Journey through the life of a locomotive driver

Jack next to the Standard Class 5 in Fratton Yard 1959.
Jack next to the Standard Class 5 in Fratton Yard 1959.
Preserved Nissen huts at Camp 21.

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Two weeks ago I published a photograph of train driver Jack Neal standing alongside his locomotive, a Standard Class 5, in Fratton Yard, Portsmouth circa 1959. Well, I’m glad to tell you that Jack is still with us at the grand old age of 85.

I went to see him in his Fratton home where he has lived with his wife since 1960. Jack joined the navy in 1942 and served in the minelayer HMS Manxman. Her motto was ‘It all stands however it is thrown’.

Jack today in retirement in Fratton just minutes walk from Fratton depot

Jack today in retirement in Fratton just minutes walk from Fratton depot

Jack remained with her for the duration of the war. A year after the end of hostilities, he was demobbed and in 1946 he joined the Southern Railway as a cleaner at Fratton. Within six weeks he was promoted to firing and was sent over to Gosport.

Think about this. Jack might have worked with a man aged 62 then. In turn that man could have joined the railway in 1900 and worked with a man again aged 62. That man would have worked with a man who started on the railway in 1860, which makes Jack a third generation railwayman since railways began!

Jack passed through the stages of being a steam locomotive driver. At the end of steam in 1967, Fratton went mixed-traction (electrics and diesel haulage) and Jack drove them both.

Once a driver had learned to drive a steam engine, he could drive any class, be it a small shunt locomotive or a giant Pacific on mainline work.

With diesel locomotives, each class had its own instructions to be learned. Jack could drive class 73, 33 and 47, to name a few. Then there were the electrics Cors, Subs and Veps all with their different styles of working.

In the years since Jack retired, so many lines he once worked have ended. Jack had route knowledge from Petersfield to Midhurst, Chichester to Midhurst, the Meon Valley Line, Fareham to Gosport and the Dockyard branch from Portsmouth High Level to Unicorn Gate. Imagine if those lines were open today. How much traffic would be off the roads, as the villages the lines passed through have since been built up beyond imagination 40-50 years ago.

Jack retired 20 years ago, but there was one more terrific thrill for him. Imagine Jack driving an ancient steam locomotive, perhaps 50 years old, and then in 1988 flying on Concorde.

He and his wife travelled to Paris and did the tourist trail up the Seine and Eiffel Tower. They then flew home to London on Concorde. From old steam locos to the most modern of aircraft in 20 years.

Jack still meets up with his pals from the depot to talk about old times and swing the lamp.

While on the subject of Fratton Depot, Terry Collis wrote in to say his late father Albie, always known as Jumbo, was a steam raiser in the shed. He could not pass out as a driver as he was colour blind. However he worked on the railway all his working life.

Terry tells me that his father told him of the time his father and the driver of a loco had to shelter under a locomotive at Woolston when there was an air raid on during the war.

Some 50 years ago Terry and his brother managed to get a ride on the footplate with dad’s pal Stan Green. Later, when old enough to drink, Terry would join all the train drivers in the Rifle Club or the Magpie pub. They included Stan Green, Mick Lee, Frank Nolan and Nigel Covey to mention a few.