At last the duty was over and I staggered into the office, my money bag bulging with silver and my box almost too heavy to carry, and I sat down, exhausted, to make up my waybill and count the takings. To my horror I found I had fifteen shillings too much! Although only equivalent to seventy-five pence these days it was an enormous sum then - my wages were only about four pounds a week so it would be like finding myself with an extra eight pounds these days! What on earth was I to do? Diffidently I approached the Depot Inspector waiting behind the counter for me to pay in and began to stammer out an explanation. He grinned, held up a hand to stop me in mid sentence and called up another conductor, "Look, Joe, young Doris here has just done here first Greyhound Special. Show her the drill will you?" So Joe took me in a corner to explain that the general rule was that the conductor would make a swift calculation at the end of each journey to get a rough idea of what the takings should be and issue extratickets to stay somewhere near the right total. Then, at the end of the duty and travelling back to the Depot, count all the cash and any money over the top would be shared with the driver. They usually reckoned half a crown each was fair. Of course, I'd got far too much so we compromised with five shillings each for my driver and myself, half a crown for Joe and the other half crown went under my box when I pushed it over the counter - and honour was satisfied all round.
Of course, we had the occasional conductor with stickie fingers, as we called the dishonest ones, but they were soon found out and instantly dismissed. These fiddlers apart, we were proud of our good reputation and the half crown bunce on the Greyhound Special was the only time I ever cheated and I made sure it was never more than that too. Occasionally it was less, but I always gave the driver his half crown. A reputation of being a goody-goody was almost as bad as being labelled "fast" and women conductors have always had to tread a very narrow margin between the two. Men who would not dream of swearing in front of women in public or at home would sometimes forget that we were around in the garage and canteen and I soon learnt to develop a deaf ear and a blank face to save their genuine embarrassment. It's a lot easier now than it used to be, I really am a little hard of hearing - my doctor says its nerve deafness, probably caused by the constant noise of the engine - but I blushed furiously as the slighted provocation and some drivers used to playfully make a pass at me to see the red tide rush into my face but I turned away any suggestions that I should become rather more than friendly with a remark inferring that their wives were tougher or bigger than me and they soon took the hint. They were a lovely crowd and working with them was like belonging to a big, happy family with lots of uncles and big brothers to laugh and joke with.
Then came the day when I set out to work early one morning and found a deep blanket of snow everywhere. Despite the fact that the all-night trams should have been running past every half hour the tracks were completely covered and obviously unused. So I decided to walk to Lambeth Bridge to see if the snow plough had cleared the tracks from there. The sky was clear and the moon quite bright and even the bombed buildings seemed touched by magic. And the silence was so intense that the sound of Big Ben made me almost jump out of my skin - 5 a.m. and nothing moved as far as the eye could see. The air was very crisp and I took off my woollen scarf and wore it over my cap and across my face to keep my ears warm and to trap the warmth of my own breath and to prevent the falling snow from freezing as it brushed my face.
The snow was about eight inches deep and still falling softly and, despite my exertions to walk for stumble as swiftly as possible, the snow soon worked through my shoes and trouser legs and when I reached Lambeth Bridge and found the tracks there were also covered with virgin snow I could have cried with disappointment. I had just about reached the point of no return so decided to struggle on. It was a little easier as time went by because I began to see a few people and I had company from Vauxhall to Battersea. I finally staggered into the depot at 7.45 a.m., completely exhausted. No trams had left the depot so the conductor's room was pretty full and a ragged cheer went up when I unwound the scarf and they were able to recognise me. The Depot Inspector hustled me over to the ladies’ room where the gas fire plopped and bubbled and two other girls were wrapped in blankets, huddling over it. The Inspector went off to the canteen for the inevitable mug of hot, sweet tea while the other girls helped me off with my snow covered overcoat, wet shoes, socks and slacks. And into a warm blanket I went, still chattering with cold and hardly able to speak. My clothes went off to be dried in the boiler room and I started to drink the tea which I thought tasted a bit different but very, very warming. "Did he put whisky in yours too?" the other girls asked and I realised what it was that was starting the warm glow right through me - very soon I was laughing with the other girls. Our clothes came back bone dry within an hour but the shoes were hard and stiff as a board - it was almost impossible to get real leather at that time - and we all knew we would have to spare the coupons to buy new ones.
The Inspector came back about 9 a.m. to report that the snow plough was operating in the area and some buses were running but there was no question of making us work that day - indeed he was very proud of his girls. A lot of men had decided not to come in but all the early turn girls had made it, even if one was two hours late! So I travelled back on the snow plough which was a tram fitted with a big scoop which swept the snow off the track. The driver didn't leave me on the Embankment until he handed me across to his buddy who was to sweep the tracks to New Cross and thus drop me off right opposite 234 New Kent Road. It was almost 10 a.m. by then and I had strict Instructions not to try to walk it next day but to phone the depot for further instructions. In the event the snow turned to rain and by the next day all the services were running normally. Whether by my own youth and fitness or the potency of the whisky laced tea I didn't even catch a cold but the Depot Inspector sent in a very strongly worded report which resulted in a transfer to New Cross Depot which was much nearer home. I was glad to make the change but sorry to say good-bye to all my friends at Wandsworth.
Despite my months of experience I felt like a new girl at school reporting to New Cross. To begin with it was the second biggest tram depot in London - only very slightly smaller than Holloway in North London - and there were no trolleys but far more tram routes: 36, 38, 40, 46, 52, 54, 68, 70, 72, and 74 and several of these routes shed the plough and went on the overhead wires outside the central area and I hadn't needed to do any pole swinging at all at Wandsworth. The duties started and finished at different times too - the first sign-on at New Cross was 0319 and the last tram before the night service took over reached the depot about half an hour after midnight.
