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Drivers reunited

Crewe-based London Midland driver Bob Fletcher was amongst around 80 former A4 crew members who gathered at the National Railway Museum on October 26 to be reunited with the six surviving A4 locomotives.

60008 Dwight D Eisenhower and 60010 Dominion of Canada will leave the UK next spring. The two A4s are on temporary loan to the NRM from the USA and Canada as part of the 75th anniversary celebrations to mark Mallard’s record breaking run on July 3rd 1938.

4468 Mallard

Bob recalled how, as a child, he would spend hours in a field next to the line at Tamworth watching trains speed past and how in 1988, when he was based at Saltley depot, he had his hand on the regulator as 4468 Mallard made its way from Birmingham to Derby, passing the same spot.

Such was the competition at Saltley depot to drive steam specials that Bob laughs as he says, ‘The roster sheet frequently had holes in from the pen nib where names had been crossed out and replaced, with the drivers all vying for a turn on the footplate.’

Former Doncaster fireman George Purnell was a fireman to driver Tommy Bray, the driver on Mallard's record-breaking run in July 1938. Photo: Jonathan Webb.
Former Doncaster fireman George Purnell was a fireman to driver Tommy Bray, the driver on Mallard’s record-breaking run in July 1938. Photo: Jonathan Webb.

Another A4 Bob has had the privilege of driving is Sir Nigel Gresley, which is still frequently seen on the main line. Now Bob drives Class 350s between Birmingham and Liverpool.

Nearly 20,000 people came to visit the opening weekend of the museum’s Autumn Great Gathering. Former crew members drove and fired Mallard. More than 75 former crew gathered at the museum to pay homage to the Mallard’s record in its big anniversary year and meet up with footplate colleagues.

The autumn spectacular is the final time that Mallard will be meeting its five surviving sisters inside the York museum’s Great Hall. Other crew attending included George Purnell from Leeds who worked as a fireman for driver Tommy Bray and fired Mallard on that historic day in 1938 when it set an unsurpassed world speed record. He described travelling at speed on an A4 as ‘exhilarating.’

Mr Purnell also recalled how he left the railway in 1954 after realising he would never become a driver before steam was phased out and had no intention of driving diesels.

Familiar faces included the drivers who appeared on the TV coverage of the 3rd July anniversary including 92 year old Alf Smith from Essex, who was identified as a young man in one of the museum’s uncaptioned archive photos of Kings Cross workers.

50th anniversary

There were also representatives from all major sheds including London Kings Cross ‘Top Shed,’ Edinburgh Haymarket, York, Doncaster, Gateshead, Peterborough, Carlisle, and Newton Heath (Manchester) where Mallard travelled through on its 50th anniversary.

Says Senior Curator of Railway Vehicles Anthony Coulls, ‘Given that many of the people that got in touch as a result of July’s Mallard 75 celebrations are well beyond retirement age we were amazed that so many could join us to form a special Great Gathering of former A4 crew.

‘It was one of the biggest get-togethers of steam loco crew in recent times and the museum and our visitors really enjoyed hearing about their colourful experiences of working as scheduled crew on the East Coast Mainline. The memories were certainly flowing and our drivers and firemen really enjoyed reliving their youth.’.

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