The rail journey on the MEDLOC train to Austria, reported in a previous issue of the Crier, pales in comparison to some of my experiences on the London Underground and Southern Railway. My first taste of the Tube was on my way to join the army in February 1945. I had to report to Bodmin in Cornwall on a Thursday. Leaving Perth on Wednesday evening on the overnight train to London the plan was to catch the 10 a.m. Cornish Riviera Express for the journey to the West Country. Trains in wartime were often late but even if it had been on schedule I doubt if I would have made it to Paddington on time bearing in mind what happened. Getting to Baker Street where I had to join the Bakerloo line was no problem. In these days one of the lines went to Watford Junction and the other to Stanmore. Unfortunately I boarded the wrong train. |I suspected I had gone wrong when the tube emerged into daylight about eight stations further on at Neasden. I alighted at Wembley Park and crossed over to the opposite platform and headed back to Baker Street where I caught a tube to Paddington three stops along the line.
Another overnight journey saw me arrive at Bodmin on the Friday morning. Any hopes of a few hours kip were quickly dashed as we were all kitted out, inoculated and allocated to our platoons.
On completing my infantry training some months later hostilities had ended and there was no further need for cannon fodder. I along with several others was posted to work in an Army Pay Office in Sidcup in Kent. Some who hailed from the London area were told that they could stay at home and their parents would be paid subsistence allowance. They could if they wished accommodate a friend. I accepted an offer from one of my pals to stay with his folks. Unfortunately they lived in Harlesden N.W.10 whereas Sidcup was in S.E. 9. This involved a daily commute from Willesden junction to Trafalgar Square and then by Southern Railway from Charing Cross to Sidcup. It meant an early start and a late arrival home. I could recite every station along the route. This knowledge came in handy when the task on “Pointless” was to name stations on the Bakerloo Line. My choice of Willesden Junction was a pointless answer.
I eventually obtained digs in nearby Eltham which only involved a tuppeny bus ride. But not before we had a hair-raising experience on the way home one evening. We had been working late and the train we took involved changing at London Bridge. We got on the wrong train and only realised our error when it moved off in the wrong direction. We opened the door and jumped out. My pal Len went first and hit the platform like a ton of bricks. However I knew to start running in mid-air. It made no difference. The train sped on its way leaving us spreadeagled on the platform, fortunately unhurt.
Some years later when I was working in London I was commuting daily from Earls Court to Green Park. The weekly ticket allowed unlimited travel between the two stations. One night, after an office function which finished late, I accompanied a girl on the tube to her station at Surrey Docks which was well out of the range of my ticket, knowing that if I didn’t leave the station I could board a train in the other direction for Earls Court. The train was almost empty and I picked up an Evening Standard which someone had discarded. To my horror it contained a report about someone who had been caught by an Underground Inspector for fare avoidance and hit with a hefty fine. I was in a cold sweat until I was in safe territory. On another occasion when spending a holiday with a pal we were staying with his brother who lived south of London. After a day in town we caught a train and on entering an unoccupied compartment he lit up a cigarette, not noticing it was a non-smoker. Just as the train was moving off a crusty military looking gentleman came on and immediately barked “Put out that cigarette”. My friend very deliberately took one more draw and stubbed it out but not before the man said “Didn’t you hear me?”. The journey continued in an awkward silence and then, as happens on electric trains the lights went out and just as quickly came on again. That was my friend’s cue to mutter “I wish they would go out for five minutes!” The cool atmosphere dropped by several degrees.
During our spell in London several of us from Perth travelled north for the Christmas holiday. We had booked seats on the overnight train on the Friday evening. I had my plans for the Saturday all worked out. Muirton Park in the afternoon to see the Saints and dancing in the Salutation in the evening. As we slept fitfully the train seemed to be moving in fits and starts. After what seemed an eternity it stopped at a station. It must be Carlisle. No, it was Rugby! The journey took 23 hours. I didn’t even make the Sally. The best laid plans.
Another train journey springs to mind for an entirely different reason. On a long weekend in London for the game against England at Wembley with my pal Roy McGregor we decided to nip down to Southend to visit Arthur Williamson, our Stanley colleague who played for Southend United. Prior to our return to London we spent a convivial hour or so in the Blue Boar and only caught the train by the skin of our teeth. Trapped in a compartment with no corridor it was not long before the call of nature kicked in and London seemed a long way off. I solved my problem in a slightly dangerous manner which I will leave to your imagination but sadly that was not an option for Roy who was disabled as a result of polio when a child and walked with the aid of two sticks. Had he attempted it the premature epitaph on his headstone might have read “Hard lines”. When we arrived at Liverpool Street he made light of his disability in the manner in which he shot down the stairs to the Gents, I swear that his relieved sigh echoed throughout the station. One of the last occasions when I was on a train was some years ago, Following a morning session at the General Assembly I was heading for home to collect Isobel in order to drive back to the Garden Party at Holyrood. Boarding the train at Waverley, I was conscious of the fact that many of the passengers were wearing the colour maroon. Hearts were playing Rangers that day in the Cup Final. I shot off that train at speed I can tell you. Later, at the garden party I overheard that Hearts were leading at half time, I asked the fellow if that was correct and he confirmed that it was. “That’s good news” I innocently commented. The gruff manner of his reply “Is it?” Confirmed his allegiance. You have to be careful what you say.