My race to capture steam legend

A FASCINATING secret of local transport and Evening Star history can be revealed today … 57 years on from a momentous day at Ipswich Railway Station.

Nigel Pickover

A FASCINATING secret of local transport and Evening Star history can be revealed today … 57 years on from a momentous day at Ipswich Railway Station.

NIGEL PICKOVER tells all …

RAILWAYMAN Michael Collyer couldn't contain his excitement.

The Ipswich-based steam train fireman was at Stratford rail depot, in East London, with his driver colleague, when he heard the news.

The year was 1951 - and the London to East Anglia main line was about to be blessed with a powerful new breed of locomotives to help speed journey times between Liverpool Street and stations in big centres like Ipswich and Norwich.

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Whilst awaiting his return journey to Suffolk, Michael heard in the distance the chime-like whistle of the first of the wonderful new iron “workhorses”.

Then he saw for it himself … number 70000 Britannia, a loco that carried the name of the Britannia fleet that followed.

News spread that the next day Britannia was due to roar into East Anglia for the first time - so later that day, as soon as he returned to Ipswich, Michael tipped off The Evening Star's photographic department.

Next day dawned and Michael and his young son Trevor, aged five - together with our Evening photographer - were in Ipswich to see Britannia , complete with “The Norfolkman” headboard steam in - and race out on its way to Norfolk, final destination Cromer.

The picture of Britannia in Ipswich, which might never have been taken without Michael's help, was published in The Evening Star last month as part of a steam train nostalgia piece I wrote on the Britannia class.

Michael, now 88, and living in Kesgrave with his second wife, Jean, read the piece and got in touch to reveal that as our tipster he had appeared on the photgraph too!

Michael is holding Trevor in his arms, to the right of the picture.

The recent article told of my quest to discover the whereabouts of at least a part of the next Britannia in the series, number 70001 Lord Hurcomb.

As a boy I was an avid trainspotter and saw all of the Britannia class except Lord H, which regularly pulled trains through Ipswich. Thanks to the National Rail Museum in York I had been able to see the last part of the loco still in existence ... its nameplate.

Michael saw the piece last month and wrote: “ I saw your article in the Evening Star featuring the 'Brits' and I was very interested in the photograph of 70000 leaving with the Norfolkman for Norwich, as the chap watching was me with my five-year-old son! “I was a locomotive fireman at the Ipswich depot at the time and had spotted Britannia at Stratford shed the previous night and was told she would be making her first run the next morning.

“So I tipped off the Evening Star and they sent their photographer and got that lovely shot.

“I fired on the Brits and have several photos of them including your beloved Lord Hurcomb.”

Michael, who served in the Territorial Army during the Second World War, served on the LNER railway from 1946 to 1953 when an in-cab accident left him with a serious back injury, eventually forcing him to leave on ill health grounds.

Michael and his first wife, Nancy, have two sons, Trevor, who now lives in Lancashire, and Brian, who lives in Southampton. All have shared a love of trains, large and miniature. Michael is well-known in the area for running the sit-on miniature railway which ran for many seasons on the promenade at Felixstowe.

One of the highlights of his steam days was to buy and rebuild a couple of steam traction engines!

Only two Britannias survived the end of the steam era in the late 1960s. They are 70000, Britannia and 70013, Oliver Cromwell

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