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‘Forgotten’ war heroes to be recognised at SVR ceremony (29th September 2011)

NINE ‘forgotten’ military railwaymen who were killed during the Battle of Britain in 1940 when a lone German bomber attacked the railway on which they were training, are to be remembered, more than 60 years on, in a special ceremony at the Severn Valley Railway this Saturday (October 1st).

The names of the men – Sappers or ‘combat engineers’ serving with the Corps of Royal Engineers at the Melbourne Military Railway near Castle Donington in Derbyshire – will be formally added to a Roll of Honour commemorating Army railwaymen killed in action, which is kept by one of the Severn Valley Railway’s locomotive owning groups, the Stanier 8F Society.

For the past 42 years, the Society has owned and operated one of the survivors of the many hundreds of steam locomotives built for the Second World War effort – Stanier LMS 2-8-0 No.48773 - and has closely allied itself to remembering the soldiers tasked with running railways in Europe and elsewhere, as part of the British advance, and following the D-Day landings. 

Uniquely, the locomotive is itself officially a War Memorial, having been dedicated to the memory of the railway Sappers of World War 2 in a ceremony conducted by the Dean of Hereford at the Severn Valley Railway’s Highley station exactly 25 years ago, on September 27th 1986.

This Saturday’s ceremony, at The Engine House Visitor Centre, Highley (2.30pm) where No.48773 is now displayed, will also celebrate that landmark anniversary. Up to 200 people, including many former ‘railway soldiers’ of the Royal Engineers and/or their families, are expected to attend.

During the ceremony, the Roll of Honour which previously listed the names of 354 military railwaymen known to have been killed in WW2, will be expanded by an additional 54 names, the details of which have come to light since the list was last dedicated in 2002.

The additions also include the names of six Sappers who died in a head-on collision between two trains, in fog, at the Longmoor Military Railway at Liss, Hampshire on October 13th 1956 – a tragic accident  for which Saturday’s event marks the 55th anniversary.

Among the 200 guests will be many former Sappers who served at the Longmoor Military Railway prior to its closure in 1969, including Brian Whitworth, who as a young railway soldier had been on the parade ground at Longmoor on the fateful day of the head-on crash. He acted as a stretcher-bearer, helping to carry away dead and injured colleagues.

There too will be 93-year-old Cath Morris from Llangedwyn, near Oswestry, whose brother, Sgt.Bryan Jones was one of the six Sappers who died in the collision.

Also expected to be among the gathering on Saturday, is 93-year former Sapper Caleb Priestly, who served with the Royal Engineers (190 Railway Operating Company) in Iran (then known as Persia), alongside the Stanier 8F Society’s locomotive, during its wartime service in that country. He will lay a wreath on the original Roll of Honour, as a tribute to past comrades.

The re-dedication of the expanded Roll of Honour will be enacted by Royal Engineers Brigadier Mike Stephens, and the service led by the Rev. James Symonds, a regular Severn Valley Railway volunteer who is also Chaplain to the Warwickshire branch of the Royal British Legion.

Although Saturday’s service is ostensibly a ‘private’ one, the Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley will be open to the public, and visitors will be able watch the proceedings, which begin at 2.30pm.