FROM time to time, newspapers have been intrigued by the thought of women in occupations that had hitherto had been the preserve of men, or when they achieved certain firsts in the field of work.

Back in September 1942, this paper sent a reporter to talk to 22-year-old Janet Chisholm, who was one of the first three railway signalwomen to be employed in Scotland.

By the time of the interview Janet had been in complete charge of a London, Midland and Scottish (LMS) signal-box on a busy branch-line near Glasgow.

She had previously worked as a counter assistant in a dairy but, the reporter observed, was “vastly more interested in her present highly responsible duties, and she has won commendation on all sides”.

The reporter arrived at the Thornliebank signal-box just as Janet was beginning to ensure the safe passage of a train that had entered her section.

“Flanked by signal levers, diagrams, block instruments, and emergency flags for use if the signalling system failed, she quickly answered the warning bell from her colleagues in the box further back on the line.

“Learning the bell-code, she explained, was the first and one of the most important duties of signalling.

“A number of short sharp rings told her the train was on its way into her section. ‘O.K.’ , she signalled by pressing a button, and after pulling back the heavy levers to give the train the ‘right away’ through her section she communicated its progress to the next signal-box further down the line, checked the number of the train as it roared past, entered all particulars in her time book, and was ready to begin all over again”.

Not for nothing, he added, was “no mistakes on this job” her motto. “In command, for eight hours every day, of an important section of railway through which 50-odd trains pass daily, Janet sometimes begins work at 6.20, testing and checking equipment before beginning her duties”.

(On the same day as the article appeared, incidentally, four Port Glasgow schoolboys were killed by a trainload of empty carriages on an L.M.S. line while they were collecting sweets, cigarettes and money thrown to them by passengers on a fully-laden train, bound for Glasgow).

In 1971, Mrs Elizabeth Alexander attracted the interest of the Evening Times when she became Scotland’s first uniformed store detective.

She was on duty for two or three days each week at the Grant educational bookshop in Glasgow’s Union Street, the Evening Times reported. Most stores employed plain-clothes detectives to watch for shoplifters, but it was decided that she would be a deterrent if dressed in uniform.

Elizabeth, who was employed by a detective agency, had been a policewoman in Glasgow before getting married. The bookshop job, she enthused, was “great, absolutely great. I even get some customers chatting me up”.

Read more: Herald Diary