Off like a shot

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Firstly please bear in mind that I have no idea as to the layout, then or now, of the places mentioned in this tale. The story is one my Father told me when recalling some of the experiences he had whilst a fireman on the LMS throughout the war.

Early 1944. The place Liverpool Lime Street. A bitterly cold day and sleeting to boot. A train of 12 cars [4 of which were non corridor] and three vans behind a solitary engine and awaiting departure. "Jeez that little coffee pot is never gonna get these cars rolling Bud" So says an American officer smoking an enormous cigar and accompannied by a sergeant. He was addressing my Dad's driver with a half puzzled and half astonished look on his face. The "little coffee pot" was a Black 5 not long back out of works after war damage. All the driver said in reply was "We'll see mate, we'll see" Dad was busy making a good even fire with plenty of oomph but without making the safety's blow off and wasting steam.This was in preparation for getting the heavy train up the climb out of Lime street. There was just a gentle feather of steam issuing from the safety valves so Dad had got it about right.The engine that had brought the empty carraiges into the station was at the back to give banking assistance as well. Strangely, that loco was a Duchess.

The passengers on the train were raw American squaddies newly arrived by ship at Liverpool docks and on the way south to camps in southern England ready for the invasion. About 2000 of them. All their kit was stowed in the three vans which were bogie ones of the same dimensions as the passenger coaches. The train must have been in the region of 800 tons plus fully loaded. Once all the soldiers were on board and had had a cup of coffee and something light to eat distributed from a mobile PX van they settled down for their long trip south. The right away was given and with a crow on the whistle to the engine at rear the regulator was opened and slowly the whole ensemble was got on the move. With loud barks from both train engine and Duchess the ascent to Edge Lane was acheived at about 10/15 mph. Once the summit was breasted the Duchess at back whistled a long low "Whhhooo" of goodbye on the low toned hooter fitted to those loco's and the Black 5 was on it's own.

The timetable for the the train was for several stops to be made en route so that the yankee boys in the non corridor coaches could relieve themselves at station toilets etc. The whole trip from Lime Street to Willesden was booked to take roughly 5 and a half hours. All went well until the approach to Rugby was reached when they were sidelined into a long loop. Dad duly went to the box in accordance with the rule and signed the book. While he was there the bobby asked him if he had a bit coal to spare on the loco as his coal scuttle was nearly empty. This was duly given to the old chap. Dad went back after supplying said coal and trimmed the fire and made sure it did not go dead. He then sat down and had a read of the paper looking out at the signal as the driver had curled up on his side of the cab and dozed off.
After about half an hour the troops were getting a bit restless. Looking out of the windows and hollering "Hey Bud, whats the holdup?' Dad told them and went up to the box once more and resigned the book and rang control to ask the reason for the delay. Control told him that 'Willesden is not ready for you yet, they are chock-a-block down there" So back to the loco Dad goes and makes can of tea and sits down agian to enjoy a cuppa.

All this time trains are passing them going towards London. All sorts of trains. Passenger ones, loose fitted frieghts, trains loaded with tanks. trains with airplanes on them. Others stuffed to the gills with guns and artillery. Other troop trains with both British boys and Americans on board. Trains with tons of ancillary stuff requred for war. In all thousands and thousands of tons of all the parephinalia needed to bump Hitler's lot off.

Time lengthened and the soldier boys tempers shortened until they were near rioting at the delay. Dad paid several visits to the box and got a different excuse each time he spoke to control. After nearly two hours an American ranking officer jumped down out of the train and came to the engine demanding that the train move "NOW, BUD" Pop tried to explain to him the foibles of british railway operating procedures but it fell on deaf ears. So Dad told he was welcome to accompany him to the box and speak with control on the phone. This offer was accepted and the two of them trotted off to the box. Once there contact was established with control and the officer gave his name as "Major so & so" and roared down the line that he had "200O guys on your moving dog kennel a lot of whom were bustin' for a crap" Control must have said the wrong thing because the Major went incandecant bawling down the line that he was NOT going to ask his men to stay quiet for another hour while some some "office boy" sat doing his f*cking knitting. If the train did not move soon he and his men would shoot the damn train engineer and anyone else who came into sight. The Major showed every sign of carrying out his treat as he unholstered his pistol.

Dad overheard the conversation twixt the Major and control and he wasn't prepared to sit for another hour either. Nor was he prepared to get "shot in the line of duty". He wanted to get back to London, finish, and home. So he took the receiver from the Major and very calmly and slowly told control that if by the time he and the Major has returned to the train the road was not clear he was going to "drop the fire". Control started to bluster and say "you can't do that fireman" but was silenced by Pop saying " can't I? Well you just watch me guvnor" and put the phone down. He and the officer then left the box and before the train was reached the signal was cleared. Everyone clambered on board again and off they went with not a red signal being seen all the way to Willesden.

On reaching Willseden the crew were astonished to be asked "Where the bloody hell have you been? We expected you three hours ago! .........All the connections have gone now" and "Where the hell are we gonna put 2000 Yanks?" Dad said he did not know and did not care, all he wanted to do was get the engine disposed of and go home after 16 hours continous work. That he and his mate did. He never had any repercussions from his threat and he never found out where the Americans went either.
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