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  • ladieswholondonpod

Ep 151: Battle buses and charismatic clippies - WW1 on the buses.

B43 - more affectionately known as Ole Bill. Picture by DanieVDM CC BY 2.0

In 1922 the London General Omnibus Company - usually known as the General, was given the right to march past the cenotaph and lay a wreath on remembrance Sunday. To this day TfL's Old Comrades association is the only non military organisation to take part, Why did George V grant them the honour? Maybe he was taken with Ole Bill. Fiona's love of public transport reappears this week, during World War One.

The destination on the side of Ole Bill tell the story, that around 900 London buses went off to fight the first world war. Used mostly as troop carriers, some became mobile gun platforms, at least one became a pigeon loft.

former London double-decker bus (B.2125), camouflage painted, used as a travelling loft for carrier-pigeons. Pernes, 26 June 1918 © IWM (Q 9000) McLellan, David (Second Lieutenant)

Not all of them came back:

St Eloi bus wrecked , two weeks after leaving Willesden depot (daily mail image)

This one gave it's name to a cafe - the bus house, and later the cemetary, Bus House Cemetary, just south of Ypres.

Meanwhile back home the men signing up to fight meant that women stepped up to become conductors, or should I say, conductorettes? Usually known as clippies.

Bus Conductress in light summer uniform 1918 Image from

First Mrs G Duncan, who started work with the Thomas Tilling Company on Nov 1st 1915. This image from 1918 shows a lady in her summer uniform. You can find a picture of Mrs Duncan on the excellent London Transport Museum website. And the cartoon we mention "If you want to get off, Ring the Belle" here:

But not all was rosy on the streets of London. In 1918 there was a proposal to pay male bus staff a 5 shillling a week war bonus. Becuase the men were more "at war" than the women??

The women at the Willesden depot went on strike - quickly followed by others depot around London and beyond. Acton and Archway, Bath, Bristol and Birmingham, Hackney, Holloway and Hastings. Eventually 18,000 of the 27,000 female transport workers were on strike.

Strikers Aug 1918 From

Much mention is made of a meeting where many women had brought their children and their sandwiches, and "made a day out of it". Was it more jolly than equivilant male strikes? Or just the way it was reported at the time?

With munitions workers joining the strike it's maybe not too surprising it was quickly resolved. One week later the female bus staff were awarded the 5 shilling bonus, but the general concept of equal pay was not accepted.

For keeping London moving during the war, the General bus company got the right to march past the cenotaph. But by then, indeed by 1919 , one year after the end of the war, there were no female clippies left. They were given the opportunity to go back to their homes, husbands and jobs in shops, as their services were no longer required.

Here's Ole Bill again:

Ole Bill passing the Cenotaph

Bus B43 was bought back by General and went back into service on the streets until 1924. And then used for events and parades, until it was bought by the Imperial War Museum, and can now be seen in their collection. The LTM also has a battle bus:

LTM's B type also served in France, here on London to Brighton Run 2006 Jon's pics CC BY 2.0

Imagine travelling 70,000 miles on one of these. Not to Europe and back, just from Muswell Hill to Turnpike Lane, and back. That what Ellen Bulford had clocked up by 19th Nov 1919. Last of the 4,800 women to work for the General. (until WW2!)

And to answer a question that came up while recording - the first female bus driver in London was Jill Viner in 1974.

As ever, please get in touch with comments and questions. Anyone related to anyone who served on the buses? We'd love to hear from you.

All the episodes and contacts here:

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