Secret Mission on the M&GN

Recollections of Sydney Rackham

Transcribed from a recorded interview (March 2001)

I was told by our illustrious depot superintendent, who once again was an eccentric, a tyrant in most people's opinion. He said to me that I was to come in at this very early hour and the road inspector, who's name was Sid Crane... he was an ex-member of the London Metropolitan Police, well he was a very strict disciplinarian in the early days. He was once equipped with a motorbike so he used to go round popping up all over the place to jump on the bus to try and catch the bus early or the conductor misbehaving in some way or other. Anyway, the motorbike was long gone by the time this incident took place that I'm about to relate. I was told to come in by the illustrious Mr. Thomas at an ungodly hour when no buses would be on the road and I queried this with him when he told me what time I'd got to be there and he said 'That's not your concern, you'll be on overtime so you won't lose anything by it but you're to meet Inspector Crane and he's on...' It's laughable to say it even now, he said 'He's on a secret mission'. So I said 'Oh, I see', well I didn't see but anyway I went down to the bus station and Inspector Crane was on the yard and there was one of the small old Ford saloon cars, what we used to call "sit up and beg" type.

Anyway, he said 'You drive, now first of all I'd better tell you what the purpose of this is'. He said 'I want you to go first of all to Hemsby railway station and we'll see the train come in. Then I want you to go as hard as you can, short of overturning the car, I want you to go as fast as you possibly can to Martham station. That's the next point that I'm checking'. So I said 'Checking?' so he said 'Yes, I'm going to take a note of the number of passengers who get off the train'. So I said 'Oh, I see'. So anyway, well, it was like something from an old Ealing comedy. There he was, it was dark, he had a torch, he had his pad and pencil and he was crouched beside the fence, perimeter fence of the station jotting down how many people got off the train there. Then away we went to Martham and because, well... that's a fairly straightforward run, I managed to just get to Martham station just as the train was coming in and off he got again and crouched down beside the fence with his torch and notepad taking down number of passengers.

Well, the next port of call was Potter Heigham so I said to him 'Well, I don't think I'm going to get to Potter Heigham before the train because...' I said 'It's got no other stops, shan't be able to keep up the speed on that next bit of road so I doubt...'. Anyway, he said 'Well, never mind, we'll go there and I'll just say to one of the porters "What's the trade like today?" and see if I can get a rough idea how many people are on the train, good or bad'. Anyway this cloak and dagger business, the next thing I had to do was to drive him to... no we skipped Catfield and that... we drove to North Walsham, that's right. And he repeated the thing again with people going in the reverse direction. So what use or good that was I don't know but anyway that satisfied him. That was another queer little aspect of it. Course, as I said earlier, they thought they were going to do great things with the new service 401 but that was not to be. Reality is never like the dream, the bus service 401 was fairly busy when it started but it began to peter out as the would be passengers found other ways of getting to work without using that particular bus service.