Part Forty-One

Moving to Fleet Hampshire brought a slight change to my daily commuting travel to work. From my house in Bedford Road Ruislip Gardens, it was only a five-minute walk to the train station where I caught a Central Line Tube train and changed at Oxford Circus to the Northern line for my train to Waterloo. But because my new house in Church Crookham was over two miles from Fleet station I used my car (1957 built Ford Popular car) for this daily journey and parked the car in the station car park for which there was a parking fee. This mode of transport was later changed to cycling. As I had sold my bicycle before the move to Fleet and not wishing to buy another one I resorted to visiting the local dump (scrap yard or ‘recycling’ centre). I found an old but serviceable bike frame, which I painted green, some old mudguards and other bits and pieces which enabled me to assemble a bike myself.  


At this point, I should tell you that, unlike the Underground Tube trains which ran quite frequently, the service from Fleet to Waterloo in those days was an hourly one on a steam train. This meant that when I was on early duty, which was on alternate days, I started work at 8 a.m. To allow time for any train delays and not wanting to be late I would leave my house at 06.15 a.m. to catch the 06.43 a.m. train from Fleet station which was scheduled for arrival at Waterloo at 07.30 a.m.

I had a briefcase which I attached to a holding rack behind my saddle. Upon arriving at Fleet station, I would dismount, dash onto the platform and park my bike in the covered area reserved for all bicycles. After locking up my bike and removing my briefcase from the back I would cross over the bridge to the opposite platform to catch the train to Waterloo. 

 There were some days, particularly in the winter time, when I would oversleep. This resulted in a mad dash on my trusty steed to the station. With briefcase firmly attached to the rack, my head down and my legs pedaling like pistons I hurtled along Fleet High Street nearly breaking the sound barrier.  It’s no wonder my bike was known as ‘The Green Flash’.  As I raced into the station’s entrance heaven help anyone who crossed my flight path.  There was a very helpful porter at Fleet station named Vic, who upon seeing any passenger arriving late for the London train, and panic-stricken as they dashed across the bridge would warn the train driver by shouting out, ‘One coming over’. I must admit that on those occasions when I was one of those late comers and if Vic wasn’t on duty, I would copy his warning to the driver as I dashed across the bridge, down the steps onto the platform, grabbing the handle of the first carriage door I could reach and, complete with briefcase would fall into the carriage receiving somewhat startled looks from some of the passengers ‘hiding’ behind their morning newspapers. The cost of an Annual Season ticket commuting from Fleet to Waterloo was £108.  There was no way I could afford a lump sum of that amount on my own but, fortunately, once again, Shell as they did with my mortgage, came to the rescue. They supplied the required amount to any employee who couldn’t afford the lump sum and then deducted the loan by monthly amounts from their monthly salary.  As a point of interest when I retired from Shell in 1989 I believe that the cost of an annual season ticket for the same journey had increased to over £1,300. 

During my days of traveling from Fleet to Waterloo, I was sometimes caught up in delays or change of trains. Naturally, it is quite common that any delays traveling by train can be due to breakdowns, bad weather, shortage of staff and similar inconveniences but during the 1960s there was another reason which was more serious and dangerous. This was due to the IRA threats of bombs being placed in strategic designated places particularly in London, i.e. mainline train stations. I remember on occasions dashing from my office across York road into Waterloo station aiming to catch the 9.12 p.m. train for home only to be confronted by police stopping all passengers boarding any trains because of warnings they had received claiming that there were some IRA bombs being planted somewhere in the station.  This could cause a delay of up to an hour which was inconvenient, to say the least.  On the bright side of traveling from Waterloo station I once had the pleasure of seeing a comedian and magician Tommy Cooper talking to a porter and on another occasion walking down the platform, I passed golfer Peter Allis who had alighted from the train I was about to board. I could have shouted out ‘Fore’ but I didn’t. Talking of Peter Allis some years later I purchased a second-hand golf club, a five iron, for the princely sum of five pounds in an antique shop in Horncastle Lincolnshire. On the back of the club head it bore the name, Percy Allis, Peter’s father, or should I say Par? I wrote to Peter about my purchase and received a polite, friendly reply from him which was a nice touch.

In February 1963 the whole railway system in Britain was changed dramatically when due to the loss of money the Government asked Richard Beeching to leave his high profile job in ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) to take on the task of streamlining the whole train network system and making it more profitable. This colossal task Beeching undertook by reducing one-third of the network by closing hundreds of branch lines, 5,000 miles of track, over two thousand stations and tens of thousands of jobs.  The whole adventure has gone down in our history as a fiasco and a complete financial disaster. Even now, in 2019, one can hear people looking back to earlier times say things were fine then but that was before Beeching came along and ruined everything.

The last story I will tell you about here relating to trains is how lucky I was on 12th December 1988 when I was traveling on my usual train from Fleet which left at 0643 a.m. and arrived at Waterloo on time at 07.30. I then crossed the road and went into my office in the Shell Centre. At about 08.20 my wife Kathy phoned and was so relieved to hear me answer my phone. The reason for her relief was because she had just heard on the radio that there had been a terrible accident at Clapham Junction Station at around 08.13. This tragedy has gone down in history as the Clapham Junction Accident of 1988.  Three trains were involved. One train crashed into the back of another train which had stopped at a signal and then hit an empty train going in the opposite direction.  Thirty-five people lost their lives and seventy people had horrific injuries. If I had missed my usual train from Fleet that morning, I would have been on the next one which was one of the three involved in the disaster. No wonder Kathy was worried and subsequently so relieved when I answered the phone that morning.


--End of Part Forty-One—

Add a comment

* Comments must be approved before being displayed.