All the factories making armaments or, in any other way, devoted to helping the war effort were working shifts round the clock and all personnel were issued with special passes so they could buy workman's return tickets whatever shift they were on, and it was these passengers who urged us to carry on. "Keep 'er going, mate," they'd say and it was these people who would often be the deciding actor when things got a bit lively. I used to tell myself that if these men and women were eager to get to work making ammunition with bombs falling around them then, surely, I could summon up enough courage to help them get there. We went through the most appalling slums on some of the routes but the people who lived in them were the salt of the earth - cheerful, kind, helpful and brave. I was proud to work among them.
Despite the friends I'd made, both in the Depot and on the road, I did find the long journey a strain. I'd feel the urge to dash off the tram at London Bridge and run up Great Dover Street to see if Gran was okay, especially if I was late turn and the air raids were bad or I was away so long on day shifts when I had a spread over duty. Hours were pretty long in those days and quite a few spread-overs lasted thirteen hours or more. I would sign on in the morning, about 6 a.m., and cover the morning rush until around 9 a.m. then resume again at 4 p.m. and work to 7.30 p.m. With the long journey to and from work this would mean an absence of anything up to fifteen hours. So I took the Depot Inspector's advice and applied for a transfer to a depot nearer home. He wasn't able to tell me how long I should have to wait because there wasn't any vacancies at that time, men discharged from the Armed Forces were beginning to appear as conductors now and no one would deny them their right to their priority on the aiting list after what they had been through over there. Staff were encouraged to stay on past retiring age, it had never been the policy of London Transport to make retirement compulsory - all they insisted upon was an annual medical check-up. Providing a man passed the doctor's examination he could stay on as log as he liked. There were two drivers over seventy years old at Wandsworth in 1941 and probably many, many more all over London, and conductors too. So vacancies only occurred when staff were bombed out and moved from London or retired for reasons of health.
The staff of a depot would be composed of a nucleus of crews working through a rota and several more drivers and conductors going spare. The spare staff were there to cover duties when regular staff were having a day off (resting), off sick, on their annual week's holiday or subject to suspension through disciplinary action. There were also extra duties that were not on the rota. For example: the Trolleys (612) put out a Special Service on two evenings a week running from Tooting to the Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium and the spare crews would work on these. There would be spare staff standing by, signing on every half hour from 4.30 a.m. to 8 a.m. to cover duties when regular crews were late. Altogether, being on the spare list was hectic to say the least. I didn't know what duty I would be doing until midday of each day and, though the drivers had a Police Regulation which allowed them eight hours off between shifts, there was no such rule for conductors and although the office staff did their best, if was frequently necessary to switch from late turn one day to early turn the next. When the rotas started from 4.30 a.m. and finished after midnight a sudden switch of shifts could mean sixteen hours work in twenty hours. I tried to get over to Staines to visit Bill's family and my own about one week in four, but frequently my treasured sticky stayed in my uniform pocket and I spent most of my day off in bed.
Although the official rush hours were morning and evening, catering for travellers working in offices and shops, we had very few slack periods. The shifts in the factories were staggered so that we always had a certain number of factory workers on and housewives shopped in the cheap midday period. Staple foods like eggs, butter, sugar, bread, meat, etc. were rationed and only obtainable at the shops where one was registered but fruit and other such luxuries in short supply (like nylon stockings, cigarettes, etc.) were sold to the first in the queue. A queue outside a shop meant that a delivery of this nature had been observed and women often took a thru'penny midday ticket, jumping off the tram and joining any queue along the way. Standing on the platform, I would wonder what the other women were standing so patiently waiting for, and envied the lucky ones who clambered on the tram with their trophies - two hours for three oranges or a pair of stockings, even longer for ten cigarettes sold loose, some of them with brand names we'dnever heard of before (or since) and popularly believed to be made of old rope and tram tickets. Having smoke quite a few of them myself I should think that was a pretty good description.
