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Obituary: Bernard Holden MBE

PUBLISHED: 15:40 20 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:10 20 February 2013

Obituary: Bernard Holden MBE

Obituary: Bernard Holden MBE

The Bluebell Railway lost its oldest and greatest supporter recently as its President Bernard Holden MBE died aged 104. Here we look back at his long and eventful life

Bernard Holden was literally born on the railway or by the side of it anyway. He came into the world on 15 March, 1908 in the station house at Barcombe where his father was Station Master. He started on the Southern Railway when he left Steyning Grammar School in 1925.


During the war, Mr Holden supervised the evacuation of children from London, controlled trains bringing home the troops from Dunkirk and plotted routes for trains to avoid bomb damage.


Later on, he was stationed on the Indian Railways as a Captain with the Royal Engineers. These years had a huge effect on him and were the subject of his first book Let Smoke Make Steam, for which Dame Vera Lynn wrote the preface. He first met her while in India.


Back in the UK, he was involved in reintroducing nationalisation of the railways in the Eastern, Western and Southern regions.


He met the four other founders of the Bluebell Railway when they called on him on his birthday in 1958 saying they wanted some help. Mr Holden chaired the first public meeting in a chilly hall in Haywards Heath.


Just over two years later, the first public train ran from Sheffield Park station on 7 August 1960, the beginning of the worlds first standard gauge preservation steam railway.


When he retired from British Rail in 1972 he gave all his attention to the Bluebell which he served as signalling engineer, superintendent and finally as President. He was awarded the MBE for services to railway preservation in 1992.


He was guest of honour when the Bluebell celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010.


His grandson Jim Holden said: He remembered going to the palace to collect his award. He said: Her Majesty The Queen told me to keep up the good work!


104 years of steam what an incredible journey he had. He was a very special man and a very special grandfather.


Bernard Holdens wife Lilian and both his sons predeceased him.

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