The train now arriving... has Pompey’s kit and a dead body

Peter sorting  problems at Petersfield when station manager at Haslemere.
Peter sorting problems at Petersfield when station manager at Haslemere.
On the evening of October 23,1970 two tankers collided six miles south of the Isle of Wight. 13 crewmen died.

Flames from the oil tanker Pacific Glory could be seen from Portsdown Hill

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Peter Horne will be well known to many railwaymen in the area as he began as a lowly junior porter and ended up as a senior manager.

His duties took him from busy Portcreek Junction signal box in Portsouth to freight manager at Eastleigh via the lonely Idsworth signal box north of Rowlands Castle, to Kent and back home again.

Peter at the cabin window of Portcreek Junction signal box.

Peter at the cabin window of Portcreek Junction signal box.

Peter, who lives at Copnor, Portsmouth, started his railway career in 1961 at Portsmouth and Southsea. He was promoted from junior railman on £3 8s 4d a week to railwayman which meant a pay rise to £8 5s.

Part of his duties involved working in the yard where the Matalan store is now. When the fish trains arrived from the east coast fishing ports it was his job to wash out the vans.

Peter recalls: ‘It was an awful, smelly job washing out the slime. It made me feel sick. However, there were some bonuses, like free fish from time to time.’

Another was onions. When the French ‘onion Johnnies’ arrived, they loaded their bicycles weighed down with strings of onions on to the trains to make their trips to all stations up the line.

The royal train passes over Portcreek bridge.

The royal train passes over Portcreek bridge.

When loading their bikes into the brake vans there was often an unexplained ‘bump’ which made many of the onions fall off on to the track under the train. When the train moved off the lads used to jump down to retrieve their prize.

One job Peter hated was when the train was used for coffins... with bodies inside. ‘We had to scrub out the rear brake van, a service train mind you nothing special. The coffin was delivered by the funeral directors and sealed in the van. I used to hate it and even entering a van after a coffin had been offloaded used to affect me,’ he says.

Peter also remembers loading the Pompey kit basket on to the train at Portsmouth and Southsea station. In those days the Pompey team travelled on normal service trains. The tips were generous.

So busy was Portsmouth back then that there were summer trains to the likes of Ilfracombe. The 12.15 ‘Saturday Only’ would leave from platform five with four cars before connecting at Fareham with a train from Brighton. The two trains would then set off for the west country dropping off a coach here and there.

The power of the steam engine is amplified in this shot of 30475 passing under the footbridge after leaving Portcreek Junction heading for Cosham.

The power of the steam engine is amplified in this shot of 30475 passing under the footbridge after leaving Portcreek Junction heading for Cosham.

Eventually Peter was made a signal lad and his box was the busy Portcreek junction protecting the triangle of tracks alongside Portcreek at Hilsea/Cosham. That box was responsible for trains from London Waterloo, Victoria and the Southampton area as well as cross-country services. On a busy summer Saturday there was a train every 90 seconds.

Peter tells me there were five trains an hour to London Waterloo alone: a non-stop, a fast with one stop, a semi-fast and two stopping services.

Then there were all the trains from the west and cross-country services full of holidaymakers bound for the Isle of Wight.

On top of all this there were countless freight and goods trains trundling their way to and from the huge Fratton yard.

Peter inside Idsworth signal box.

Peter inside Idsworth signal box.

All this meant the signalmen really had to be really on their toes.

When he passed his exams as a signalman he was sent to work at Idsworth Crossing.

If any of you know Idsworth’s lovely ‘church-in-the-field’ you will know where the former crossing was located. A beautiful part of the world, but it was a lonely place to work.

Although successful, Peter wanted to prove a point to his mother and applied for promotion.

He had to move to Margate, Kent, to get it and became station supervisor there in 1972.

In 1974 he moved to Sittingbourne in the same county after another promotion. There followed moves to Dover and Ashford.

In April 1979 he returned home after getting the position of station supervisor at Fareham.

This led to him becoming assistant station manager in Portsmouth and then manager halg way up the Waterloo line at Haslemere.

In April 1991 he became the transport manager at Eastleigh and then Freight Service Manager at Eastleigh.

Later that year he was offered a redundancy package and seeing how the railways were about to change with privatisation, he took it and joined BT where he remained until retirement.

In his retirement Peter worked for the Swanage Railway and had the privilege of signalling the first train away after that line reopened.