I was already familiar with the 'Peace Cruises' (articles on all three of which can be found on this Website - the first of which however was the Cruise of the Calgaric in 1933) but, up to reading that passing reference in Everett's book, I had never heard of a 'Train Cruise' until I came across a book, Bare Knee Days by Haydn Dimmock, published in 1939.
Haydn Dimmock (see his Milestones biography) had a lifetime involvement in the Scout Movement, culminating in his editorship of the The Scout magazine in the 1930's. He was also a train enthusiast and a friend of a Mr Hind who was the then Press Secretary of LNER (The London & North Eastern Railway). It was Hind that had arranged for Dimmock to ride the footplate of a 'crack Pullman express' from London to Leeds. The driver of this train was a Mr Sparshatt. I was to find that Driver Sparshatt was to play an important rôle in the story.
On a summer morning in 1934 Dimmock was commuting to the London office of The Scout and had arrived at Kings Cross terminal. Strolling towards the barrier he caught sight, on an adjacent platform, of the LNER 'Super Cruise Train' The Northern Belle, standing ready for its departure as travelling hotel on a 'Round Britain' tour.
"In a flash came an idea." Dimmock wrote later, "What fun it would be to fill a train like that with Scouts to go cruising for a week."
Dimmock sought out his friend Hind of the LNER. The questions were asked. "Where do you want to take the train? How much can the boys afford to pay?"
Dimmock had some notions about a Scottish tour; "...having in mind the Loch Ness Monster" and decided on a limit of £5 to enable ordinary Scouts to take part. This would represent nearly £168.00 today. In fact, Scouts were charged five Guineas (£5.5 shillings) and Rover Scouts six Guineas (£6.6 shillings).In 2001 values, this equates to about £173.00 for the Scouts and £207.00 for Rovers - not inconsiderable sums - presumably, the Rovers were charged more because, for the most part, they would be working 'men'. The lower age limit was set at fourteen (though for subsequent Cruises this was lowered to twelve). It was 9:45 a.m. when Dimmock entered Hind's office and 2:30 in the afternoon when he left with a sheaf of suggested itineraries.
Surely the success of the sea-borne 'Peace Cruises' of the SS Calgaric in 1933 and the even more recent voyage of the RMS Orduña in 1934, carrying Baden-Powell and a contingent of Scouters and Guiders, were uppermost in Dimmock's mind in promoting the first of the Train Cruises? Well, perhaps so. The cost of the sea voyages made them available only to an elite and that had attracted some criticism. Here was a chance for all to take part. However, 'Train Cruises' were already a feature of the LNER timetable. It was then possibly just the sight of the one pulled by the The Northern Belle that prompted Dimmock into action.
SOME days later came a letter from Hind asking Dimmock to meet the LNER General Manager, Mr O H Corble, at King's Cross. Corble was non-committal. The scheme was possible, but the projected mileages were high, and he was not sure it could be done within the price constraint. Another meeting followed with Mr C C Daniels, LNER's Passenger Manager's representative. He said the scheme had been examined and passed as feasible, but the railway company wanted a guarantee of numbers and income. Dimmock agreed a deadline could be fixed, after which, if the necessary numbers were not forthcoming, the Train Cruise would be cancelled.
The scheme was put to General Council of Scout Headquarters. They were in agreement and appointed Mr R S ('Bob') Thomas to act as 'Train Cruise Secretary'. Dimmock said of him that he was an enthusiast and an 'indefatigable worker'. Capt. C V Swan, Scout County Commissioner for Hampshire, was approached to be the leader of the Train Cruise and Dimmock was delighted when he accepted, as he had proved himself to be a very capable leader of sub-camps at International Jamborees and acted as the British Contingent leader at the last World Jamboree in Hungary. Besides that, he was a "first rate engineer possessing a passion for railways."
Announcements first appeared in The Scout on 17th November, 1934. Some Scouts were lucky enough to go for free. Following the precedent of the Humshaugh and Beaulieu Scout Camps, a competition was set where Scouts could collect vouchers from The Scout. This time though, Scout Troops were encouraged to make a collective effort - then if the Group were successful in gaining one of the twelve places available, they could nominate one of their members to take up the place. The 7th Southwick Troop in Bayswater, London held the leading position in the table throughout the competition, which closed on 13th April, 1935.
