Hero train driver’s grave marked with headstone after 52 years

By Geoff Courtney

ON a bitterly cold first day of February, with rain hovering and low temperatures exacerbated by an icy wind, 70 or so people assembled in a Cheshire churchyard in honour of a railwayman who nearly 53 years ago sacrificed his life because he opted to do his duty.

Wallace Oakes, a well-liked colleague at Crewe shed, had joined the LMS as a cleaner in 1947, and by a fateful day in the summer of 1965, had risen through the ranks to become a main line driver. The diesel revolution was in full swing, but on June 5 that year he was at the controls
of No. 70051 Firth of Forth, one of the class of 55 handsome Standard Pacifics that had once strutted their stuff throughout the rail network but were at that stage in the twilight of their operational careers.

For the record: Cold weather and a strong wind fail to dampen spirits as an ITV Granada crew records the Rev Jules Walker leading the dedication of Wallace’ memorial headstone at St Matthew’s Church, Haslington.

Wallace and his fireman Gwilym Roberts were rostered to take over the 10.42am London Euston-Carlisle express at Crewe, and as they steamed northwards up the West Coast Main Line, their 11-year-old engine, which by a cruel coincidence had been built at the railway works in their home town, was about to shatter their lives.

A fierce blowback from the firebox filled their cab as they were passing through Winsford station seven miles into their journey, and with the 10-coach train travelling at 55mph, Oakes and Roberts became engulfed in lethal smoke and flames.

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