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PETER GRAY: Tantalising glimpse of steam five miles away

By Herald Express  |  Posted: November 29, 2012

local service: Ex-LNWR 0-6-2T No 27605 near Golborne, between Wigan and Warrington on the West Coast main line, with a pre-war local service Peter Gray

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HAVING arrived at Northampton on Thursday November 1, 1945, at a time approaching 5pm, those of us who were reporting for duty were told there was no transport — surprise, surprise — and that we were going to have to walk/march to the Quebec Barracks, an unspecified distance away, which I reckon was about two miles down the London Road.

I don't remember what formalities we encountered that first evening, but I do recall we were issued each with a palliasse, and taken to the straw shed and told to fill it with as much straw as possible, as that would be our mattress for the next few weeks.

Later, one look at my solid wooden bed convinced me that 'as much as possible' was not going to be enough.

Not that it mattered really, because we were so tired after each day's activities, that sleep came easily.

Railway activities were resumed on the first Sunday, probably while walking down into Northampton with the lads, to see what it had to offer, I noted LMS 'Jubilee' class 5XP 4-6-0 No 5625 Sarawak, a Willesden engine.

Quebec barracks was quite well placed to keep an eye on the West Coast main line — the only snag was that it was about five miles away, and all we could see was the steam trail left by each passing train — very tantalising.

However, by the second weekend I must have been 'finding my feet', or else we had finished polishing everything and blanco-ing the rest, because we were free from noon on Saturday, but not allowed to go more than 15 miles from Quebec Barracks.

It didn't take too long to find Northampton shed (Code 2C) which contained an interesting mix of modern LMS engines from the Stanier era, LMS engines from the earlier Fowler period, and from the pre-Grouping LNWR and Midland Railways.

The largest engines were four 'Royal Scot' class 4-6-0s, most of this class were still in original condition in 1945; Nos 6124 London Scottish, 6127 Old Contemptibles, 6128 The Lovat Scout and 6154 The Hussar.

The LNWR was well represented with nine Webb 0-8-0s, also a few 2-4-2Ts and 0-6-2Ts.

With the Midland main line not far away to the east, this company was also represented with 2P 4-4-0s, modern Midland-allocated 8F class 2-8-0s and an ancient 2F 0-6-0, No 22916 from the Johnson era around 1876.

There were 2-6-4Ts a-plenty, together with 10 class 5P5F 4-6-0s, and several Jubilee class 4-6-0s which had worked in from the Liverpool area.

However, all this kind of activity was brought to an abrupt halt when I lost the hearing in my left ear, the one I rely on, as I've never heard much from the right one since early childhood.

I put it down to being exposed daily to the icy wind screaming across the Northamptonshire tundra, but whatever the cause it seemed fairly serious.

Needless to say, the army did not see it that way, and packed me off to the army hospital in Northampton, which seemed to be no more than a dressing station.

Treatment was 'drops' and a wad to keep the drops in.

By the following Saturday I was declared 'fit for duty', although nothing had changed and I was still completely deaf.

More next week.

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