To mark Waterloo station’s 170th birthday on July 11, Network Rail and South Western Railway reveal the man believed to be Britain’s longest-serving member of railway staff.
Don Buckley, 79, joined Waterloo’s station team in 1953 aged just 14. Due to start a job as a messenger at London Euston, Irish-born Don mistakenly ended up at Waterloo after asking a taxi driver to take him to the big station in the capital.
He remains working there today, 65 years later.
His incredible years of service means Don is one of the few people still working in the industry with formal training to decouple a steam train.
Don, who moved to London from County Kerry in 1952 after being sent to England to make a living, said: “I was very young and frightened when I came here all those years ago. I couldn’t get my own place to live. Everywhere was ‘room to let, but no Irish’.
“I was getting £7 a week and had to send a lot of that money home to my mother. It was hard back then but I loved working here.
“All the gentlemen wore bowler hats in those days, and everyone had an umbrella. I remember we used to have a cinema by platform one and I’d sneak-up and watch the kids’ shows on the Saturday.”
Don now works for South Western Railway helping visually impaired and disabled people make their way around the station, as well as providing his unmatched knowledge of the station to passengers needing directions or assistance.
Don said: “We’re here to help people wherever we can, I’ve made some great relationships with people I always see at the station – they always stop to say hello.”
“Some of the people I’ve met here over the years are unbelievable. I once took Sir Stanley Matthews’ suitcase – he gave me four shillings. I helped carry lots of people’s luggage over the years. Roger Moore tipped me £10, and I took Alfred Hitchcock’s as well. I wasn’t too fond of him though because he had a very heavy suitcase full of books. When they were making that Bourne film here they told me I couldn’t go up a flight of stairs, well, I did and that young man Matt Damon opened the gate for me.
“The station has changed a lot while I’ve been here. There’s no more steam trains or anything like that, but it’s still the station I love and I think it’ll be fantastic when the former International Terminal re-opens.”
An £800 million upgrade, to create 30 per cent more room at the station at peak times, is due to be completed at the end of this year, at Britain’s busiest station which includes the reopening of the former Waterloo International Terminal.
Despite spending all his working life at the station, Don says he still misses it when he’s away: He said: “When I’m on holidays or when I’m off, I miss Waterloo. It’s like losing a finger; like I’m missing a part of me. My daughters and sons say to me ‘dad, you’re getting old’ but I don’t listen. My wife says to me every day: ‘all you ever talk about is Waterloo, Waterloo, Waterloo’, but I can’t help it; Waterloo’s a part of my life and I’m happy.”
Becky Lumlock, route managing director at Network Rail, said: “As we celebrate this amazing birthday for Waterloo station I’m very proud to have Don on the station team – he must surely be the longest serving person on Britain’s railway.
“Waterloo has an amazing history, from the first people to ever catch a train to the Derby in 1843, to the first baby born at the station just last year. And it’s got an exciting future ahead of it. Our £800 million investment will bring the former Waterloo International Terminal back into use, providing more space for the 100 million passenger journeys made through this station every year.”