Fallen railway employees of two World Wars were remembered at a moving ceremony at Toddington station on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR) on Sunday 18th November.
Following the Act of Rembrance at Toddington, those taking part continued to Cheltenham Racecourse on a train hauled by a steam locomotive that served during the First World War, to join the Armistice Centenary celebrations at Cheltenham Racecourse.
The event, marking the centenary of the Armistice, was a solemn occasion attended by the ‘Glosters’ (former troops of the Royal Gloucestershire Regiment) under the direction of Regimental Sergeant-Major Keeling and Colonel Robert Dixon, along with representatives of the Royal Navy, and volunteers from the GWSR.
The colour party comprised Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire, Col. Mike Bennett OBE, DL and GSWR senior inspector Warrant Officer Chris Sparks MBE (RAF); with the Flag borne by Ms Alex Hayes, a member of the railway’s steam locomotive department.
A poppy wreath was laid by Mrs Jenny Mead, wife of the late Rev. John Mead who was a long-time volunteer on the railway and former Rector of St. Michael’s Church, Bishops Cleeve. She also unveiled a plaque dedicated to the ‘memory of all those on the Railway who gave their lives in the First World War and all subsequent conflicts’.
The Act of Remembrance was conducted by the Rev. David Hall, also a volunteer on the railway, with music provided by the Cheltenham Silver Training Band.
The event was organised by Chris Blake, a member of the railway’s steam locomotive department who felt that the Railway should play a part in the Armistice Celebrations at the Racecourse given that this is the location of the railway’s southern terminus.
“The day was perfect in every way,” said Chris. “The sun shone as the troops assembled on platform 2 for the event while volunteers and guests joined in the service from platform 1.
“Then at the end of the service, locomotive 2807 steamed in to the station from the Broadway direction, bearing a huge poppy on the smokebox. It was an extremely moving way to remember the huge contribution that the nations railways made to both World Wars and to reflect on the lives of railway servants who lost their lives.”
The locomotive hauling the special train was 1905-built Great Western Railway 2-8-0 no. 2807. This engine played a vital part in the war effort hauling endless coal trains known as ‘Jellicoe Specials’ (named after Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, commander of the Grand Fleet) from South Wales to the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. These trains passed over the route now operated by the GWSR.
After arrival at Cheltenham Racecourse the ‘Glosters’ marched from the train to join other services assembled in the station’s car park before marching into the Racecourse for a grand Act of Remembrance in the Parade Ring, in the presence of the new Lord-Lieutenant of Gloucestershire and former managing director of Cheltenham Racecourse, Edward Gillespie.
Chairman of the GWSR, Richard Johnson who took part in the railway’s commemoration said: “This was an extremely moving ceremony and all of the railway’s volunteers should feel proud of the part their railway has played in marking the centenary of the Armistice.
“I confess to a feeling some emotion to see locomotive 2807 steaming into the station with the huge poppy on the smokebox and I know I wasn’t alone.
“A lot of effort has gone into organising this contribution and I thank everyone, especially Chris Blake whose idea this was in the first place. The railways, the locomotives and railway staff played such an important part in keeping Britains troops and supplies moving during both wars – this was an occasion that recognised that contribution and especially those railwayman who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Driver of the special train was Ian Butler and the fireman was Jim Clarke, both of whom served in the RAF.
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