IN an earlier Yester Years, I detailed the Winsford train crash on April 17, 1948. A soldier from Winsford caused it going home on leave on the Glasgow to London Euston express hauled by Princess Class 6207 Princess Arthur of Connaught. 

Knutsford Guardian:

Princess Class 6207 Princess Arthur of Connaught

His train did not stop at Winsford, so rather than get off at Crewe and have to make his way back, he pulled the communication cord and caused the train to stop. 

I am currently researching this and other train incidents for my book Remembering The Big Four for the History Press. It commemorates 100 years since the formation of the 1921 Grouping Act when the Big Four railway companies came into being on January 1, 1923. 

But back to the Winsford accident on April 17, 1948, the soldier who pulled the communication cord stopping the train was on his national service and his job before this was as a cabin lad at Winsford signal box. 

So, he was aware of the workings of the signals and pulled the cord at a place that he assumed the train would stop and the signalman would be aware. But he was wrong. 
He alighted the train and made off across the fields. The following postal express hauled by Coronation Class No 46251 City of Nottingham ran into the stopped train at about 40 to 45mph. 

Knutsford Guardian:

Winsford Train crash 1948

Twenty-four passengers were killed and 10 injured. The error was with the Winsford signalman who reported the line clear and had given the postal all clear. 

The soldier gave himself up and made a full admission. On finishing his national service, he returned to his job in the Winsford signal box and did not retire from British Railways until the 1990s. This was the first significant rail accident anywhere after nationalisation in that year.

But Winsford has been rather unlucky regarding railway accidents, and later we will feature some old ones. 

However, let us look at the bravery of an engine driver by the name of Wallace Arnold ‘Wally’ Oakes. He was born at Barbridge in April, 1932 and his father was a Winsford man. 

Knutsford Guardian:

Brave driver Wallace Oakes

Wally joined the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) as a locomotive cleaner. This was the usual way men who wanted to become drivers would start – locomotive cleaner, passed fireman, fireman, passed driver and driver followed by top link driver. 
In the early days of the railways, a man would not reach the top link until well into his 50s. 

Wally was called for national service, and this was followed by the army reserve rejoining British Railways in 1955. 

In 1956 he married Dorothy Leggat, and they lived at Wheelock Heath near Sandbach. 

He was very soon promoted to fireman, and then driver – becoming a top link driver by the early 1960s. 

On June 5, 1965, he was booked to collect the London to Carlisle train from Crewe with fireman Gwilym Roberts. 

The engine was a powerful member of the Brittania Class 70051 Firth of Forth. They set off towards Carlisle and just before Winsford station they were travelling at about 60mph.

Knutsford Guardian:

Brittania Class 70051 Firth of Forth

Beneath the engine’s chimney, there is a sort of petticoat that directs the exhaust out through the chimney. 

While passing through Winsford station, this petticoat gave way, blocking the chimney completely, causing the firebox’s contents to be blown onto the footplate with great force. 

The fireman, although burnt, managed to get out of the cab by swinging round to the side of the tender and holding on. 

Had Wallace Oakes done the same, he would still have received severe burns, but there was a significant likelihood that the out-of-control train would crash at the next bend. 

He remained in the inferno and was able to stop the train before falling unconscious onto the embankment with 80 per cent burns. 

The Royal Scot that was on the same line was stopped and conveyed both men to Manchester. He spent a week in hospital at Wythenshawe suspended above the bed and on morphine before dying of his burns.

In 1966 for remaining at his post and preventing what would indeed have been a serious train crash, he was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian gallantry medal. 

Knutsford Guardian:

Wallace Oakes was posthumously awarded the George Cross

He was also awarded the bronze Carnegie Hero medal. 

His George Cross was later sold at auction for £60,000 to the National Railway Museum, where it is on display. 

His unmarked grave at St Mathews church Haslington, Crewe, was given a headstone in 2018 after an appeal.