Several came over while Bill was walking home from the station - a warm welcome home he hadn’t bargained for after ten months of peace in the US. It was marvellous to have him home again and his leave sped by very quickly. He was transferred again and started another dangerous duty - minesweeping in the Channel and clearing the harbours on the Continent as the Army were, at last, pushing the Germans back. The ship would return to port to take on provisions and equipment every couple of weeks and Bill would dash to Sydenham on a forty-eight hour pass.
I soon realised that Michael was to have a baby sister or brother and my father was about to sell the shop. He was discharged from the RAF on health grounds and took a job in an estate agents. This put him in an excellent position to look out for accommodation for us and, just after the arrival of Michael’s sister, Frances, we moved to West Hampstead.
The War was slowly drawing to a close but Bill was still busy sweeping the harbours and wasn’t demobbed when Peace came to us at last. I think those last months of his service were the most worrying of them all. It was bad enough for a man to be killed or wounded in the War but to suffer such a fate when it was all over must have been unbearable.
We had put our name down for a Council house in the Staines area the week after we were married and had called and written to the Housing Officer several times over the years that followed - but still no luck - we had to wait. Then our younger daughter, Barbara, and finally a son, Andrew, arrived. Bill was demobbed and had to think about getting work in civvy street again. If only we had managed to get back to Staines he could have returned to his former job, but still the Housing Officer shook his head and regretted that we were still not at the top of his list. So Bill, remembering how happy I had been on the trams, decided to join London Transport himself and became a bus conductor at Cricklewood Garage, working exclusively on route No. 2 between Golders Green and Crystal Palace. How I envied him!
We were both shocked and dismayed when, as a member of the Royal Navy Reserve, Bill was recalled into the Navy for two year’s service. But it wasn’t too bad, as a telegraphist he served the whole time in the Wireless Station at the Admiralty in Whitehall and lived at home. Finally, halfway through his two year’s service, we were notified that we were being allocated a Council house in Staines. At last - after being on the waiting list for eleven whole years we finally made it.
But those were lean times, it was certainly wonderful to live in a whole house instead of three poky little rooms, but now we had the extra space, it was necessary to find the extra furniture, floor coverings and curtains. So out came the sewing machine and I worked all day making ladies aprons, children’s bib and brace overalls, anything that would bring in a few shillings to help out. After Bill came home in the evenings he would take over the sewing while I caught up with the housework and that machine just about kept our heads above water. Only by keeping that machine on the go from early morning until late at night could we earn about three pounds ten shillings or four pounds a week. It was slave labour really - I should think the clothing manufacturers made a fortune out of their outworkers.
As soon as little Andrew was old enough to attend school and Bill had finally finished with the Navy we decided to work out a plan whereby I could go out to work. Of course, there was only one job for me - buses. We lived only ten minutes cycle ride from Staines Garage but bus work always involves shift work and the children would be home from school by 4 p.m.
Although Bill had quite enjoyed being a bus conductor at Cricklewood Garage when we lived in London he wasn’t so happy after he transferred to the nearest Central bus garage which was at Hounslow so he decided to try working for the Post Office and that solved the problem for me too. Starting work at 5 a.m. at the Ashford Sorting Office, Bill was finished his day’s work and back home by 12.30 or 1 p.m. and the children never had to come home to an empty house. Frances and Michael acted as mum and dad to the younger pair, dishing up cereal and toast for breakfast when I was on early turn and escorting them to school.
When I was quite sure they could manage and Andrew had really settled into school I presented myself to the Recruiting Officer at Chiswick once again. I didn’t have to think up a good reason for wanting to come on the buses this time. My maternity leave was over at last and I couldn’t get back on the platform quickly enough! I sent off for my new PSV licence on my way home from the interview and reported to Staines Country Bus Garage as soon as it arrived by post. My new number was (and still is) 45652, Bill’s old number.
Despite my long absence, London Transport insisted on treating me as an old hand and sent me off to Chiswick for my new uniform and just one day’s training at the school. London Country Bus and Green Line uniforms were dark green and, therefore, quite distinctive. There were still dozens of sizes on the shelves to choose from, but fitting me up this time wasn’t nearly so easy. I had gradually got heavier over the years and by 1955 weighed in at just over fifteen stone. Eventually the clothing stores assistant unearthed a uniform especially made for another conductor who had left the job just before a new uniform issue was due. It wasn’t a perfect fit but I assured the stores lady that I could do the necessary alterations myself and was measured for a new issue which duly arrived at the Garage a couple of weeks later. Every year since that time my uniform has been made to measure and I hate to think of when I’ve gone on different diets in an attempt to lose weight only to put it all back (and the rest) a few months later. My size card at the clothing stores has so many alteration references clipped to it that is must be a filing clerk’s nightmare! I also received my equipment - a Gibson harness, an old cash bag and clippers.
The one day’s refresher class was merely to introduce the Gibson Ticket Issuing Machine that had taken the place of the Bell Punch and ticket rack and the new two day waybill. A glance at my new fare charts showed me that the fares had increased over the years but so had the wages. In fact my wage would be almost double that which I had earned on the trams - being just over eight pounds a week, and this was for less hours too. I was now to begin working the eleven day fortnight which lasted quite a few years until it finally became the five day week it is at present.
And do, on November 16th, 1955, I reported to Staines Garage for the first time, and I confess to being somewhat shattered to realise I have now reported for duty here in the region of five thousand times! At a rough guess I should think that on about four thousand five hundred occasions I have arrived breathless and with only enough time to grab my box and dash out to take over my bus as it left the garage. I’ve been lectured, bullied, threatened and scolded by the nicest bunch of Depot Inspectors in the entire fleet, I’ve made the same New Year’s Resolution for the umpteenth time and promised myself that I really will arrive neat, tidy, composed and lady-like with plenty of time to spare like the rest of the staff, but two days later the door of the conductor’s room slams open and a hurricane blows in - hair like a crow’s nest, eyes streaming from cycling against the wind or soaked by rain, uniform looking as though it has been thrown on while cycling up the road and gasping for breath like a stranded whale - Doris has arrived to report for duty, pushed for time again!