Although all places of entertainment had been closed down when the war first started, the authorities soon realised that the people needed some relaxation from long hours of wok, frequent air raids and worrying about the long casualty lists of their men in the Services, so cinemas, theatres and dance halls reopened and people resumed a more normal way of life. There was no television in them days, of course, but we did have wireless. The BBC put out two channels, the Home Service and the Light Programme. For the most part, though, people went out for their entertainment and the sixpenny evening tickets were very popular.
At first, I wondered why new conductors were always put on a late turn for the first week or two. It got dark by 5 p.m. and made learning the road almost impossible in the blackout. With half the lights missing and remainder dimmed with paint, it was barely possible to see more than a few feet inside the tram, and with no lights at all outside in the blackout I could only guess at where we were along the route. So I adopted a technique of asking boarding passengers where we were and then calling it out to help people wanting to alight! The passengers found it difficult too because all windows were covered with thick layers of netting glued on to prevent injuries caused by flying glass. Only a peephole, three inches by two inches, at eye level gave a very restricted view of the road outside. However, although people used Public Transport in the evenings far more than at present, the late turns were less hectic than the early ones (air raids excepted of course) and I soon realised that it was possible fo me to conduct my tram quite efficiently with only one pair of hands after all!
Just as I was gaining more and more confidence on the tram routes I found myself due to do a trolley duty and, since the motion, platform and stairs were all totally different, I found myself back to square one again - landing on passengers laps when the trolley was weaving amongst the other traffic (the trams couldn't do that of course) and yet another strange route to learn in the blackout. I missed the eternal grinding, groaning rumble of the trams, too, especially after the air raid alert had sounded. The trolley buses were so silent - no engine noise at all - just the humming of the tyres on the road and the click - click as the pole head ran over the joins in the overhead wires. It was better for the passengers to be able to step straight off the pavement on to the platform instead of boarding the tram in the middle of the road but I was told there were more accidents when the trolleys first began operating because, especially in the blackout, passengers stepped off while the trolley was still moving - the silence fooling them into believing it as stationary.
After a couple of weeks on late duties I was given my first early turn and soon discovered why the early duties had been delayed so long. I was mobbed with passengers at every stop, dashing in to issue as many tickets as I could and then elbowing my way back to the platform to regulate the next onrush, trying to take fares from alighting passengers while counting on the next load. The first journey was chaos from start to finish and left me ringing off about twenty tickets after the last passenger was off and away. To my relief I was given a snatcher for my return journey from Victoria to Clapham Junction and life became just bearable again. Some time later, when I'd had lots more experience, I did several snatching duties myself and thoroughly enjoyed the work.
Snatchers were, of course, conductors working spread-over duties which consisted of boarding a tram in the rush period and working entirely on the upper deck, allowing the duty conductor to work the lower deck, regulate the load at stops and ring of the tram. In some depots this work was known as doddling - although busy all the time, there was nothing else to do except issuing tickets, taking fares and shouting down the stairs the number of seats available. So any easy journey was often referred to as "just a doddle" and though snatching or doddling is no longer necessary these days, busmen still use the expression to describe an easy duty. When the snatcher swung off the tram at a change point he, or she, would call out, "It's all yours, mate," to remind the conductor that he was again in full charge of the vehicle, and busmen still use the expression when handing over a bus on the road today.
