Railways to Bungay and Beccles

Recollections of Richard Kerridge

Yarmouth Southtown and Bungay 1941
I recall travelling from Bungay to Gt. Yarmouth on Friday nights during 1941 when I was attending Bungay Grammar School as a weekly boarder. The train left Bungay at 6pm. The Waveney Valley Line was single track from Tivetshall to Beccles but there was a passing loop at Bungay as well as some sidings. The line went through Ditchingham, Ellingham and Geldeston before finally reaching Beccles. The journey took about 15 minutes. Beccles had four platforms. One was for the Waveney Valley line, another was the down from London, plus an up for London and finally one for Oulton Broad and Lowestoft. The latter two making an island. Beccles was quite an important junction and the staff there served it with typical railway pride of the day. At Beccles the train from London was divided; the front portion going to Yarmouth and the rear to Lowestoft. "Up the front for Yarmouth, rear for Lowestoft", was a familiar call from a porter as the London train arrived. When the train had stopped, the engine was reversed to loosen the couplings to allow the staff to unhook the carriages and undo the brake and vacuum hoses. The engine then advanced a few feet to leave space for the hoses to be capped and a rear light to be put on the end of the Yarmouth section. The guard's job was then to make quite sure the internal doors between the carriages were securely locked. It always appeared to me to be a very dangerous job particularly when it was being done in the reverse way and two sections were being joined together. The train left Beccles about 6.30pm arriving in Yarmouth Southtown around 6.50pm. after a non-stop journey. There were occasions when I remember being held up at St Olaves because there was an air raid in progress at Yarmouth. On Monday mornings I returned to Bungay leaving Southtown at 8am on a non-stop train to Beccles arriving there at 8.19am. The carriages from Lowestoft were already standing at their platform, less a locomotive, ready to be picked up by the engine of the Yarmouth train and then backed onto the Yarmouth carriages to make one train to proceed to Ipswich and London. Something we 10 year old schoolboys enjoyed watching and no doubt it was quite a skillful operation. There was a wait at Beccles before I could catch the Waveney Valley train for Bungay which meant that I was late for school which began at 9am. Since this happened only on a Monday, the Head didn't appear to mind too much. During the war at Bungay I remember seeing train loads of evacuees arriving from Gravesend in London. The train that brought them was a full blown London express with a proper engine and corridor coaches; not often seen on the Waveney Valley Line whose engines and stock were of very antiquated origin. As schoolboys during the war, we often walked along sections of the track near Ditchingham with buckets picking up pieces of coal the engine-drivers had used to throw at rabbits. It was surprising how much coal we could collect over quite a short stretch of line and the quality was good.

Yarmouth Southtown to Beccles 1945 to 1948
After the war I returned to live at home but continued with my schooling at Bungay so I travelled to and fro on a daily basis. I left Yarmouth still on the 8am train which arrived in Beccles at 8.19am. There was also a train which left Yarmouth at 8.10am to call at the intermediate stations of Belton, St.Olaves, Haddiscoe (High Level) and Aldeby. It arrived in Beccles at 8.45am. From Beccles I travelled to Bungay by bus in order to arrive at school earlier than if I had caught the train from Beccles. At the end of the day I caught a bus back to Beccles and the 4.39 train from there to Yarmouth. This was a slow train calling at all the stations and taking 35 minutes to do the journey. In the winter of 1947 I remember that in places there was only a single track in use and the snowdrifts on Aldeby station were reaching the top of the lamp posts. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to ride on the footplate on a slow train from Beccles to Yarmouth - very exciting for a schoolboy or indeed anybody. Can't imagine anyone allowing it today - who would dare to take the risk? We often used to talk to the drivers and I remember one once giving us a lesson, so to speak, on how heat travels - namely by conduction, convection and radiation. I also knew one of the drivers of the main line expresses, a Mr H.Muskett who was at one-time Mayor of Yarmouth.
It was a great shock when the Yarmouth to Beccles line was closed and Southtown Station with it. It seemed as if Yarmouth had had one of its main arteries severed as indeed it had - a rail link to the metropolis which I am sure would have greatly benefited the town today. The fastest train which ran from Yarmouth Southtown to London was the 7.25am arriving in London about l0.30am. The 8am didn't arrive until around 11.30am.