Frank Prevett (b.1904): Purpose and Audience

A group of railway workers

Frank Prevett’s memoirs are entitled ‘Memoirs of a Railwayman’, which draws in an audience of colleagues in the industry during and after the period in which Frank worked on the railway. His main purpose for writing his memoirs, as outlined in the preface, is that he hopes ‘many Railwaymen with whom [he] came in contact and others who have chosen the railway as their career, may find some interest and encouragement within’ (1).

Frank’s recollection of his life spent working on the railway is thorough. He recalls every promotion; major incident, be it a collision, death of a passenger, burglary; disputes with his staff; changes to the working week and his staff’s pay and added responsibilities that he had to take on outside of his station. Regina Gagnier writes that ‘workers often appear to lack what Jerome Buckley calls the significant selfhood that organizes traditional autobiography: they do not exhibit flair and “personality”’ (Gagnier, 335). This is true of Frank’s memoir. Aspects of Frank’s personality shines through but expressing himself is not the sole purpose for writing his memoir since he is writing for his colleagues.

Frank became stationmaster of Addiscombe station on the 23rd October 1946. Just under twelve months after taking on the role, the stress of being stationmaster of Addiscombe station is starting to show. His role as stationmaster has no set hours as he can be called upon at all hours of the day. We see this in an incident that occurred ‘on the morning of July 15th [1947] when [he] was called out at 6.15am, to find an empty eight car train derailed’ (112). It was Frank’s responsibility, as stationmaster, to ensure that all incidents were dealt with and to ensure there were few fatalities as possible. Describing the derailment that occurred outside Addiscombe station, Frank writes that ‘it was a blessing to find there was no injuries as the Motorman was propelling the shunt and his rear portion remained on the rails’ (112). Frank hopes to interest those who read his memoirs and he does this by going into details about several events that occurred at several stations where he was stationmaster.

Newspaper cutting of Addiscombe derailment on 15th July 1947

Two years later in 1949, the stresses of being stationmaster finally catch up with Frank. He had just returned to work following a period of annual leave and soon after he was ‘approached from Head Office, to serve temporarily on the Efficiency Committee, to investigate “staffing” hours of duty at various stations in the division’ (123). This added workload on top of the pressures of keeping up with issues that occurred at Addiscombe at all hours had a severe effect on his mental health. Frank writes that ‘the daily journeying to Stations and Depots in Kent and the South East, together with the time spent investigating the staff and duties and finally writing up the reports in the evening, soon began to effect my health’ (124). Frank gave up this work after several weeks and he admits that ‘although I managed to carry on with my normal duties back at Addiscombe without a period of sickness, I realised I was heading for a breakdown and for several weeks I felt a very sick man, not helped no doubt by the knowledge that I had failed in a job of work entrusted to me’ (124). Being a perfectionist did not help with his wellbeing as he admits that his mental health was not helped by the knowledge that he failed a task. However, by openly admitting his struggles shows the strength of Frank’s character and I feel that this is where the aspect of encouragement for others shines through. Frank is honest about the difficulties of being a stationmaster but suggests that with the right support and being aware of the effect it is having on oneself, you can get through this period of ill health and focus on your work.

Frank is aware that his wife, Florence, was a major factor in being able to return to full health and writes that ‘at this time I know I relied on her entirely and without her unselfish co-operation and help, I am sure I could not have recovered as I did’ (125). Florence sacrificed her own well being for Frank’s benefit as Frank wrote that ‘many years later she informed me that without faith and continuous prayer she could not have always carried on’ (125). Florence’s continued devotion to Frank can explain why at the top of his memoir Frank has handwritten that his memoir is dedicated ‘to [his] dear wife’ (1).

Bibliography

Gagnier, Regina. ‘Social Atoms: Working Class Autobiography, Subjectivity and Gender’, Victorian Studies, Vol. 30, Issue 3, 1987. 335-363.

‘Frank Prevett’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:638.

Prevett, Frank. ‘Memoirs of a Railwayman’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection

Images

A group of railway workers – The Genealogist

Addiscombe derailment – ‘Memoirs of a Railwayman’

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