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Guard of honour

Discussion in 'Bullhead Memories' started by olly5764, Oct 31, 2023.

  1. olly5764

    olly5764 Well-Known Member

    Dec 29, 2006
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    Normally in a brake van somewhere
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    You may have noticed that I haven't posted a story about my exploits on 1940s week for a couple of years now, mainly due to what was going on on the SVR at the time, but it's time to dust off my writing skills one more time.
    Over the years, the 1940s weeks, to me at least, had become more about the people I worked with and the things that happened to us rather than the event itself.
    I worked side by side, and often by request with Driver / Inspector John Price, Fireman, later Passed fireman Tom Clarke, Cleaner later passed cleaner, Harry Bradley, and of course the regular guard of the other train, and regular recipient of my sense of humour, Dave Brattan.
    We've had some memorable events, from the sight of Tom chasing some trespassers through a hole in the fence, to near misses with tractors, and of course escapades with fruit.
    As the years have gone one, we have all moved upo the promotional ladder, with John retiring, and Myself and Tom passing out for driving, the natrual progression was for Tom to fill Johns roll in the team, with Harry stepping up to fill Toms shoes.
    As those of you who know us personally will already be aware, the team was rocked by the sudden death of John on 1st August 2023, in the King and Castle pub at Kidderminster.
    In loosing John, the SVR has lost a character, in a man who could have you trembling with fear, helpless with laugher and hopping with rage, often at the same time, a man with whom as your driver, you always got off the footplate knowing more than when you got on. More importantly, many of us have lost a friend.
    John, during one drivers BR standard driving exam, stunned the poor candidate by getting onto the loco in full military uniform (I won't say which one as it's probably not seen as P.C. these days) while the fireman turned up in a dress.
    His love of the 1940s events lead to one of his own stories, when dressed as a military policeman, he couldn't work out why everyone was laughing at him as they walked past. Having first checked his uniform, to make sure that everything was done up, he then inspected the inside of the M.P. box, and still found nothing, it was only when he walked around the outside of the box when he discovered, to everyones ammusement, the sign saying "Do not feed the Monkey."
    Shortly after Johns passing, it was suggested that we should put on a train in his honour, and I was asked to act as the guard. I normally shy away from prestigious events, while I had worked the reopening train in 2008, I had gone to work when Prince Charles visited, and went on holiday when Flying Scotsman came, but this isn't about me, and I didn't have to thing for long before agreeing.
    So, on Sunday 29th October, myself, Tom and Harry lined up with 34027, Taw Valley, seven LMS coaches and the GW observation saloon, to take John on his final journey.
    To save me turning up quite so early, Tom Shepperd had offered to prep and shunt the train for me, although in the end, as she had recently passed out as a guard, Tom Clarke's Partner, Dawn, did it as her first act as a qualified guard, greeting me by handing me a radio and telling me the train was fully checked but she hadn't yet done the weight. It's probably a sign that I've been doing this too long that I simple replied that it was 8 for 242, and that I could even tell which two coaches were not 30 tons!
    We all headed to the King and Castle for the unveiling of a plaque in what had become known as John's corner, during which, we inadvertantly brought the pub to a standstill, as so many of us wanted to be present, the manager was concerned about the fire regs and asked me to prevent anyone else coming in.
    Tom regaled us with a story of how the seats opposite the door and adjacent to the bar became John's seat, and it wasn't, as many of us had suspected, because he could order and recieve a drink without moving, but in fact, it was actually almost exactly where the set of stop blocks John had sat at with a class 47 many years ago when the site was still the BR yard.
    With the presentation done, we allowed the pub to return to normal business and headed out to the train.
    Chatting with Harry and Tom, they told me that the published time table wasn't quite right and we would be stopping at Arley on the down trip as we had guests on the footplate, and we wanted to swap them, additionally, we would be stopping out of the normal position at Highley on the up train for a similar reason.
    So I went off to join my TTIs, all 5 of them.
    The TTI department does tend to allocate more TTIs than strictly required for turns like this, partly, as someone said, to repelle boarders, but also for special occasions, it allows more of the TTI's who would like to be present, to be so, so I was joined on the Train by Leigh Weston, John Rutherford, Colin Rae, Anthony Hobson and Alan Dudley, with the responsible person on the Obbo, John Kitchen, who is not only a TTI, but a guard. It is a tribute to John, the fact that so many staff wanted to play their part in the day.
