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Published: March 2, 2016

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

A devoted Swanage Railway founding father – who spent more than 45 years devoted to the cause as a campaigner and volunteer on the ground – has made a poignant final journey on the line that he helped to rebuild against all the odds.

Former Swanage Railway chairman and trustee Mike Stollery died in the Dorset County Hospital, Dorchester, in January, aged 71, after bravely battling a serious illness for several years.

A public memorial service for Mike takes place at St Mary's parish church in Swanage – opposite the railway station that he helped to restore – on Friday, 4 March, at 12.30pm.

In February, Mike's funeral train saw Victorian-designed London and South Western Railway M7 tank No. 30053 haul two 1940s Bulleid coaches from Swanage to Norden station where Mike's coffin was transferred to a hearse for the rest of the solemn journey to Poole crematorium.

Staff, other volunteers, supporters, colleagues and friends gathered at stations along the route to pay their personal respects to a man regarded as an elder statesman and founding father of the Swanage Railway.

A stalwart campaigner and volunteer in restoring the Swanage Railway's Maunsell and Bulleid heritage carriages, Mike's coffin was carried in the luggage compartment of 1940s Southern Railway Bulleid coach No. 4365.

It was an apt coach for Mike's final journey because he had helped to restore No. 4365 which was the Swanage Railway's first passenger coach when trains resumed at Swanage station in August, 1979.

Carrying members of Mike's family and close friends, the funeral train was driven by Swanage Railway locomotive superintendent Graham Froud while the fireman was Steven Duncalfe and the guard Martyn Curtler.

Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns paid tribute to Mike Stollery for his "enduring long-term commitment through good and bad to see the railway completed."

"Mike was a dedicated volunteer for more than 40 years, he led projects on the railway and was a previous chairman of the Swanage Railway's Trust and a long-standing trustee.

"He was always pushing forward with projects and maintained a clear sense of purpose. Mike was likeable and enthusiastic with a sense of balance and he solved problems.

"While we knew that Mike had been bravely battling a serious illness, his death was never the less a great shock to everyone. He was an elder statesman and a founding father of the Swanage Railway.

"A strong and eloquent advocate for protecting the 1950s ambience of the Swanage Railway, Mike always spoke out for the heritage aspects of the project.

"He had an enduring long-term commitment – through good and bad – to see the Swanage Railway completed and its objectives since 1972 achieved," added Gavin.

Swanage Railway chairman Trevor Parsons – a volunteer signalman and guard on the heritage line – also paid tribute to the keen carriage restorer's decades of devoted and dedicated service to the railway.

"Mike made a major contribution to the Swanage Railway over many years – first as a member of the Isle of Purbeck Preservation Group, formed in the late 1960s to stop British Rail closing the branch line, and then with the Swanage Railway Society after the line was closed and demolished in 1972.

"Mike's lasting legacy will be the restoration and introduction into traffic of our 1940s Southern Railway Bulleid carriages which ran between Wareham and Swanage from the late 1940s until 1967 and the end of steam.

"His knowledge of the Swanage branch line's history and the finer details of its buildings, carriages and locomotives was unparalleled.

"If anyone wanted to put something up or change things, Mike was the first port of call to get approval and seldom was his judgement questioned. Mike was always listened to at Swanage Railway Trust council of management meetings.

"He managed to persuade the trustees to commit funds to restore our 1930s and 1940s heritage coaches by showing real commitment to what he wanted to see running on the Swanage Railway.

"Mike will be sorely missed for the drive that he put into the restoration work which he lead with total commitment for so many years," added Trevor.

Donations in memory of Mike Stollery can be made to the Swanage Railway Trust – just visit www.swanagerailwaytrust.org.uk/index.php/fundraising.