In the early years doing a job involving shift work, running a house and raising four children meant being on the go for about sixteen hours a day and it was nothing for me to sign on duty at 5.30 a.m. after doing a load of washing or polishing the downstairs rooms. I would allow myself eight minutes to cycle to work which was only really sufficient if the road was clear, the weather fine and a good wind behind me. I’ve sustained a puncture twice (which meant a hasty call from the nearest ‘phone box), fallen off several times on icy roads, gone over the handle bars and knocked myself out trying to avoid a cat (what idiot said it was lucky for a black cat to cross your path?) and taken over an hour to plough knee deep in snow on Boxing morning 1962 when I was so busy tidying up after the festivities on Christmas Day that I didn’t realise that two feet of snow had fallen during the night until I opened my front door eight minutes from signing on time. Nowadays, with the children all grown up and a grandmother six times over, my excuse for reporting at the last moment is that I can’t get it into my thick head that I’m not as young as I used to be and the journey to the garage takes nearer fifteen minutes instead of eight - sheer vanity.
Of course, when I started here at Staines in 1955, I imagined I would only be working here until the house was nicely furnished and the children properly kitted up with school uniforms. For reasons of economy I had always made most of our clothing but school uniform was just that little bit beyond my dressmaking skills, even if I had been able to buy exactly the right materials in the precise colours. So I told myself that I would try to hold the job for ten years, by which time young Andrew would be leaving school. I did feel a little bit guilty at being away from home for eight hours of every day but loved the work so much and so many things happened that gave me a good excuse to stay on. Michael decided that he wanted to become a school teacher and won a place at the grammar school, then entered Shoreditch College at Englefield Green and finally started work at twenty-one. We were very proud of his progress and he is now married with two children of his own and assistant headmaster at a school in Harrow (well - no, not that one but I shouldn’t be surprised if one day .........!)
Just when Michael was launched into his career Andrew left school with a burning ambition to become a top ladies hairdresser so we managed to get him an apprenticeship at “Jonards” in exclusive Virginia Water. A great number of celebrities live in the neighbourhood and the manager send Andrew to College twice a week to learn the profession - from the roots, so to speak. Guess who became the tame guinea pig when the bleaching, dying and tinting lessons began? That year I went from Brunette to platinum blonde through every shade of the colour chart. My hair was tapered, permed, stripped, bleached, tinted, conditioned and dyed until it finally protested and came out on strike! I survived the onslaught, Andrew finished his course and I settled down to going grey and becoming old gracefully - or as gracefully as I am ever likely to become, which isn’t much.
Frances and Barbara, the two girls, couldn’t leave school quickly enough. They went into office and hotel reception work, furthering their education at night school and both holding down very good jobs too. Bill and I are very proud of all our children so maybe having a working mother didn’t do them any harm after all - I certainly hope not.
It was really fortunate that, despite my size, I had plenty of energy in those early years. I used to get up at 4 a.m. every morning to see Bill of to work by 4.45 and then do my washing and as much housework as possible before re-setting the alarm clock for the children and dashing off on an early turn. When I was late turn I would get the children off to school, do the days shopping and have a meal ready for Bill at 12.30. If I was on a late duty that finished after 12.30 a.m. I would creep around doing housework until it was time to get Bill up, stay up washing and ironing until after the children were off to school and then snatch a few hours sleep until just before Bill came home. Looking back, I wonder how I managed it but, at the time, it seemed to fit in easily enough.
All the buses were double deck and crew operated then and so busy that my hours at work seemed to fly. The new Gibson ticket machines were certainly faster to operate than the Bell Punch and loose tickets. We needed to be able to work fast too - almost everyone used Public Transport then - the old workman’s returns had been replaced with an early morning single which was cheaper than the ordinary fare which started at 8.30 a.m. Despite the fact that the cheap midday had been discontinued, the housewives still crowded the buses to go to the nearest town for shopping and the workman’s rush hours would be replaced by the shoppers rush, then the dinner hour dash and more leisurely, but still quite busy, afternoon shopping stint until the evening rush began and lasted until about 6.30 p.m. The next few hours would be spent taking people to the cinemas and pubs and then the last rush would come about 10.30 p.m. when the cinemas and pubs closed and everyone went home. Our very last journeys served those other night workers - late duty policemen, night sorters at the Post Office, barmaids and cinema managers, restaurant waiters, late duty nurses, railway men and passengers returning home from London on the last trains. When we had served all these and the last of the buses and coaches were safely tucked away in the garage we would cycle or walk home ourselves through empty streets.
Although I had spent two years on the Spare List when I was on the trams I found myself on the bus rota at Staines within a very few weeks after my arrival. Bus work was no longer top of the pay scale for unskilled labour, especially in the Staines area. There were three big factories calling out for workers - Peters had taken over the old Lagonda works at the top of the Causeway and were extending in all directions at one end of the town, Sykes Engineering was rebuilding and taking on more labour at the other end of Staines and the Lino factory was also still going full blast in the centre. The new London Airport was also expanding rapidly - permanent brick buildings replacing what had been little more than two groups of huts, Airport North and Airport Central, and finally being renamed Heathrow. All these projects attracted workers away form the buses while increasing the need for them until overtime and rest day working became necessary and crews became overworked, tired and irritable and the inevitabe downward spiral began. Discipline was relaxed and standards slightly lowered at the Recruiting Centre in a desperate attempt to hold the existing staff and attract newcomers.
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