A super review of the new updated edition paperback edition of ‘Steaming to Victory’ in today’s Daily Express, which describes it as ‘Chuffing marvellous’. The reviewer says: ‘This highly readable book covers the essential but often overlooked role trains played in the success of the Home Front in the Second World War. Tales of child evacuees and adult passengers jostle with those of porters, crew, cleaners and ticket collectors. Chuffing marvellous’. I’m so pleased, too, for all the heroic veterans of World War Two who gave time to tell me their stories. They are the survivors of a brave generation now passing – and we won’t see the like of them again.
Here’s an extract, taken from my 2014 preface to the book:
IT WAS one of those seemingly indelible moments of childhood etched on the memory with an enduring clarity that has continued to shine through the years. Yet there could not have been a greyer and gloomier winter’s day than 10 January 1965, when my father took me as a young schoolboy to watch the funeral cortège of Sir Winston Churchill pass along the Strand on its sombre journey from the lying-in-state at Westminster Hall to the funeral at St Paul’s. The winter mists swirled around Big Ben and Westminster Abbey in a London whose demeanour had not yet brightened from the frown of wartime austerity. I still have the foggy pictures, taken with my Box Brownie camera, of the coffin on its gun carriage, draped with the Union flag. It mattered not that they were taken with old-fashioned black and white film, since the world of the time was monochrome anyway.
Afterwards, as one of the legion of schoolboy railway enthusiasts of the period, I raced over Waterloo Bridge and caught the first service to Clapham Junction, where I could get a clear view of the funeral train on its way from Waterloo to Handborough in Oxfordshire. From the station there, the great war leader would be taken for burial in the parish churchyard at Bladon, close to the family home at Blenheim, where Churchill had been born 90 years earlier.
At Clapham the gleaming green Battle of Britain Class locomotive No. 34051 Winston Churchill emerged from the gloom at the head of its five umber and cream Pullman cars coupled up to the van bearing the coffin. The train’s headcode discs had been cleverly set in a formation denoting Churchill’s trademark V-for-Victory sign, and the locomotive’s brasswork sparkled, even on that sombre afternoon, from all the polish applied at Battersea’s Nine Elms depot. As she leaned into the curve, heading westwards into the fading light, leaving just a wisp of smoke trailing under the Clapham footbridge, there was a heady fusion of emotions. Somehow Churchill’s wartime victory and the role of the railways in it seemed magically linked for a moment – at least in the mind of an imaginative schoolboy. And it wasn’t all imagination – Churchill himself had in 1943 praised ‘the unwavering courage and constant resourcefulness of railwaymen of all ranks . . . in contributing so largely towards final victory’…