A FORMER RAF mechanic has recounted the time he was court-martialled after commandeering a military bus at Byley Aerodrome, and driving a team of lifesavers to the Winsford Rail disaster.
Heroic Alexander Dalziel was just 20-years-old when a flight lieutenant’s personal orderly rushed into RAF Cranage bearing terrible news on April 17, 1948.
“I was in the hut when he came in,” remembered Alex, now 85. “He said: ‘By god, I couldn’t drop Officer Perry off at Winsford station. There’s been a big smash. They could do with some help down there.
“I said: ‘well, let’s get some volunteers’. So I went and got an RAF bus.
“There were five of us altogether. We were driving past the guard room on the way out and I waved to let them know it was me. But we should have booked it out.”
After racing through the countryside, Alex remembers being confronted by a ‘terrible sight’.
A signalman had wrongly given the all clear to a postal express, hauled by 6251 City of Nottingham.
The had train ploughed into the back of a stationary passenger train pulled by 6207 Princess Arthur of Connaught, which had been stopped by an off-duty soldier who had pulled the on-board emergency communication chord.
Alex quickly realised the response was being organised by a Winsford police officer whom he knew from Saturday evening dances at Wharton’s Armstrong Hall.
“It was Sergeant Nixon who was there, and there was a Dr Leek and a Dr McLaren,” said Alex.
“We had two medical orderlies with us. They had a bag each of first aid equipment. We went down onto the platform and mucked in and helped. Sentiment couldn’t come into it. You had to just go ahead and force yourself.
“It was a big mess. The number of people injured there was colossal. We were stopping haemorrhages mostly, and putting people at ease.”
Though Alex would later face the consequences, without his actions there wouldn’t have been enough transport for the amount of injured people they pulled from the wreckage.
“They didn’t have enough cars and ambulances. It was very limited.
“We took four to Albert Infirmary in Winsford and five, who were most serious, went to Barony Hospital in Nantwich.”
After three hours, Seargent Nixon came over.
“He said: ‘We’ve just had a call from Cranage. You’ve got to return home because you’re all being charged with going AWOL’.
“They had more helpers by that point so I said: ‘Ok, we better go’.”
“They were charging us with taking Government property without permission,” said Alex.
“I took all the blame, so the other four were let off. I thought: ‘what have I done to deserve this?’”
Under the circumstances, Alex’s sentence was reduced from 28 days to two weeks in a military cell.
But there was another problem: He was still in possession of a bicycle he’d borrowed from his future wife, Lily.
“Lily realised something must have been wrong because I hadn’t gone dancing for two weeks.
“Apparently, her dad said to her: ‘I told you, he didn’t want you. It’s your bike he was after!'”
Before the incident Alex had fitted engines on Spitfires and Hurricanes. He was earmarked for promotion, but agreed to a demotion so he could avoid a transfer to Dundee and stay with Lily.
Alex, who has lived in Winsford ever since, said: “I didn’t mind dropping rank as long as I could stay with her,” adding, he had ‘no regrets’ about taking the bus that day.