Help for Heroes 27th March 2010 - It’s not about us.
This trip mattered – this trip really mattered. Yes every trip matters, but this one was in aid of Help for Heroes a charity that raises money to help wounded soldiers. We were stunned, we knew in our hearts that it mattered but once we arrived at Carnforth we started to realise just how much it mattered. On Friday as we were prepping the engine we met Graham Magee who, with his wife Angela, organised the trip. He and his son Andy, a captain in the Scots Guards, had come over to the shed to bring the headboards. But they were blown away by the activity going on in preparation for the trip. I think the full scale of their original idea was starting to sink in, just how much effort and equipment is needed to run a railtour, and it was all being done for nothing, not for them, but for the men and women whose lives have been changed irrevocably by their service and sacrifice in the armed forces.
I think that this quote from Help for Heroes’s leaflet (www.helpforheroes.org.uk) sums up why we were all putting in our time and effort to raise money for the charity.
“It’s about the blokes, our men and women of the Armed Forces. It’s about Derek, a rugby player who has lost both legs, it’s about Carl whose jaw is wired up so he has been drinking through a straw. It’s about Richard who was handed a mobile phone as he lay on the stretcher so he could say goodbye to his wife. It’s about Ben, it’s about Steven and Andy and Mark. It’s about them all. They are just blokes but they are our blokes; they are our heroes. We want to help our heroes”
Over the next few paragraphs I will be writing a report of the trip, but before you read on, if you haven’t already given a donation to the charity, please visit the website (www.helpforheroes.org.uk now and send your money then come back and read on, it’s OK, I’ll wait. There isn’t a limit to donations, so even if you have already made a donation, there’s nothing to stop you making another one now!
Now that you’re back I’ll start the report proper:
The National Railway Museum and 5305 Locomotive Association who are the Main Line Operating Partnership for No. 70013 “Oliver Cromwell” agreed that we would waive all charges for the trip, and the NRM agreed that Cromwell could masquerade as No. 70048 “The Territorial Army 1908 – 2008” for the trip. West Coast Railway Company had provided their newly overhauled 8F No. 48151 free of charge as well, standing in for No. 46115 “Scots Guardsman” which was unfortunately unavailable, despite the best efforts of the Carnforth workshop team who had pulled all the stops out to try to get the engine back into traffic in time.
We’d sent an advance party to Carnforth earlier in the week to carry out a boiler washout and make sure that the engine was ready to be lit up as soon as our team arrived in Carnforth on Friday morning. When we arrived the first job was to get Cromwell lit up, and warming through. Once that was done we were picked up by the 08 shunter and had a trip to the turntable. The engine was out of steam so we weren’t able to use the vacuum motor, so we had to push the table round by hand and Andy Magee kindly offered to help, and in the process found out just how many people it takes to turn a Brit by hand!
Once turned and back on the pit the hard work got underway: oiling, greasing, cleaning, polishing and, probably most important: changing the identity of the engine. Changing the nameplates is relatively straightforward – just unbolt the brass “Oliver Cromwell” plates and bolt on the TA ones instead, but changing the cabside numbers requires a bit more artistry. We’d had some Fablon sheets made up by Trackside with the new numbers and they needed to be stuck on with Vaseline, getting them straight, level, central and avoiding most of the rivets is trickier than you might think and involved a fair amount of time, headscratching, measuring and trimming tiny bits of plastic off round rivet heads. We were grateful to the NELPG support crew who were on shed with the K1 for a work weekend who gave us advice based on their experience with fablon cabsides.
Tom arrived in the evening to carry out the FTR exam; he had to be at work on Friday, and again on Saturday, but drove up to Carnforth to examine the engine on Friday evening, stayed overnight and went back first thing in the morning, happy that she was fit to run, his parting words were “have a good time and remember why we are doing it”.
The West Coast crews for the morning had been carefully chosen by WCRC – they’d assigned the job as much as possible to men who had served in the forces: our driver was Bill Andrew, while the 8F had Albert Seymour and both were proudly wearing their berets and cap badges. For Firing we had Paul Kane and Pete Anson was firing the eight.
Albert and Bill
The main event began once the train arrived at Lancaster, when the first lot of passengers boarded the train, including the Magees. We were also joined by another member of the support crew: Helen Ashby had made herself available to help with the engine. At Preston we began to have an inkling of just how much support the trip had with the general public and with the military. Graham and Angela said that they needed to step off the train to greet the Mayor of Preston, so they were waiting by the door as we rolled past a colour party - Graham and Angela were made up!
We were joined on the support coach at Preston by Steve Davies, the Director of the National Railway Museum, a party of soldiers and a dog. Station stops are always a bit rushed so when the soldiers asked where they should go they were offered a compartment and sat down out of the way until we got going again. Then one came out and introduced himself, he was Colonel Matt Limb Commander 2 Logistic Support Group. The dog was Treo the holder of the Dickin Medal (the “Animals’ VC”) and his handler Sgt Dave Heyhoe, the men were from 275 Rail Troup Royal Logistics Corps of the Territorial Army under the command of Troup Commander Captain Paul Brown. It was all a bit overwhelming.
Sgt Heyhoe trying to get the toy out of Treo's mouth so he'd turn to look at the camera
Throughout the trip there were smartly turned out troops on the train, at every station, in the museum, all with collecting tins for the charity. One of them said to me as we waited on the platform at York “I can’t get over how much effort these people have put into making this trip work. It’s not about the money – to a certain extent it’s easy to put money in, but these people have put days of their lives into making this trip work, it’s mind-blowing.” He wasn’t the only one, many of the servicemen and women said similar things and I’d like to think that when they are out in Afghanistan on their next posting they will remember the trip, and the number of members of the public who turned out in support and tell their comrades how much we all care about them.
