Wallace (Wally) Arnold Oakes (23/04/1932 – 12/06/1965), a traindriver with British Rail, was awarded the George Cross posthumously for his bravery on 5th June 1965.
“Wallace Arnold Oakes (deceased), Locomotive Driver, British Railway Board Crewe (Sandbach).
Mr Oakes left Crewe driving the steam locomotive of a relief express passenger train. The train consisted of ten coaches and was reasonably well filled with passengers. When about seven miles from Crewe travelling at nearly sixty miles per hour the engine cab was suddenly filled with smoke and flames blowing back from the firebox. The fireman at once climbed through the side window and somehow managed to get on the cab steps where he extinguished his burning clothing by rubbing himself against the plating. He could not see into the cab but realising the brake had been applied he remained on the step until the train stopped. The flames subsided at once and he-entered the cab to find that Oakes was missing; he saw him lying on the cutting slope just ahead of the cab. His clothing was severely burnt and the flesh beneath had suffered similar to an extent described later as 80 percent of the body. Oakes was however still able to speak at that stage but was dazed. The first person to make an inspection of the controls was a fireman from an up train which was stopped to pick up the injured men. He found the brake fully applied, the regulator partly open an the blower valve open. It seems apparent therefore that Driver Oakes instead of quitting the cab as soon as the blow-back occurred remained to apply the brake, open the blower and probably close the regulator partly. The position in which he was found shows that he did not leave the engine until it had come to rest. Mr Oakes must have been aware that to remain at the controls of the locomotive was a grave risk to his own life. Nevertheless he applied the brake full and took all the measures he could to reduce the effect of the blow-back. Mr Oakes gallant action showed that his first thought was for the safety of his passengers and he thereby sacrificed his life, for he died a week later. He set an outstanding example of devotion to duty and of public service.”
Sadly, he was buried in an unmarked grave in St Matthew’s Churchyard, Haslington, Cheshire. Since his death, Wally Oakes GC has had two locomotives named after him, and there is a plaque in his memory at Crewe Railway Station.
The headstone took a campaign through a national Railway Magazine to raise the funds to be erected. It came about through a request that Mark Green had from the magazine for a picture of Wally as his medals were being sold (bought by Railway Museum in York) and they didn’t know he was in an unmarked grave.
DRW © 2018. Created 21/02/2018. Image by Mark Green, used with permission.