A touch of Enid Blyton on the Billy by Merle Buckett

Herbert Outen, driver, at Hayling Island station

For me as a young girl born and raised in Havant, one of the highlights of the school summer holidays was a trip to Hayling Island. This took place from about 1957 or 1958 onwards (I was born in 1946). My best friends Lynda or Myra would be as excited as I was, at the thought of a trip on the Hayling Billy for a day’s ‘adventure’. We thought we were just like the Famous Five in an Enid Blyton story – waiting for exciting things to happen on our day out.

Our mothers would pack us a few sandwiches, perhaps a bottle of Tizer, and off we would go to catch the train, their strict instructions about the latest train we could catch for our journey home still ringing in our ears.

Occasionally, due to sheer volume of passengers, we would not be able to board the first train; that meant an hour’s wait, as the train had to go to Hayling and back, being a single line!

Once aboard, we would look out of the train windows, and lean out – catching grit in our eyes from the smoke, and waving to people as we ‘crossed the road’ at the Langstone Road gates. Everyone always seemed so happy on these trips. The Hayling Billy was almost like an old friend to us all; dependable and reliable.

I can still imagine myself on that journey: the smell of the smoke, the high pitched whistle, and the ‘chug-chug’ as the Billy went a little faster. Children’s laughter, and happy banter – all of us so glad to be free for a whole day! Though it was a long walk down Staunton Avenue to the beach,

we really admired the lovely houses and beautiful gardens – we even daydreamed that we might own one of them ourselves when we were older, if we won the pools!

Once we had chosen our place on the lovely sandy beach (Hayling beach was very sandy in those days – not built up for flood protection!) we would swim or play ball games until we were famished. Then after eating most of our lunch, we would head off to the funfair, where we had about sixpence to a shilling each to spend! We’d left our belongings safely with other children on the beach, the arrangement being that we would look after their belongings if they wanted to go off to the fair on our return.

We’d return from the fair to paddle, make sandcastles etc until we could find an adult who could tell us the time. (Not many of us owned watches in those days.)

If it was about 6pm, we would make our way back to the station. If the train was almost ready to leave (which we could tell from the sounds of the steam engine) we would run as fast as our spent energy would allow, to get on board, with the stationmaster waving his arms at us to be quick.

Although almost too tired to look out of the train windows again, we usually did, to cool ourselves with the breeze and savour the last moments of our day out. We knew it might be a week or two till our next trip. It all depended on the weather, and our mothers’ finances – no credit cards then!

When necessary, the Hayling Billy made an extra a trip to ensure all passengers were brought home safely. I have a framed photo of the train crossing the Langstone Road crossing; it is a constant reminder of happy, simple days out. Oh the heartbreak we felt when the line was closed! I am fortunate to have a good memory – but I don’t think anyone has forgotten their trips on the Hayling Billy.

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