Introduced to fill an urgent need for a general purpose type, the 43xx were an immediate success, and the fact that 342 were built (after 1932 with side-window cabs) is a measure of their usefulness. They served throughout the GWR system. From 1936 to 1939 one hundred were withdrawn and the wheels and other parts incorporated in new 'Grange' and 'Manor' engines. Withdrawal of life-expired class members started in 1948, but some remained almost until the end of steam.
5322 was one of twenty GWR 2-6-0s built in Swindon in 1917, during the Great War, and sent when new to France. This was in response to a call from the army in the summer of 1917 for the British railways to supply a further 160 locomotives to help with transporting supplies from the Channel ports to the front line.
Frank Potter, General Manager of the GWR, reported at the time to his board of directors that these locomotives, “should as far as practicable be of one type, i.e. 0-8-0, and of high power, and arrangements were therefore made for them to be supplied by as few Companies as possible, these Companies in turn being allocated engines from the stock of other Railway Companies. In the case of the Great Western Railway, we have no engines of the 0-8-0 type, and it was impossible to release any of the 2-8-0 class as they are employed exclusively on the Admiralty coal traffic.”
It was therefore decided that the GWR would supply 2-6-0s, which Frank Potter explained: “The Great Western type of 2-6-0 engines is in point of power and efficiency practically equal to other Companies 0-8-0 engines”. Nevertheless, the GWR drove a hard bargain, as Frank Potter continued: “The whole of our stock is, however, badly needed for traffic work in this country, and it was, therefore, stipulated that the materials should be supplied by the Government to enable new engines of the class to be built, an output of five per month being aimed at.”
A serving officer with the ROD, C E R Sherrington, recalled an encounter with 5322 in France in 1918. He wrote an article about it for the Great Western Echo in 1973:
“That night nearing the level crossing at Pont des Briques, where one turned off for the Mess, an eastbound train was rapidly overtaking me. A glance at my watch led me to hope that it was RCL* 21 running on time from Calais (Rivière Neuve) to St Omer, Hazebrouck and one or more railheads. There was no mistaking the type of locomotive – by the beat of its exhaust – a GWR Mogul, thus confirming that it was, almost certainly, one of the 53s doing such splendid work on those supply trains for the II Army.
She overtook me at the Pont des Briques crossing, with its metal rolling gates, and it was easy to see her number in large white letters on the tender – ROD 5322. Behind her were the customary 44 or so wagons, the supplies for two divisions. The gross load was some 770 tons: the wagons were not vacuum fitted, but, of course, had the French screw couplings.
The Great Western Moguls were admirable locomotives for this work: their predecessors on it, the Beyer Peacock 4-6-4 tanks, which were built for the Netherlands but never got there, were splendid machines but had inadequate brake power, being designed for suburban passenger trains. The LNWR class 27 0-8-0s, though fine pullers, had small diameter wheels for this work, and were more suited to heavier, slower, trains.”
* RCL stood for Ravitaillement Calais Ligne
The saying ‘Old Soldiers never die’ was never truer than with this engine. Demobbed in 1919 at Chester, she was withdrawn from Pontypool Road depot in April 1964. Miraculously, as the sole surviving early 43xx sent to Woodham Bros of Barry that avoided the cutter's torch, this gem was spotted there, and by 1969, after considerable persuasion need to secure its release, she was acquired by a Society member. The first ex-Great Western locomotive to leave the scrapyard for preservation, she was towed to Caerphilly in 1969. There, a small but devoted band of members of the Society's South Wales Group restored her, in the open, to working order.
The move to Didcot took place in 1973, she continued to be used on open days until around 1975 when she was stopped for various reasons. The owner at that time believed that items of historical value should not be restored, but maintained in the condition they are in. This meant that the engine stood as she was, static display only. The locomotive then passed into the ownership of the Society, this done a fund was started to restore the engine. Thus since the early 90s various bits have been overhauled, the cab was completely refurbished, the wheels and motion have been tended to, the boiler has been removed and the tender stripped down. Slowly the engine was returned to its 1919 appearance until she was finally ready to return to traffic in November 2008.
In November 2011 the locomotive was disguised as Russian locomotive and starred in a film version of Anna Karenina. In May 2012 she was turned out in BR black livery.
The locomotive was withdrawn in Summer 2014 with boiler problems.