The first water stop was at Eccles, where James Shuttleworth of West Coast was waiting with a tanker, he’d got two sets of hoses already rolled out so that we could water both engines at once. After Eccles, there was a pick up at Manchester Victoria, where again we had soldiers waiting on the platform with hundreds of members of the public. We had a few minutes at Manchester so we were able to allow a few people to come onto the footplate, which was how I heard about possibly one of the most moving donations of the day, a small boy had come up onto the engine to have a look and I requested that now he’d been on the engine he give a donation, his reply was “I’ve already given a POUND!” It’s not about amounts, for him that was obviously a fortune.
The climb out of Manchester Victoria up Miles Platting bank was awesome, not only did the engines make light work of the bank (what bank – Miles Platting – where!? It didn’t feel like a bank!) but everywhere we looked from there to York there were people out watching. Now that’s not unusual, there are always people out watching, but this was to another scale entirely. There were hundreds, possibly thousands of people along the route, and if all of them just put in a pound....... (www.helpforheroes.org.uk - another shameless plug, it’s a great cause, give generously!)
We arrived in York to hear a platform announcer telling people about the train and exhorting them to give generously to the soldiers making a collection on the platform, a pipe band was at the end of the platform ready to march up to the engines once they’d stopped. Once again the platform was heaving with people, all of them happily putting money in the buckets. It’s a credit to their training that the soldiers didn't crack in the face of so much generosity, it must have taken a fair amount of courage to parade in front of so many people with memories of friends, relatives and comrades who either were never coming home or who have come back via hospitals and long painful rehabilitation, and to do it without showing how much they were affected.
While the engines went to stable the stock and turn, we went across to the South Yard of the museum ready to service them. This was where having a member of the museum staff on the support crew showed its worth: Helen was able to take us by a short cut straight through to the South Yard, bypassing the queues and the shop, Partnership you see! While we waited for the engines to arrive we were treated to the sight of Rocket giving train rides in the yard with our old friend Ray Towell driving on his day off, in support of the trip – thanks Ray!
As soon as the engines arrived in the yard it was all hands on deck to get them serviced and back out again in time. Hugh and Helen were up on top of the tender throwing coal forward, Jim and Gary cleaned the fire, Alison was in charge of lubrication, while Andy and Tom Allen were managing the watering and dropping the ash from the hopper, while the 8F’s crew looked after their own beastie next to us. As soon as the hoses were disconnected we moved the engines back to enable us to clear up the ash from both engines, leaving the yard clean and tidy for the museum (well we want to be asked back!)
The 8F had piloted the trip on the way out, now it was our turn to be at the front, with the eight as train engine. With the servicing finished we walked back over to the station to wait for the train. We were joined on the platform by Captain Andy Magee and some of his comrades in uniform and rather a lot of buckets. Although they weren’t actively collecting for most of the time, still people came up and quietly dropped money in; one of them was a small child, barely taller than the bucket, who solemnly dropped in a few coins then went back to his parents.
We had Mick Kellet driving and Pete James firing on the way back, it was Mick’s first trip on the Driver’s side of this engine, he’s a fine addition to the team. The trip back was cut short at Preston due to engineering works, so the passengers completed their journey by bus while the train waited in Preston r.e.s overnight ready to work back ecs to Carnforth at 15.10. A long wait. We weren’t bored though because we had plenty of work to do in the morning. We began by taking the fablon cabside numbers down and cleaning the Vaseline off the paintwork. Brian Cauldwell, the West Coast guard for the trip had arranged a block on the adjacent line so we were able to check round and oil the engines, we also had time to attend to any brasswork that could be safely reached from the platform or footplate, meanwhile fourteen coaches away at the back of the train, we could also clean the support coach, although again only the bits that could safely be reached from the platform. Anyone looking over the wall would have seen Helen Ashby sitting on the footplate, polishing part of one of the National Collection engines, wearing her NRM hi-viz vest working alongside the rest of the support crew, or having a discussion with the treasurer about the main line partnership, or being offered a cooked Brunch by Andy who'd appointed himself cook for the trip – mixing business with pleasure. It’s always nice to have new volunteers, and it was lovely to be able to share the operation of such a great locomotive with the other side of the partnership.
It was soon time to move – first across for water, then back to pick up the train and ecs to Carnforth. Our own private train! We were greeted at Carnforth by one of the Diesel team on his day off who I believe had come in specially to start up a diesel ready to shunt the train into the yard while the support crews disposed the engines.
One of the first jobs we did, while the fire was being cleaned, was to take the TA nameplates and smokebox door plate off and remove the headboard. The ‘proper’ nameplates were still on the support coach, so for a while in the yard, Cromwell wore her painted nameplates with the TA plates next to her.
After cleaning the fire and ashpans, the 08 drew the engines back so that we could all dig out the pits.
It was a whole team effort, with us, the 8F crew and a number of the Carnforth team all lending a hand to move several trips worth of ash out of the pits into the digger bucket. Then back onto the pit for stabling and a final check round, and phone through to Tom Tighe who was waiting for a report – His reply to the all clear was “Splendid job, well done team”. I think that about sums it up!
By Info | Monday, March 29, 2010 | Tags : 70013