Light hearted fictional tales of the adventures and misadventures of junior station staff during The Great War. “Snooker” Tam – his nickname refers to the end of his nose which resembles the tip of a snooker cue – is a boy barely in his teens. His schooldays are terminated early and he is drafted to do a man’s job on the railway following a “comb out” of men in hitherto reserved occupations to replace the appalling losses of the Western Front.
The Cathcart District Railway was built to serve the rising demand for suburban residential travel on the south side of Glasgow, Scotland. It was planned as a loop running to and from Glasgow Central station, but at first only the eastern arm, to Cathcart via Queens Park, was complete, opening in 1886. The western arm opened in 1894 and trains then operated round the loop. A frequent passenger train service was operated but only on six days a week, Sabatarian pressure ensured no Sunday trains ran until the 1960s. There was also a limited goods operation serving for example the Weir Pump Works at Cathcart – a source of resentment to Tam and his friends as the boys and young men employed there, working on armaments, were in fully reserved occupations and enjoying War-Bonus inflated wages. There is further rivalry between boys like Tam from the tenements in the “Shaws” and the boys from the new suburban villas.
The passenger trains were operated by the Caledonian Railway but the Cathcart retained its financial independence until absorbed into the London Midland & Scottish Railway in 1923. The book does not mention the Caledonian Railway but implies that the “Cathcart” whose directors and officials come in for a certain amount of satirical comment, if depicted as an autonomous railway might therefore escape an action for libel!
Tam is portrayed as an engaging scamp with an optimistic outlook on life despite the very real possibility that if the war drags on he will himself be “combed out” and sent to the army. In the meantime he concentrates on getting to grips with the strange adult world of “work” and his two main interests – “Fitba’” and kissing girls. There is no real impropriety here – his aspirations are really limited to snatched kisses with servant girls when delivering packages at the Tradesman’s Entrance of the houses of the upwardly mobile commuters who have colonized the new Suburbs. These last people are the subject of some shrewd observations. While they brandish gold and silver cigarette cases, waiting for their trains, when they have departed the platform is littered with the stubs of “Wild Woodbines” the cheapest “fag” on the market.
As befits a story set in the Kaiser’s War there is a hunt for a suspected German spy which has a surprise ending. The book does have some serious moments. I defy anybody to read page 71-2 without at least a lump in the throat or a tear in the eye. The scene is Glasgow Central Station and describes an officer in a Highland Regiment returning again from leave to the front, yet again saying goodbye to his wife or fiancé . Somehow the reader knows, and the couple also know, that this is the last time they will see each other… “One Crucifixion should suffice for all eternity.” This book is a minor classic full of observations about life on the home front during the Great War… There is also a happy ending. Tam is told that he has the makings of a railwayman, is promoted and declares his life’s ambition is to become a Station Master like the old gentleman who has been his boss, mentor and friend.
PREVIEW BELOW – MAY TAKE A WHILE TO LOAD.