The express arrived at Crewe. The major junction hummed with activity, night and bad weather making little difference here. The mail still had to be dealt with whether or not passengers slept! The train’s locomotive was detached then rumbled off towards its shed. Two fresh locomotives, coupled together took over. The guard shot a glance at the steam engines and their crews. The loco driver returned a grim smile. ‘The shed master said we’d better have two on tonight if we have any chance of getting up Shap’. The guard knew exactly what he meant. The trip wasn’t going to be easy. Presently the train resumed its journey, heading North, through Preston, and Lancaster, and into much worse weather. At first the two powerful locomotives made light work of their heavy train but before long the weather began to take its toll. The driver of the lead engine peered out into the blackness of the night trying desperately not to miss any signal. He’d be glad when they were finally at Carlisle! The sleeping car attendant was rather surprised to see Sir Archibald anxiously pacing the corridor. The other passengers appeared to have settled down for the night. ‘More cocoa and biscuits, sir?’ he enquired. Sir Archie nodded and several minutes later Ronnie was back with the cocoa. After he’d put down the tray, he turned to the old man, ‘Are ye warm enough, sir? I’ve a blanket back by if yer in need o’ it. It’s snow outside the noo.’ The old man was touched. ‘Thank you, I’m quite warm. Now, I’ve something for you, lad. I’d like you to have this.’ He handed the young man a small felt purse. Ronnie took from it a silver pocket watch and chain. Clutching the timepiece, he stared at it for some time then replied ‘Och, I cannae, sir. No.’ The old man held his wrist gently and added, ‘Oh but I insist. I have other watches. I realise this is engraved with my name but if it doesn’t bother me then it shouldn’t bother you. Mind it’ll want winding.’ The boy held the watch, staring at it fixedly. His dark sleepless eyes seemed to register no emotion. But how he stared! Then, releasing his wrist from the old man’s grip he put his arms around Sir Archie’s shoulders and drew him tightly. During this display of affection the old man’s inflexible Victorian upbringing disposed him to remain stiff, but he could sense its genuineness. And he could tell the boy was trembling. In mock remonstration, he pushed Ronnie away from him, chiding ‘Go on with you. Now, I’m going to try to sleep, please see I’m not disturbed, if possible.’ ‘Yes sir, certainly, and thanks a million for the watch’ The door slid closed and the elderly man bowed his head to pray, as was his habit. He thought about the attendant, the lad whose young life had already been blighted by poverty and hardship. If there were to be another war Ronnie would almost certainly be called up; maybe that would be a better option for him. No! How could that possibly be? The boy was bright. How else had he achieved the position he had so soon in his career? With these thoughts, and others too complex to unravel the old man fell into a deep sleep. The train thundered ever northwards into the mountains of Westmorland and blizzard conditions, both firemen toiling to keep the fires fed with coal. The great bank that is Shap Fell lay ahead. Even on a fine day this is an ascent that demands the best an engine crew can give, but on this night snow was piling high, covering signals, track and structures. Both enginemen leant out of their cabs facing the stinging onslaught, vainly trying to make out signals in the appalling conditions. Finally the form of a semaphore could be seen obstinately set at STOP, but it was too late. The lead loco driver, his body frozen in horror applied the brakes fully, but there was nothing he could do to stop the loco behind him. He was powerless. The mighty express, 500 tons of steel and humanity rounded the curve and both crews realised the ghastly truth. There, directly before them was a stranded freight train, motionless and fatal.

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