An Electrician’s Life on the Railways (1942-1993) (2014)

Location : Catfield, Great Yarmouth, Norwich


What age were you when you left school and what was your first job?

I was fourteen when I left school and my first main job was at Harry Neave’s at Catfield. I worked in the paint shop. They made equipment for the Forces.

What exactly did you have to do? Did you get a lot of training?

Well, that was a woodworking firm or carpentry firm, if you like, and they made things like Carley floats and Bailey bridges and things like that, you see. All woodwork. I worked in a paint shop and painted the woodwork. And as it happened the paint got on my chest, if you like, and that affected my health. And I had to get permission from the government to leave that firm because that was a ‘war effort firm’ as they call it – that was a reserved occupation.

This was what year? It must have been about 1942?

Yeah, that was … beginning of the War. And then I left there and I went …

Well let’s talk a bit about that post, yes?


From what you say, there doesn’t seem to be much of what you would now call ‘Health and Safety’ – like the working conditions – if you got this …

There was no Health and Safety at all attached to that. In fact, one or two of the boys who worked in the carpentry shop and cut the wood – a lot of them had lost their fingers – cut their fingers off. And I was there one day… and I went round there one day – something I had to get for the paint shop and a man had just cut his … funny thing he’d cut his middle finger off. How he did that, I don’t know. But there were these band-saws, you know. And there was no protection on them at all. And one or two of them had lost fingers and things like that.

Did people worry about that? Was there a union or anything like that to …?

Well, I didn’t know anything about a union then – I was too young to know anything about a union. There might have been a union but I never did know anything about it. And they don’t tell us things like that, so. I was never in a union at that particular time.

So you didn’t really know it was dangerous for your health, being exposed to the paint?

Well, no, not until I had something wrong with me. The doctor said that … you know the paint fumes were getting on my chest and I had to leave. And, as I say, I had to get permission from the government, if you like, to leave the firm because that was a reserved occupation.

What else do you remember about that? Was it … was there a lot of noise and smell and all that sort of thing?

Oh God knows … yes. The actual main workshops were very noisy. You couldn’t hear anyone speaking in there with all the sawing and all the knocking and banging that was going on. And in the paint shop, of course, people singing and that sort of thing … that was just frivolity in a lot of respects. But they seemed to enjoy themselves while they were doing it and, of course, the money wasn’t very good, you know.

How much … Can you remember was it enough to keep body and soul together?

Altogether, about a pound a week.

Were you living with your parents then still?

I was living with my parents at home, yeah, yeah.

But were you happy there?

Well I was happy, yeah, because that was a job as far as I was concerned. Until I got this complaint with my chest and … when I went to see the doctor and he said, that was bad for my health so … of course, that gave me the opportunity to leave.

But in those days, I don’t think there was such a thing as Health and Safety then, anyway.

So that was your first job. How many years were you in that, then? That was from 1942 …

Well, I went when I was fourteen and I left when I was sixteen. And I went with George Newson for a year.

The net chamber

Tell me a bit about that. What were you doing there?

That was a net chamber. And we used to get the fishing nets – old fishing nets – and the “beatsters” used to be there – they were mending the nets, if you like, you know – what we called “beating” the nets – to mend the net itself, you know – the holes in the netting. And my job was to put the nets up on a rig and use a knife and cut the string – what we called the norsels that was holding the net on to the main rope.

And what were the nets then used for?

We used to take the net and they used to cut them up into small pieces for garden nets for people to use on the allotments and gardens, you see – cover up for the birds and butterflies – to keep them off their crops, I suppose. “Garden lints” they call them. And I was there until I got my apprenticeship at Bowers and Barr.

At Newson’s you were there – what another two years, was it? You went there when you were about sixteen …

Yeah, I was only there a year – I was there a full year. And that was just a stopgap till my father got me in this apprenticeship.

Was that still in Winterton or was it in Yarmouth?

No, that was at Yarmouth. Yeah.

And both the first two jobs were in Winterton, were they?

No, the first job was at Catfield.

And Newson’s was at …?

… at Yarmouth. Yeah. The south end of Yarmouth – near the quay.

Electrical apprenticeship and national service fireman

So then at the age of around seventeen, you got this apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship, yes.

