While doing research for Railfest 2012, I have come across all sorts of interesting stories and people. Percy Wilson is one of the most fascinating ex-railwaymen to have contributed his life story to Railway Voices – a project which was run by the Friends of the National Railway Museum.
Percy’s life story was recorded in 2001, when he was 102 years old. He was born in Cumbria in 1899 and began his railway career as an engine cleaner when he was 14 years old. Percy started firing engines at the age of 15 and became a driver in 1932. He had all sorts of adventures during his long career.
When he was 17 years old he joined the army and fought in World War I as a Lewis Gunner. In the recording Percy described what it was like when he first started working on the railways and what led him to join the forces.
“Well, it was a tough job for a young lad. I had to go into lodgings. My first week’s wages was seven and tuppence… Anyway the First World War started then… and Lord Kitchner, he was a fraud, he was shouting out, ‘Join up, join up, you’ll be back by Christmas’, but he didn’t say which Christmas we were going to be back.”
Percy goes on to talk about driving No 6225 Duchess of Gloucester, and the locomotive’s maximum speed when he drove it from Crewe to Chester during World War II.
“You never bothered by the speed. You had to get there so they could deal with it, but speed, I don’t know.”
“We’d… just short of six hundred ton on, five hundred tons the load for the engine out of Carlisle, and we passed Shap Summit in 31 minutes and coming down Shap Bank, course is quite easy that with six hundred ton behind you and we were about halfway down… the fireman that I had, he was a grand lad that, he was good enough for anything… we had a speed meter, you know, you were sitting like this and you just glanced down at it and I pointed to it, we were doing 110 mile an hour and, and Wigan was the next stop.”
When asked whether he had a reputation as a fast driver Percy responded:
“Well I don’t know. They used to say that I let it run away with me.
Percy Wilson was just one of hundreds of ex-railway men and women who contributed to the Railway Voices project. You can listen to extracts from some of the others on our main website.