One Borders family’s connection with the region’s trains will be reaffirmed next week at the Royal opening of the Borders Railway.
From her home in Boston Court, Duns, Myra Fleming, aged 93, remembered her late husband, William, who had the honour of driving the last train before the original line closed, and looked forward to her grandson, Christopher, following in his footsteps.
Myra and her daughter, Judy Fleming, told how William took to a career on the rails after leaving school at 14 and a short stint in a foundry.
“He found that a bit too loud for him,” said Myra, “so he started off as a knocker-upper.”
“That’s a funny-sounding old job, that we don’t have anymore,” added Judy, “he was employed to knock on the drivers’ windows in the mornings to get them up for their shifts.
“After that, he was often running messages for them, or putting bets on at the bookies for them, and after he joined the Royal Engineers, he worked his way from stoking the fire to doing his exams to drive the trains.”
Myra recalls that her husband saw many changes on the line. Being members of the Railway Club, they were entitled to free transport, meaning they were in the vanguard of Brits taking holidays abroad, often round Germany and France.
But William truly appreciated the countryside outside his train’s windows.
“He loved the Borders line,” said Myra. “He used to say that it was so picturesque, and all year round, too,in every season. He didn’t enjoy the new electric trains so much when they came in. He always preferred steam engines.”
William was the driver of the last passenger train to run on the line before its closure in 1969, a run that did not go smoothly.
Protestors against the closure had gathered at different sites on the track, meaning delays. The then Liberal MP, David Steel, who was on board the train, had to get off to deal with the protestors. Myra still has a photograph of William and Lord Steel at that moment. “He was probably saying something pretty rude to them,” laughed Judy. “but the railway was such a big thing for people, especially the farmers around here.
“Dad was so angry that he was forced to bring in a train late on its very last run.”
Myra was originally invited to be a passenger on the train alongside Her Majesty the Queen, who will be visiting on the day that she becomes the country’s longest reigning monarch.
But she said she feels too reliant on her wheelchair at the moment, and so her daughter, Sheena Garthley, along with her husband, will be aboard, and will be presented to the Queen. “We’re obviously a wee bit jealous of them,” said Judy, “but we’ll get mum out and on a train again soon, we’re sure. She was taken to watch the track being laid at Stow, and I’m sure she can’t wait to travel on this line again.”