Bluebell Railway founder dies aged 104

Bernard Holden celebrates his 104th birthday with Dame Vera Lynn
Bernard Holden celebrates his 104th birthday with Dame Vera Lynn

BERNARD HOLDEN, the grand old man of steam railways in Sussex, has died at the age of 104.

Bernard was one of the founders of the Bluebell Railway and was its president at the time of his death early yesterday morning (Thursday October 4) near Ditchling.

He died with only one ambition left unfulfilled, to be on the footplate of the first steam locomotive in East Grinstead when the line is extended there.

Bernard once said: “steam is in my blood”, and his family connection on the railway dates back to 1840 when his grandfather worked on the Brighton to Shoreham Line.

Bernard was born in 1908 at Barcombe Station, where his father Charles was Station Master.

During the Second World War he was stationed on the Indian Railways as a captain with

the Royal Engineers. These years had a huge effect on him and were the subject of his first book, ‘Let Smoke Make Steam’ the preface for which was written by Dame Vera Lynn.

He had first met Dame Vera when he was out there, and they remained friends.

Bernard chaired that subsequent first meeting in a chilly hall in nearby Haywards Heath which heralded the beginning of the world’s first standard gauge preservation steam railway.

The first public train from Sheffield Park station on the Bluebell Line was August 7, 1960 and the line is now nearing East Grinstead as well as being a huge tourist attraction.