It’s a little known fact that Blind Veterans UK once had a railway locomotive named after it. Chris Gilson looks into the story of a Patriot and its legacy.
To the small group of people gathered on platform one of Euston Station in London on 17 April 1937, it was a proud day. They were gathered to name one of the London Midland and Scottish (LMS) Railway’s prestigious ‘Patriot’ class locomotives in honour of St Dunstan’s (the former name of Blind Veterans UK).
The locomotive was 5501, which was the second of 52 express passenger locomotives that were constructed. Known colloquially as ‘Baby Scots’, they became better known as the ‘Patriots’ after the name bestowed on locomotive 5500 in February 1937.
As time went on more of the Patriots were given names of a military bearing, focusing on both regiments and also those who had been awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War. Confusingly, some were also named after seaside towns and holiday destinations served by the LMS, together with managers of the company.
By the mid-1930s the Patriots were well-established and a familiar sight on the routes served by the LMS, including the prestigious London to Scotland route, now known as the West Coast Main Line.
Guard of honour
The party who were assembled on the platform that April day included a guard of honour composed of St Dunstaners, the band of the Marylebone branch of the British Legion, members of the St Dunstan’s council, our then Chairman Sir Ian Fraser and Mr E J H Lemon, Vice-President of the LMS.
At the ceremony, Mr Lemon said that his company – like St Dunstan’s – stood for service, noting that St Dunstan himself was a craftsman, while the men who made the engine were craftsmen. The charity itself, Mr Lemon stated, was also producing craftsmen through its program of training.
For the naming, two large replicas of the distinctive St Dunstan’s crest had been produced in solid brass to act as nameplates. This had the effect of making 5501 (later 45501 after nationalisation) unique, as all the other named engines in the class used the standard curved nameplate style, which was sometimes accompanied by a regimental coat of arms.
After unveiling the nameplate, Sir Ian addressed the assembled party, saying: “I represent 2,000 men who were blinded in the war – the two battalions of blinded soldiers. Though not a regiment in the military sense of the word, we are bound together by the same ties of loyalty and comradeship as the regiments in which we served during the war.”
He added: “I would like to thank the porters and train crews of the railways for the kindly personal service which they always give to blinded people. I should also like to thank the directors and managements of British railways for the facilities which they have given to blinded persons travelling on their railways.”
Following the ceremony locomotive 5501, now proudly bearing its new name, returned to carrying passengers – both blind and sighted – up and down the country.