The hardworking childhood which paid off for railway boss

MEMORY LANE BOOK 1960S 1970S
MEMORY LANE BOOK 1960S 1970S

John Wand never could have been accused of being a shirker.

He went to school from when he was three and got his first job when he was six. He cleaned shoes and knives, and ran errands for the local doctor.

By the time he was eight, his wage had increased to two shillings and sixpence a week but his heart was set on becoming a railwayman.

He first asked British Railways for a job at 13 and was told he was a bit too young.

Instead, he found work on a farm, in a flour mill and as a page boy in the refreshment room at Retford station – but all this was a temporary sidetrack while he learned more about the world of locomotives.

He enrolled in a railway signals school at Retford when he was 14 and that’s when life got really difficult.

John got work as a telegraph lad in Doncaster but it was quite a journey from his home.

On many days, he would have to get up at 2am to cycle to work. It was 20 miles a day and he had to be there by 6am.

To solve the problem, he tried to find lodgings in Doncaster only for one landlord to tell him: “You’re not old enough to leave your mother yet.”

It was all proving to be a tough start in life but at least his efforts were being noticed.

By his late teens, he was on board with British Railways – even if it did mean doing anything from shunting to weeding the platform. BR gave him five jobs in the next two years as he continued to try his hand at everything.

Twelve years later, he was finally rising through the ranks and became a Class One District Relief Signalman.

That’s when things really got interesting and John was soon sprinting up the jobs ladder. Assistant Yard Master in Nottingham, Yardmaster at Thornton in Fife and eventually Yardmaster in Hartlepool.

Lincolnshire-born John had worked his way up to a senior role where he was responsible for all the freight transport which passed through Hartlepool and West Hartlepool.

He lived with his wife Dora in Owton Manor Lane and had four daughters. And when we interviewed him in March 1963, he said his motto from a very early age had been “work, for the night is coming.”

It wasn’t just British Railways which noticed this man of action.

Royalty was taking an interest as well and John became an MBE.

Goodness only knows how he did it, but he was also a regular churchgoer, a keen bellringer, enthusiastic gardener and liked a game of snooker at the Athenaeum Club.

l Does anyone remember him? Contact Chris Cordner on (0191) 5017473 or email chris.cordner@jpress.co.
uk