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Bluebell Railway - a dream day for Bernard Holden MBE

PUBLISHED: 08:33 21 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:44 20 February 2013

Bluebell Railway - a dream day for Bernard Holden MBE

Bluebell Railway - a dream day for Bernard Holden MBE

Steam is in my blood, says Bernard. His family connection on the railway dates back to 1840 when his grandfather worked on the Brighton Shoreham Line...

Words and pictures by his grandson Jim Holden


Steam is in my blood, says Bernard. His family connection on the railway dates back to 1840 when his grandfather worked on the Brighton Shoreham Line. Bernard was born in 1908 at Barcombe Station where his father Charles was Station Master.


He lives and dreams steam, he spent his career working on the railways until his retirement. During the Second World War he was stationed on the Indian Railways as a Captain with the Royal Engineers. These years had a huge affect on him and were the subject of his first book Let Smoke Make Steam the preface for which was written by Dame Vera Lynn who he first met while out there.


The Bluebell began when four young students knocked on his door one evening saying they wanted to start a railway and asked for his help ... he asked his wife Lilian to show them in as their suggested meeting date was coincidentally his birthday the 15th March. Bernard chaired the subsequent first meeting in a chilly hall in Haywards Heath which heralded the beginning of the worlds first standard gauge preservation steam railway.


The first public train from Sheffield Park station ran on 7th August 1960. Some 50 years later, the society repeated the ceremony again and Bernard was able to ride the special train formed of just two coaches once more complete with his topper on.


The bottle this time was a bottle of Bluebell Ale, ceremonially smashed on the engine by one of those students, Chris Campbell, who knocked on Bernards front door over 50 years ago.


The railway runs from Sheffield Park, Horstead Keynes and Kingscote with work well under way to reach and reconnect with mainline services at East Grinstead. Bernard was awarded the MBE for services to railway preservation in 1992.


He remembers going to the palace to collect his award Her Majesty The Queen told me to keep up the good work, he said.


Something that he and the volunteers of the railway have certainly done.


As the guard blew the whistle outside our carriage door and the train pulled out of Sheffield Park Station at 14.00 hrs exactly 50 years on from that first train, he was waving his hat to the crowds through the open window. The steam gently wafted around us as the engine gathered its gentle pace I spotted my grandfather had a dewy eye,


I leaned forward to see if he was OK it was in fact a twinkle, a sparkle this 102 year old is still a young boy on a railway a steam railway.

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