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U3A Writing: It's As Easy As Falling Off A Ladder

Barrie Mansell tells a cautionary true story.

A crunch of rocks together with the scraping sound of metal against metal cumulated with the crescendo of noise as a ladder and its user descended across the railway tracks and sleepers.

The ladder man lay deadly still on his back, his workmates stood momentarily transfixed, a strong Irish accented voice commanded, “Joe, get down to the station and have the Stationmaster get an Ambulance and close the bloody line.”

Joe nodded, his old pale face reflecting shock and began a steady trot along the embankment toward the station.
The fallen man groaned as the Foreman approached, “There’s help on the way George.”

George’s eye’s opened and engaged the eyes of the Foreman, then in a surprisingly clear voice, “Bloody hell Mick this is the second time I’ve come off a ladder.”

The Foreman almost grinned, “Yeah I know George, yer’ll be alroight, just like last time in 38.”

George laid semi conscious, an occasional groan, shallow breaths.

In the distance could be heard an approaching Red Rattler. The Foreman grabbed his red flag and ran up the track toward the train, waving it vigorously. The train rapidly ground to a halt just short of the fallen ladder.

Passenger’s heads hung out of doors and windows; their chatter drowned the Foreman’s conversation with the Driver.
Time passed slowly for George, eventually two old Ambulance men arrived with a stretcher and a First Aid Bag.

They looked carefully at the big man lying across the railway line realising they would to take care in moving him, this was no stretcher case, and they would need some solid timber to support him.

The Foreman realised the Ambulance men had a problem but had not grasped the issue, “What’s up?”

“We need a solid plank underneath him to move him,” replied one.

Moments passed, and then came a revelation from the Foreman, “There’s a Painter down at the Station painting the Toilets, and he’s got a board with his trestle”. The Foreman turned to Joe, “Come on Joe give me hand to bring the board back from the Station.”

With the board under George, four men patiently moved step by step back to the now crowded Station, each jolt and jar bringing utterances of pain from George; the four were relieved to slide the board into the Ambulance, perspiration dripped from their brows from the effort.

As the Ambulance drove slowly away, the Foreman turned to Joe, “We better finish this job off and get the line open.”

It was a thoughtful silent pair that headed back to the fallen ladder; George’s fall made the task even more difficult in a time of war when all the young Linesmen were away, leaving the old men to struggle through arduous maintenance of a railway system under pressure.

Ladders are part of many tradesmen’s equipment; they enable access to structures that would be unreachable by normal means.

I was always cautious of climbing ladders especially as a Fireman in the Country Fire Service, because I remembered vaguely my grandfather in a full chest plaster cast as a small boy, but more graphically in 1943 after his second fall, with his will and physical ability crushed, they cut off the cast and he finally succumbed.

This was a man that had carried stretchers through the horrors of Gallipoli and France in World War One and who had seen death and mutilation often and had been recognised for his bravery at the front.

He would have said the job of Linesman was, “As easy falling off a ladder.”


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