Leading light of the Bluebell Railway dies

bernard holden
bernard holden

Bernard Holden MBE, founder and lifelong supporter of the Bluebell Railway, died last Thursday at the age of 104. Mr Holden chaired the first-ever meeting of of the railway society in 1958.

Bernard Holden was born in the station house at Barcombe on a section of the Bluebell that does not survive. His father was stationmaster and the family had been connected with the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway since 1840 when his great grandfather began work at its Shoreham wharf.

During the blitz he plotted routes for trains round bomb craters. In 1941 he was posted to 191 Rail Operations Company RE which sailed to Bombay. When the Japanese advanced he reconnoitred a 300-mile line to the northern tip of Assam, unloaded and shunted trains at Calcutta. He trained for jungle warfare with the Indian Army, being posted to run a line over the Naga Hills carrying troops and supplies for the Front.

In July 1945 Holden joined 8 Indian Engineers Railways group as adjutant to prepare for the invasion of Malaya. After VJ day he was discharged a captain. He reported back to Redhill and resumed his civilian railway career through nationalisation with the Eastern, Western and Southern Regions before retiring in 1972.

He was introduced to Vera Lynn in March 1944 and the pair remained firm friends. He died before he was able to ride the first steam train directly into East Grinstead station. Work is proceeding well on the extension, although a spokesman told the Express the bad weather will delay the formal opening until late Spring next year.

Line chairman Roy Watts said; “There was nothing more satisfying for him than to be brought to the railway to take a trip over the line. At least he knew the Imberhorn cutting had been broken through as the extension reaches its conclusion.”