Although everyone was friendly and helpful the depot was so big that there were more crews on the spare list than on the entire rota at Wandsworth and the depot was older and seemed so vast I got lost several times in the first few days. There were all those new routes to learn, new fare tables with strange stage numbers to memorise and there was more bomb damage too, which meant that land marks had been removed. Discovering where I was along the routes was so much more difficult. A study of any London Transport fare table will show that the stages are named after well known buildings - mainly public houses and churches, thus acknowledging God and Mammon in more or less equal proportions - and when these buildings were reduced to rubble by bombing I found myself having to ask where I was in broad daylight.
Even when new fare tables were printed the same names were duly recorded in the firm belief that every one would be rebuilt. Of course, this did not always happen, a fat that was brought home to me in very amusing way. While working on the 68 and 70 routes through Deptford High Street I looked in vain for a certain Public House known as the White Swan, not only could I not find it but there was no bomb damaged area along the stretch of road where it ought to have been. So, when a passenger asked for the White Swan I kept an eye on him and watched where he alighted. Sure enough it was just where I thought it might be but no White Swan anywhere in sight. Next day I picked up several people at the stop and asked them to show me where the White Swan was, only to be told that it was burnt down at least ten years previously and a small block of flats had been built on the site! For all I know, there is still a White Swan fare stage somewhere in Deptford to this day! Of course, not all the passengers referrd to the stops by their official names and I noticed that women tended to ask for certain shops while men asked for the nearest pub!
In time, of course, I got to know them all and the names of most of the side streets adjacent to the shops too, but I admitted defeat to one dear old soul who, when approached for her fare, asked, "How much is it?" When I pointed out that I was unable to tell her until she told me where she was going, she promptly replied, "I'm going to the doctor's, dear. My legs are something chronic." I patiently listened to her tale of woe covering several visits to her doctor, the clinic and finally Guys Hospital - and right through an operation apparently for varicose veins "such as the surgeon said he'd never seen before in all his born days." when she suddenly jumped up, thrust tu'pence in my waiting hand, and, soundly telling me off for keeping her talking and nearly making her miss her stop, she tripped off the tram and across the road on her "chronic" legs and away down the street at such a pace I could only assume the surgeon at Guys Hospital had performed a miracle. Occasionally through the years I've had seeral people ask, "How much?" or "Is it still tenpence?" and I think of that old lady every time.
Now that I was working locally and able to work out the duties, I used to tell Gran when I would be going past the house and she would sit at the upstairs window and give me a cheery wave as I went past - until one night a bomb dropped across the road and shattered all the windows for several yards in all directions. The glass was replaced by thick tarred paper boarding which solved our blackout problems for the rest of the war and meant living in artificial light except in the arm weather when we could open them for light and air. Luckily, though, that was the nearest we got to being bombed ourselves and did me one good turn. Of course, we had an Anderson Air Raid Shelter in the back garden but, as it was always two feet deep in water in anything but the height of summer, we all huddled under the stairs when the siren went and the raiders were overhead. The elderly lady who lived on the top floor was very deaf and I used to dash up and bang on her door until I woke her up, then down to tell Gran to hurr up. The family in the basement always used to come to the ground floor too, they were scared of being trapped should the rest of the house collapse. But my Gran was obstinate - she would insist on getting dressed, fully dressed, and when I remonstrated I always got the same reply, "If I'm going to meet my Maker it's going to be properly dressed, with my stays on." So I'd wait fuming outside her bedroom (she scorned all offers of help - did I think she was a child or something?) until she emerged, fully dressed, corsets and all. The bomb which demolished several houses across the road exploded within minutes of the alert siren and with no guns to herald its approach and from then on Gran decided her Maker would have to accept her in her night-dress and dressing gown like the rest of us.
Thousands of people spent years sleeping every night in the Underground stations but they had to go there, with bundles of bedding and flasks of tea, quite early in the evening to bag one of the metal bunks which lined every platform - late comers slept on the platform itself or on deck chairs which also had to be carried through the streets or heaved onto a bus or tram. Our nearest Underground was at the Elephant and Castle, about a mile away, and Gran wouldn't go that far so it was under the stairs for us night after night while the shells went up and bombs rained down until it seemed we had been spending our nights this way all our lives. We still managed to do our day's work, spending hours queuing for meagre rations, making do with powdered milk (not too bad), powdered egg (ghastly stuff but we ate it when our one real egg and two ounces of meat a week had been eaten), saving our precious clothing coupons and buying clothing for warmth and durability rather than style and fashion. But we were all in he same boat, united against a common enemy and the kindness and generosity I received from complete strangers made it all worth while.
Of course the air raids weren't the only hazards we had to face while working on the trams, the weather could play some nasty tricks too - especially the fog. There was no Clean Air Act in those days and, with factories going full blast twenty-four hours a day and people burning everything they could lay their hands on when coal became short, we used to get some awful fogs in London - real pea-soupers, they were. When the driver could no longer see the track in front of the tram he would slide open the door and walk through to the back platform to ask for assistance. Then we would light the flambeaus or torches provided by the Board for just such an emergency. These torches were stout pieces of wood, about three feet long, bound with rags which had been soaked in some flammable substance. The driver would light the rags with a match and the conductor would then walk in front of the tram (or bus) waving the torch to indicate that the track ahead was clear. The old tram would grind and creak along behindat a snail's pace and driver and conductor knew they were going to be several hours late finishing that day or night. At least we were free of the air raids in the heavy fogs and that was some small comfort but the cold got to your bones, and your eyes were red-rimmed, straining to see through a mixture of fog and smoky fumes from the flambeau. It was an eerie sensation, feeling your way through the choking fog and hearing sixteen and a half tons of tram moving close behind.
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