ON THE RIGHT TRACK
by Gemma Lewis
It was Sunday the 8th of July and, while most people were crowding the streets to watch the Tour de France whiz by, in another part of Kent a different crowd was descending on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.
Roger Robinson's 'Saps at Sea Tent' were celebrating their 100th meeting with a weekend of entertainment, culminating in the gathering at "the world's smallest public railway." By way of a coincidence it was also sixty years since Laurel and Hardy had reopened this famous railway after the war - 21st March 1947.
Laurel and Hardy meet Captain J. E. P. Howey the owner of this 15" gauge railway
It was an early start for me, my family, and my dad - Rob Lewis. Dad dressed the locomotive with the headboard and flags he had made, while we decorated the station before the crowds arrived.
Most members, along with Roger's coach party, made for Hythe Station for the 2pm departure of our 'Laurel and Hardy Special' train, running non-stop to NEW ROMNEY, then on to Dungeness - as it did that day in 1947. The locomotive pulling the convoy was Dr Syn (the engine formerly known as "Black Prince") the very same locomotive that Laurel and Hardy boarded in 1947.
The RH&DR Company made up the train with their special rolling stock: Pullman coaches, Bar Coach, Observation Car and, would you believe, the Royal Coach? (Yes, the Queen has actually traveled on the line.) With everyone aboard they departed Hythe to enjoy the ride along to New Romney to spend an hour at the station - just enough time for a drink, a look at the ever-popular sales stall, and have a chat with fellow members and friends.
A highlight of the day was the re-enactment of the 1947 opening. Our regular look-a-likes (Bud and Steve Hodgson) opened the doors covering the tunnel entrance to clear the line ready for Dr. Syn's departure. The crowd gathered around and watched in enjoyment, cheering them along. Yet it wasn't just members of the Saps at Sea Tent who came along. Among others there were several members of the Helpmates UK Tent; Hans Ligtenberg and four members of the Jitterbugs Tent - who came over from Holland; Wolfgang Gunther - from the German Laurel & Hardy Museum; and Bill Winfield - all the way from Cyprus; all of whom came specially to celebrate the 'Saps' 100th. There were also the members of the general public joining in the fun, a few of whom had actually been at the 1947 event. Amazing!
A very rare shot from 1947, note the newsreel cameraman on the right!
Throughout the day so many people came to meet and greet us, and tell us their stories. Patrick Pearson, who brought his family, told me he was serving in the army in 1947, and how he and some other soldiers had organised the trip to see Stan and Ollie open the railway. He was twenty years old at the time and has since passed his love of the Boys onto his son. Another story was told to me by Tony Clarke, who was five years old when Laurel and Hardy visited. He vividly remembers sitting on his father's shoulders, watching them and laughing at their antics. Coincidently, he now works at the railway. PLAY VIDEO OF THE SAPS AT SEA SINGING BELOW:
But, almost as soon as it had started, the re-enactment ceremony was over and the majority of guests climbed aboard Dr Syn for the journey to Dungeness. Here, the coach was waiting to take the 'Saps' back to Southend, but many of the others returned to New Romney - to make a full day of it. PLAY VIDEO OF TRAINS DEPARTURE TO DUNGENESS BELOW:
All-in-all it was a great day out, with fun for all the family. It was nice for my sister Claire and I to see so many familiar faces, and great to meet new people and share their memories. Many members expressed their intent of coming to see us in October at our next Convention. All I have left to say is "bring it on" -- I can't wait!
Report by Gemma Lewis
|GALLERY-JUST CLICK ON THE THUMBNAILS|
The loco Dr Syn was formerly known as "Black Prince" in 1947 , so of course Dr Syn was our main engine for the day. It pulled the special from Hythe to New Romney solo . At New Romney the main coaching stock was changed to a longer train and a Diesel loco was added to double head Dr Syn. This train took our guests on to Dungeness where the 'Saps at Sea' coach was waiting, guests who used their own transport stayed on the the train for the return trip. Upon arriving back at New Romney (see video below) , Dr Syn and the diesel were taken off the train and replaced the the steam loco that now carries the name Black Prince. This loco returned all our members and guests back to Hythe for their journeys home after a fun filled day.
The history of this special railway can be found on our 2002 visit page:
Laurel and Hardy at the RHDR 2002
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