If you haven’t already, please read my previous The Extra Hour posts first
Berrow looked across at Simms who appeared pale in the cab lights. I guess we’re both looking a bit peaky after that, he thought and flicked off the lights. “Handbrake off please.” He said and advanced the power to around 15% before releasing the train brakes. Now the moment of truth, would she pull away on that bank or would she slip or, worse, roll backwards? D211 edged slowly forwards – very slowly – but she kept her feet. Berrow put on a bit more power and the acceleration became more obvious. Slowly, and watching all the time for any sign of wheelslip he wound up the power until she was at 100% and climbing steadily. It was a long slow grind to the summit of Shap but they finally got there, cresting the climb at a sedate 20mph before accelerating briskly on the downslope beyond. It was downhill all the way from there to Carlisle but they wouldn’t make up much of the 40 or so minutes that they had lost.
‘Jock’ McKellar stood on the platform with his secondman, watching the sedate progress of the Glasgow Parcels as it ran in to Carlisle. There was a twinkle in his eye that spelt a good old fashioned ribbing for Berrow. As the train stopped he slowly approached the cab and waited for the errant crew to make their descent onto terra firma.
“Ye’re late Laddie – did ye stop off at Tebay for a pie and a pint?” “If only” replied Berrow, “I had an oil pressure warning halfway up Shap.” “I stopped and shut her down, checked for leaks in the engine room – nothing!” “Och, of course there was nothing – there’s nothing wrong with the machine – I can hear that for myself!” Jock turned his eye on Berrow’s secondman… “And you – young Simms is it? – I expect ye’ve a wee popsie in a farmhouse along the route that needed warming!” Simms flushed bright red at this and Berrow laid his hand gently on McKellar’s arm – “Jock come and have a quiet chat.”
They walked a short distance from the locomotive. “We were held up by soldiers Jock! I mean it – the army or some people pretending to be the army – halfway up Shap” The look on McKellar’s face was a picture as he digested this information – Berrow hurried on. “They put something or someone on my train and threatened me with the Official Secrets Act!”
“Good grief man” was all McKellar could say after that. “So what goes in the log Jock? – Soldiers or a nice little oil warning light?” “I ken what you mean John – I think I’ll check that engine room floor in case you missed a leak!” The two men shook hands. “She’s all yours Jock – take care of her, she’s a good ‘un – 515tons from a standing start on Shap!”
Postscript – This story as related to me by John Berrow took place in the early hours of 25th October 1964. On 14th October 1964 Kruschev was deposed in a bloodless coup by Brezhnev and Kosygin following the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. On 16th October Harold Wilson became Prime Minister of Britain after the Conservative government was rocked by the Profumo Scandal of 1963. On 23rd October a Soviet cargo vessel docked on the Clyde. A senior member of the British Government boarded the vessel on Sunday 25th October to meet with a senior Soviet Official. The vessel sailed on the following Monday. Details of the meeting have never been made public under the 30 year rule – presumably because they were deemed likely to cause “damage to the country’s image, national security or foreign relations”. At the time MI5 were investigating allegations from Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn that Harold Wilson was a KGB agent.
If you haven’t already, please read my previous The Extra Hour posts first
“Hold it! Stay where you are” yelled a voice from the embankment. A figure moved forward into the light from the loco – he was carrying some sort of gun. Another man joined him, also armed – Berrow could clearly see he was wearing battledress. “What the…“ “Quiet please Sir” the closest man said. Then, taking charge he ordered the other man to stand guard. “You – back in the cab” he ordered Simms and then climbed up behind him into the lights.
Berrow noted the uniform had Sergeant’s stripes and that the gun was a machine pistol of some sort – “You robbing the train? – I doubt there’s much to take!” he said. “No, we’re not robbing and that’s all you need to know”. “Look… Sergeant, we have to protect the train otherwise there could be an accident!” The Sergeant looked at Berrow and then glanced at Simms – “You don’t have to worry – Signal box in front and the one behind are aware of where you are – they have visitors of their own to keep them informed.” “Now, we’re going to be here for around 20 minutes or so. Are there any trains due on the other line?” Berrow checked his watch… “I’d expect the Manchester parcels in around 10 minutes it she’s running to time” “Right, well that’s ok – They’ll just think you’ve had a failure which, by the way, you have!”
Berrow looked confused – “There’s nothing wrong with this engine or the train!” “Maybe not” said the man in the battledress “But I think a failure story would be a good explanation when you get to Carlisle – it’s what the signalmen will be reporting in their logs.” Berrow noticed that there were no regimental insignia on the battledress – “You’re not really a Sergeant are you?” he asked. “No I’m not and if anyone ever asks I wasn’t here either – now stop asking awkward questions… Haven’t you got a rule book to read or something?”
