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PHOTO REPORT – ROYAL RECOGNITION FOR MORE THAN 40 YEARS OF VOLUNTEER ENDEAVOUR THAT RETURNED TRAINS TO WAREHAM

Published: June 11, 2018

Story and Photographs by Andrew P.M. Wright                                                                                         Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer

More than 40 years of determined endeavour by several generations of dedicated volunteers has been officially recognised with the Duke of Gloucester presenting the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award for Voluntary Service to the Swanage Railway.​

A first cousin to Her Majesty the Queen – and with an interest in heritage railways and steam locomotives – Prince Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, visited the award-winning heritage line on Friday, 8 June, 2018, accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, Angus Campbell, who is the Queen’s representative in the county.

The coveted and prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service is regarded as the MBE, the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, for voluntary groups.

During his visit, the Duke of Gloucester also unveiled a plaque marking the Peter Manisty Award from the Heritage Railway Association which was given to the Swanage Railway in March of this year.

The national excellence accolade recognised the Swanage Railway’s achievement in re-instating the line to Wareham and returning trains from Swanage and Corfe Castle to the main line at Wareham during a 60 selected day trial in the summer of 2017.

Arriving at Swanage station, His Royal Highness was welcomed by Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns and Swanage Railway Company chairman Trevor Parsons as well as the town mayors of Swanage and Wareham and the chairman of Purbeck District Council who is also the chairman of the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership.

Moving into the station booking hall, Prince Richard – whose grand-parents were King George V and Queen Mary – was introduced to Swanage Railway Trust trustees, directors of the Swanage Railway Company and officers of the national Heritage Railway Association.

His Royal Highness then met a range of Swanage Railway volunteers and staff as well as members of the Royal Corps of Signals which has had a more than 30-year association with the Swanage Railway.

Before Prince Richard unveiled the Peter Manisty Award plaque on the wall of the booking hall, Heritage Railway Association vice-chairman Mark Smith said: “After working for very many years, the Swanage Railway now has a connection with the national network and what an achievement that is. Behind all that, there is a very sound railway with a really good system for encouraging young volunteers which is crucial and critical.

“During our recent annual meeting with the rail regulator – the Office of Rail Regulation – the ORR was singing the praises for the Swanage Railway’s operation and organisation. You should be justly proud of that.

“Because of the encouragement and management of its volunteers, the Swanage Railway richly deserves the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service,” added Mr Smith who is also chairman of the Heritage Railway Association’s awards committee.

Accompanied by Swanage Railway Company secretary Peter Milford, His Royal Highness and the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset boarded the ‘Wessex Belle’ dining train – along with more than 70 other special guests, Swanage Railway volunteers and staff – for a trip to Corfe Castle.

With a royal train headcode of four white discs on the front, the train was hauled by late 1920s Southern Railway ‘U’ class steam locomotive No. 31806 which used to haul Basingstoke to Corfe Castle and Swanage day tripper trains during the 1950s.

The crew of the locomotive was father and son Swanage Railway volunteers Peter and Steven Duncalfe. A driver since the mid-1980s, Peter joined the Railway in 1978 at the age of 16 while his 19-year old son Steven is a recently qualified fireman.

At Harman’s Cross station, Prince Richard and Angus Campbell boarded the footplate of 31806 – welcomed by Peter and Steven – for the rest of the trip to Corfe Castle. The guard of the special four-carriage Royal train was John Stopher.

Arriving at Corfe Castle, His Royal Highness and the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset were shown the signal box museum – the British Railways signal box in operation from 1955 to 1972 and then from 2005 to 2011 – by Swanage Railway museum department volunteers Tony Udall and Colin Stone; Prince Richard having a go at pulling a lever in the frame.

Prince Richard and Angus Campbell were then escorted to the goods shed museum at Corfe Castle station – where more than 70 guests had assembled – for the presentation of a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service crystal trophy to five Swanage Railway volunteers.

Praising the Swanage Railway for contributing £15 million a year to the Purbeck economy, re-establishing a rail connection with Wareham and taking traffic off the narrow and winding A351 Corfe Castle to Swanage road, the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset said: “It is because of what you do that we are here today celebrating your magnificent achievement and your splendid work. The long-term achievements of your voluntary group are truly remarkable.

Angus Campbell added that the Swanage Railway had been rebuilt thanks to “determination” and that the relaying of the track to connect with the national railway network was “an amazing achievement”.

He said: “The Swanage Railway is a magnificent asset to the Purbeck area and a terrific boon to the local community and its economy. I congratulate you on being awarded your very well deserved Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service,” added the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset.

The Duke of Gloucester praised the Swanage Railway’s achievements – against the odds over more than 40 years – and acknowledged the role of several generations of  volunteers in re-building the heritage line and re-establishing the rail connection with Wareham.

He said: “It’s a great pleasure for me to be here today and have the very pleasant task of presenting the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service which has been created to acknowledge the important role that volunteers play in our national life.

“There is a huge satisfaction both in hearing the wonderful sound of a steam engine but also in providing a public service that is extremely useful to the community.

“In congratulating you, I hope that you feel a shared sense of pride in that what you could never have done by yourself you have achieved by working together as a group of volunteers. I wish the very best of luck to the Swanage Railway,” added Prince Richard, a former architect who is a patron of the Severn Valley Railway.

His Royal Highness then presented the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service crystal trophy to Swanage Railway volunteers Aiden Wright, Mick Stone, Heather Denning, Peter Frost and Peter Sykes.

A former Sygnet, Aiden volunteers as a station porter while Mick Stone – a former locomotive fireman at Swanage and a member of the Project Wareham team for more than 20 years – has been involved in the Swanage Railway since its formation 46 years ago.

Heather Denning volunteers in the museum department while driver Peter Frost and former driver Peter Sykes have been involved with the Swanage Railway since the Swanage Railway Society was formed in the summer of 1972, just weeks before the six and a half miles of track was lifted between Swanage and Furzebrook.

After the presentation of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service crystal, His Royal Highness cut a special cake marking the occasion before viewing a display outlining the many volunteer roles that are carried out on the Swanage Railway.

After a commemorative tea – and chatting to Swanage Railway volunteers, staff and guests – His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester left Corfe Castle station by car.

The Swanage Railway always welcomes new volunteers so, for a chat, contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 475212 or email him at [email protected]