Tell me a bit about that. What did it involve? How did you get it?

It was an electrical apprenticeship. And we used to go round … some wiring, putting electric cables in the houses and so on … putting lights and sockets …

So it was mainly for houses?

Yes. Just wiring houses – that’s what it amounted to – doing the electrical work. And then the prefabs were built at Gorleston. And we worked on them putting the harnesses in there. And I had to work … I was the apprentice so I had to go in the false ceiling and take all the cables and push them in the holes in the roof, for the electricians to use down below.

Was that a dangerous job, like your first job?

No, not really – unless you fell through the ceiling – that was about the only thing (laughs) … you had to keep to the joists to make sure that you didn’t … that was pretty dark up there and you were working with torchlight all the time … there was no such thing as any other kinds of lamps.

Was that useful training? Did it teach you a lot?

Oh, yeah. We learnt … ‘cause I had to go to night school as well – evening classes. And learn the theory, if you like – doing electrical theory and mathematics – well arithmetic, in them days – used to do that. And anything to do with electrical … we had to learn the Ohm’s Law and that sort of thing – at school.

You were actually working for a firm, as an apprenticeship?

I was working for Bowers and Barr then, yeah.

And did you enjoy it there?

Well, not really (laughs). That weren’t the thing I wanted to do anyway. But then I was called up and went into the Army, from there … when I was eighteen.

But the War was over by then?

Yes. I went into the Army in 1946. The War had finished in 1945, didn’t it?

So it was your National Service?

I did my National Service, yes. I did just over two years. Then I come back …

Where did you do your National Service?

I started off at Norwich at Nelson Barracks as, what they called, a “potential tradesman”. And then I went to Colchester and they put me in the Army Fire Service while I was waiting for a trade course. And I did a year there. I learned all the rudiments of fire fighting – with the hook ladders and all the hose pipes. And we used to have to go on these training exercises with these hoses. And they had these mechanical pumps then. We had to learn how they worked – to draw the water from the … they had holes which drew the water from the ditch or whatever watercourse there was. And we had to prime the pump so that it went through the hosepipe. And we did that, as I say. And then we did a hook ladder drill and all ladder drill … just fire service training.

Was there anything else you did in the Army or you did that for the rest of your time?

No, I was there for a year. From there I went to Honeybourne – that was a new place and I was on detachment there, with the Fire Service – training ‘cause out there was a prisoner of war camp. And there was about six of us there. There was two firemen, me and another fellow, and a sergeant and a second lieutenant – on his attachment there for the prisoner of war camp.

Honeybourne – that’s in? Whereabouts was it?

That’s in Honeybourne in Worcestershire.

So you were out of Norfolk. Was it … You haven’t lived out of Norfolk before then?

No. Only at Colchester. I was at Colchester … From there, let me see, “Where did I go from there?” I went to … well I was in two or three detachments at the Army Fire Service.

None of them overseas or anything like that?

No. Being a potential tradesman barred me from going abroad because I was still waiting for a trade course, see. I eventually got my trade course – in the Army. And I had that at Farnborough in Wiltshire. And from there I went to …

So by this time you are about twenty?


And you came back to Yarmouth to finish your apprenticeship?

I come back to finish my apprenticeship and, as I say, I stayed there a year at the same firm, Bowers and Barr. And I left there and went with another electrician for a while till he run out of work and he said, “I would like to stand you off”, he said “until I get some more work in”. When I went to the dole, they told me that there was a job on the railway.

So you weren’t working … that was only a short period … when you came back … the firm you were apprenticed to didn’t want you any more … and then you went on the dole … and then you finished up on the railways – that’s right?

That’s right. Yeah.

Beginning on the railways at South Town

So now we start the main part of your working life – on the railways? You were twenty-one then?

Yes, I was twenty-one then.

Tell me a bit about your jobs on the railways – your first one.

My first job was at South Town Station. And we used to have to do all the lighting equipment on the coaches – coaching stock.

So you were still working as an electrician?


So that’s been your trade all your life?

