Extract from the autobiography of John Shanks, porter/clerk at Broomieknowe station 1943 - 1945
Early December 1943 saw me finish my schooldays (14 years of age being the then standard leaving age), and within a week my mother had found me a job with the London North Eastern Railway Company in the guise of a Porter-Clerk at Broomieknowe station.
Despite being a small rural town, Bonnyrigg had two railway stations about a mile apart, both administered by one Alec Watson, the stationmaster at the main line station at Bonnyrigg. This individual was a very rotund Aberdonian and was head of a railway family - all but one of his five adult children worked for the L.N.E.R.
Broomieknowe was a small station - (serving passengers only) on a branch line which ran from Edinburgh to Polton - (now closed thanks to the infamous and myopic Dr. Beeching). Issuing and collecting tickets and general portering were my responsibilities and, after a short period of instruction, I formally started the job. I had to wait three months to get my uniform, black with shiny brass buttons, and very proud of it I was. I worked week about two shifts, (seems I always worked shifts in my life), - 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. - there was only two staff members, myself and a lad called Adam Gracie. We saw our boss, the stationmaster, once a week when he called casually and spontaneously to check up on things.
We had fourteen passenger trains a day, to and from Edinburgh and, to this day, I can remember the timing for each one. This is not so surprising when you consider that the lives of railway staff are governed by the arrival and departure of trains. The job, of course, meant meeting a great number of people and there were many 'characters'.
One in particular was 'Old Blakey', the permanent-way man (the linesman, as they call him in America). His job was to walk the rail track checking for signs of general wear and tear and see that those little blocks of wood, (called keys and not used today), were holding the iron rail securely in place. To do this job he carried a bag of these wooden blocks and a 9 lb. sledge hammer on his shoulder and as a natural consequence he walked with a decided leaning to one side. (Come to think of it now he was also seriously bow-legged)!
He was an enthusiastic bowler at the local Lawn Bowling Club and this physical impairment did not seem to affect his considerable ability (or his enthusiasm) as a bowler. He always had a cheerful disposition and, as he must have covered 20 miles a day in all kinds of weather, it resulted in him having a most ruddy complexion, with streaky red blood veins on view all over his face. He walked at a measured pace governed by the spacing of the wooden rail sleepers and we used to see him twice a day as he walked the outside line in one direction in the morning and then returned to do the other side during the afternoon. Like my grandfather old Tam Winton, he was character with a pipe stuck almost permanently in his face.
At this, the beginning of my working life, my wages amounted to a magnificent 27 shillings a week - plus tips, and all of it I gave to mother who returned half-a-crown for pocket money. It was sufficient for my needs. It was a very happy time in my life but there certainly was no future.
At such a young age I could not have recognised this fact and I remember one day when old Watson drew me to one side for a 'fatherly chat'. He confessed to a personal life-long desire to be an engineer in the railway but regrettably had accepted advice to take up an administrative role.
He convinced me that it was time to be thinking of something better and move on - the happy times at Broomieknowe were over - I had been there two years.
The very last passenger train called at Broomieknowe on October 8th 1951. The station had been erected in a low culvert and when I visited the site in June 1990 the building had long been demolished and the culvert filled in to make a roadway. Incidentally in a recent conversation with my brother Tam (who has given up his car) he tells me that during peak times it often takes 1 hour for his daughter to get to work in Edinburgh - a distance of some 8 miles. When I worked at Broomieknowe the fare was 1/8d (20p) - from a rural hick town you could be in the middle of Edinburgh (Waverley station in Princes Street) 18 minutes later! How well we have progressed over the years!
In 1945 I applied to L.N.E.R. Area Head Offices for a vacancy in Waverley station in Edinburgh. The eventual interview was successful and I started there as Freight Clerk with a salary increase of seven shillings a week. Travelling to and from work was only a `problem` in the demand on time spent commuting (see above). Being a railway employee I had free travel by train.
My job as Freight Clerk was to obtain, (by telephone), and record the spare availability of, or demand for, freight wagons from about forty or so stations in the area. It was not very demanding or rewarding work and, within a year, I had the itch to get out and see the world. My office window had a total outlook on the rear-end of the North British hotel in Princes Street and I think it was when contemplating that this less than panoramic view could last a life-time that my mind was made up.
John Shanks was born in 1929 in Bonnyrigg. He left the railways and joined the merchant navy and Royal Navy. His career moved to the Wireless Service and a long career in the civil service, retiring in 1989.