A young life in the signal box

PUBLISHED: 17:18 10 August 2006 | UPDATED: 11:56 04 May 2010

YOUR photo of the Black Bank signal box triggered many memories for me. I was appointed a lad porter at Black Bank station in 1943 on leaving school at the age of 14. In those wartime days the station and signal box were fully functional. There were stopp

YOUR photo of the Black Bank signal box triggered many memories for me.

I was appointed a lad porter at Black Bank station in 1943 on leaving school at the age of 14.

In those wartime days the station and signal box were fully functional. There were stopping passenger trains on the hour every hour from 8am to 8pm and most locally produced crops, from salad veg and fruit through to potatoes and sugar beet, were carried by goods train.

The local coal merchant, Mr Bert Chambers, also rented a site in the yard to store his coal. This meant the goods yard was extremely busy with up to 30 trucks being filled and dispatched each day.

Ideally perishables were loaded into box wagons but, being wartime, we had to use what trucks we could obtain and these were mainly open topped. The goods porter and my immediate boss was Mr Doug Bullock, and it was our job to cover these trucks with sheets each day, prior to dispatch - not a very nice job in gale force winds!

I was supposedly his assistant, but it didn't always work that way because of shortness of staff, again as a result of the war. Therefore I found myself very often the relief man when holidays etc were taken.

In turn I found myself in charge of the goods yard, which involved allocating and shunting the trucks around, crossing gate-keeper, both at the station and the surrounding droves and platform porter, both at Black Bank and at Chettisham stations, which incurred looking after the passenger trains. Occasionally, when the signal men at Black Bank needed to attend the call of nature, I found myself in charge of the signal box and responsible for passing trains through the section.

One of my other tasks was to climb the signal posts and relight the signal oil lamps when they blew out during a gale, and this happened usually at night. On the whole, not bad for a 16-year-old! I wonder what the unions would say today.

The signalmen of the time were Bill Sexton, from Littleport, Bob Lark, who had lost his arm in a shunting accident, and Bill Lord, both from Little Downham. Gate girls included Joyce Smith, Barbara Everson, Maud Crane, and Dolly Day. The station master was a Mr Sell who had a daughter, Pat.

I stayed with the LNER until 1946 when I left to join the RAF. I have often wondered since where my first work colleagues' lives led them in later life.

Ron Cornwell MBE, JP

Crawley

West Sussex

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