We promised the instructor that we would study our fare tables and rule books over the weekend and left Camberwell on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. instead of 5.30 p.m.
Back again on Monday at 8.30 a.m., we were taken over a tram and shown exactly how it worked and what our duties were, apart from the ticket issuing we should by now have mastered. The trams at Camberwell were the E1 type and these seated seventy-three passengers, twenty-seven inside and forty-six on top. In addition to these we were expected to take twelve standing passengers on the lower deck making a total of eighty-five.
Trams had platforms, driving gear and stairs at both ends so that when they reached the terminus the driver and conductor changed ends and away went the tram in the reverse direction. This meant that all the seat backs had to be reversed, inside and on top, the indicators and destination boards and blinds changed, the driver would pull up the platform steps and put a chain across to prevent people trying to board from the wrong end and the conductor would reverse this procedure at the other end. The gong and sand pedals were also recessed into the platform floor at the conductor's end and pulled up, ready for use, on the driver's platform. The gong was equivalent to a car horn and clanged very loudly as often as the driver stamped on it. When the sand pedal was used a measure of sand was deposited on the rails to help the metal wheels to grip in wet or frosty weather. This sand was stored in bins situated underneath the long seats either side of the gangway and there was always a spare sack of sand keptunder the stairs for emergencies. In central London the power to drive the tram was picked up by a blade called a plough which ran along a conduit between the tracks but further out of London the electricity was supplied via overhead wires picked up by a pole on the tram roof. So at the terminals the conductor had to unhitch the pole from the back of the tram and tun round in a big arc to swing the pole round to the other end and make contact with the wire again. This was quite heavy work and very slight conductors who weren't putting enough strength into holding the pole down could easily be swung to dangle several feet in the air. I weighed about ten and a half stone in those days so it was no real problem for me. But it wasn't much fun in the pelting rain or a pea-souper fog and with other traffic to contend with. We always heaved a sigh of relief when the job was over and the rope securely tied up. There was always a wide area left free round the rookies' tram at Camberwell Depot so that we could all learn to execute this manoeuvre. After our initial try, we were told to go through it again without help and with the Instructor standing by with a stop-watch, trying to keep a straight face when the more delicate of us were lifted of our feet or let go of the rope before it had clicked onto the wire and had to be hauled down from the roof of the Depot. Several of us had trouble with securing the rope too, if you didn't use the correct knot it would take ages to undo again.
We were shown a running plate which set out the times the tram was due at the terminus and the departure time for the next journey. This was underlined in blue for the journeys before 8 a.m. when workman's returns could be issued and in red to indicate the cheap midday period. There were wooden indicator boards, about seven feet long, that were dropped into slots at the side of the tram. These showed the chief stops along the route and had to be turned over when the cheap midday period came into operation, another quite heavy and dangerous task for the conductor who had to make quite sure the traffic was clear before attempting it. In theory there was room between the up and down tracks for a normally build person to stand between them. But it was only safe to do so when both trams were stationary - a fact that was underlined a year or so later when a driver at New Cross Gate, in a hurry to cross the road, managed to get between two trams and was crushed to death. So we all promised not to try any thing foolhardy when swinging the pole or flipping the boards.
Before getting back on to the tram we were shown the cow-catcher - so named because something similar was used on the trains that cross the American West which scoops up any wild life wandering on the track. Not, I might add, to save the life of the cattle but to prevent the collision from derailing the train. On the tram the cow-catcher really was an attempt to save the life of any pedestrian foolish enough to dash in front of an oncoming tram and was like a slatted wooden gate which would hold the hapless pedestrian under the platform of the vehicle and so prevent almost certain death by crushing under the wheels. A tram had an unladen weight of sixteen and a half tons and no one could expect to survive being run over. We were told that a previous Instructor at the School used to actually demonstrate the cow-catcher and lie across the track while the tram was driven - very, very slowly - up to his body. However, this demonstration ceased when he started putting on weight and the crawling tram nudged him to one side. In fact the success of the cow-catcher gate depened not only on the size of the casualty but the fact that he was always exactly at right angles to the track. I must admit that I was jolly glad that our present Instructor has no intention of demonstrating for us, we had all become very attached to him and were really keen to do well at the dreaded exam the following Saturday so as not to let him down.
However, we were due to be parted the very next day for on Wednesday and Thursday that week we were to report to our respective Depots and actually work a duty with a real conductor. So it was on Thursday that I discovered why there were doubts as to the wisdom of accepting Wandsworth as my future place of work. It was miles away from New Kent Road and involved a change of tram at Lambeth Bridge and at Battersea. Luckily for me I could always get to work or home in the week no matter what duty I was on because the routes concerned had trams running all night and I only had a ten minute wait at Lambeth Bridge to make my connection but it made a long, weary day even longer and the Depot Inspector had to make sure I wasn't given a late turn on Saturdays or a very early turn on Sundays as the night tram didn't run on Saturday nights.
Although exciting enough, the next two days were a hectic nightmare. I'd forgotten all the stage numbers and fares and got so involved in trying to keep my balance while issuing tickets and giving change I almost forgot to ring the bell or blow my whistle and decided I needed at least one more hand and preferably two more! Of course I was in a strange part of London too and my relief at reaching our destination must have been comical. I fell over twice, dropped change all down the stairs (in the blackout too) and caught my hand in a seat when changing them over at the terminus, took two foreign coins in mistake for ha'pennies and, finally, got so flustered and nervous I kept the tram waiting while I dived down a public toilet to be sick! Apparently, though, such behaviour was just about par for the course - my trainer conductor actually assured me I had done quite well really. I think he was paid three shillings (fifteen pence) for taking me around on those two days - he deserved a medal.
