Final Waverley trip remembered by student protestor Bruce

Last week’s story about the troubled final journey on the Waverley line struck a chord with Bruce McCartney of Langholm.

By Jim Milnes
Monday, 7th September 2015, 6:42 pm
Train driver William Flemming bringing the last steam engine along the Waverley route.
Train driver William Flemming bringing the last steam engine along the Waverley route.

It was Bruce who took the photo, above, showing then Liberal MP David Steel by the side of the train, having been forced to stop by people protesting its closure.

Bruce was a student back in 1969, and was involved with the protest. He was one of three students who gave away ‘Help Save the Border Railway’ pens as they travelled back from Edinburgh University to their homes in the Borders.

“For the final weekend,” he recalled this week, “a coffin had been made and this was evident on the station platform the Saturday of the weekend the line closed. “On the Sunday night, it was addressed to Richard Marsh, the Minister of Transport, and put on the last train.

“I was on the platform at Hawick as the last train arrived, more or less on time. However, there had been rumours of tampering with points at Whitrope and the Hawick pilot locomotive was sent up in advance of the last train which we always called ‘The Pullman’. The result was that the Pullman was delayed at Hawick since the pilot locomotive was on the line between Hawick and Newcastleton.

“Gordon Hall was the signalman on duty that night, because he’d swapped shifts with Jimmy Douglas so that he could say he’d signalled the last train out of Hawick.

“However, because the line was effectively ‘blocked’ by the pilot locomotive, Gordon had to issue an instruction verbally to the driver that he could pass the signal at Hawick station at ‘danger’ having told the driver of the obstruction of the line ahead at Newcastleton. To Gordon’s regret, he never did get to signal the last train out of Hawick.

“That is Gordon Hall in the picture, lowering himself from the cab having issued driver Fleming the instruction to pass the signal at danger. It was a sheer fluke that I caught David Steel looking on thoughtfully. In fact, Lord Steel asked me last year if I was a professional photographer; my answer was that I was a student with a cheap camera and just lucky!

“As he passed me to go back to his signal box, Gordon muttered “Git yersel’ up tae the Holm!” He obviously had wind of the blockage of the line at the level crossing. I took the family car - it was a freezing night - to Newcastleton (the ‘Holm’) and took several photos of the villagers across the line blocking both the pilot locomotive and the Pullman. Again, by a fluke I have a photo of the Minister being marched away by the police.

“Once the crossing was clear, I took the car to Kershopefoot just a few miles up the line towards England. The pilot locomotive stood across the level crossing at Kershopefoot as the, by now, delayed Pullman passed towards Longtown. I still recall the sound of the train and the sight of the red tail light disappearing into the distance...and history.

“On the way back home, towards Shankend, the pilot locomotive, going back to Hawick, passed us high up on Shankend Viaduct, the cab lit up against the sky. It was as if a ghostly greenhouse was drifting across!