Tom talks about his working life as a lorry driver, starting in London and then working for several different companies in Norwich, including the Milk Marketing Board and Boulton and Pauls.
I was born in 1927 in Norwich, Elizabeth Fry Road. We then moved to Catton and from there we moved to London when I was seven. I went to Colman Road infant school, next to the Catholic school, near where the swimming pool used to be, St Augustines. My father was a lorry driver and my mother didn’t work as we had a big family, thirteen brothers and sisters all together. I had two brothers who were lorry drivers.
I started my very first job on my fourteenth birthday. I was a bike boy in a grocery shop and I got a pound a week. I was there for two and a half years. My older sister in the army came home on leave and I asked the manager for a little bit of margarine. He wouldn’t give me any. So we had a little bit of an argument and he gave me a week’s notice.
And the guv’nor come down from the head office, which was in Minories, Tower Bridge. He say, ‘You’ve been a naughty boy. Come and work up the main office’. So I went up the main office. I was 16 at that point and I was there ‘til I was sixteen and a half. He said to me, he says, ‘I want you to take the van out this afternoon’. I hadn’t driven a vehicle in my life!
He told me this in the morning, I didn’t have a licence. So I got on my pushbike, went to Westminster Town Hall and I got a licence two and six – half a crown – which is 25 pence.
I come back to the shop, loaded the van and I went! I just got in that and I drove it. The first delivery was at the Bow Bells public house at Bow in London. The second was in Dagenham. I went from there to Dagenham to Albrow (they used to make bit and brace) and from there I went home. Run out of petrol. So there was controversy over that, ‘cos that was all coupons then and he never gave me coupons.
After a couple of weeks he says, ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to go,’ he says, ’I can’t keep you no longer’. I said. ‘All right’ I said to him, ‘You’ve got to give me a day off to look for a job’. He gave me a day off, I went to the labour exchange in Battersea. The lady said, ‘What do you do?’ I say, ‘I’m a lorry driver’. I’d never driven a lorry in my life! I say, ‘I’m a lorry driver’. So I went to the removals vans and that’s where I started driving big lorries. And from there I went on to all types of vehicles.
Being called up, returning to Norfolk and long distance lorry driving
I was called up on my 18th birthday, when I was working in Battersea. I was doing hourly work for different people. Weekends that was removals. I went in the Army from there and in the Army I come to Norwich, the Royal Norfolks.
I was in the Army for two and a half years and went to the Middle East for a year and a half. While I was in the army in Suez, someone came up with the idea to get some motorbikes and make a speedway track. So we did. You only worked in the morning, afternoon that was too hot and you couldn’t do anything. So we used to work ourselves. Go to the ordnance depot and scrounge motorbikes, break ‘em down and use ‘em as speedway bikes. The old BSAs and Ariels I was with my brother, he was a lorry driver and he had a big beam on the back of the lorry and he’d go round, make a track which was lovely,
I started going mad on these motorbikes. Being a driver I would drive anything, anyone around, top men and things like that, that was interesting. I was always at headquarters and we had one motorbike there, I was the only one allowed to drive it. We had one tank at headquarters and I was the only one allowed to drive it! So everyone was, ‘Why should he drive it, why should he drive it?’ But I had a licence to drive everything.
I never had a driving lesson. The only test I had was when I was in the army, I finished with a licence to drive any wheeled and tracked vehicles, except motorbikes. Tanks and everything! I thought that if I had my licence for a motorbike and I get a motor bike I might go mad and so I didn’t bother.
My father had a motorbike and he enjoyed it too much as well! My brother had one and within a month had crashed it into a ditch. That’s why I didn’t do it!
Driving tanks was interesting, with sticks and you used your feet as well. You’d have just a six-inch slit or eight -inch slit to look through, that’s all you had. That was good. But if you had a good co-pilot he’d be looking out the top and he’d tap your shoulders with his feet to go left or right.
I came back to Norwich and got demobbed, back to Norwich and that’s where I met my wife. We went back to London for two years and I went to the same firm. The wife got homesick so we came back and this is where I finished, in Norwich.
I carried on being a lorry driver, I did start working in Norwich for Pordage and Fitts in Ber Street. They were furniture removers and undertakers. It was furniture removal in the morning and smart coat in the afternoon.
I went to London and back again, and I went to Boulton and Paul’s the steel works in Riverside. That was a big place. And from there I went all over the country. I was carrying steel, fabricated steel work.
