City remembers King George VI's last train 70 years on

King George VI's coffin being taken from the ten-coach funeral train.

King George VI's coffin being taken from the ten-coach funeral train. Large crowds had gathered in Ely to pay their respects. - Credit: MIKE PETTY

Long before the arrival of the ten-coach funeral train bearing the body of King George VI, large crowds had gathered at the main vantage points along the line at Ely to pay their homage. 

At the station crossing on February 9 1952, hundreds of people assembled on both sides, whilst lines of traffic extended for some distance. 

Heads were bared as the train rolled smoothly through the station.  

Workmen who had given up part of their dinner hour and American servicemen were amongst the crowds. 

At the little village station of Waterbeach about 100 housewives, farmworkers and children gathered. A crowd of more than 800 people lined the marshalling yards on either side of Mill Road Bridge, Cambridge. 

The long black funeral coach, with all its windows blacked out passed exactly on time.  

Queen Elizabeth II gazed pensively out of a carriage window as the train passed a group of railwaymen standing caps off near Hills Road Bridge.

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The Royal Train bearing the King’s body from Wolferton to King’s Cross had two local men as its crew.  

The driver was Mr S. Harding who first drove the Royal train when the King came down to Trinity, and the fireman Mr C. Pearman from Weston Colville. 

Also on the train, as fitter, was Mr W.H. Simmons of Kelvin Close, Cambridge.

Another local link is that the stationmaster at Wolferton, Mr Bernard Hodge, was formerly in charge of Whittlesford Station. 

At Cambridge South signal box The Welbeck Abbey, a Sandringham class engine, spick and span in polished olive green, was one of three trains standing by on the route in case of breakdown on the journey. 

The report appeared in the Cambridge News of February 9 1952. You can read the full paper at the Cambridgeshire Collection. 

Since publishing this report on a Facebook page named Fenland History on Facebook, several people have shared their families' recollections of the day. 

Claire said: “My dad told me about his parents opening the gates at Honey Hill to let it through and all watching it pass.” 

Barbara added: “My dad took me down the Vineyards in Ely (long before Lisle Lane and Vineyard Way).  

“We stood on a stile and watched the train across the fields. I’ve never forgotten it.” 

King George VI's coffin being taken from the ten-coach funeral train.

King George VI's coffin being taken from the ten-coach funeral train. - Credit: MIKE PETTY