Yes. And, of course, that tell me – which was another dangerous job – we had to mix up the acid to put in the batteries – because they were cells that … you took the cells out and put in another glass container that they used on the coaches at that time for the lighting equipment – twenty-four volts lighting equipment. And, of course, these glass containers used to get broken so we had to get another glass container. And we had some pure acid. And we had to break that down with distilled water to put back in these glass containers and put the cells in. So we were making our own cells, if you like, to put back in the cell boxes to keep the lights going.

And then, of course, we had to look after the restaurant cars. That was another thing … they worked on 114 volts. So they had more batteries than the other ones, of course. They had more cells attached to them. ‘Cause all cells are only two and a half volts – that’s all they are. And, of course, when they all go together you can make a … quite a bit of voltage there. Working on them was pretty precarious because as soon as you touched them, you got a shock from them, you know.

Did you get injured at all? Or any of your mates?

No, not to my knowledge, no. You used to get a shock now and again but that was only 110 volts but no one bothered about it. But again there was no Health and Safety attached to that at all. Everything was … just took a chance on it. If you got injured, that was your problem.

Tell me a bit about the railways in those days. Was it still the age of steam engines?

No steam engines.


Oh yeah. Well, they had just been nationalised when I went on. And we had a … what they called a “push and pull” train in them days. The engine used to be on the front and they had two coaches. And that used to run to Lowestoft. Pull it up there and then, of course, they had to push it back. And in the end compartment, there was equipment in there which you could keep in touch with the driver with. So if you wanted him to stop at any station, you just pressed the button and he got a buzzer and he stopped at the station. And that’s how they worked in them days.

A bit like a bus where you press the bell?

Yes, that’s right. But that was a sort of a … guard in this end and a driver in the other end, if you like. And the guard used to tell him when to stop and when to start again. And, of course, we had to look after the telecommunications equipment from the brake to the loco.

So were you called out a lot for breakdowns and things like that?

Yeah. Well, when … I got transferred to South Town Station then. And I used to look after South Town Beach, Vauxhall and then had to go to Lowestoft sometimes because we had a train that used to come from York and it used to get to Norwich and half went to Gorleston and half come to Yarmouth. So we had to go and maintain that half that was at – the coaches that were at Lowestoft. So we were sort of mobile all the time. And when we went to another station, if we were there for meal time they used to pay us one and six ‘meal allowance’. So you could go and get a snack, if you like.

Apart from that, were you well paid?

No. When I went on the railway, I got three pound a week. And some of my mates who left Bowers and Barr at the time – they went with a firm on the front – and they were getting about five pound a week. And one of them say to me, “You don’t want to work there for this money. Come with us.” And I said, “No, I am quite happy where I am”. I was quite happy with my work. I didn’t mind. My wife didn’t mind. She was quite happy. And I was working then next door to where I lived at Yarmouth because I moved to Yarmouth in that time when I got married. And I was glad I did because the firm they’re with closed down not long after and moved away. So, in the end, I was better off than they were, I suppose. I worked my full time on the railway and I was quite happy there.

What were the things that made you happy? What were the advantages of working for the railways?

Well, I got a certain amount of free travel. I got a free travel card which I could … I think I used to get about five journeys a year. Two of them were what they called, “foreign passes” which took you off the line from here to another part of the country, if you like, which was the “foreign” bit and the rest of them was local trains, if you like. And we also got privileged tickets which we could get cheap fares with.

And your family?

Yeah, families and the children. So I was quite happy there. I was happy on the railway. And I was, what you can call, “in charge” here. There was no-one else ‘cept me … My foreman was in Norwich. I was working at Yarmouth and I had full control. And they used to come to see me now and again to see how things were getting on. But I was sort of … to do what I was needed for. And as long as I kept the trains running everyone was happy.

Were you working on your own in Yarmouth or did you have some people working for you?

No, I was on my own and I had a battery attendant. And he used to top the batteries up … just put the distilled water in the batteries. And I used to look after the electrical equipment on the trains which was a … and anything that needed doing – the lights and buzzers – anything else that needed on the train. And, of course, we had, what we called “dynamos” in them days – they call them “generators” now to charge the batteries up. And we used to have to maintain them. And they had carbon brushes then for the … pick up the electricity from the generator to charge the batteries up. And we used to have to change them. And sometimes the generator used to conk out so we used to have to renew that. But it was all pretty good – until we had the flood and that ruined everything on the railway, then. All our generating equipment, once it got the salt water in, they all needed changing so we had to get the …

The great flood

This was 1952 when the big flood came?

