By the end of 1919 a further 64 members of MSLR staff had joined the NUR, representing all grades including Gate Lads, Porters, Station Masters, Guards, Cleaners, Firemen and Drivers. Many of these were recent school leavers, some as young as thirteen, who took the place of men serving in the forces until they themselves were called up in turn. By the end of the war, some 49 Middy employees were members of the NUR, representing a clear majority of the sixty or so staff.
The desire of Trade Unions to bring about radical changes in society was not generally matched by their attitudes towards women. The NUR (actually one of the most advanced in this respect) grudgingly allowed women to join from June 1915, though this was seen as a temporary emergency measure: entries for women workers in the membership registers were written in red ink which stood out from the normal black ink used for men. Interestingly we have the membership record for one of the few women employed by the MSLR. As Peter Paye records in his book, Miss Victoria Evalyn (“Eva”) Oakes was employed as a porter at Laxfield during the First World War, but she was a member of the NUR from January 1919 until June 1921, showing that her railway service continued for some considerable time after the Armistice.
In August 1921, control of the railways was finally handed back to their private owners, who struggled to deal with the increased wages and reduced working hours conceded to their staff by the government, while passenger fares and goods rates had been held down. The MSLR of course struggled more than most, with its 1921 expenditure of over £19,000 compared to receipts of only around £14,000. At a mass meeting of staff at Haughley station in March 1921, the railway’s Receiver & Manager, Mr Alexander Preston Parker, put forward proposals for drastic reductions in wages ranging from 14% (for Firemen) to 29% (for Undermen, ie track workers). We don’t know what was said at this meeting, but we can guess that the alternative was closure of the line as there were very few other areas where savings could be made. In any case, the staff agreed to the pay cuts, and this was formally recorded in a memorandum which lists the staff representatives as NUR officials J. Holmes, J.C. Allen & W. Race, and from the MSLR senior Driver Alec Boag and Guard Peachey Betts. Boag had been an NUR member since December 1917, and Betts since January 1916. After the LNER had absorbed the MSLR in 1924, the larger company agreed to restore the standard national wage rates, although the continuing decline in traffic resulted in several staff being made redundant or having to transfer away from the branch. For more details of this episode, see my article in Making Tracks Issue 100, dated Winter 2016.
Unfortunately the NUR record books from 1929 onwards are not available, but we do know that several of the MSLR staff who joined the union in the period up to 1919 retained their membership until retirement or death in service, including Driver Alec Boag, Porters Albert Borrett, Tom Hambling & Walter Thorndyke, and Platelayer Allen Pleasance. On the other hand, some long-term Middy staff let their union membership lapse quite quickly, for example Guards Peachey Betts & Willis Keable, Driver Cliff Bloom, and Clerk (later Station Master) Edgar Gladwell. A complete list of all the MSLR staff known to be NUR members, together with their joining and leaving dates, is given below.
Note: The leaving dates in the above table should be treated with some caution, it appears that sometimes membership was not formally closed until a considerable time after the person concerned had actually left the union.