Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

Every now and then I’ll search through online catalogues for names that I’ve already searched for many, many times before. I don’t get my hopes up. And I certainly don’t expect to see anything new. Searching for anything relating to the Barratts is particularly unexciting. Being my own surname, it’s a name that I have searched for many times over. If there’s a record relating to them, I’ve most likely found it and added it to the collection. But, rather than designate some catalogues as having been ‘tapped out’ I continue to search them. You never know when something new may be added.

There’s no doubt that the Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR) employment records at the State Records Office of Western Australia have been in existence for much longer than I realised. With a tendency to rely on ‘name searches’ this valuable record would’ve been overlooked had I not happened to search for “Charles Victor Barratt” on one particular day.

Much to my surprise, a listing relating to my Great Grandfather popped up. I suppose, in the end, searching for just a name did have its benefits as it’s opened my eyes to a new resource which gives more depth to my ancestors’ stories and their working life.

Barratt Charles (far right) with railway workers - 2

Railway Workers [date and names unknown]

Vic first applied for a position as an engine cleaner sometime in 1913. He was 18 years old and met the minimum age required to obtain the position (the minimum age being 18). As part of the interview process, he had to bring along his birth certificate to prove his age as well as three certificates or letters testifying to his character. There was also a height requirement; potential candidates had to be 5ft 6 inches tall. Luckily for Vic, he was 5ft 8 ½ inches tall. Once he had all the documentation in order he went before the Selection Board and on 7 November 1913 he was deemed to have passed and was awarded the position.


Donnybrook. August 12th 1913. To those whom it may concern, This is to certify that the bearer of this, Victor Barratt has been employed by me for nearly two years, and that during that time I have found him trustworthy and industrious of good conduct, and in all ways reliable. Signed J P Parke.

Three months later, on 15 February 1914, he passed his medical exam and two days after this, he officially began his working life as an engine cleaner with the WAGR at Midland Junction.

As is often the case with first time employment, he started at the bottom and worked his way up. According to Michael Reynolds’ book ‘Engine-driving life: stirring adventures and incidents in the lives of locomotive engine-drivers’ (1881) the cleaner…

…is supplied with waste, oil, and tallow; and he comes on duty when the engine is due, whatever time that may be, either in the day or in the night.

Reynolds further states that a cleaner who his thorough and smart would first clean the engine (while it is hot and the grease is easily wiped away) then move onto cleaning the other parts and finally clean the wheels and framework (which are cold).

It was hard, tough, dirty work.

It takes ten hours at least to clean an engine. It requires no small amount of courage, perseverance, and endurance to clean an engine regularly all the year round…

The next step up from an engine cleaner was the fireman, who was responsible for tending to the fire which enabled the steam engine to run. Vic sat the exam and on the 31 August 1915 it was noted that he had passed and was issued with a Fireman’s Certificate. Despite having passed the exam, he continued to work as a cleaner.

With the world still at war, Vic decided (like so many other young men) to do his bit to help his country by enlisting to fight. His employment records reflect this fact. It had been just over a year since he passed his fireman’s exam but he was nevertheless granted leave on 27 September 1916 to serve in the Australian Imperial Forces. Vic left Western Australian on 9 November 1916 and would not return until 3 August 1919.

Between August and October 1919 Vic most likely recuperated, visited family and friends and was reunited with his beloved, Kitty. The pair may have been engaged prior to his departure in 1916 as wedding plans were immediately put in place. They were married in Bunbury on 11 October 1919 and eight days later it was noted in his employment records that he returned to work. For the next four years he was intermittently designated both a cleaner and fireman.

His permanency as a fireman began on 1 January 1924. While previously he was only located in Perth, this permanent position resulted in several moves. From 27 October 1924 to about 1928 he was located in Busselton.

Vic, accompanied by his wife, Kitty, young son, Ron (who was four) and one month old daughter, Pauline, moved into a home on Gale Street (which he had built himself). My Grandpa, Ron, was a young boy at the time but the happy memories associated with his time in Busselton must’ve left a lasting impression. Photos from this time were lovingly collected and placed together in a small envelope entitled ‘Busselton Days’.

Barratt Charles - Built this house in Gale Street, Busselton in 1924

The house Vic built on Gale Street in Busselton [1924].

Barratt Charles (third from left) in Flinders Bay with Busselton train crew [1927] - 2

Vic (third from left) in Flinders Bay with the Busselton train crew [1927].

After his stint in Busselton, Vic was posted to East Perth in 1928 and he and his family returned to 62 Wasley Street; the home that he had purchased in North Perth in the early 1920s. Throughout the next seven years he worked hard and strived for the next step in his employment at the WAGR. On 14 January 1929 he passed an exam relating to Driver’s Duties and was presented with a certificate. On 3 September 1931 he passed the ‘Timetable & Rostering’ exam (first year course) and scored a respectable 84%. A year later he sat the advanced ‘Timetable & Rostering’ exam and scored a very impressive 93%.

