The Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway welcomed a special visitor at the weekend, as a former railwayman took to the rails again after a 60 year break.
Eighty-year old Jimmy Majury, originally from Belfast but now living in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, was a fireman on the old line back in the days of the Belfast & County Down Railway.
But back over in Northern Ireland for a short holiday he and his family decided to drop in on his old stomping grounds, long after he thought they were closed for good.
“Oh, they’ve done miracles here,”he says, “and it’s great to see trains running again on part of the old County Down Railway!”
Jimmy started his career on the BCDR in 1944, after initially working on Co-op milk vans. He says, however, that he was always interested in steam railways and describes the day he went to join the BCDR, “I was only 16 years old, and one day I went down to see the shed foreman at the Belfast loco depot at Queen’s Quay, and they took me on to work as an engine cleaner in the sheds.”
He continues, “The very first engine I had to clean was No. 20, but it wasn’t long before I got on the engine’s footplate if a fireman didn’t turn up for work. I always remember the first engine I fired on -it was a goods engine from the Great Southern Railways from the South which the ‘County Down’had hired during the War.”
“Your chances of promotion during the War were very good,”Jimmy states, “and once you had a year’s firing experience, you had to go in front of the Locomotive Superintendent to be passed out -and I was only 17 and a half years old!”
As a fireman, Jimmy’s job was to keep the fire up in the engine so there was always enough steam for it, which required a lot of physical strength shovelling coal nearly non-stop, but it allowed him to travel the entire BCDR system -which included destinations like Bangor, Donaghadee, Downpatrick, Newcastle and Ardglass.
Jimmy said that being back in Downpatrick brought back many memories of his time on the rails.
He recalls, “There was one time I was working on a big goods train, which left Belfast at three in the morning to go to Newcastle, and I remember sitting in Crossgar station, waiting for the signal to Downpatrick. I was having my piece and a can of tea, and threw the crust from my piece into the firebox. But my driver, big Joe Douglas -a gentle giant and born engine driver -got rather angry and said “Never let me see you do that again -give it to the birds!’Well, nobody ever argued with Joe, so from then on I always made sure the birds got their breakfast after I did!
Jimmy left the railway in 1949, a year after the BCDR was nationalised and turned into part of the Ulster Transport Authority – as the spectre of closure hung over the line. But he still looks fondly on his time on the footplate before the line was axed.
“They were lovely and happy days on the railway, memories of which will last with me forever, even after nearly 60 years. I still talk about the old BCDR as if it were yesterday;my wife and sons think of it as a friend, they’ve heard so much about it over the years!”
Downpatrick railway chairman Michael Collins said that the railway was “delighted”to have one of the “old hands”back on the line.
“It’s always great when one of the veterans comes down -it’s their memory of the line that we’re trying to preserve and it’s always fantastic to re-establish that link between the old BCDR and ourselves,”he says.
“We’re also glad when they give us the thumbs up -Jimmy travelled on our restored BCDR carriage, No. 148, today and says it’s just as he remembered it when he hauled it the length and breadth of the County -that’s what we want to hear!”jokes Mr. Collins.
He adds, “We hope Jimmy will be able to travel on our other Belfast & County Down Railway carriage that’s currently undergoing restoration in the not to distant future when he’s next over from England.”
Did you work for or have a connection with the old BCDR? If so the Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway would like to hear for you -contact us here.