I have posted this in the Star Hill thread but it deserves to be here as well. This tale needs to be told. Many years ago I was told of a relative who got into some bother with a roller on Star Hill. For many years I thought, and believed, that it was my Gt.Gt. Grandfather. I was wrong. It was his brother Herbert (Herbie) who lived, mainly, in Gillingham. He died in 1945(ish) so there might be people around who remember him, if you think you do please PM me and we can have a chat. I have left a few of the more personal details out, my surname for one, as this was part of a much longer email from The Oracle. He has been filling in parts of my family history because, being almost 80, he wants me to know as much as possible.
Uncle Herbie and my mother’s father are furthest back people I met.
Herbie was, I think, my grandfather's younger brother – but I could be wrong. He lived in, I believe, Gillingham. He appeared every so often. He was of medium height, tending to be fat. Had a shock of white hair, a heavy white mustache on a roundish face and blue, friendly, eyes. Herbie was always good to me. I remember him well because he ‘stopped appearing’ towards the end of the war by which time I was, of course quite a mature kid. (Had I not seen someone’s head blown off etc, etc?)
Herbie had lead a charmed life. He had never married but was, obviously (looking back at him) a ‘ladies man’. He was a steam fitter, having served his time with Aveling & Porter’s. He moved around a lot working on such things as the construction of the Welsh Dams and Pembroke Dock. But he was ‘in and out’ of Avelings for most of his life. He worked for their long-term lease department. Many county councils appeared to own a fleet of rollers. In fact many councils only hired them (Kent actually owned their 30 plus rollers. Herbie delivered new rollers to their bases (anywhere in the country) and brought ‘home’ those to be refurbished and sold on. He thought nothing of roading a roller to, say Cornwall and bringing a well-worn one home. Herbie had a roller run away on Star Hill, Rochester. He had brought it from Brighton – Dad told me, years later, that its brakes were clapped out, the valve-gear sloppy and rattling and the steering about a turn and a half slack both ways. Anyway, she got away from Herbie on Star Hill, but he stuck to her. She was skidding and slewing on the tram lines and setts and two trams were closing on each other. The driver of the ‘up’ car could see what the driver of the ‘down’ car could not see – a steam roller hauling a living van coming down the hill more or less sideways on at about 20mph. He stopped his car and doubtlessly prayed. Herbie’s roller overtook the ‘down’ car without touching it. The roller passed through the ever-narrowing gap between the two trams, but the living van side-swiped the ‘up’ car which rocked violently and almost went over on its left side. It recovered, but Herbie’s living van had taken most of the waist panels off its right side. The living van was de-stablised by the collision and flipped over to explode in plum-coloured matchboarding, stove, bedding, food and clothes. The tow-bar remained attached to the roller together with the frame and the four wheels. This lot was going along on its side when Herbie reached the bottom of the hill. Ahead of him was a Jeweller’s shop and a tight left or right. Left into Rochester High Street or right, to Chatham. As he was, in any case intending to go along Rochester High Street, over the Medway Bridge and thence to Aveling’s works, he decided to GO FOR IT. The roller, astoundingly, took the corner. The frame of the living van did not. It side-swiped the shop which was not, obviously, built as well as the tram. The front of the shop caved in and jewellery, clocks and watches exploded out into the street. Herbie finally stopped the roller just in front of a tram that was heading for Star Hill.
No-one was seriously hurt. The policeman on point-duty at the bottom of Star Hill sprained his ankle sprinting for safety. Several people on the damaged tram were ‘over-excited’ and the jeweller was found filthy, angry and unhurt. Herbie was done for dangerous (!!!!) driving, and fined. Aveling’s did NOT pay the fine. It was deemed as absolutely none of the Company’s business.
Now I believe that this was quite a heavy shunt for the time and would have been reported in the local paper(s). If anyone can add to this please do. The fact that no one was killed and the roller stayed on her feet is amazing. This could also belong in the Medway trams thread but posting this twice is pushing my luck as it is. Are there any pics extant of either the roller in the High Street or the damaged tram?
Thanks for your time, S4.