And just to give me something else to think about, I had a letter from Bill to day he would be on leave that weekend and could we be married on Saturday please? He had to report back to Chatham at 8.30 on Monday and, although he wasn't allowed to say so (all mail from the Armed Forces was censored), I knew he would be away on a trip and it might be months before we saw each other again. Luckily I was due to do a late turn on Thursday again so I spent the morning arranging for the ceremony at Lambeth Town Hall and scraping up enough money for the special licence as it was such short notice. Bill had asked me if I mined getting my own wedding ring as he didn't know my size. I tried several jewellers only to find that no one stocked one big enough and it took at least four days to get one stretched. I ended up buying one in a pawn shop! It only cost me one pound but it fitted and that's all I wanted at that time. But I did give a passing thought for the poor woman who had pawned it and couldn't even redem it for one pound. I hoped it would bring me better luck at any rate.
Only when I was actually on my way to Camberwell on Friday morning did it dawn on me that I couldn't get married on Saturday and take my passing out exam at the same time. So I dashed into the classroom and, instead of taking the Instructor to one side and explaining the situation calmly, I stammered out, in front of the whole class, that I couldn't come to school the next day because I was getting married. When I was asked if I couldn't delay it for a few days I promptly burst into tears and said, "Oh, no, sir. I've simply got to get married." Well, in those days there was only one reason why a girl had to get married and the poor Instructor's immediate reaction was to ask why on earth I was training to work on the trams of all things if I was expecting a baby? Even to this day I blush to think of it. Order in the class was eventually restored, my explanations accepted and, showered with congratulations for the other girls, we all waited while the Instructor went off to see what could be done.
Would you believe it, an examiner arrived from Chiswick that afternoon and took me off to a little office where I was actually passed out, told to report to Wandswoth for a late turn on Monday (after I'd seen Bill off at the station) and reminded to take my marriage lines with me. So I passed out at Camberwell Depot as Conductor Andrews on Friday, October 3rd, 1941 and signed on at Wandsworth Depot on October 6th as Conductor Hazell.
My one day honeymoon over and my first day on the road alone in front of me, I reported in plenty of time to the Depot Inspector at Wandsworth. Of course, my sudden change of status and new name had cause quite a lot of extra work involving the issue of my PSV (Public Service Vehicle) licence and also my permanent stickie - but both were ready and waiting for me - my PSV number was 3821. Since I had plenty of time on hand, I was taken on a tour of the Depot and shown over a trolley bus - which was the first I had ever been aboard. Then into the canteen for a cup of tea and another woman conductor was good enough to show me the ladies rest room that had recently been completed and nicely furnished with a couple of put you up settees and several blankets in case an air raid made it necessary for a girl to stay at the Depot overnight. Should the situation arise, a London Transport Official would notify the girl's home and she would be excused the following day's duty. If she volunteered to work the next day then she would be paid an extra four hours’ money. The eagerness to keep the full services running was such that the crews only went home for a change of clothes and practically lived in the rest room until the raids subsided a little.
I soon found that there was no standard procedure for working when the air raid sirens went. It was left entirely to the discretion of the crews involved. Almost all of us adopted the same routine. First of all the tram would stop at the nearest point to a Public Air Raid Shelter. The crew would go along the upper and lower decks to tell the passengers the siren had gone and point out where the shelter was. If it was in a blackout, the conductor would shepherd the passengers to the door of the shelter where they would be met and taken over by the duty warden. Then the crew would decide whether to take shelter themselves or carry on working. If enemy planes were close, the anti-aircraft guns blazing away and the air thick with shells going up and bombs coming down then we dived into the shelter with the passengers. If the action was some distance away and several passengers anxious to get home to their families or report for work then we carried on going at half speed, quite often with the conductor ad driver both at the front of the vehicle to keep close look-out for danger. We rarely went full speed in an air raid, not only because it took some time to bring the vehicle to a halt but also because the trams made such a noise that it was impossible to hear gunfire or even bombs dropping unless they were quite close.
We watched the probing fingers of the search lights, sweeping across the blackness of the sky, seeming to grope through the clouds and when a glint of silver winked in their ribbon of light, the rest would hurry across the night sky to pin-point that tiny silver gleam which would stand revealed like an actor spotlighted on a darkened stage. Sometimes what we saw revealed would be the fat friendly shape of an Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon and we would sigh with relief, the searchlights hurry away to criss-cross another area of the sky and, if we were lucky, the noise of gunfire and bomb would become more and more distant until the all clear sounded. Then we would stop at the next Public Shelter and call out, "Anyone want a twenty-six to the Embankment?" And off we would go again, keeping our fingers crossed, hoping we would be back to the Depot before it started all over again.
When the raids were heavy and wave after wave of enemy aircraft passed over all through the night we would go through the same routine - dropping passengers at one shelter and picking up another tram's load farther down the road - over and over again. As frayed nerves got tighter and tram further and further from the Depot we found the tension affecting us all, crews and passengers, in different ways. Some seemed to withdraw and become silent, only clenched fists and tapping feet hinting at the tension, others became more alive, apparently thriving on the danger, joking and laughing and seemingly determined to enjoy every moment of it - to the last, if necessary, while some people started to swear - cursing the Nazis, the gunners for not shooting straight enough ("I could do better than that with a bloody bow and arrow," one assured me) and even the majestic barrage balloons were censured for not floating high enough to entangle the unwary bombers in their wires. What impressed me the most was the relativly few cases we had of tears or hysteria, for the most part people stood up to it all very well and the efforts people made to get to work amazed me.
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