Betty Spiller

Betty’s railway family links secured her first railway job.


Railway voices at the NRM

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Betty Spiller Interviewed 17 May 2002

Ref no 2002-62

This is an edited version of a transcript to match the content on the audio extract.

NARRATOR: Betty remembers why her father refused to take part in the General Strike of 1926.

BETTY: .. he was at Shepton Mallet at one time, he was there in the General Strike, and I’ve heard he looked after the horses because he was a horse rider as well, and during the General Strike he refused to go out because of his horses, so of course he was a blackleg and after the strike was over his career was gradually whittled down..

NARRATOR: Betty’s railway family links secured her first railway job.

BETTY: Well, I wanted to join the WAAF, and family were not in favour of that, and my brother was already a junior porter at Evercreech Junction and father with being a shunter, and a vacancy arose, station master spoke to my father, said would I be interested and they kind of made me interested and shoved me in that direction.

INTERVIEWER: But what did you think of that at the time? Was it a good idea or … ?

BETTY: Well, everybody was being a bit patriotic at that time, and you know, you’re needed to do something and … so anyway …

INTERVIEWER: Had you ever thought that you might be on the railway?

BETTY: No. I mean it’s the sort of thing at that time that women didn’t do, and probably if they’d asked for a job they wouldn’t have got one.

INTERVIEWER: So how did it come about then? Your father talked to somebody …

BETTY: the stationmaster, so I saw the station master and he says, “Fine.” There were then one other girl there whose father was the signalman, Bet Simms [ph] and her father was the signalman at the north box. Her brother was also on the railway. The railway at that time, the Somerset and Dorset in particular I think was rather family orientated, you know, sons followed fathers into it. Nobody thought that the women ever would, until the war sort of pushed them in that direction.

NARRATOR: After six weeks’ service, the sixteen year old Betty was sent to run Pylle station.

BETTY: And I’d been on the railway a few weeks, so they said to me, “There’s nobody out at Pylle station,” which was the branch line from Evercreech Junction to Burnham-on-Sea, “You go out there and see to it.” I said, “I don’t know really anything about it.” And they said, “Oh, you’ll be alright, go on.” So I cycled from Evercreech New to Evercreech Junction every day, so I got the bicycle out and cycled off about four miles to Pylle station …

BETTY: And the person there was off sick apparently. Black-outs were up, I mean I didn’t know how to get the black-outs down but I managed it eventually.

INTERVIEWER: And you were the only person there?

BETTY: Only person there, and I only been on the railway six weeks!

INTERVIEWER: How old were you then - 16?

BETTY: 16.

INTERVIEWER: Goodness.

BETTY: And I was out there for the day. It’s a very tiny station in a hamlet, not very busy, I suppose they thought, “Well, she’ll manage.” Any rate …

INTERVIEWER: How many trains roughly, during the day?

BETTY: Two passenger in the morning, couple of freight, two more in the afternoon and a late train at night. And I got out there, I didn’t see anybody for half the morning. Went up the signal box and there were tomatoes and chrysanthemums growing up there … it was a one man station, the man always ran it, but of course he was sick, so later on when the morning train came in I had one passenger get off from Glastonbury, didn’t see anybody else very much. During the afternoon the phone rang and somebody said, “I want to go up to Manchester, how do I get there?” So I directed them that you went into Evercreech Junction, time of the train and what train you got, you got the ‘Pines Express,’ and … Any rate this is a loaded … they said, “Now I want to come back, and how much is first class?” And I thought, “Well, this is a bit beyond me, I haven’t got any timetables.” So I said, “Well, I think you ought to ring Evercreech Junction and get the full details.” And there was a lot of giggling at the other end - - that was only the other ones at Evercreech Junction having a game.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, I see, they were playing you up!

BETTY: Yeah. So the afternoon train came in -- it went at four o’clock, about five o’clock a farmer came in, with about 50 rabbits he wanted to send to Crystal Palace, so I had to weigh them, stamp them up, so I got that done, and I rang the station at Evercreech Junction, and I was started at eight and I should’ve gone home at five, so they said, “Oh, well you’ll have to wait for the milk train,” which came through at half past seven “and put them on.” So I waited -- I put the blackouts up, and I waited. Didn’t see anything, didn’t hear anything. About eight o’clock I rang the north box at [100] Evercreech Junction and I said, “Where’s the milk train?” And they said, “About Wincanton by now, I should think,” that was way down the line. And I said, “Well how did it go through and I didn’t know, I’ve got 50 rabbits here for Crystal Palace?” So they said “Well you’ll have to stay there and wait for the last up.” Nobody, you know, thought in those days to enquire if I was alright, or anything else!

