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Keeping London Moving During WWII

Object Type: Folder
In Folder: WWII Showcase

Date of Document

Keeping London Moving

LPTB set up Information Booths to help passenger with enquiries. A Mr Drinkwater, who manned one of the booths, was said to answer up to one thousand questions per day and reputedly murmured bus numbers in his sleep.

LPTB staff were recognised across the globe for the lengths they went to, to keep London's transport network operational in spite of adversity. This letter from the Vice-President and General Manager of the Chicago Motor Coach Company expresses "great admiration" for the LPTB's work and perseverance.

Whilst thousands of London Passenger Transport Board (LTPB) employees enlisted into war service, many were still carrying out their daily duties working for the organisation to keep London moving. Throughout the war it was deemed imperative that, as far as possible, London and Londoners' were able to go about their business. This meant that tube, bus and tram services were expected to continue unaffected.

Outstanding actions of staff continued throughout the war. Following an air raid at Hangar Lane Junction, Frank Goodsall isolated damage to signalling equipment and enabled the train service to be restored.

Awards were given to LPTB officers and staff who worked for the "swift restoration of services" during air raids.

The Home Office approved slight relaxations in the lighting restrictions on the buses and trams to assist passengers during the blackout. A cut in the cowls of the lamp fittings could be made to reflect more light into the vehicle. Drivers and conductors began to wear white. Lighting restrictions at LPTB's garages and depots seriously impeded the preparation overnight of vehicles for their next day's work. Eventually modified fittings were produced to improve the situation and these became an approved standard through the country. Due to shortages of petrol and fuel oil, 839 buses had to be withdrawn from service and mileage cut by 30%.

A bus garage was extensively damaged by enemy action, blasting the roof off and blowing out the windows of all the buses stationed overnight. Working all night, and unbeknown to the public, staff cleared the damage and selected the least-damaged buses for service. Within seven hours it was possible to run a normal service. In the Operating Department, an emergency fleet of 600 double-deck buses was used to supplement or replace interrupted services on the tube, tram, and trolleybus network and peak services were maintained.

Some staff sadly lost their lives whilst driving trams and trolleybuses, manning stations, conducting on the buses, and performing other roles of vital importance.

LTPB staff were honored for their conduct during wartime. An OBE was awarded to Mr S.R. Geary, Operating Manager, and BEMs to District Inspectors T.G. Death and W.F. Patey.

Night repair staff heroically reinstated trolleybus lines shattered by bombs. Damaged lines were fixed in time for the first trolleybus service at 5.30 am, and 500 yards of new lines were installed in a few days.

To fill as many of the vacancies as possible, the LPTB also used one of the approaches that had worked so well during the First World War and engaged women. By January 1943 over 13,000 women were employed by the LPTB - over double the number employed during the First World War.

A bus driver provides a vivid account of his route back to Poplar as "a thousand fire bombs turned Blackheath into Fairyland" and credits his "plucky" conductor for providing a reassuring voice to the passengers - but he never saw his conductor again, and didn't get her name, so she remains a mystery.

This article summarises a note of praise in the Daily Telegraph for the London bus service drivers' displays of "skill and nerve... in piloting their buses through the Egyptian darkness."

Lord Ashfield praised the actions of members of staff in all departments, without regard to their own comfort, in helping to ensure that services were adequately maintained. Deepest sympathy was offered to those that had suffered injury or loss.

The LPTB kept detailed records on how many of its staff were serving either with the Forces or full time with other national services, and how many were able to return to service. By 30th November 1940, the LPTB had 11,919 members of its staff enlisted in war service. 510 of these had been called up in November 1940 alone. 525 employees had returned to work due to military discharge. Severe labour shortages were countered by increased hours of work, and use of unskilled labour.

In the words of an article that appeared in The Times: "Transport kept London alive....The routine, the sense of duty, and the system held out. The schedules remained in force; vehicles were serviced; drivers and conductors reported normally for duty....buses took other workers home through dark streets undeterred by bomb or shell."

Many of LPTB's bus drivers had apparently moved into wartime roles as ambulance and defence work drivers. In order to make up for the resulting shortage of bus drivers, nearly 1,500 conductors stepped up for training.

When bomb damage caused a split to some tram services, a connecting steamboat service was temporarily instated. The Government also felt that river could be a good means of transport to factories and wharves. It ran for 2 years between Woolwich and Westminster.

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