In September 2017 I was asked if I would like to be involved in a project to catalogue information about Railway employees. As someone with a lifelong interest in and passion for the Railways, initially as a young trainspotter at Surbiton on the Southern Region of BT and then at various times during my professional career as a Surveyor and Draughtsman, I was only too keen to become involved.
Since then I and, from early 2018, a team of new volunteers have been steadily working our way through boxes of employment cards, capturing specific information about former workers of the various Railway Companies in the South of England. The cards track the employment record of these workers from their first job through the duration of their career.
Information such as the jobs performed, locations where they worked and relevant dates are all being captured as part of the project but a host of other information, much of which is potentially of great interest to social historians and family historians, is also contained on many of the cards. This includes pay rates, training courses attended, medical information, wartime service (both WW1 and WW2), awards, commendations and disciplinary matters.
Some of the more memorable things that come to mind from the 4,000-plus cards that I have catalogued include many commendations and awards for outstanding acts of service and bravery in both peace and war. These include a George Medal recipient, a Military Medal recipient, two awards of the Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur and one of the Chevalier of the Order of the Orange Nassau. The cards also record instances of dismissal for offences such as stealing coal, fraudulent issuing of tickets, using a waiting room for immoral purposes and even one for soliciting. Then there are a number of now obsolete occupations including Gland Packer, Spragger, Fish Checker, Jigger Lad, Underman, Gongman and Van Setter.
With many, many more cards to catalogue over the coming months, I look forward to discovering more about this fascinating aspect of our industrial past.
Graham P, volunteer