EVERY year our train operating staff have to attend a meeting to make sure we are all up to date with the latest rules and regulations.

We realised that many of our volunteers do not know much about our early days at Didcot Railway Centre so we invited one of our longstanding members to tell us about the centre in the late 1960s.

Amongst many other roles, Steve has have been responsible for the team that despatches the Great Western Echo to 3,500 members at home and abroad – he thinks that 47 years might be a record for serving in a single role.

Last year I described how we first occupied the Didcot Loco Shed in November 1967 with the arrival of 6106 from Taplow, followed four weeks later by 1466, 6998 and coaches 231, 3299, 1184 from Totnes.

At first we shared the depot with British Railways (Western Region), who were still using it as a stabling point for diesels, and also with the late Bill McAlpine and John Gretton, who were, at the time, the co-owners of 4079 Pendennis Castle which was housed in the lifting shop and definitely off-limits.

At the time members were only allowed to visit Didcot by obtaining a permit and the engines could only be steamed in the presence of a BR Inspector. The site was unfenced and the facilities were very rudimentary. The only toilets were the gents in the main shed (which, after refurbishment, are still used today) and what is now the Brunel Room was a makeshift mess room complete with stove. The BR hostel was still open (just) and was sometimes used for the provision of breakfasts.

In March 1968 Trojan (no. 1340) arrived from Tamworth together with coach 1289 and gradually the collection began to grow. The society’s first foray away from Didcot was when engine 1466 and coach 231 ran on the Wallingford Branch in April and September 1968. By this time we had use of most of the Didcot shed and also the wartime ash shelter which kept the worst of the weather off the four and six wheeled coaches that lived there.

In the autumn, coach 9002 arrived complete with a full set of silverware, which had just been used by the Queen Mother. The kitchen was in a rather dirty state; as the coach was being taken out of service, the kitchen staff had not bothered to do much cleaning.

Visitors can still see all these engines and carriages at the railway centre today. We even went to the trouble of bringing Pendennis Castle back from Australia and restored (and cleaned) Special Saloon 9002.