In March 2013 I finished working on ‘The Great Western’s Last Year’ and sent it to the publishers – The History Press. Ninety thousand words about 100 illustrations and 15 or so line diagrams to help a reader understand the story I was telling in the text. The book is an attempt to give a impression of Britain’s best railway company’s activities in Britain’s worst year and the Company’s last year – 1947. I intended to give a chapter to each month – the first part of each chapter would describe the business activities of the company – what it achieved, or did not achieve, in appalling conditions and the latter part of the chapter devoted to stories of snow drifts, collision, derailments, train breakaways – and how efficiently and swiftly these were dealt with. Some chapters became so long that I split those into two chapters. Of course, everything written in the book is pure fact, all the text is drawn solely from GWR Company Minutes and the Company’s records of incidents. There are several Appendices compiled from the Company’s records. The illustrations are, mostly, scans of pictures published in the GWR Staff Magazine for 1947 with a few photographs of GWR trains taken during 1947.
The work on this was exhausting for me – I was 72 and 3 months old when I sent it off and I have been producing books on the GWR, or biographies or general railway history since 1970 I think I have written 32 books and contributed chapters to books produced by Universities and also the Encyclopedia of the GWR. I knew I was getting worn out and that had some bearing on the use of words in the title of the book – The GWR’s Last Year and my Last Book. But then I remembered I had a long standing ambition to write a book about ‘my’ railway – that bit of the GWR main line from Steventon to Wootton Bassett. This will be 160 photos of almost every station and signal box on the line – some places do not seem ever to have been photo’d and I’ve been searching for several years – and 40,000 words of reminiscence and history. I’m trying to put this book together now – along with writing my usual, quarterly, history article for the North Norfolk Railway’s ‘Joint Line’ journal. I have been turning those out more or less continuously for maybe 13 years – I’ve lost count.
But now I must leave off this and go into the garden for my wife, who is already working there wants me to lend a hand.