Middy rolls back the years

VIDEO More than half a century after it closed, former school children who travelled on the Mid Suffolk Light Railway got together to remember their wartime journeys.

MORE than half a century after it closed, former schoolchildren who travelled on the Mid Suffolk Light Railway got together to remember their wartime journeys.

The “Middy” celebrated the 100th anniversary of its first passenger services at the weekend - and recreated the “School train” which took youngsters from the remotest parts of Suffolk to Stowmarket Grammar School during the darkest days of the war.

A dozen former pupils got together to swap stories of their journeys on the line which ran from a field in Laxfield to Haughley junction on the main line.

The line closed in 1952, but a short stretch has been re-opened as part of the Middy museum at Brockford and Wetheringsett station.

Now the pupils who rode on the line during its last years are retired themselves, but their memories are as strong as ever.

“I used to get on at Horham at 7.50am and we didn't get to Haughley until 9am - it was only 13 miles,” said David Johnson who travelled on the train every day during the late 1940s.

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“Most of the time we had to change at Haughley but towards the end the trains ran through to Stowmarket,” he remembered.

Dorothy Leach, née Allen, travelled on the line throughout the war from 1939 to 1946 - and remembers the impact the Americans had when they arrived in 1943. The line was vital for supplying newly-built airfields at Mendlesham and Horham.

“We always tried to find compartments with American servicemen because they always had sweets they would share with us,” she recalled.

Among those at the weekend events was Ronnie Thompson, who was fireman on the last two days of the Middy.

He originally came from Framsden, a short distance from the line, but after it closed he transferred to Finsbury Park in London and then moved to Ireland in the early 1950s.

He was photographed shaking hands with two schoolgirls on their last run the day before the line officially closed on July 25, 1952, and they were back together to celebrate the anniversary.

“It was a very peculiar line. We had to stop at every level crossing - I would open the gates and the guard would close them afterwards. It was not a fast route!” he said.

Sheila Pretty (née Dickinson) and Irene Booth (née Brundle) travelled on the train during its very last years.

“The last day was a Saturday and it was the day after the end of term,” Mrs Pretty remembered. “It was quite sad - but we never thought part of it would be remembered like this.”

A TASTE of the seaside came to the heart of the county as the Mid Suffolk Light Railway marked the 100th anniversary of its first-ever train - a special to Felixstowe.

To mark the event Stowmarket Mayor Anne Whybrow travelled on the train to be met at Brockford Station - masquerading as Felixstowe Beach for a few minutes - by Felixstowe Mayor Mike Deacon.

A beach had been created in the station yard, and to add to the atmosphere there was an old-fashioned ice-cream seller on hand and Morris Dancers kept visitors entertained.

As well as the reunion of former Stowmarket school pupils who used the train, there was also a new exhibition charting the rise and fall of the line which went bankrupt before it opened and survived through the second world war mainly to service important USAAF bases along its route.