The trio remained in silence in the cab as the minutes ticked by. The southbound parcels appeared on the horizon about 2 minutes late and flashed past to be lost forever behind Mauretania and her stationary train. Their personal reveries were disturbed by the man outside – “Sir, the car has just arrived… 5 minutes to go and the package will be aboard.” “Noted.” Was all the Sergeant had to say. The wait continued.
“What’s my Guard doing?” Berrow asked… “A bit late with that one Driver” replied the Sergeant – “He’s fine and in the same situation as you.” “Not long now.” He added. Another five minutes or so of silence and then the soldier below called up – “Package on Board – are we clear to go Sir?” A glance round the cab and then “Yes, back out slowly to rendezvous – I have some business to finish here.”
With the squadie gone the Sergeant turned to the enginemen – “Right, Driver – your story is that the locomotive failed here and that you fixed it. I don’t care how you fake that but you need to get it done. The signalmen will corroborate the failure story. Now I need you to get this train to Carlisle so that your relief’s can take it through to Glasgow close to time. Is that understood?” “Yes” said Berrow… “But what was this all about?” “That is a matter of national security and the official secrets act. It’s need to know and you don’t need… is all you need to know!” “Best kept under wraps eh! Driver?” “Now get your train moving and you’ll not see me again” he said and stepped down from the cab.
The final part to conclude in the next post…
If you haven’t already, please read my previous The Extra Hour post first
Passing towns and stations punctuated the night that stretched out before them. The black chasm of the Manchester Ship Canal passed below, quickly followed by the lights of Warrington and its Unilever soap works. Wigan and Leyland were behind them before Berrow eased his train into Preston for their next booked stop.
Simms stood in the cab door watching the station staff unloading and reloading the train. Throughout the bustle of the stop Berrow remained in his seat – checking his watch and the signal from time to time. As if automatically controlled by the clock all work ceased with less than a minute of the stop to go and there were several shrill blasts on whistles as van doors slammed shut. Simms closed the door and returned to his seat as Berrow checked that he had the road and the Right Away before once again easing the train away from a stand.
The road ahead was much darker now with fewer settlements – Only Lancaster, Carnforth and Oxenholme with any stations of note before Carlisle. Lancaster station was passed on the flat in a blur of lights. “What’s next Marc?” asked Berrow. “Carnforth?…” said Simms then , more sure of himself, added “Yes Carnforth and there’s no restriction through the fast lines so we can continue as we are.”
“I took the Wife to see it twice you know” said Berrow – Simms looked confused. “Brief Encounter – she enjoyed the love story and I loved the engines!” Berrow smiled and Simms grinned as understanding dawned. “That was shot at Carnforth then?” “Most of the railway bits, yes.” “After Carnforth?… What happens then?” Simms, now sure of himself replied “We start the climb up to Grayrigg.” “How steep’s that?” “Average of around 1 in 150?” “That’s pretty good young Simms and Shap?” “1 in 75… I’m sure of that’un” “Think we’ll make it up and over then do you?” asked Berrow. Simms smiled – there was no reply to that question, if they couldn’t they’d have to request a banker at Scout Green.
Berrow went for a good run at the bank with the power handle pulled right back – it would be hard work with around 400 tons in tow but the engine was willing and the speed dropped to a minimum of 53mph at the summit of Grayrigg. They hit the bottom of Shap in the low 70’s and the speed started to bleed away rapidly on the 1 in 75. They passed Scout Green at 54mph… “Half way” yelled Berrow “They’d be lucky to be doing 35 with a steamer!” then “Christ!” he exclaimed “There’s a red!”
A man beside the track was waving a red handlamp back and forth. Berrow shut the power and applied the brakes – full service at first – staring ahead. “Must be a freight that’s stalled” he guessed. With the brakes biting he pushed the handle fully forward into the Emergency position. They could feel Mauritania pushing her shoulders back into the train – showing her stopping muscles – 138 tons of very upset locomotive! The speed slowed quickly on the steep upgrade and they saw another waving red handlamp ahead. Berrow turned on the cab lights – “get the gun Simms and the flags!” “When we stop I want you to go forward to the next box – I’ll go to the guard and see about the rear – and put that handbrake on before you go!”
D211 slid past the second handlamp before halting with a judder. Simms screwed down the handbrake immediately then made for the door… “Not that side you fool” yelled Berrow – “This side – you don’t go down the six-foot when there might be other trains passing, stay lineside” Simms blushed and walked across to the driver’s side door and started to exit the cab….
Part Three to follow…