He was again relocated in September 1935 and spent a year in Mukinbudin before eventually being posted in Merredin on 21 September 1936. It was here that he remained.

Vic had a great love of the steam locomotives. He grew up at a time when railway lines were being built and steam trains were transporting people from all walks of life from one town or state to another. I’m unsure as to whether he had any particular aspirations with regards to working at the WAGR but certainly driving one of these majestic locomotives would be high up on the list. All his training and exams paid off and on 1 October 1936 he was designated a driver.

Train and floods near Merredin

An example of a train Vic may have driven in Merredin. This one’s surrounded by flood waters.

Perhaps it was this promotion which filled him with pride and inspiration that led him to contact The Meadmore Model Engineering Co. who specialised in model trains and other train related accessories. Vic placed an order and soon began construction of his model train; eventually finishing it many years later. See my previous blog post ‘Vic’s Model Train’.

Barratt Charles Victor's model train

Vic’s Model Train

For the rest of his working life Vic remained located in Merredin and continued working as a driver interspersed with the occasional stint as the acting shed foreman or acting sub foreman. He was granted long service leave in 1937, 1948, 1951 and 1956 with the last three times consisting of approximately 13 ½ weeks off each time.

On 23 May 1956 Vic was 60 years of age when he reached a milestone of having worked 40 years for the Western Australian Government Railways in adult service (adult back then was 21 years and over). To commemorate this anniversary, he was presented with a small medal.

Medal Front

Medal Back

He continued to work as a driver and acting shed foreman or acting sub foreman for four more years. On 18 May 1960, a week shy of his 65th birthday, his employment record with the WAGR officially came to an end with the word ‘retired’. All up, Vic had worked and served the railways and the Government for 46 years of his life.

Barratt Charles with another railway man in front of train

Vic (right) with an unknown railway worker [date unknown].

The records themselves are fascinating and have enabled me to confirm certain facts that I had only ever assumed. I knew Vic and his family had lived for some time in Busselton but I didn’t really know why. My assumption was that his work with the railways brought him there and it’s gratifying to have that finally confirmed with a record. Such confirmations also didn’t only apply to Vic. I have other family members who also worked for the WAGR and when I realised what gold was staring back at me from the computer screen, I eagerly began scrolling through the entire microfilm in order to hunt down other relatives with employment records (thank goodness for alphabetical order!). What initially started as a search for a record for one person eventuated in me obtaining records for four other people.

The Record of Service Cards can be found at the State Records Office of Western Australia on microfilm (Consignment: 3393). They can be viewed Monday to Friday during office hours or can be requested to be sent to the State Library of Western Australia for viewing on weekends or outside of office hours. For more information please visit:


  • State Records Office of Western Australia; Record of Service Cards; Barratt, Charles Victor (Service No.: 10812), Cleaner/Fireman/Driver 4th Class/Driver 3rd Class/Driver 2nd Class; 17 February 1914 to 1 October 1939; Consignment: 3393.
  • State Records Office of Western Australia; Record of Service Cards; Barratt, Charles Victor (Service No.: 10812), Driver C1/Actg Shed Foreman/Actg. Sub Foreman/Driver; 1 October 1941 to 18 May 1960; Consignment: 3393.
  • 1914 ‘Miscellaneous.’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 19 April, p. 15, viewed 19 February, 2015,
  • Engine-driving life: stirring adventures and incidents in the lives of locomotive engine-drivers; Michael Reynolds; 1881;

7 thoughts on “Working for the W.A.G.R.

  1. cassmob says:

    I Enjoyed your story especially as I have a whole raft of railwaymen in my tree, and similar success with their QGR records. I was interested that he joined the regular AIF rather than one of the railway units which were formed not long after he enlisted, or thereabouts.

    1. Jess says:

      Glad you liked the story cassmob. 🙂 I didn’t actually know there were specialist railway units during WWI so I’m not too sure why he didn’t join one. Perhaps it was because he hadn’t obtained enough experience working for the railways yet. It’s definitely worth looking into anyway. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

      1. cassmob says:

        Jess you might find this post I wrote a while ago of interest:

        Pauleen (cassmob)

      2. Jess says:

        Thanks for sharing your link Pauleen! What a fascinating story. 🙂

  2. Marcia Gamble (Tyson) says:

    I’m looking for my cousin Gerald Eaton he was a freight train driver, now retired. I did have a Mandurah phone number but that’s now disconnected.

    1. Jess says:

      Hi Marcia. Unfortunately I’m unable to help with finding living people but I wish you luck with your search.

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