'On the Buses' after the War
In 1949, a year after demob from the Air Formation Signals Regiment, Royal Signals, Barbara and I were married and, as we couldn’t get accommodation in the Tolworth Surrey area, we were fortunate in obtaining rooms with friends of my parents in Roundhill Crescent Brighton; a place I had visited since my birth in 1926 when these friends had a shop at the bottom of Elm Grove.
Next came the hunt for a job: nothing within the aircraft electrical line at Shoreham, so I wandered down the Lewes Road to Alan West only to find you had to have an invitation for an interview so I went along to the Lewes Road Bus Depot. No electrical work on offer, but they said they were taking on conductors and at that time a job was a job, so my reply was “Yes thanks, if you will have me”.
In the blood
I have always been fascinated by buses and bus stations, perhaps this is due to my Grandfather (Arculus) who was one of the first six London tram drivers, that was until he was caught speeding twice and was then made up to a Regulator! I still have his lovely bone whistle. As a very young boy pre-war I would stand at Kingston-upon-Thames bus station for hours watching the movements there.
I duly reported to the Lewes Road Depot at 0600 on the 15 August 1949 and commenced training on a bus watching an experienced conductor. Later, after being fitted out for a uniform, I set out on my own. Sad to say on my first morning I made an error of punching the wrong portion of a return ticket, the result was that the poor passengers on boarding their bus after work found that they were requested to pay again due to their ticket halves being invalid. Needless to say I was pulled up into the office to be reminded of the error of my ways, to my memory the management were very reasonable about it.
On a humorous side, we had a young conductor who looked like Danny Kaye and was just as funny; of course he was nicknamed ‘Danny’. One day ‘Danny’ was working the Circular route (No.41? The route that commenced at J.Lyon’s & Co) and they stopped outside a shop en route where he used to dash inside and exchange all his coins for notes. He did this one day and jumped back on board, rang the bell and off they went, only to discover that he had left his ticket holder on the counter! Being our ‘Danny’, he left it and intended to pick it up when he passed again, thus his passengers on that trip would have a free ride. It turned out that it was an ‘early closing day’ so when they arrived at the shop, it was closed for the afternoon. I don’t know what he did then but he must have been in quite a panic, perhaps the owner of the shop lived over the top as it used to be in those far-off days. Danny was still a conductor for a long time afterwards.
Going the wrong way!
One day I was operating on the 26A/46A route where the routes parted from one another just after St Peters: 46A went up to Preston Circus and up Beaconsfield Road to Preston Drove then back to the Aquarium, and 26A did it in reverse. On this particular day we parted in the wrong direction, I went up front and mentioned the fact to the driver, who replied, “Not to worry, I’ll cut through on the batteries”! This he did so to the amazement of those passengers aboard and to one or two bystanders where we cut through. An Inspector had spotted this and the driver received quite a ‘rocket’.
I wonder if anyone remembers when an early morning Hollingbury trolley bus ran on to a mound of sand or ballast in the curb and then rolled over on to its side? I cannot remember the date of this. As far as I can remember there were no passengers aboard as it was on its way to Hollingbury and the driver and conductor were not injured.
At this point I will mention the crews. Most were young chaps who had been in the Services and didn’t take too much to an indoor life afterwards. They were a very nice bunch to work with and, apart from one or two odd instances, worked quite enthusiastically. The company was very well run and at the depot in Lewes Road there was a very nice canteen and there was also a small one at the Aquarium terminus where you could, in your very short stay, grab a cake and/or a cup of tea, this is where we became very proficient in drinking hot tea from a saucer! Another very good point as far as I was concerned was that we did a shift right through and not a split shift as was operated by Southdown buses, say, four hours on and then a break of a few hours and back again.
Passengers: all very different people indeed. There were three gentlemen who boarded the bus of a morning in Dyke Road ( I had by then obtained a Transport Conductor’s licence which you needed to conduct on a petrol bus), to head for the Railway Station. I had to toss a coin and one of the chaps would call – if he won the toss, they all paid their own fares, but if he lost, he would have to pay the fares of the three of them. Then there was a time when, if you were standing on the platform of the bus coughing, many ladies would hand you a cough sweet when they passed you to get off. It was amazing how many sweets you gathered on a trip!
Now we come to school children who tried to dodge their fare. Some who could afford it would try it on with a devious look on their faces. Then the opposite when a crowd from the exclusive club ‘Dr Barnados’ would try in a totally different, and acceptable, cheeky way. They did it in a way that, as we would say today, “you win some, you lose some”. Then came some children who, in all my lifetime would remain very deeply in my memory, this was a school with children with Downes Syndrome. They would chat and sometimes kneel on the seat looking back at you with such a beguiling smile all through their trip. They always said goodbye as they got off: yes, my very best passengers, no doubt about that at all.
The rush of summer trippers
Some of the trips were very crowded during the summer on the run to the railway station with trippers. I am rather of short stature and many of the times when passengers hurried off to catch their trains back to London, I was jostled and ended up with the peak of my cap at an angle by someone’s elbow, a la Benny Hill. One last laugh was a child with his mother, “Look Mum, what a short conductor”. Ah well all part of life on the buses.
Move to Alan West
My wife, Barbara, worked at Eagle Star Insurance Co and an interview was arranged for me at Alan West. I went and found that it was for a storeman but when the foreman found out that I was an electrician, he said “If a job came up for an electrician you would try for it, wouldn’t you?” “To be honest, yes I would”, I replied and he said that, as I was straightforward with that answer, he wouldn’t give me a job as a storeman, but when one came up for an electrician, he would call me in. He was as good as his word and it wasn’t long before I started at that very nice family firm of Alan West out at Moulsecoomb on 13 March 1950.
So I was ‘on the buses’ for seven months. Not very long, but a most interesting and enjoyable time but now I was back with electrical work. Then in August 1952 I eventually had an interview in London for the Australian National Airways in Melbourne and at last I was back in aircraft work where I stayed for my remaining working years, (Vickers Armstrong’s & Air N.Z.) until retirement in 1987.