Final tribute to ensure hero steam train driver’s memory will live on

By Geoff Courtney

Two medals awarded to hero steam train driver Wallace Oakes, who died saving his passengers on a Euston-Carlisle express, have been put on permanent display by the National Railway Museum, while a memorial at his grave, which has been unmarked since his burial 52 years ago, is to be dedicated at a ceremony on February 1 following a campaign by Heritage Railway.

Oakes was on the footplate of Britannia No. 70051 Firth of Forth on June 5, 1965 when its fire blew back as the Pacific was passing through Winsford station, north of Crewe, at 55mph, engulfing Oakes and his fireman Gwilym Roberts in smoke and flames.

Hero honoured: The medals awarded to steam train driver Wallace Oakes that are now on display in the great hall of the National Railway Museum at York. On the left is the Carnegie Hero Trust medal, in the centre the George Cross, and on the right a BR citation. ISABEL DONEY

Roberts managed to climb out of the cab and cling on to the locomotive, but Oakes remained at the controls as, enveloped in fierce flames, he brought the train to a stop. Only then did he fall off the footplate, and Roberts found him on the embankment alive but suffering from 80% burns.

Despite his own injuries, Roberts managed to telephone a signalman to raise the alarm, and the southbound ‘Royal Scot’ was stopped to pick up the two stricken men. Sadly Wallace, who was 33 and had become a railwayman with the LMS in 1947, died from his burns a week later.

Four months after his death he was posthumously awarded the George Cross – the highest civil award in the honours system – in recognition of his heroism, with the citation saying that “he set an outstanding example of devotion to duty and of public service.”

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