Harry Knight from William Lench Court had told me a few times of his career as a train driver – being in the profession for forty seven years he drove the Prince of Wales, was involved in two major accidents and had been all over the country. Here is the story in his words:

Before starting I'd like to say, there were always two important things in my life, being a train driver and  my wife. My very first job when I joined the railway was a cleaner, cleaning the locomotives, occasionally you’d be what is called a “Bar boy”, going inside the firebox while cold, changing the bars and coming out again. Another job while being a cleaner was calling up, one hour before booking on men would have to be called to make sure they were there, it was completely unnecessary but that’s what was done. I would cycle to their house on my pushbike, houses would be in Erdington, Aston, Nechells and the surrounding area so it wasn’t a small distance, I’d knock on their door or shout and sometimes they’d come to the bedroom window.

It’s a very lonely job, you never saw anyone at night in those days, no one in night clubs or pubs, so the only people you saw were policeman and they weren’t very friendly! You’d think they would be, two souls in the middle of the night. I remember once after being at a pub I cycled my bike up the wrong road of a double carriageway, a policeman came and told me off even though there were no cars or people about, he was quite nasty about it. It would have been two in the morning or four, I don’t remember exactly but it was so unnecessary.

I ended up getting a promotion to a past cleaner, that was a cleaner who, if a fireman wasn’t around would take the responsibility of being one. Eventually I became a regular fireman, you couldn’t do any cleaning and I didn’t want to, it wasn’t a very pleasant job. After about ten years I became a full time driver, the work from there varied quite a bit, you could be a spare driver, express passenger fireman or driver, or you could be on a freight train, a coal train or a local passenger train. I liked express passenger trains the best, it was nice and straight forward, fast and very exciting. Fred Dibnah said in one of his programmes that there’s nothing like riding on the footplate of a locomotive at ninety miles per hour. There’d be lots of shaking and noise, so you couldn’t speak to each other, you’d have to use your hands and sign to each other.

The toughest job without a doubt and to me the best job, was going to Carlisle, 227 miles away, we had no breaks, so nowhere to stop and have food or even toilet breaks. We went through Tamworth, Burton, Derby, Sheffield, Rotherham and Skipton. Skipton was quite an important place, the fire would be dirty after going such a long way, if you didn’t clean it then the train couldn’t make any steam and it’d come to a standstill. So we’d stop there and throw the coal forward with a long six foot steel shovel, cleaning the fire on one side, getting rid of the clinker and then onto the other side. Then within a short amount of time we’d be at the foot of the Pennines, we’d climb up to 1,169 feet, once at the top it’d drop down into Carlisle and you could practically roll the whole way.

After forty seven years on the railway I was bound to have an accident, most people have. The accident I was involved in was during a Bristol to Newcastle express, I was taking it as far as Derby. As we left Cheltenham we went down to a place called Ashchurch, there was a speed restriction there at the time and as I slowed down, there was freight train coming towards us on the other side of the tracks, one of the wagons in the middle was off the track. It looked as if it was going to hit us, it missed our diesel engine, continued on missing the first six coaches and hit one behind them, one man was killed (who was only fifteen and died in Cheltenham hospital) and many others injured. It wasn’t a pleasant day I can tell you.

I once drove the Prince of Wales – coming into work I was told the boss wanted to speak to me, my first thought was “Oh what have I done now”, my boss said that I’d be driving the Prince of Wales and asked if I had any neat uniform, I of course said yes and accepted the job. There were three carriages on the train and it was full of armed police and detectives protecting him, I later found out that while the Prince slept overnight in the train at a station, there were armed police in the surrounding fields.

Once again, there are only two important things in my life, being a train driver and the other, you can guess for yourself.

        Harry Knight - William Lench Court resident

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