When the flood come, yeah. We had a big job then to … well each coach had one of those on so you can imagine the job we had renewing all them. And they weren’t all the same type, they were different types of generators. And they all needed different attention, of course. But we managed and that was all par for the course.

How long did it take to get the whole thing up and running again after the flood?

Well when the floods came, of course, some of the cells had to be changed and the generators had to be changed. I suppose we spent about four hours on each coach, I should imagine, to do all that. And, of course, they had to be charged up again so to get them fit for travel again.

So when did things start changing in the railways? You got nationalisation; you got steam engines were phased out …

Well, they started bringing diesel railcars down then. And, of course, we had to maintain them …

So it was already diesel then, was it – you said “railcars”?

Yeah. The railcars they started … the steam started going out and they brought the diesel railcars in for a start. They still had the coal engines pulling the big trains – the main liners – for a while but these railcars just did the local services. And there was two types of them but we had to learn all about them, then. We had to go on courses to learn about maintaining them – that was a different type of equipment.

And then, I cannot remember when, there was a time when the famous Beeching cuts were made and they …

Yeah. Well, then they closed …

You mentioned there were at least three stations in Yarmouth?

Three stations in Yarmouth, yeah. There was South Town, Vauxhall and Beach.

Those have gone now, I guess?

Well, Beach was closed. This was part of Beach Station – the line used to run straight through here and come round here and go to Lowestoft. And the other part used to go out to … out in the country through Potter Heigham and all around there and other areas.

And when was this changed then? When did they close down all this?

They closed down about 19 … let me see, I went up Norwich in 1960 so it would be about 1957, I suppose.

And then you went to Norwich, you say? You worked at Norwich?

No. I worked at South Town sidings for a long while, looking after the new locos they had which were all … the new coaches they had which was all … that was high voltage equipment on there. And we had to pre-heat them, if you like. We had a special cable we had to fix to them to keep the lights going, if you like. They worked on high voltage – all high voltage stuff, that was. And that was a different type of equipment, altogether. That was more dangerous, that was, of course. And we had to maintain them for them but they were doing them up the sidings which shouldn’t be done in the open, originally. And they asked us if we’d do it and we said “Of course, we would. We’d do it. It would give us a chance to stay here.” And we were here until nineteen sixty … let me see, when did I go to Norwich … we went on the sidings in 1960 and I was there till 19– … I think that was 1983 I went to Norwich. They transferred the trains to Norwich.

But all this time you’re working at the sidings, you say, at South Town station?

At Vauxhall. Vauxhall Sidings.

Was that dangerous work? You mentioned the high voltage.

No, that was dangerous but, of course, there was no voltage on there when we’re working on them. Not until … we put the voltage on to test them. And they had the generators on there. I think, a thousand volt equipment on them. And, of course, they went to Norwich and they had the big mainline locos to produce the power but, of course, we had to use these cables that were laid up there and connect them up so we could test them here. And that’s where the danger … they shouldn’t have been done outside, apparently. But, of course, when we finished that particular … we went to Norwich … the governor from Norwich came down to thank us for what we’d done … to keep the place going. Well we never thought anything of it – as far as we were concerned that was a job to do and we did it.

But it was recognised as being dangerous – being out in the open air and …?

Well that was dangerous but, I mean, we knew how to control it, so we didn’t bother. Touch wood, we never had any accidents up there – which is one good thing.

Were you your own boss? You were in charge?

I was in charge, yes. I was a charge hand up there. They made me ‘charge hand’. And I had seven men under me, up there, which were … there were carpenters – or ‘coach repairers’, they used to call them … there were carpenters, plumbers and fitters … and of course, electricians, as well.

Did you get on well, together?

Yes. We got on well together. They were all pretty good – they didn’t need the attention, anyway. They all knew the jobs and they all did them.

And I hope you were getting a bit more than three pounds a week by then?

Yes, my money went up to seven pounds a week after a time. And then it went up in gradual increments – different things – and then in the end we … I had to negotiate for … for bonus payments … and then they granted us a bonus in the end and that was another … I think that was twenty-six shillings a week, bonus … which was handy.

