Railway veteran speed record breaker joins Mallard 75 Autumn Great Gathering

By Culture24 Reporter | 30 October 2013

George Purnell, who worked with Tommy Bray, the fireman when the Mallard locomotive broke the world speed record in 1938, has joined dozens of fellow former crew members in a momentous meeting regaling thousands of fans with tales from railway history.

A photo of a man in a suit
George Purnell, a railway fireman, worked with Tommy Bray, who was the fireman when the magnificent Mallard hit the speed record© Peter Heaton
More than 90 former track veterans have told their stories to curators in York, where the National Railway Museum is marking the 75th anniversary of the record by gathering Mallard and its five sister engines within the central Great Hall.

Many of them – including teams from major sheds such as Kings Cross, Edinburgh Haymarket and Gateshead, as well as colleagues from Aberdeen and South Wales – joined 20,000 visitors at the museum last weekend.

One veteran, 92-year-old Alf Smith, from Essex, had been part of the television coverage when the 50th anniversary of the record was marked on July 3 1988.

“When we announced we were actively searching for drivers and other crew of A4 locomotives from the 1950s and 1960s, we received an incredible response,” says Associate Curator Bob Gwynne, who first asked for stories during the spring.

“Given that many of the people who got in touch are well beyond retirement age, we were amazed that so many could join us to form a special Great Gathering of former A4 crew.

“Mallard is quite the celebrity in its big anniversary year. This must be one of the biggest get-togethers of steam loco crew in recent times.

“It is an opportunity for people to see the ‘big six’, but also a long-awaited chance to meet up with former colleagues and share colourful experiences of working as scheduled crew on the East Coast Mainline.”

This is the first time the magnificent blue loco, which broke the record under the direction of "calculated risk-taker" Joseph Duddington, has been united with its surviving sister engines. Nearly 140,000 enthusiasts descended upon the museum during the fortnight following the anniversary, journeying from Canada, the US and Australia.

The current series of Mallard-inspired events, The Autumn Great Gathering, has been extended by popular demand until November 11. Highlights include Different Light, which will show the locos after dark until Saturday, and a vintage-styled Grand Thirties Gathering.


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More pictures:

A photo of a group of men in suits assembled in a museum
Ex-railwaymen from Gateshead, Peterborough, Doncaster and Newton Heath - the Manchester stop-off where Mallard's 50th anniversary was marked - paid York a visit© Peter Heaton
A photo of a group of men in suits assembled in a museum
Many of the firemen and driver teams had not met since their time on the railways© Peter Heaton
A photo of a group of men in suits assembled in a museum
The museum launched an appeal in early 2013, seeking first-hand stories of life aboard Mallard and her sister engines© Peter Heaton
A photo of a group of men in suits assembled in a museum
The Mallard 75 season will finish in Durham in February 2014© Peter Heaton
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