Footplatemen were issued with a uniform, bib and brace overalls, a smock jacket and greased topped cap. The attrition rate of the caps was high, taken away at high speed as you hung your head out of the cab to spot a distant signal. However, uniforms they might have been but, they were frequently worn with some small degree of ‘nonconformity’. One or two of the more senior drivers always wore their smock jacket with the top button fastened, some of us young firemen narrowed the legs of our overalls, in keeping with the fashions of the day.
The real non-uniform aspect though was hats; grease tops were worn pinned down at the sides, sat up like a pie, or all pulled down either on one side or the other or to the back, and I remember spending money, to buy an old ‘Southern Engineman’ cap badge, to replace my BR hotdog. Like so many others it ended up in a field or on embankment, somewhere along the line. Not everyone wore a grease top and my regular 3 link mate, Eric ‘sooty’ Saunders, always wore a cloth cap, often with motor bike goggles – he rode a motor bike and side car to work. Another fashion was for ‘cheese cutters’ a cloth cap made from corduroy, black with stripes of yellow, blue, or red. For quite a while the style amongst the firemen was for a brightly coloured, knotted hanky, pulled over your hair – or used to wipe the sweat, as needs be.
I dare say that different regions and even sheds had their own styles and traditions – the NYMR footplateman in the photo has chosen a beret.
If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751