Were you active in a union then or anything like that?

Yes, I was a union rep then … and I was a union representative and I used to have to go to these meetings and get things for this particular area, if you like. And we managed all right … they were pretty good.

By this time, of course, the railways had been nationalised. Did that make any difference?

Well, I didn’t know anything but nationalisation because I went on just after that was nationalised – it had just been nationalised when I went on. And then, of course, they brought out the bonus payment, then – a bonus scheme they brought out. And then they brought out this pension scheme. And a lot of them joined the pension scheme. I joined the pension scheme and I am glad I did because I’m benefitting from it now. Used to have to put so much of your wages in, according to how much you earned, they took a certain amount and put in a pension scheme. And that’s one of the best things ever happened, I think. Until they brought the bonus scheme out, there was nothing. No payment at all when you retired. That was it.

To Crown Point in Norwich

So then you say the sidings at Vauxhall closed down and you went to Norwich?

Yeah, I went to Crown Point.

In about 1983?

Yeah. And then we were there and … we worked in the diesel sheds – we worked on diesel railcars then.

You were still living in Yarmouth?

Yeah, I used to commute from Yarmouth to Norwich. ‘Cause when we first went there, they said you got to be here at six o’clock. I said, “Well no way can we get here at six o’clock in the morning, because there’s no trains running”. And I went to the union about it and the union said, “Well, considering you were sent there – you didn’t volunteer for the job – your job closed down – you went there – you’re entitled to travel according to how your trains run and there ain’t no way can they force you to get there at six o’clock, because you’ve got no way to get there.” And I had to go and … went to a union meeting, with them, and told them what happened and, of course, they granted that. And in the end they said that, “You can work according to the trains”. So everyone started at six o’clock but our train didn’t leave here till ten past seven. So we used to start work at eight. So, of course, we did our eight hours from then. And that’s how we worked. And then we got on shift work and the same thing applied then. So, we eventually got travelling time. So we got this travelling time from Yarmouth to Norwich. So, that we worked less hours than the Norwich people because part of our time was taken up travelling. But if we hadn’t negotiated that with the union, I don’t know what would have happened. ‘Cause no way could we get there at six o’clock. And, we didn’t do too bad out of that. But, of course, the boys at Norwich didn’t like it a lot because we were working less hours than them.

So, there was a bit of bad blood, was there?

Yeah. There was at the start, yeah, but in the end they had to accept it. And as I said to them, I said, “If you’d left your depot to come over here, you’d have done the same thing. Why didn’t you get travelling time? If that was only ten minutes – that would have been ten minutes.” But, they didn’t like the idea of us being there and they used to take the juice but I didn’t take notice of that. I was on the right side, so why should I bother. (laughs).

So, you were working with more people then, by that time, in Crown Point, than you had been here (Yarmouth)?


Were you still the boss?

No, I retained my charge hand’s allowance – and that was something I negotiated with the union, as well. And they said, “Well you’ve been here as an established grade so you’ll keep your grade as a charge hand.” And … I didn’t have charge hand’s responsibilities but I still retained the grade. That was another thing they weren’t very happy with – ‘cause I got more money than they did. But, I mean, it weren’t much – only a matter of a few pound, I suppose. That was enough for them to complain about, I suppose. That was hard luck. I didn’t ask to go there, and I told them (laughs again).

You said that you were working an eight hour day. What about weekends and holidays? How much holiday did you get?

Then, I used to work practically every Sunday. I got very few Sundays off.

Why was that?

Well, because trains run every day of the week, don’t they, and they’ve got to be maintained and so, of course, Sunday becomes part of your working week. So we didn’t get any extra time off. So we used to get Saturday afternoon but … we still worked half six to two and two till ten. And then, of course, we had night shift as well, then. So, of course, we worked a three shift basis, then.

So, it was hard work?

Well, that was laborious, if you like. You were there all the time. And you didn’t get much time off at all. And holidays times – trains still ran at holiday times. We used to work holiday times and get enhanced pay for it, naturally. Christmas and Good Friday, we used to get double pay and the other days, we used to get time and a half. And these other two days we got, what they called, “a day in lieu”. So that we got double time and a day off later on. And that’s how we used to work. We had our holidays later on in the year when, you know, there wasn’t so much work about.

