Hero steam train driver’s memorial unveiled

By Geoff Courtney

A memorial headstone to a hero steam train driver has been unveiled more than half a century after he had been buried in an unmarked grave.

The memorial, which features an engraving of a George Cross in recognition of him being awarded the prestigious medal for his life-saving actions, has been paid for by donors to a fund-raising appeal launched by Heritage Railway.

Tragic loco: Britannia No. 70051 Firth of Forth heads an express on the WCML at Fulwood, north of Preston. A blowback on the footplate of the Pacific in June 1965 led to the death of the driver, Wallace Oakes, whose unmarked grave has been fitted with a memorial headstone after an appeal by Heritage Railway. COLOUR RAIL/P HUGHES

The driver, Wallace Oakes, remained at the controls of Britannia No. 70051 Firth of Forth after a fierce blowback led to him being engulfed in flames while the Euston-Carlisle express was passing through Winsford station, north of Crewe, at 55mph on June 5, 1965.

His fireman, Gwilym Roberts, who escaped from the footplate and clung on to the side of the Pacific’s cab, found Oakes on the embankment after he had brought the train to a halt and so prevented a potential major accident. Oakes was suffering from 80% burns, from which he died a week later.

Four months later Oakes, who was based at Crewe shed, was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian award in the honours system, for his heroism in remaining at the controls despite being enveloped in flames and smoke. He was also awarded the Carnegie Hero Trust medal the following year, and in 1981 electric locomotive No. 86260 (formerly E3144) was named after him.

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