By February 1935, plans were advanced enough for the three men - Dimmock, Thomas and Swan, to travel over the route by train to arrange all the practical details. They also met officials from every Local Scout Association to provide hospitality at the many stopping points; "All difficulties were dealt with sympathetically and a solution found."
There was though one difficulty that had led to an impasse between the two organisations. Insurance! The LNER wanted indemnity against damage to third parties that the Boy Scouts might cause en-route. Eventually though, even this problem was overcome.
Because of previous travel commitments and then failing health Baden-Powell himself was destined never to travel on a Train Cruise, though that was a genuine disappointment to him. He wrote:
"I only wish I was coming with you, but I shall be far away in Canada when you are hunting the monster." (A reference to an intended visit to Loch Ness and the mythical monster which was, and is, supposed to live in its depths.)
The First Scout Train Cruise, April, 1935
THE train was to be 800 feet (244 metres) long. Dimmock had arranged for a parcels van (the same length as a passenger coach) to be converted into a mobile cinema. There were six modern third-class sleeping cars each with 28 berths, giving a total of 168 berths, though there were to be only 150 people aboard, two dinning cars, a kitchen car and a composite dinning and kitchen car as well as brake vans. "The LNER", thought Dimmock, "had done us proud."
Indeed they had, because, for part of its journey at least, the train was to be pulled by the locomotive Papyrus. (Non-railway enthusiasts please note that engines or locomotives by themselves should never be referred to as 'a train'!) Although seven years old, Papyrus had only recently, on 5th March, 1935, broken the world steam-hauled speed record, travelling at over 108 miles an hour down Stoke Bank between Grantham and Peterborough. This was no flash in the pan. Almost every aspect of that day's run was record-breaking. The train completed 536.6 miles on its run from London to Edinburgh and return, at an average speed of 70 m.p.h. You would be doing well to make the same average speed today! The driver of this record-breaking trip was Driver Sparshatt, ("Driver Bill"), the same man who had allowed Dimmock on his footplate on the journey to Leeds.
If your childhood was post-1960's, you may find some difficulty in understanding just how exciting all this would have been to the average boy. Giant locos hurtling between London and Edinburgh or Glasgow were the ultimate in modern technology. The race between the LNER and LMS (London Midland & Scottish Railway) to hold the World Speed Record had really caught the public imagination. Schoolboys would know the names of the 'top link' and Royal Train drivers like today's youth know the names of Formula 1 drivers. Trains were a part of the social fabric of the times. Through the inherent class system with 1st, 2nd, 3rd and, in pre-war days, 4th class seats, most could afford to travel. Tracks reached out to remote and previously isolated parts of the country, so, unlike today, railway travel was accessible wherever you lived and 'train-spotting' was universal. The main attraction of course, was the locomotives, and the motive power was steam.
As I child, I stood on the level-crossing gates at Marholm at the bottom of Stoke Bank, just at the point that the trains like the Flying Scotsman began to slow down for their arrival at Peterborough North Station. This was part of the LNER mainline that the Scout Train Cruises took. Little did I realise, as I ticked my Ian Allan spotter guide, trying to complete my list of the Gresley A4 'streaks', that I was not just watching the then-current World steam record breaker Mallard, but former holders of the record, some of which had pulled the 'Scout Train Cruises'.
Today, the term 'train spotter' is used in a derogatory sense to denote 'nurds' and boredom, but I can assure you that to be within inches of one of these monsters travelling at over 100.m.p.h., as the whole world shook, was anything but boring. Unlike a diesel engine, the motion of the giant wheels with their conrods, links and pistons was clearly visible. You could glimpse the red glow of the fire silhouetting the driver and fireman. The smell of the all-enveloping smoke is with me still.
Four Scout troops were formed for the Cruise, each with a Scoutmaster:
Mr H W Bothamley, of Sussex
Mr L E Crabb, of Beckenham
Lt. Commander H E ('Barnacle') Saunders, of Hampshire
Mr P G Turner, of Paddington.
The first three of these were to serve on all the Train Cruises.
Mr A Chadburn, Assistant County Commissioner for Derbyshire, was the cinematographer. In the converted parcel van he showed the boys films loaned by Messrs Kodak,(They had presented B-P with a cine camera in 1934. Chadburn also was responsible for the making of a film about of the Cruise. This was later used at various Scouter Conferences. An electrician accompanied the Cruise and was able to keep all the batteries charged whilst the train was stationary for long periods as it was to be at Banavie.