So, how many weeks did they give you of holiday, a year?

When I first went on there, we got a week’s holiday a year. And then that went up to a fortnight. And, of course, as I say, you got Bank Holidays but you didn’t always take them because you were needed to work. We used to have our Bank Holiday at another day. That was a bit awkward for the family, sometimes, because the children wanted you at home at Bank Holiday times but you couldn’t be there. So they put up with it or got used to it, I suppose.

What are your other memories about working in Crown Point like? It must have been a quite dirty job, noisy or … ?

Well, there was a lot of noise there. And of course, we had pits there, we had to work in – to get underneath the … ‘cause they used to bring them in – in the depot and we were working underneath, if you like. We were working in a pit. And sometimes we had to go on top and go through the train but you had to be careful because you had overhead power lines there. And you had to be careful what you were carrying there because, naturally, if you were carrying a ladder or something like that and it hit that – that’s your hard luck. So, you couldn’t … a lot of our jobs were on top because a lot of these mainline locos had the pantograph on there, didn’t they, for the overhead lines. What we called the ‘pantograph’. They weren’t attended to in the depot. They had to be outside in the neutral zone, if you like, they used to get pushed in there with the loco and we used to have to renew the pantograph.

So, this time, then, you’re working on these electric locomotives. At an earlier stage, you said that they were still steam for the main locomotives coming in and then there was diesel for the local ones. But, when did these electric locomotives come in? Were they already there when you went to Crown Point in 1983?

They’d just started at Crown Point when we went there. So they’d just come on there and they’d done away with our trains here so we had to go and work up there. And that was another kettle of fish because we were working on equipment that we’d never been used to. High voltage equipment.

It must have taken a lot of training?

Yeah, we used to go on courses. We used to go to … Where was that we went? … Doncaster, we used to go to. We used to go to Doncaster and that is where we trained for these overhead things – mainline stuff. And that was another experience we had to … and, of course, you had to be careful with this equipment again because even if, I mean, the pantograph was down, but inside there was still some electric stuff … which was dangerous inside. And one part of the equipment was … they’d poison material in there so, of course, you had to be careful of that too.

Were there any accidents?

Well, funny thing you should say that. We were in the workshop one day and we heard a bang and one of the boys said, “What was that? That was an explosion.” So we all ran out and had a look. We went round the siding and one of our supervisors stood there and there was a man laid on the floor. His clothes were all burnt. “What happened there?”, he say. Well, he said, “He didn’t realise what he was doing, this fellow”, he said. He climbed up that ladder – ‘cause they had ladders on the side of these wagons then so they could get on the roof. “And he went up there to have a look on the roof and he forgot about the overhead. And, of course, as soon as he got up there, “Puuu!” – it knocked him off and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. All his clothes were all ripped and his skin – ugh! – a horrible sight. And that’s the only person I ever saw like it and I wouldn’t want to see another one. And I knew that fellow before – he was a supervisor on the postal side. And he was really slim when he was there but when he lay there, he was bloated. He was unrecognisable, really.

It didn’t kill him?

Oh, it killed him. Yeah. Yeah. One of them said to the supervisor who was with him, “What’s happened there?”, he said. “I don’t know. He climbed up”. “Well didn’t you stop him?” “He said, “I didn’t realise what he was doing”. He was having a bit of a shock as well.

Can you put a date on this? Roughly? The year?

Well, that would’ve been the nineteen-nineties, that would be, when that happened.

So I guess, since then, they phased out the electrical locomotives and gone back to diesel again, right?

No, they had the electric equipment locos.

But when did they phase them out and bring in diesel again?

They still had a few diesel ones – they got diesel ones now but main lines are on electric. And they’re still there. So, they’ve still got the overheads there. But, all the local trains are diesel.

For better or worse? Changing working practices

When did you retire? When did you finish work?

Well, I’ve been retired now twenty years … so, 1993. Yeah.

You told us about working hard but just look back now and think, what do you think are the main things that have changed, since you began working on the railways but also, since you had your first job way back in … ?

