GWR Ganger: In Charge of the Permanent Way by Alec Brew is a book that sheds light on one of the lesser-known aspects of the Black Country's railway heritage.
It is the story of Alec's grandfather, James Daniel Brew, known as Dan, who was in charge of maintaining the track on the line from Oxley through Tettenhall to Baggeridge Junction.
The book is based upon tape recordings Dan made of his memories, shortly before he died in 1984.
Dan was born in 1891 and grew up in Codsall, just outside Wolverhampton. He first went to work for the Great Western Railway in 1910 at Oxley Sidings, where he soon came to know how dangerous the work was, having to clear up the remains of a worker and a young lad crushed between an engine and the buffers.
In April 1913 Dan sailed for Canada and worked on a farm near Saskatoon for a year, returning to England the day before war was declared in 1914. In the war Dan served with a trench mortar unit in the Royal Artillery, seeing action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
During the war Dan courted Jane Macham and they married in October 1918. He was demobbed in April 1919 and he went back to work at Oxley sidings. He then went to work on the line at Codsall and in 1928 he was made ganger in charge of the permanent way on the Tettenhall line. He held that post until he retired in 1956, working for the GWR and then British Rail.
The book recounts Dan's experiences working on the railway, from daily routine to unusual incidents and accidents. Not all of his job was pleasant, as this instance when he had to clear up two dead horses from the line illustrates:
"As a train left Baggeridge Junction, it was on a falling gradient, and all they had done was ease off the brakes. It was not long before they were going like hell through Himley station... the silent approach had startled the horses; they began to gallop in the four foot [the space between the rails]. The first one had gone a mile and half when the train hit him up the backside, and made a real mess of him. The other one went on until he came to the next girder bridge, and he hadn't the energy to get over that. The train hit him and smashed him against the bridge.
"Dan came back from his holiday to find this appalling mess, and in really hot weather too – it was sickening. Dan had orders to clear it up, and the man who dealt with dead horses and cattle came to help with his skip. He was picking up all sorts of bits and pieces... the driver and fireman of the train probably did not find out until they got to Crewe, where they would have got a nasty shock when they saw what they had to clear off the front of the engine."
During his time on the railways Dan saw many changes, both at work and at home, and this book will interest railway enthusiasts with its details on working life away from the trains and stations, and those interested in the history of Tettenhall, Codsall and the surrounding areas.
Author Alec Brew said, "As curator of the Tettenhall Transport Heritage Centre, being created in the former goods depot at Tettenhall Station, I am helping to preserve the story of the line in a more practical way. I shall be launching the book on Saturday, July 19, and signing copies from 10am."
GWR Ganger: In Charge of the Permanent Way by Alec Brew is published by Fonthill Media, priced £14.99.