    On the train, Bewdley Brewery had supplied us with some beer, named "To the moon" after John's rebuke to firemen who he thought to be chucking too much rock on, that being "Were are we going? To the moon?" Different firemen had diffent replies, mine was normally "No mate, Saturn!"
    At the appointed hour, there was no sign of us getting the road, as we were waiting for a late running up train, and I could imagine John getting cross about the delay. As the train rolled around the corner, the signal came off, and I went to give the right away, but was stopped by Assistant Station Master, Martin Hall, who pointed out to me that the up train was rather late, and that while it might be a slim chance, there might be people on the train wishing to join us.
    "Good call," I replied, "I hadn't thought of that."
    True to any turn I had with John when he was alive, the trip definately tested us, but I was sure, in our usual style, it would work out well in the end.
    We picked up a further group at Bewdley, as more of the MPD staff, plus Rob Green, who has taken on the job of running Bewdley buffet, joined us for the journey.
    Of course, we lost time with the additional call at Arley, but things seemed to be going well enough to Bridgnorth, until we dropped through Knowlesands Tunnel and saw the Down home signal at danger. The signalman later told us that she didn't know what had happened, as she had pulled off, and the repeater had gone to clear, then at some point while we were in section from Hampton Loade, the signal had motored back, and the repeater had swung unnoticed to "Wrong" so 17 minutes late, we eventually arrived at Bridgnorth.
    During the stop there, we had to shunt out of the station to allow the following train, which would depart ahead of us, to run round, before, following that departure, there was another unveiling of a plaque on the loco.
    Dawn passed round some roast chicken sandwiches, cooked in the smokebox, another of John's tricks, before Loco owner Phil Swallow, gave a speech before unveiling the plaque, in which, in a change to Phil's normal style, reverted to his southern routes, describing John as a "Diamond Geezer" and tellig us how if we had cut John in half, he'd be like a stick of rock, lettered GWR all the way through.
    Phil's loco, Taw Valley, was the last loco John had driven, so it was appropriate that we should have the same loco for this train. Phil is another person for who I have a lot of time, and his passion for the Valley is not disimilar to John's, and it was certainly a fitting tribute, before we were shown a replica of the Plaque to be displayed on the loco, the replica being mounted on a piece of wood.
    As Phil went to unveil it, Harry's voice rang out "Watch your fingers on that, we aren't very good at DIY," as the fixing screws were actually sticking out of the back, while Tom offered advice on how to unveil it, such as "Rip the selotape Phil!"
    John's ashes were to be placed in the firebox as we climbed the hill out of Bewdley, which was apparently John's favorite stretch, so at 4.45 p.m. we set off to take him on his last trip.
    It seemed fate was to do it's best to make sure giving John a fitting send off wasn't straight forward, as not only did the last down train delay us a little at Hampton Loade, but it also became apparent that the rear coach's batteries no longer wanted to play, and the lights went out on her, still, Tom, Harry and myself dug into the task of getting us back on time, knowing full well, that John would be looking down upon us, urging us to get done so we could go to the pub, and probably telling me to wind my watch on by a minute or two, a request he frequently made, which he knew I would always refuse to do, my passengers coming before his beer!
    We were back on time at Bewdley, and true to Johns form, everyone was looking at me, wanting to go.
    I blew my whislte and held my green parafin lamp aloft, and Tom got the train moving. We rolled past south box, and over the viaduct in the slightly spooky light.
    As the line swung round to the east, and we got stuck into the climb, a watery moon light was determindly forcing it's way throught the thin cloud cover.
    By this point, I was struggling to hold back the tears, as we climbed past the safari park and on up over Sandy Lane bridge. As we climbed round Devils Spittleful Tom gave the big 4-6-2 a handful of power, and a long blast on the whistle, and we sent John on one last trip "To the moon."
    Normally at this point I would suggest people interested inemmulating us should contact the Volunteer office, but on this occasion, I'm going to break with tradition. As Phil Swallow said, John was SVR through and through, and the survival fund was close to his heart, so if anyone wants to join with us in honouring him, please visit www.svr.co.uk/survival or if you don't feel you can donate to the SVR, please consider your local railway or restoration project.
    Finally, please join me in raising a glass, to Jonny Price!
    Fred Kerr, Nick C, CJS and 9 others like this.
  2. Matt37401

    Matt37401 Nat Pres stalwart

    Jun 8, 2014
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    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    Ian, can I just say that’s a lovely tribute to someone who I looked up to and admired.
    Very much a Top Man.
    gwalkeriow, Evening Star and olly5764 like this.

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