Today, 30th January 2015, marks the 50 anniversary of the solemn occasion of the State Funeral of one of our greatest statesman Sir Winston Churchill following his passing on 24th January 1965. Sir Winston Churchill was the only “commoner”, i.e non Royal, in the 20th Century to be awarded the honour of a State Funeral. The day is especially remembered in railway circles, following the service in St. Paul’s Cathedral, due to the his final journey by rail being from Waterloo to Handborough in Oxfordshire for the private family interment in Bladon.
The State Funeral procession led from St. Paul’s Cathedral, via the River Thames on the Port of London Authority launch Havengore, that travelled from Tower Pier and the Pool of London (even the Pool’s crane jibs were dipped as a mark of respect) to the Royal Festival Hall landing stage. From there, the procession went by road to Waterloo Station and onto the funeral train that comprised of Bulleid Battle of Britain class No. 34051 “Winston Churchill”; Pullman brake car No. 208; hearse van S2464S (an SR gangway bogie luggage van repainted to Pullman colours back in July 1962 and stored awaiting its eventual use); Pullman kitchen parlour cars “Carina” and “Lydia”; Pullman parlour car “Perseus”; and Pullman brake car “Isle of Thanet.
Folklore states that Sir Winston Churchill requested that should he pass on before the French head of Government Charles de Gaulle that the train should leave for Oxfordshire from “Waterloo” rather then the perhaps more logical Paddington, however this may not in reality be fact. The official plans for the State occasion first started to be drawn up in 1958 under the code name “Operation Hope Not”. The train attracted large crowds along the lineside for its entire route as a mark of great respect for the man that had led and inspired many though the dark days of the Second World War.
34051, numbered 21C151 in Southern Railway days (as pictured left), was a Salisbury engine for most of her working life (except briefly being at both Nine Elms and Exmouth Junction in 1950) and was sent to Nine Elms, from Salisbury, especially for this occasion and was driven by a Nine Elms crew namely: Royal Train Driver A.W. Hurley and Fireman Jim Lester. The locomotive famously carried a three disc head code representing “V” for Victory. Departing Waterloo at 1:28pm, the train travelled respectfully slowly on Southern Region metals to Reading where it joined the Western Region line to reach Handborough, via Didcot and Oxford, arriving at 3:23pm. 34051 returned back to Nine Elms light engine via the reverse route, whilst the funeral train itself returned to London Paddington.
Jim’s fascinating memories about that day, along with some great photographs, can be read here on the excellent Nine Elms Locomotive shed website. Further information and pictures can be found here on the SEmG website.
After withdrawal in September 1965, 34051 was preserved in the National Collection and now along with hearse van S2464S has been cosmetically restored and is currently forming part of a special exhibition at the National Railway Museum in York.
Finally, as announced last December Hornby are marking the occasion with the release of their R3300 Winston Churchill funeral train pack comprising of Bulleid original style light pacific No. 34051 with cut down tender, in BR livery with late crest, 2 off Pullman cars, (although not prototypically the correct style of 1951 built Pullman cars) ‘Lydia’, ‘Perseus’ and Pullman liveried Gangwayed Bogie Luggage Van S2464 (note existing tooling is being used for the GBL and not strictly as per the prototype van that was modified with additional windows in the centre pair of doors). We await to see when this train pack will actually be available…