1966 - Project Work, Fishguard Harbour

I began to realize the importance of the advice not to get married as our move to Wales was not the happiest. By some management slight of hand I finished up in Cardiff, my work was in Fishguard, Pat had to go and live with her parents in Nottinghamshire, while all of our worldly possessions were crammed into a container and stood on a flatwagon in Newport Goods Station. Small wonder that a couple of month's later I made a visit to the Canadian High Commission. My new job carried the title "Project Officer Fishguard Harbour“. I shared an office with a man who had been the Area Manager at Hereford. He had a task of producing a scheme to single line the North and west route through Hereford. He had said from the start that it was an impossible task. There is nothing so soul destroying as being given a job one doesn't believe in. My job was to develop a scheme to revamp the Fishguard — Waterford/Rosslare route across the southern Irish Channel. The problem was that there was no money available for development and that the Divisional Manager was fighting both Regional Headquarters and the British Railways Board which favoured the Holyhead route. I was a headquarters employee who was working for the Divisional Manager and was frequently caught in the middle.

The experience did give me the chance to learn what went on at Fishguard and I even managed to ride a coastal vessel across the Irish Sea in a force eight gale. while this was happening, Pat nearly gave me up for lost. The Elan Fisher had lost its deck cargo in the same gale. I was on the Eden Fisher! During much of the trip, the vessel was pitching so badly that the propeller was racing out of the water. At least, I proved that I was a good sailor - I didn‘t even feel sick, until I was offered greasy bacon for breakfast. Approaching the Irish coast, I was on the bridge trying to get some pictures of the waves breaking over the bows of the vessel. The captain told me to wait and he would put her into the wind. We turned through a right angle and made directly towards the shore. My pictures taken, he resumed his course. I have often wondered what the coastguard people, who could plainly see us, thought of that move!

Fishguard is an amazing place. The land for the station and jetty was excavated out of solid rock by the Great western Railway — the rock cliff having been owned by a director, I believe. The harbour protection had never been properly completed and in a south-westerly gale the waves would rebound off the northern headland right into the harbour giving any vessels at anchor a figure of eight up and down movement. I watched a cattle boat dock at 3:00 a.m. during such a gale. It approached the dock but before they could get a line ashore, the current had swept it past and towards the shallows. The boat was forced to turn hard to port and it made three anticlockwise circuits of the harbour before making fast. Watching the cattle coming ashore was an equally harrowing experience. It was novel to see a bunch of railway porters dressed in manure covered uniforms chewing on straws and wielding pitchforks. The bloodcurdling sounds that came from the hold as they chased the cattle round and around were completely horrifying.

I said to the Inspector in charge, “I would like to go inside to see how they get the cattle out”

“No you wouldn’t sir.  I am not sure what goes on inside there, I keep away from the cattle gang and I don’t want to know.”

If he didn't see it he didn't need to bother about it and the gang worked best on its own. I realized fully the import of his words later on that afternoon watching the beasts being paraded in front of the vet who was to decide whether or not they were fit to travel.

The passenger service out of Fishguard was very sparse and I used to ride up to Port Talbot on the vacuum freight that normally left around 14:30 to take the bacon up to London. One day in particular, I had a man from headquarters with me. Although he had worked for 20 years on the railway he had never ridden a locomotive. I knew the crew well and before long we were in the cab ready to bring home the bacon. Our Hymek was overcrowded. We had the regular driver and fireman, a driver learning the Hymeks and his instructor, a Swansea man learning the road as well as the two of us. It was agreed that the Swansea man could learn the road from the back cab, but everybody else jammed into the front. It was a beautiful day and we had a good run all the way. The start was of course slow because of the punishing grade right after taking the single line token at Fishguard and Goodwick. Once through Jordanston we picked up speed to get a run at the next climb through Spital Tunnel to Clarbeston Road. Clarby gave us a clear road and several voices chimed out this fact in unison. Speed picked up on the downhill stretch that followed and this gave us a chance to get a good run at the I in 92 climb to Clynderwen. Whitland had all boards off and it was plain sailing through to Carmarthen. This was our only booked stop to pick up. As we were coming through St. Clears out came the tea cans and we had our drink while standing still.

Leaving Carmarthen everybody was in high spirits and while I was doing some birdwatching as we ran past the mudflats at Kidwelly we were treated to some good singing in welsh. Llanelli gave us a clear road and we had a good run at the climb to Cockett and taking the Swansea Avoiding Line joined the mainline at Court Sart Junction. The Bacon made an unscheduled slowing through the platform at Port Talbot while we jumped off and it made its way merrily into Margam Yard. The man from Headquarters had been silent all the way. As we stood on the platform watching the Bacon snake into Margam he turned to me and just laughed his head off in a manner that said "So after 20 years, I finally know what its all about".

As I found myself in the fireman‘s seat, I had to occasionally check my side of the train. Looking out of the window was quite a struggle because of the number of bodies in the cab. We had six wagons of cattle on the front and many of them had their heads out through the bars. Even the cattie seemed to be enjoying the run in the pleasant sunshine although their future, like mine, was somewhat uncertain.

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