Dr. Whatley Davidson of Newcastle-upon-Tyne was appointed as the resident doctor on the first Train Cruise. Subsequent Cruises had the services of Dr. F Kennedy, from the Isle of Wight who himself took many photographs of the cruise now preserved in Scout hands on the Isle of Wight.
Departure day: Sunday, 28th April, 1935
Travellers were met, at King's Cross Station, London, by members of the specially-formed LNER Scout Circle, a band of Rover Scouts in the service of the LNER who had volunteered for this onerous job. They wore white LNER armbands. The participants were organised into four troops and formed up on an adjacent platform where their leader, Capt. Swan, addressed them. Dimmock had invited Sir Harry Britain, air pioneer and author; to see the train off and he too addressed the boys, telling them that they were going to see some of the finest scenery in the world.
At 8 p.m. the participants watched the apple-green Papyrus couple up to the train and Dimmock was surprised to find that the driver was no other than Sparshatt. Having Driver Sparshatt at the controls must have been, to small boys and adults alike then, like having the bus to school or work driven by Michael Schumacher now. The press were there to take departure photos - so somewhere there must be photographic images available, but where?. The image of the locomotive Papyrus here is from an artist's drawing on a cigarette card of the 1930's.
Shortly after departure came the call, "Take your seats for supper", and the dinning cars were filled to capacity. The boys' verdict was, "More like a banquet!" The railway company, realising that they were dealing mainly with growing boys, had given their staff the instruction that there was to be no restriction on quantity - and this was to be the rule for the entire cruise.
Some of the boys were then treated to a cinematograph showing of Harold Lloyd in the Cruise's cinema. During the first part of the trip brass badges were distributed to be affixed to Scout staves. (I wonder if the Scouts took their staves with them? Where would they put them?)
The train steamed through the night and arrived in Scotland at Leith Central Station, Edinburgh, at dawn. The boys were paraded on the Station Platform by the Cruise doctor, Dr. Whatley Davidson of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. All were given a clean bill of health.
Scouts from the local area arrived and took charge of sight-seeing parties. There were visits to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and the Zoo and free transport on the city's trams. The Scouts boarded the train again a Waverley Station. It had been cleaned whilst the Scouts were away and was looking as spick and span as it had at the start of the Cruise.
The train left Waverley and proceeded at walking speed over the Forth Bridge, very much viewed as one on the marvels of modern engineering, though built back in 1890. This was an 'off-route' detour and, after traversing the bridge, the engine was turned to pull the train back over the bridge again on its direct route to the Highlands.
Wolf Cubs met the train when it arrived at Inverkeithing, at the northern end of the Forth Bridge. They had read about the coming Cruise and had come to wave as the train passed by.
At Cowlairs the train was split into two halves each with a locomotive to haul it up the long incline along the West Highland Line to Fort William. This was one of the most scenic parts of the route, but it was not seen by many of the Scouts because it was late evening and, not being able to see much out of the windows, they had gone to bed. They would not have known that they arrived in Fort William shortly after midnight.
Tuesday/Wednesday, 30th April/1st May
Next day the train was shunted into a little-used station at Banavie Pier, just north of Fort William, where it stayed for two days. The Station Master, Mr Cameron, "threw himself heart and soul into the task of making our stay a happy one." (Subsequent train cruises all visited Banavie.) The Scouts had the use of a field for games and played football matches against the train crew. It was pre-determined by the Scouting 'hierarchy' that it would not do for the railwaymen to loose against boys, but this was only achieved by the connivance of the referee, linesman and 'crowd'. Participants were awarded special medals made by a young Scouter H I Yoxall - he seemed to be a determined handyman and was responsible for all sorts of home made trophies etc. on the Cruises. 'Train Captain' Swan was to remark that, on future Cruises, he would need a berth in a separate compartment to Yoxall as he couldn't get to sleep for the bits of modelling materials that he kept finding in his bed! The boys took their defeat in good part and a wooden trophy, naturally made by Yoxall, was duly presented.
