Railman was awarded George Cross

First published in News by

ON June, 5, 1965 engine driver Wallace Oakes, then 33, left his home in Sandy Lane, Sandbach, and boarded the train for work at Sandbach Station.

He joined his fireman, Gwilym Roberts, and they went to their allotted engine, the 94-ton Britannia Class engine number 70051 Firth of Forth, at Crewe Station.

Waiting for them was the 2.05pm express to Carlisle and the trains were then coupled up.

Below the chimney inside was a petticoat that directed the exhaust out - with a blockage to the chimney the exhaust would have no way of escaping. As the train entered Winsford station the firebox door was open and suddenly part of this petticoat gave way, blocking the chimney completely.

This resulted, without any warning, in a massive backlash of flames from the firebox onto the footplate, engulfing both driver and fireman. Fortunately Mr Roberts was leaning out of the cab window and although his legs were very badly burned he was able to climb onto the outer steps. There he put out his burning clothes by rubbing them against the bodywork and then holding onto the outside of the tender doors. He realised that the brakes were being applied and remained there until the train came to a stop.

Mr Oakes was badly burned as he stood in the midst of the flames that engulfed the footplate. He partially closed the regulator, opened the boiler and pulled on the steam brake, bringing the train to a halt. Only then, with his clothes almost totally burned off and with 80 per cent burns to his body, did he fall from the footplate and onto the embankment. He had almost certainly prevented massive loss of life by averting the destruction of the train. Mr Roberts was badly burned but able to phone the signalman and raise the alarm. The southbound Royal Scot was signalled to stop and take both men to hospital. Mr Oakes was so badly burned that a week later, after leaving hospital, he died of his injuries.

For remaining at his post, engine driver Wallace Oakes was posthumously awarded the George Cross for gallantry and in 1966 he was also awarded the Bronze Medal of the Carnegie Hero Trust.

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