My snatcher was allowed to stay with me for the return journey to Victoria before being taken off and put on another route but, by this time, daylight was breaking, I had got my breath back and, though still busy, I could manage on my own. I had been promised a cup of hot tea and, though I didn't know quite how we could work and drink tea, I was eager to learn. The tram pulled up further along the road and the driver stamped on the gong three times before coming round to the front platform for me. He then took me to a small coffee shop and, as we stepped through the door, we were handed a blue enamel can, swinging on handle. "Hello, Joe, this is Doris. Give him fourpence, ducks, and let's be off." So I duly paid fourpence to the little man holding up the can and received a quick nod and a toothless grin as I was swept out to the tram again. Back on the platform I was shown how the very deep lid of the can converted into a cup which held almost half the strong, sweet, hot tea. "Now, don't forget, ducs. When we pull up here and you hear the gong go three times then drop whatever you are doing and run over for the tea. Joe will always have it ready because he is listening out for the gongs too. Take your half and bring the can through to the driver. No one will complain about the delay as long as we don't waste time." So here was a new art I had to learn - how to drink hot tea on a heaving, swaying tram. I suppose I lost about half of it that first time but I gradually improved, finding it easier to wedge my cup against my box in the locker and working on until it got a little cooler. Joe's place was only one of dozens dotted about London on all the tram routes and this practice of picking up tea cans on the road prevailed throughout the fleet and dated from the days when a ten hour duty was worked right through with no proper meal breaks. The cans may have dated that far back too for all I knew - I never came across them anywhere else. They were always returned empty on the next journey though no always by the same crew. If there was a crew change then someone else "carried the can" for you. Did tram men originate this phrase I wonder or was it just a coincidence?
There is no doubt that passenger transport workers evolved a language of their own and I've often wondered whether some of it was handed down from even earlier days. On very late or very early journeys, for instance, where passengers were few and far between a busman will refer to it as, "Not much doing - just picking up a few rabbits." It is hardly likely that rabbits would be hopping about the streets even in the wee small hours but the old stage coach drivers might have bagged a few - they were usually armed with a shotgun to discourage footpads and highwaymen in the days of long ago and "picking up a few rabbits" wouldn't be very difficult.
After our next journey it was time for our meal break at Clapham Junction - only thirty minutes so there wasn't time to go back to the Depot and use the canteen - and I was introduced to Tony and his daughter who ran a cafe there. Of course, the fare depended on supplies but there was always something hot to eat whatever the time of day, Cafe owners worked hard, long hours those days too - no instant mashed potato, microwave ovens or frozen, prepacked food in those days. Sausage and mash was quite a favourite, especially with fried onions - when they were available. So was egg and chips but it wasn't often eggs featured on the menu and, when they did, it was strictly an under the counter transaction.
Tony was proud of the fact that we had adopted his as our official Transport Cafe out of several in the district and we got the best he could obtain. A stranger would doubtless be annoyed to see us tucking into egg and bacon only to be assured that "There isn't an egg in the place, sir," but Tony kept us going, especially in the bitterly cold weather when we would dash in stamping our feet and swinging our arms to get some warmth back into them after several hours on a freezing cold tram. No public transport had heaters those days and we often had to warm our hands round the big mug of hot tea to thaw them out sufficiently to be able to handle a knife and fork. Our thirty minute meal break was over all too soon but, warmed and rested, we faced the second half of our duty with much more enthusiasm than the first half.
So, slowly, I became a real conductor and left my rookie days behind until the day arrived when I was put on the Greyhound Special. Almost the entire male population of the area "went to the dogs" at least once a week and I thought the Loading Inspector at Tooting Broadway was trying to squeeze the lot of them on my trolley bus! Packed way over the limit, we were sent off to do a trip lasting about eight minutes - and nearly a hundred fares to get in! Of course, it was quite impossible and it took ages, once we had arrived, to take tu'pence from everyone and give change - standing on the platform so I could deal with the upper deck as well as those packed inside. I tried hard to count the number of fares I had taken between issuing tickets as fast as I could go. Then back to Tooting Broadway dead (not in service) to pick up another load, packing my ticket rack with plenty of tu'penny tickets in readiness for the next invasion. After about three journeys the loads got smaller for the racing had begun and on my last journey I actually managed to clear the bus by the time we arrived. After a cup of tea and refilling the ticket rack we started operating in the reverse direction, taking back the unlucky punters who had lost all their money and couldn't wait until all the races were over. Then the loading got heavier and heavier until it became impossible to cope again. By this time I had a box full of five shilling bags of coppers and it weighed a ton - or so it seemed - and still they came. This went on for about an hour after the Greyhound Stadium closed down because the men whose bets had come up on the profit side went into the local pub to celebrate and some got so tipsy in that time they must have been sinking pints almost as fast as I was issuing tickets.
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