(I am kindly informed by Miletone's reader Jim Wignall that Harry Ivan Yoxhall, known as Ivan, was the son Heny Yoxhall and Alice Brampton. He was born in Handsworth Staff in 1899, and so would have been in his 30's at the time of the Train Cruises. Ivan Yoxhall is mentioned in 50 Years of Scouting in Birmingham as being an Assistant Warden at the Crofton Hill Training Camp. If any Milestone's reader should be able to expand on Ivan Yoxall's Scouting career I would be glad to add to this all-too-brief biog. here and possibly on the Biog. pages)
Banavie is in the shadow of Ben Nevis and of course the Scouts wanted to climb it. Two parties were organised, 'seniors and juniors', and nearly all made the summit. On their return it was discovered that one of the Scouters had left his hat and coat at the summit. A 14 year old Scout, Tim Cornwell, a relative of Jack Cornwell VC volunteered to fetch it. He was not allowed to go on his own, but had an 'escort' of two Rover Scouts. They returned that evening with the articles but Tim had a gash on his leg. The two Rovers admitted that they had become hopelessly lost and it was Tim who led them on and thus became first boy to achieve the summit of Ben Nevis on two successive days. This achievement was picked up by many of the London newspapers and Tim, like his famous relation, became a celebrity.
On a recent visit to Banavie (June 2007) I tried to discover exact location of the siding
the train cruises used. I was aware that the famous Neptune's Staircase was close to the siding. The 'staircase' is a flight of eight locks that lifts seagoing vessels on the Caledonian Canal so they can then navigate the lochs of the Great Glen to the North Sea, so I used the car park at the bottom lock as a base. I was introduced to a employee of British Waterways who had a great interest in the history of the canal and he used his mobile phone to talk to his cousin who was in charge of the 'new' signal box at Banavie Station just across the canal. His father before him had been in charge of the old wooden signal box a photo of which was proudly on display in the new building.
I was in the hands of experts and the now-disused raised bed of the old siding was soon pointed out to me. It had been breached by a building of a new road that now crosses the canal via a swing below the bottom lock. The remains of the siding were left to nature to mark its line with bushes and trees. There is nothing now but the sound of the traffic and the wind in the trees to mark the place where before the Second World War, year on year over 150 excited scouts chattered excitedly as they looked across to Britain's tallest mountain. On following day without proper equipment or training (it wouldn't be allowed to day) they then ascended the mountain in what must have been the adventure of their young lives.
From Banavie the train left Scotland for the long journey south to Humshaugh, in Northumberland. The Scouts were taken in motor coaches to inspect the Roman remains of Hadrian's Wall and returned to camp at the Humshaugh site where, round the camp fire, on the very spot of the 1908 camp fire, they were entertained by Sir Percy Everett who told them about B-P's historic camp, singing once again the songs that had echoed through the Northumbrian countryside at the dawn of Scouting.
Sir Percy Everett at Humshaugh points out the B-P motto Look Wide in the rock face below the cairn erected in 1929 to mark the world's first major Scout Camp which twenty-one years earlier that he had attended as a visitor.
The party re-boarded the train at Wall station and set off to Killingworth near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a few hundred yards from the Northumberland Scout Association Campsite at Gosforth Park. (An early Northumberland Scout County Badge is shown above.)
The next day was spent in Newcastle at the Cremona Toffee Works (what a delight that must have been!) and the Central Fire Station, followed by a campfire at Gosforth Park, to which the train crew was invited. They performed a credible Red Indian Dance.
The Cruise moved on to York, where there were visits to the Minister and Railway Museum. (Not the one that is there today.)
'Scouts Own' Service was held first thing before The Cruise left on its last leg back to Kings Cross Station, London, arriving at 4:42 p.m. where parents and friends were waiting for the boys.
I wonder what speed the train made down Stoke Bank with Driver Sparshatt at the controls?
The whole week had gone according to plan. One of participants on-board was a regular contributor to The Scout who wrote under the pseudonym 'Jack Blunt', of whom Haydn Dimmock wrote: "Who is Jack Blunt? If I told you I should be revealing a secret which has been carefully guarded for a number of years. Experienced Scouters have told me that Jack Blunt has done more than any other writer to inspire the imagination and develop the spirit of adventure and romance." However, though he wanted to remain anonymous on the train, he was very quickly 'rumbled', ambushed and had items of his uniform taken as souvenirs!