Les Miles Fitter, Cleaner, Fireman & Driver (1944 – 1963)

Terrier inside Fratton depot

I was born on 20 October 1930; at the age of 14 I began working on the railway. I worked at the Motor Power Depot in Fratton as a ‘Fitter’s Lad’; I would have to run around getting tools and things for the fitter, his name was Bert Gibbs. I was with Bert until October 1945, and then I had to report to the cleaner’s foreman.

At the age of 16 I started as a fireman.

I did my National Service in 1948, I had to take 18 months out of my work at the railway, but when it was finished I went back to my old position as a fireman on the railways.

I went on to pass as a driver around 1957. My first time driving occurred quite suddenly; I came into work in the evening, I think it was for the 8:49am train, and the foreman said to me ‘You won’t be fireman – tonight you’ll be driving!’ This night there had been a breakdown on the Hayling Billy line. I had to drive the breakdown van up to Havant; when we got to Havant they told me a wheel had come off the Hayling Billy train! The wheel which had come off was the driving wheel, it’d come right clean off as it was coming around the corner into Havant.

After they’d repaired it, they oiled the track, and I had to drive another engine into to it to bump the Hayling Billy engine into the sidings and out of the way. They had to put sand on my tracks to stop the engine from slipping on the oil! We had to leave the engine there the next day and they put it on a low-loader so they could take it down to Fratton and fit it with a new axle.

My first time actually driving the Hayling Billy was around 1959, so I was able to drive that route for a few years up until its closure. We used to have some fun on the job, especially on the Hayling Billy line. I always remember any job on that route was really enjoyable and often eventful.

Once when we were nearing North Hayling I noticed there was a leak in the boiler on the gauge glass gland. As we pulled into North Hayling the water came streaming out of the leak, there was steam everywhere! My co-worker and I could hardly see for all the steam, and can you believe he put my jacket over the leak to try and stop the water! We had to leave the train at North Hayling; luckily it was already pulled in. I was then sent on the bus from Hayling to Havant in my dirty work clothes with no jacket! We then had to take a spare train from Havant to pull the leaking one into the sidings at Havant.

As I’ve said the Hayling line was always fun to work on. In fact I and the other drivers used to use our coal shovels to cook our breakfasts on! (We would make sure they were clean first, mind!) The shovels were curved so that they would hold the coal – well we used to load them up with eggs, bacon, mushrooms you name it! And we’d put them over the coals and cook it all up!

Rona, Les’s wife adds: Les’s work clothes would be so filthy from all the grease and coal dust when he got home; they were an absolute nightmare to wash! We lived in a little cottage at the time with a nice brick patio. In the end I’d have to take his work clothes to the patio and scrub them against the bricks!

They came up nice and clean this way.

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