Today (30 January 2015) marks the 50th anniversary of the funeral of Winston Churchill.
The National Rail Museum will be displaying the locomotive 34051 ‘Winston Churchill’ and organising a symposium of personal recollections and photographs.
Visitors will be able to see the locomotive for the first time since its cosmetic restoration at Mid-Hants Railway. It will be displayed alongside the baggage van which carried Churchill’s coffin. This will be the first time since the funeral that these two vehicles have been seen together.
Were you there? NRM staff would particularly like to hear from anyone who saw the train on its journey from Waterloo to Handborough and anyone who may have worked on the funeral train. The state funeral was witnessed by millions and rail played a central part.
34051 Winston Churchill was one of 44 ‘Battle of Britain’ Class locomotives produced by the Southern Railway between 1945 and 1950. They were all named after the people, fighter squadrons, aircraft and airfields involved in the Battle of Britain.
Designed by Southern Railway’s chief mechanical engineer Oliver Bulleid, their unique shape and innovative technology set them apart from all other British steam locomotives. 34051 was named ‘Winston Churchill’ before the war-time leader was knighted. James Lester was fireman on the special train and describes how the crew were ordered to pass slowly through Oxford so mourners could pay their last respects.
Once out in the country, the timetable had slipped and the train was now running several minutes late. For years afterwards onlookers have puzzled over the almost indecent haste with which 34051 Winston Churchill thundered through rural Oxfordshire. The truth is the crew were determined that the last time Churchill travelled by train, he should arrive at his destination on time.