By The Learning & Archive Department

Remembrance Sunday offers a time for reflection and contemplation of those who fought or lost their lives in times of war and conflict. During the First World War many young Yorkshire railway workers responded to the “call to arms” voluntarily joining the North Eastern Railway’s ‘Pals’ style battalion and quickly finding themselves exchanging life on the tracks for life in the trenches.

Other railway workers, like Thomas Readman, a platelayer on the Whitby-Pickering Railway, who were not of fighting age, could still be called upon to travel to France and lay essential railway track to support the transportation of troops and supplies.

Thomas Readman, Platelayer. Photo courtesy, Pat Sellars.

Thomas Readman’s granddaughter, Pat Sellars, shared her grandparent's story with us as part of our oral history project to uncover stories of people who worked on this line. This month of Remembrance seems a fitting time to share some excerpts, photos and letters from Pat’s testimonies.

"My grandfather, Thomas John Readman, was born on 15th October 1876 in the Lockton area of North Yorkshire, near Pickering. As often happened in those days, being the first born son he did not live with his parents whilst a child but with his grandparents, who ran the Saltersgate Inn.

There was a farm attached to the inn, and he carried out work at the inn and on the farm, until he married (my grandmother) Hannah when he was twenty seven years old."

Hannah Mackley was born in 1880 to a family living in Saltergate. Her father, Ward Mackley, was a farmer and previously a railway labourer - as was her Grandfather, Charles Harrison, who, the census reveals, lived in one of the Farwath Crossing Gates Houses.

In 1903, Hannah and Thomas married and they began their family lives by first living at Fen Bog and then later at Incline Top in Goathland where Thomas worked as a platelayer according to the 1911 census. By the onset of World War One in 1914 their family had grown to include five children, the fifth still a baby in arms.

"In the Spring of 1917 Thomas was told he would take part in Railway work in Northern France. He was forty years old at the time" Pat recalls.

"On March 10th 1917 he received a letter from the Station Master at Whitby, telling him he had to take the first train to York on March 15th, for a journey to France, to take part in the laying of rails, removed from the Pickering to Goathland line, which would be used to transport goods, troops etc across northern France.

A further letter states that his wife Hannah would receive £1, 12s & 5d, less 2 shillings for rent. This was not much to cover food, clothes etc, with four children still at home. Sadly he died in the military hospital in France on 2nd April with a ‘cold on the chest’, as it was stated."


When this tragic news reached Hannah, it came with the additional shock that neither the Railway nor the Military would be issuing any financial compensation or widow’s pension. From the military’s perspective Thomas was still under the employ of the railway when he died, and from NER’s perspective he was undertaking war work, laying tracks in France. This was a very serious blow to the family. In addition to their grief the threat of homelessness (they lived in a railway cottage on Incline Top) and destitution was a very real possibility. Without compensation for Thomas’s death nor pension or family allowances, Hannah and her family were facing a bleak future.

Letters that the family still hold reveal that, in desperation, Hannah sought work herself with the railway. This would not only provide some income but might mean she would be eligible to stay in the cottage. With so many railwaymen away at war, we see roles that were traditionally offered to men or teenage boys beginning for the first time to be offered to women.

“I have not heard what the Company are going to do with me yet,” Hannah wrote to her brother in Saltersgate from her railway cottage on Incline Top, Goathland. “They are in a hurry to get me to work. I was at Middlesbrough on Wednesday last seeing about a place but when I got there it was a porter they wanted at Stockton…”

The higher cost of living in a large town worried Hannah considerably, but fortunately it seems the NER finally placed her as a porter at Goathland Station, becoming the Whitby-Pickering railway’s first female in the role.

Hannah Readman. Photo courtesy, Pat Sellars.

“Hannah found work as a porter on Goathland Station until the war ended and the men returned to take back their former jobs,” Pat recalls, “She had a struggle to make ends meet…She had to move to number 4 Incline Top - a smaller house, and only made possible by a village protest, at her being turned out of her former home, at the end of the war.

She managed to acquire the paper round for Goathland, which she carried out for 32 years, missing only one day through illness, until she retired in her 71st year. She continued to live in the village until her death in 1968, aged eighty seven.”

In her lifetime, Hannah experienced both world wars and very sadly lost loved ones during each conflict.

"In 1912 and 1914 they had two more sons" says Pat of her Grandparents. "The youngest, Ernest, was subsequently killed fighting in Egypt in World War Two. That was my father."

Thomas Readman, alongside eleven other men from Goathland, who lost their lives in World War One, were remembered by twelve oak trees that were planted alongside the old railway line in Goathland after the war ended. Another twelve oak trees were planted one hundred years later by school children at Goathland Hub (next to the old railway line) during the centenary of World War One to ensure they are always remembered.

Grave of Thomas Readman, Hazebrouck Cemetery.

We have also created a small display featuring copies of letters, photos and official documents kindly provided by Pat, which can be seen at The Goathland Village Community Hub.