedfords.

They were the old vans?

Yeah, Bedfords. Rolls Royce. Jaguars. Hondas. I've been in the whole lot.

I imagine that was very interesting to watch.

Yeah. Steelworks. I could go in steelworks. Every time I liked to watch when I got there. I liked to watch them go on. Tin plate and things like that. Steel girders and tubes. Water pipes and things like that.

Your very first job was a pound a week. Do you mind me asking what your very last job was? How much that was.

My very last job was about £400 a week.

A big difference!

A big difference, yeah.

And all the times you were driving, did you have any accidents?

I had one. One accident on my way to London one morning. Which wasn't my fault at all. I was going through a village. I can't think of the village name. Near Epping. A small car pulled out from the curb and I hit it. When I'd got onto the side he said, "I'm sorry, I was half asleep."

But he was OK.

He was OK. It was a little MG with an engine on the front of the radiator. So that's old.

That is old, yeah.

My front wheel went right on the bonnet.

So he couldn't drive it after that! (Laughs)

So he could drive it after that. And when the police come he said to the policeman, "I'm sorry", he says, "That's the third accident I've had," he said, "in a month."

What a waste of an MG! After that, is there anything you'd like to add, anything you did, any interesting stories?

Well, I did go to Ascot Racecourse and that was a big job. Heavy work, steelwork. Pulled on the site and the crane driver said to me, "Tom, I've got something for you." I went over and had look and there were four fingers laying on the girder! One of the erectors had …'cos on the bottom of the stanchion there was a big bate plate. An inch thick. A really big one. And he held his hand there when he undone the bolt and he just chopped his fingers off! ‘Cos they couldn't sew em on.

I can imagine ….

The worst one – I had one worse than that – I was at Stevenage, the other side of Stevenage, near Jack's Caff – in the fog. It was really foggy. Lights on the steelwork, long very long load. Sixty foot long, this steelwork. So you're got to be careful. You've got to have your eyes about you. So, a lot of traffic coming through. They used to deliver a lot of coal down that way, in lorries. Three lane of traffic. He come along the outside, a motorbike come up the other way and he hit him. His head went on the wheel – it decapitated him. And where I stopped, his head laid there.

I bet that shook you up.

I was shaking, I was really shaking. Yeah. Till someone come and covered it. I couldn't get out of the cab. I was shaking that much to see that man's head lay there.

It must have been very difficult to carry on that journey.

No, I carried on afterwards. I had a cup of tea and a sandwich and away I went. But that was the worst one.

I can imagine. I think on that happy note we'll finish! Thank you very much.

You never had a driving lesson or a test during the war.

Did you ever have to do any afterwards?

I only done it when I went in the army. That was the only test I had. And I finished with a license to drive any wheeled and tracked vehicle. Tanks and everything!

So that set you up for life then. I imagine driving the tanks was interesting. With the sticks …

Yeah that was. You use your feet as well. And you have just a six-inch slit, or eight-inch slit to look through. And that's all you had. That was good. But if you had a good co-pilot. What we called co-pilots, he'd be looking out the top and he'd tap your shoulders with his feet to go left or right.

As rudimentary as that then.

But you had … some with the small carriers, the Bren gun carriers, some had joysticks to turn and sum had half of a steering wheel.

A half wheel?

So as soon as you turned it that locked the track and you slid round.

As you left the army and that gave you a licence to drive anything.

Except motorbikes! I wouldn't have it.

Too dangerous?

I tell you why. While I was in the army in Suez, someone come up with the idea to get some motorbikes and make a speedway track. So we did. You only worked in the morning, afternoon that was too hot and you couldn't do anything. So we used to work ourselves. Go to the ordnance depot and scrounge motorbikes. Break ‘em down and use ‘em as speedway bikes. The old BSAs and Ariels. I was with my brother, he was a lorry driver and he used to have a big beam on the back of the lorry and go round, make a track, which was lovely. And I started going mad on these motorbikes. At the headquarters – ‘cos I was always headquarters, where I went I was always headquarters. Being a driver I would drive anything, drive anyone about, you know, top men and things like that. That was interesting. And we had one motorbike there. I was the only allowed to drive it. We had one tank at headquarters and I was the only one allowed to drive it! So everyone was "why should he drive it, why should he drive it?" But I had the licence to drive everything.

So what was it with the motorbikes that made you not want to continue?

I thought, if I have my licence for a motorbike and I get a motorbike, I might go mad and so I didn't bother.

You enjoyed it too much? Probably wise. My father had a motorbike and he enjoyed it too much as well! And my brother had one and within a month had crashed it into a ditch.

There you are (laughs). That's why I didn't do it.

Because you'd enjoy it too much!

Thank you very much.

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