Jack Vallance (b. 1914) – Politics, Protest and Class

Jack did not discuss or remark on any of his personal political views. However, as he frequently did throughout the memoir, Jack mentions political and protest encounters that he had whilst working on the Railway in an anecdotal style. Most of his experiences were related to the Royals and the effects of war in a political capacity on the homefront.

The British Royal Train Carriages. Find image at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Royal_Train

For instance, Jack recalls ‘In September 1945 I was at Dore Station when the Royal Train (King George VI & Queen Elizabeth) passed through Dore from Brampton to somewhere North’ (Vallance, 20). These encounters appear quite frequent for Jack who worked on several main lines. He also ‘saw the Royal Scot after it had come back from a tour of America’ (Vallance, 11).

However, not every passenger encounter can be considered as high in status. He also notes that:

‘British Paratroopers dressed as German counterparts would be in the vicinity seeing how far the could get without being captured…Early morning at Chesterfield a Paratrooper arrived at the station platform barrier drunk, when challenged for a ticket the Paratrooper whipped out a knife and severed the Porter’s tie…there was always something happening with the Paratroopers’ (Vallance, 16/17).

Along with this, he had a close encounter himself and ‘had to give a statement to the Police’ in relation to a suspected IRA bomb that had been placed under the Signalbox in which he was working. After recent warnings from local authorities, the Railway men were on high alert for threats. Luckily it was not Jack on shift but he recalls the story:

‘He saw the alarm clock, the wire and the black object and jumped to the conclusion that it was and IRA bomb primed to blow up the box’…The IRA were rampant…there were numerous threats to blow up Horns Bridge Chesterfield where 3 railways crossed one another’ (Vallance, 12)

This threat caused discontent for Jack and underpins his role as a working-class man who was not safe in his position. Not only was he acting as a supervisor and caretaker for the passengers onboard the trains, but also on high alert for threats to his own life. This shows that although he was not involved directly in the war, it still had a hardening effect on the homefront.

The Royal Scot – Advertisement 1933. Find image at: http://www.nrm.org.uk/ourcollection/photo?group=Euston&objid=1997-7409_LMS_6426

This quotation from Arthur J. McIvor’s A History of Work in Britain, 1880-1950 underpins the notion of working-class unity –  ‘Some social historians have argued that experience in the workplace had further ramifications, producing  a more unified working class, germinating class-consciousness and incubating an oppositional culture that expressed itself in socialist and syndicalist politics’ (McIvor, 2001, 231). Therefore, these experiences can be seen as a motive to create a unit of trusted peers within the Railway industry.



‘Jack of all Grades’ in Burnett, John, David Mayall and David Vincent Eds. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography. Brighton: Harvester, 1987. 2:780.

McIvor, Arthur J. A History of Work in Britain, 1880-1950. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001.



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