INTERVIEWER: Did they give you a uniform?

BETTY: Well, they did piecemeal. We got a jacket and a hat and a skirt, and -- that was alright for platform work, and that was my 148 hours, after six weeks. And then one morning the signal lampman, Bill Freak, went down to uncouple this particular train that came in in the morning, and next thing we heard was the driver shouting, “Bill’s down down here.” And they went down and it was a dark winter morning and he’d put his handlamp out first, the driver saw the white light come out and took it as the tip to go, took the handbrake off, the wagons dropped back because they were not vacuum-fitted, they were link couplings, and he was just coming out from underneath, and got his legs …

INTERVIEWER: Oh dear.

BETTY: … so any rate, off to hospital he went, and he died.

NARRATOR: Betty’s hours were long and her duties arduous.

INTERVIEWER: Now tell me, who were you responsible to? Who was your boss at the time?

BETTY: Station master.

INTERVIEWER: The station master, at Evercreech Junction.

BETTY: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And did you get on with him alright?

BETTY: Yeah, oh yes, we got on with Bill Newman [ph] all right, he’s a friend of my father’s anyway, but -- one thing, when I started we used to have an early and late shift. You started, you know, at eight o’clock and finished it sometimes at two, and you had shift work, well, I only got that while I was a junior. When I went lamping it was six days a week and it was eight to five. Well, that meant I could never get to a shop, so I said one day, “Can I have a Saturday off, a Saturday afternoon off?” And he said, “Haven’t got a relief.” So I ask again, “No, haven’t got a relief. “ So then I said, “Well I need some shoes and some clothing.” And he said, “Well, I can’t -- haven’t -- can’t get a relief.” I said, “Well, you don’t need, cause I can do the work before I go and it won’t make any difference.” And I said, “If I don’t get a half day this week I shall take it.” So I did.

INTERVIEWER: Yes. How long were you then? Were you … what, 17 or … ?

BETTY: 17 or 18. So I took it. When I came in Monday morning, he said, “You took a half day off.” And I said, “Yes.” I said, “And look at the state of these shoes that I was wearing.” Cause I knew there’d be trouble. And, any rate he said you’ll get a number one, which was a form you had to fill in because you’d done something and you had to say why you did it, and I said, “Well, that’s it.” And I was in the NUR, the union, and it thought, “Well, the union’ll sort it.” I went to the lamp house and started work, and an inspector from Bath came in. So he said, “How are you managing the job?” and asked various questions. So I said “You might just as well know,” I said “I took a half day off on Saturday and I got a number one.” He said, “Why did you do that?” So I told him, and he said, “Will a half day a month suit you?” and I said, “Yeah, I’ll be very grateful, thank you.” So the number one was withdrawn, but we never did get the half day a month.

NARRATOR: Betty discovers she cannot join the WAAF.

BETTY: And I still wanted to go into the WAAF, and I thought, well I supposed to get a letter because I’m in reserved occupation, as it was called then, and I didn’t go back to the station to put in me keys, I … I went straight home, next morning I went straight to the labour exchange to register, and I gave my name, and they said, “Oh, we’ve had a telephone call from the railway about you, you’re in a reserved occupation, you can’t register.”

So they wouldn’t release, I had to go back.

NARRATOR: Betty leaves the railway.

INTERVIEWER: Were you sorry to leave then?

BETTY: Yeah I was in one way, but then by that time I’d married one of the firemen at Templecombe, and I’d moved down this way, and I used to go back to Evercreech Junction every day on the train and come back in at night on the train. And then eventually the railway closed in ’66, and the locomotive staff and everything were dispersed about the country, and he went up to Slough, and later came back to Westbury, but …

INTERVIEWER: Did this mean your moving ? Did you …

BETTY: I didn’t move I stayed here, but meanwhile while we were waiting to move somewhere, he became ill and he died.

INTERVIEWER: So after the railway, you … you went into nursing straight away did you?

BETTY: Not straight away, no. I had a little girl, and she died at five, and I had another one of two, who by the way now, she is a nurse, running a nursing home, she got her own nursing home, and when she was about -- started going to school, I went into Yeovil General and did this in-service training and was with the reserve, and I used to go to various hospitals where they were short, staffing. And then I was with the Red Cross, and I’ve been with them now, about 50 years, I think. And then I did ambulance training and I’ve done ambulance work since.

End

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