I was with them for five years. I got fed up with the long distance work. I’d leave Monday, come home Wednesday, go away Thursday, come home Saturday. I done that for five years.
By this time I had a family and I hardly saw the children grow up. I had two children then. I thought I’d leave long distance work. I went to Wall’s Ice cream, which was just round the corner down Bessemer Road. That was just for the summer season. I did the shop deliveries, all around the coast, just for the season. They then stood me off and I went to the Milk Marketing Board.
Milk Marketing Board
This would have been in the ‘60s when I started and I was there for six years. Then I got fed up with it. I was a lorry driver, unloading milk in different places, you know, dairies. It was hard work because it was all hand work. You had a lorry load of milk in crates and you were unloading all the time. I was fit. I was like a he-man type! So I was going round the farms collecting the milk churns. That was heavy work.
The job finished, the Milk Marketing Board went on tanker work. They delivered tanks to the farms, so I finished with that. I went with Mr Peruzzi the scrap metal merchants, lorry driving. I was delivering scrap metal mainly to steel works, Sheffield, Rotherham.
I got a call from the manager from the Milk Marketing Board, he came to see me and said that he desperately wanted me back, so I went back. I was on the big tankers, long haul I went to Derby, Wales, and London. I also went to butter factories and Wensleydale cheese factories and places like that. That was interesting, to go and have a look round. When you got there you’d got an hour or two to spare, you’d have a walk round there.
From there they asked me to do yardman. Loading and unloading lorries, so I took that and done that for 15 years, until I retired at 64. They shut the dairy twenty years ago.
Favourite, interesting driving jobs and accidents
The work with police escorts was my favourite, most interesting work. I used to do a lot of that, driving, wide loads and long loads. You’d get two or three police in front and at the back of you. The best ones were when we went to Ascot racecourse. We done….case steelwork, big heavy work. We done the Royal Box.
Every county I drove to you’d pick up another policeman up, ‘cos they didn’t go no further. And when we got to South Mimms in London you’d pick up the Metropolitan Police. They were good, all motorcyclists, six of them.
We never stopped from South Mimms, which is Hertfordshire to Ascot racecourse, never stopped a minute! You’d go round everything. You’d go round the wrong ways of roundabouts, you took all the road off, and that was lovely! I used to like it.
The racecourse job was a big one. Heavy work, the steel work was pulled on the site and I remember the crane driver said to me, ‘Tom, I’ve got something for you’. I went over and had a look and there were four fingers laying on the girder!
On the bottom of the stanchion there was a big bate plate. An inch thick, a really big one. And he held his hand there when he undone the bolt and he just chopped his fingers off! They couldn’t sew ‘em on.
I witnessed one worse than that. I was at the other side of Stevenage near Jack’s Caff –in the fog. It was really foggy and there were lights on the steelwork it was a very long load. Sixty foot long this steelwork, so you got to be careful. You got to have your eyes about you. So, a lot of traffic coming through, three lanes of traffic and he come along the outside of me. A motorbike come up the other way and he hit him. His head went on the wheel – it decapitated him. And where I stopped his head laid there.
I was shaking, really shaking. Til someone come and covered it. I couldn’t get out of the cab. I was shaking that much to see that man’s head lay there. I carried on, I had a cup of tea and a sandwich and away I went. But that was the worst one.
I had one accident. One accident on my way to London one morning. Which wasn’t my fault at all. I was going through a village, I can’t think of the village name, near Epping, A small car pulled out from the curb and I hit it. It was a little MG with an engine on the front of the radiator.
When I’d got onto the side he said, ‘I’m sorry I was half asleep’. My front wheel went right in the bonnet, but he was okay. When the police came he said to the policeman, ‘I’m sorry’ he says, ‘That’s the third accident that I’ve had’ he said, ‘In a month’.
I used to like going to the steelworks. I could go into the works and I liked to watch them go on, tin plate, steel girders, tubes, water pipes, things like that.
My first wage was around a week and my very last job was about £400 a week. Since retiring I just go fishing, river fishing, in fact if you hadn’t been here today, I’d have gone! I used to go river fishing when I was younger, but I was never very good at it. I go to any rivers round this way, at Thorpe, Bramerton, the Wensum, Riverside.
Tom (b. 1927) talking to WISEArchive on 20th June 2011 in Norwich.
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