Friday, January 30, 2015

50 years ago today: A memory of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral train

 The 21C151 Battle of Britain class engine Sir Winston Churchill pulls his funeral train through Feltham just a couple of miles from Staines

Fifty years ago today a five year old Legatus was standing by the railway track on a cold grey day in Staines (or Staines-upon-Thames as it has recently been named in a doomed effort to make the place sound more upmarket) waiting for Sir Winston Churchill's funeral train to pass.  

The Legatus' house, until the age of eight, today (right).  The railway line is just at the end of the lane.

We lived on what was then an unmade up lane (as it still is at the far end, at least) overlooking Shortwood Common.  The Common itself was not a place of fond memories.  In January 1963, the coldest month in the Twentieth Century in Britain , I fell into a snowdrift on the common and disappeared completely (I can still remember this incident).  A year later, the girl next door, who was pushing me in my pushchair, left the brake off and I ran down a slope into the pond on the common and hit my head on a concealed rock.  I was in hospital for two weeks with a fractured skull. Worse yet, as I can still remember it very clearly, I was chased by a bull on the common, on the way to school, when I was seven.  I have hated cows ever since.  

The crossing today.  Not changed at all

But fifty years ago the whole family walked down the lane, with everyone else who lived there, to the pedestrian crossing next to the railway line where we waited for the train on its way down from Waterloo.  I remember the tremendous noise and the smoke as it barelled past and  the flash of the chocolate and cream livery of the Pullman cars on their way to Oxfordshire.  I also remember being slightly disappointed at how fast it went by!  Even at the age of five I had some idea who Churchill was and how he had saved Britain from the Nazis (or 'Germans' as we referred to them in those pre-politically correct days).

This photograph shows the train passing through Staines station (where the signals are) just a few hundred yards from where we stood to watch.  The oast house on the left became a community centre and I bought my copy of Ugo Pericoli's Uniforms of Waterloo there in a second hand book sale about ten years later.

The Legatus boards Perseus at Victoria Station in 1992

Coincidentally, some twenty seven years later, I rode in one of the carriages, Perseus, which formed part of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral train, on my honeymoon, when we took the Orient Express to Venice.  At the time I had no idea that I had already seen this carriage, as a small boy, standing by the track back in January 1965.


  1. Interestingly there is an article on the BBC News website to the effect that he would not survive in the modern world of politics because he said what he thought and would not like spin. I wondered as I read it why is that a bad thing?

  2. Matt - it isn't a bad thing - and I think that is at the heart of the increasing apathy towards politicians and voting.. you simply cannot believe a word they say...

    Apposite of the topic of the post however, I was very fortunate to visit HMS Excellent and see the gun carriage his body was carried on to St Pauls last summer - I believe the gentleman who hosted us round the museum was in the RN guard pulling the carriage...