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Jon Barlow swaps his Billy Can for a Suit

Founder member of the Great Western Society, Jon Barlow, aged 73¾, has retired from footplate duties at Didcot Railway Centre. He is seen here during his last driving turn on No 4144, on Sunday 23 September, with billy can of tea keeping hot on the shelf above the firehole door.

Jon is celebrated as one of the four 16-year-old schoolboys, who, in 1961,wrote a letter to The Railway Magazine proposing preservation of a Great Western Railway 0-4-2 tank locomotive of the 14xx class. Jon actually volunteered to write the first letter, as he was the only one with access to a typewriter! The cost of launching the organisation, which now runs Didcot Railway Centre, and has assets worth several millions of pounds, was a threepenny stamp!

Jon’s letter was published in the August 1961 edition of The Railway Magazine, and donations started to flow in, enabling the 0-4-2 tank to be purchased in 1964. The happy decision to adopt the name Great Western by the Society, at a time when British Railways was intent on destroying all evidence of this potent brand, enabled the schoolboys’ initiative to grow and flourish.

However, Didcot Railway Centre, and the GWS, will not be saying goodbye to Jon just yet, as he was elected a Director of the Great Western Society at its Annual General Meeting earlier in September. He will be keeping an elder statesman’s eye on the Society’s fortunes.

Today, of course, there is the satisfaction of seeing the initials GWR proudly carried on brand new trains which run on the lines around Didcot Railway Centre. How perceptive of the enthusiasts to keep the GWR brand alive during the dark days of the 1960s and 1970s, until a later generation of railway operators would recognise its value decades later.

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