In what way do you mean?

Well, any way you can think of. Have things got better? Have things got worse?

Well, I don’t know about the railway. I don’t know anyone who is on the railway now. But from the time I went on there and the time I left, it had changed a lot – for the worse – in my opinion.

Tell me more about that.

Well, when I was working here, we used to work together – there was me as electrician, there was brake fitters, if you like, and carpenters – when I worked here. And, if a brake fitter wanted a job – wanted help – I’d go and give him a hand – or the carpenter wanted a hand – I’d give him a hand. We used to help each other. We used to go round and, no matter what you were doing, “Will you give me a hand with this?” “Yeah”. And we used to help each other do different things, naturally, because, we were working on our own and sometimes you can’t do things on your own – you want someone to help you lift something, or something like that. And that’s what we used to do. When we got to Norwich, they stopped all that. They said, “Right, you’re an electrician, you do electrical work. You’re, a fitter, you do fitting work. You’re a carpenter, you do carpentry work.” And if I’d went and give a carpenter a hand or anything else and anything happened to me, I couldn’t claim anything. Because they segregated everyone and you all had your own work to do.

Why do think they did that?

I don’t know. That weren’t for efficiency, that’s a sure thing. ’Cause I think things were less efficient when they packed that up – ‘cause it is only natural – if you see a mate in trouble, you go and give him a hand, don’t you. But, mind you, I suppose we still used to do it surreptitiously but we didn’t let anyone know. But, I mean, you weren’t allowed to. If anyone saw us … if the supervisor saw you do it, you were in trouble.

Were the supervisors popular? Did you get on alright with them?

Some of them were alright but some of them were a bit strict. Some of them wanted things done just as they wanted them done and strict to the rules. But when you’ve been used to helping each other, that’s a habit that you can’t get out of. You can’t just say, “Right, you’re in trouble, that’s your hard luck, now get out of it”. Well, we all used to help each other but we didn’t let everyone know too much about it. But that was a bad thing, I think, that was a bad rule they brought out, in my opinion. Whether that’s still like it or not, I don’t know. But they put people against each other, in a lot of respects.

So, there was a different relationship at Crown Point in Norwich to what there had been in Yarmouth.

Oh yes, here. There was a more friendly atmosphere here, completely. I enjoyed my work here immensely; I wouldn’t say I enjoyed so much at Crown Point. Through that … because we were all boys together, if you like – we used to help each other. I learnt as much about their jobs as they did about mine. You sort of got used to helping each other and I think that is how that should be at work, anyway, in my opinion. I don’t like segregating work … there’s no future in that, at all, in my opinion.

Did the union have anything to say about that?

How they worked it out?


How they worked it out. No, it weren’t the unions. They had to abide by it, I suppose, I don’t know. But how they worked it out at Norwich – they put us on a course for fitting – all electricians had to go on a fitting course and fitters had to go on an electrical course. So if I come to a job where a fitting job needed doing, I’d know how to do it. And if a fitter went on a job and there was electrical work, he wouldn’t have to call an electrician, he could do it. But, of course, you only learnt the rudiments, didn’t you. You wouldn’t learn the complete thing, did you?

But even then, you weren’t allowed to do the fitter’s job?

No, no. I weren’t allowed to help a fitter. But I could do a … if a fitting job come in my category, if I was doing a job, I could do it – but one time, I couldn’t – I used to call a fitter in. But if that was a big job you had to have a fitter to do it. That got so complicated: you didn’t know whether you were doing right or wrong, in the end. But, as I say, we just used to help each other because you can’t see a mate in trouble, any way, can you?

Before we finish recording, is there anything else you think you would like to say or that might be interesting to recall about how things have changed?

Well, to be quite honest, I don’t know how things work on there nowadays.

Well, I meant up to the time you retired …

Up to the time I retired … To be quite honest, I was glad to get out of it, in the end because there were so many restrictions coming in, that … you had to be so careful to make sure you weren’t putting a foot wrong in that respect … where the work was concerned.






Maintaining and topping up lead acid batteries

for lighting and low voltage equipment on locomotive



Ron (b. 1928) was interviewed in Great Yarmouth by WISEArchive on 23 May 2014.


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