Life after an accident

In this week’s post, we welcome a contribution from Pete Coveney. He was put on to us by long-time project friend and support, genealogist Jackie Depelle, as she thought we might be able to help him find out more about his father’s accident. Unfortunately everything we suggested didn’t lead to anything – so if you have any suggestions, do let us know and we’ll pass them on.

What was excellent, though, was that Pete was willing to share his father’s story, which he’s written up here. It’s a great illustration of the impacts of workplace injuries upon the individual and their wider life – plus you get a strong feeling of his father’s sense of humour, and his matter-of-factness about a serious injury! This kind of personal insight is really helpful for our project, as we see much more of the people behind the accident. We hope to be able to bring you more as the project progresses – if you have an example from your family past, we’d love to hear from you. Please just get in touch.

 

On the passing of our Father, Ronald Ernest Coveney, in 1984, my brother and I had the task of going through his property and belongings because our Mother had passed about 18 months earlier. Anyone will know that it’s not a pleasant task. However, among his belongings I noticed that he had kept some diaries from years ago. I looked at the diary for 1949 and found an entry for my birthday in mid-January. However, it was not this that caught my eye, but the entry for 10th January which read ‘HAD FOOT CUT OFF TODAY.’ We both knew that our Father had a ‘stump’, as he called it, for his right foot. His foot, from the ankle forward, had been surgically removed. He was forced to wear an artificial foot which was attached to a leg cradle made of leather and metal. His socks were of thick wool and were rounded at the bottom.

When we were children, he had told us that he had fallen from the cab of a steam train because someone had not bolted the door properly. He was a fireman at the time and living in Steventon, a village near Basingstoke in Hampshire. This was a village associated with Jane Austin. He related that he fell away from the train but had bounced back from an embankment to where the wheels of the train ran over his foot. He said that he laid there for hours until he was found and taken to hospital. That was all he said, or all we remember that he said, about the accident.

Father started on the railways in the late 1930s. He served with the BEF driving ammunition trains in Europe and driving the big guns in and out of the Dover tunnels to fire at the enemy. He returned to driving ammunition trains in France after ‘Normandy’.

Father was an active man and told us that he used to play football and liked playing table tennis, but the accident halted any further sporting activity. He was only 30 years old at the time and probably never played sport again. He changed his working location to Three Bridges soon afterwards and we all later moved home to Crawley to join him in approximately 1952/3. He used to watch local football teams at Three Bridges and later at Crawley with me and my brother. He related a story about kicking the ball back on to the pitch while watching a game at Three Bridges. On returning the ball his artificial foot followed it back on to the pitch. He said that the crowd was silenced, but it turned to cheers when our Father began to laugh about it.

Our Father was still an active man and he dug his own garden to plant vegetables. We knew that the poor fitting of the artificial foot gave him some pain sometimes but he never complained too loudly. We did walk short (approx. 2 miles) distances sometimes, but generally our Father travelled by motorcycle. He could not drive a car as the right artificial foot could not sense the position of the accelerator. He did eventually drive a Robin Reliant because for this there was no need to take a car test, but his use of the accelerator was slightly erratic. His motorcycle licence was suitable for driving a three wheeler without the need to pass a car test. However things are different now.

When we were a teenagers, Father told us never to work on the railway. My brother didn’t listen and was a Signalman for all his career, starting at Crawley and then at Teynham, Strood and Maidstone in Kent.

My Father was promoted to Driver some time after the accident, while stationed at Three Bridges. His condition, which left him with a limp, did not affect his occupation. He related that he was ‘mentioned in letters’ a couple of times for being alert and avoiding accidents. He was further promoted to Motive Power Foreman when we returned to Kent in 1965, working for a time at Gillingham (I think) but finishing at Slade Green in approximately 1984 after 47 years service.

I have tried to find details relating to Father’s accident but my knowledge of searching for information is very limited. I wonder if anyone out there can help?

 

Pete Coveney

I was a scientist for the whole of my working life. I was involved in the development of pesticides with Shell and following their departure from the pesticide research scene I worked for a contract research laboratory developing methods for the analysis of chemicals in the environment.

 

Project note: If you did have any suggestions for Pete, please let us know and we’ll happily pass them on. It would be great if we could turn up more information!

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