Monday, February 13, 2012

Trains - Part Two

Due to my error, we posted Part 3 before Part 2, so this is chronologically misplaced.

In the thirties, British mainline trains had been consolidated into four separate private companies: LMS (London, Midland & Scottish), LNER (London & North-Eastern), GWR (Great Western), and SR (Southern). Our convenient stations were on the SR, which had been electrified. This was convenient for fast trips to London's Victoria Station and the West End, but for me, familiarity bred contempt for this rather "boring" line.

My favorite was the GWR, which still used powerful steam engines. I enjoyed doing jigsaw puzzles, featuring the "Castle" and "King" classes of locomotive. I enjoyed the history of the company, headed in early days by the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I mourned the passing (many years earlier) of the "Broad Gauge" tracks, which allowed passenger trains to offer a more comfortable ride than the "Narrow Gauge" lines; I felt that it was tragic that the GWR eventually had to convert to Narrow Gauge to conform to the majority choice.

Early in 1936, I was recovering from 'flu shortly before my 9th birthday, and I couldn't return to my boarding school during convalescence. I'll never know if my father had to "pull strings" but, to celebrate my birthday, my mother drove me to the GWR Works at Swindon, not normally open to visitors, and we were given a personally conducted tour. Not until many years later did I learn that I had been shown around by the General Manager, as if I were a young prince of the royal blood!

The LMS was probably the biggest and most profitable line, as it served the cities of Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester. as well as Scotland. There was a rivalry between the two northbound companies. The LNER's "Flying Scotsman" was matched by the LMS "Flying Scot". In 1936 came the "Coronation" (LNER) and the "Coronation Scot" (LMS), to celebrate the new reign of King George VI.. In London, the main LMS station was Euston, but also St. Pancras was an LMS terminus. In those days, no trains ran through London from North to South (or vice-versa). LNER used King's Cross for its main line, as well as Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street, mainly used by commuters.. To this day, (on PBS) the initials "LNER" can be seen on the opening credits of the Poirot programs, which feature a fast steam train moving from left to right.

I'm not certain why I preferred the LNER to the LMS. It was a logical choice, since the LNER took the East Coast route, and was the line to take to reach Hull, Grimsby, and Immingham, the ports which received the imports of most of the timber brought in to the UK for G.H. Renton & Co, which my father controlled. As a small boy, I was probably more affected by the LNER's sleeker, silvery rolling stock, than by any family loyalty. To reach Scotland, one could take the overnight sleeper on either line, and the LNER coach for northern Scotland was at some point joined (probably at Perth) to the LMS train.

In 1938, our family enjoyed a summer seaside vacation at Nairn a few miles east of Inverness. The chauffeur (Frank Coles) drove my father there, while the rest of the family went by train. I was able to persuade my mother to take us on the LNER train north.There was a dining car on the train, and we enjoyed our evening meal there, but the dining car was taken off (also probably at Perth) during the night. To my delight, breakfast trays were brought aboard at Kingussie. It was there that I first enjoyed a "bannock", the Scottish version of a breakfast bread roll. Six years later, I took the same route to join my ship (H.M.S. "Norfolk") at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. I remember looking forward to the breakfast tray at Kingussie, but in 1944 it seemed greasy and unappetizing. Perhaps my tastes had become more discriminating, but I really think that wartime had brought lower standards. Remember, north of Perth, we were in the care of the LMS. I'm glad I can't blame it on the LNER!

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