I've already explained about a diary written by my mum (Doreen Buckle) in the first months of 1947 and how I use some of her entries in the diary as starting points for finding out more about that era.
Towards the end of this week's entries, in a spare section for additional notes, Doreen wrote: “Mr Eaton was killed today on the Railway”.
Doreen’s father worked on the railway so Mr Eaton’s death must have been particularly significant.
1947 saw the passing of the Transport Act which heralded the nationalisation of the railways the following year.
Nationalisation would see the four massive private railway companies which had interests in shipping, hotels, air transport and road haulage as well as railways combined into the unifying British Railways.
Doreen's father was an engine driver having been on the railways all his working life. For those who were employed on the railway, seniority was everything and a strict hierarchy was enforced to ensure that the drivers of locomotives were the crème de la crème of the industry. Everyone started off as an Engine Cleaner charged with cleaning all the parts of the huge steam locomotives. Promotion to a Passed Cleaner followed for those who stayed the course which allowed the individual to fire the locomotive in the absence of the regular fireman. This led to becoming a Booked Fireman followed by a Passed Fireman after which if both oral and practical examinations were passed successfully the man could become a relief driver and eventually a full driver. The only way to get a promotion was to have served time and to be in the right place at the right time when a vacancy occurred. It could take fifteen years to progress to the top and take charge of one of the mighty Leviathans of steam.
Getting a job on the railway wasn't easy either and it can only have helped Doreen's father (Horace) that his older brother Arthur had been working on the railways since Horace was a schoolboy.
The Railways Archive website has 32 accidents listed for 1947 but none of them seem as though they would have involved the Mr. Eaton mentioned in Doreen's diary. Further scrutiny of the accidents recorded for 1947 show there were a staggering 111 fatalities and over 800 injuries.
The worst accidents of 1947 were at Gidea Park (7 fatalities and 45 injured); Doncaster (18 fatalities and 118 injured); Burton Agnes (12 fatalities and 32 injured); South Croydon (32 fatalities and 183 injured); and Goswick (28 fatalities and 90 injured).
The causes of these terrible railway disasters were:
Goswick: excessive speed and human error resulting in derailment and the train splitting
South Croydon: signaller error resulting in derailment
Burton Agnes: collision with a road vehicle
Doncaster: signaller error resulting in rear collision and derailment
Gidea Park: fog, excessive speed and human error resulting in rear collision and derailment.
Reading these appalling statistics made me re-appraise what might have happened to Mr Eaton. I'd assumed he'd been killed while working for the Railway: now I'm not so sure.
(Interestingly, sixty years later, in 2007, 54 accidents were reported on the railway in which there were 6 fatalities (5 were caused by collision with a road vehicle) and in the majority of cases there were no injuries at all.)
I'm a former primary school head teacher now enjoying family history, e-publishing and gardening. I'm the author of "Cabbage and Semolina: Memories of a 1950s Childhood" and was delighted when the book became an Amazon 2015 bestseller in the Social History category. I'm the founder of Spurwing Ebooks which is at http://www.spurwing-ebooks.com for book details and information about new releases and special offers. Details of my books are at https://www.amazon.co.uk/C.-Murray/e/B009R7CRVC and the other books I've published are at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Michael-Murray/e/B007AQZMZK