The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)
“Gentlemen, The King!”
Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (then Duke and Duchess of York) on the footplate of the Southern Railway Iocomotive” Lord Nelson,” at Ashford, Kent.
Everywhere throughout A the world the toast: “Gentlemen, The King!” is now being honoured. His Majesty King George VI, of whom His Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury remarked: “He has made the welfare of industrial workers his special care and study,” rightly may look upon railway folk at Home and overseas as among the most loyal and most devoted of subjects. Railway managements in every corner of the wide-spread British Commonwealth officially celebrate the Coronation of King George and his gracious consort; Queen Elizabeth, on May 12, and stations and offices carry a wealth of decoration suitable to the historic occasion.
Their Majesties The King and Queen, and, indeed, all the Royal Family, are very good friends of the railways. For short-distance travel, our Royal House naturally make extensive use of road motor transport. When it comes to long-distance travel, however, preference almost invariably is given to the railway as a means of movement. It has several times been the privilege of the New Zealand Railways to convey members of the Royal House over their system, while at Home a special Royal Train is always kept in readiness for immediate use at the Wolverton Carriage Shops of the London, Midland and Scottish line.
Unlike Queen Victoria, who disliked travelling at high speed, King George V liked to journey by rail at the normal high speeds of his day. The same normality applies to our present ruler, King George VI, whose Coronation we now celebrate. In the ordinary course of things, no attempt at record breaking is made when planning the schedules for the Royal Train. Now and again, however, some really fast running has been registered, notably on the Great Western line between London and Plymouth.
A red-letter run was made in July, 1903, when, as Prince and Princess of Wales, King George V and Queen Mary toured the Duchy of Cornwall. On this occasion the 245 3/4 miles between Paddington and Plymouth were scheduled to be covered in 4 hours 30 minutes, or fifteen minutes faster than the previous record journey made by King Edward VII in the previous year, in the opposite direction. The Royal Train consisted of five coaches, hauled by the 4-4-0 locomotive “City of Bath.” Leaving Paddington at 10.40 a.m., and running non-stop to Plymouth, via Bristol, it actually accomplished the journey in 3 hours 53 minutes.
In the course of his railway journeys, King George VI, like his beloved father, invariably evinces the greatest interest in the practical side of railway working. Thousands of railwaymen of all ranks have been engaged in conversation with His Majesty in his search for informtion regarding railway affairs, and King George VI is one of the easiest passengers in the world to please, being appreciative of every little act of courtesy, and never failing to bestow a kindly word of praise upon those concerned directly or indirectly with the operation of the Royal Train.
On several occasion our Kings have actually taken charge on the footplate of the engine drawing the Royal Train. There was that memorable experience, on April 28, 1924, when King George V and Queen Mary visited Swindon Locomotive Works. On the return journey, both the King and Queen mounted the footplate, and His Majesty started the locomotive (No. 4082, “Windsor Castle”) and drove it from the Locomotive Works to the Station. The engine to-day carries on each side of the cab a suitable brass plate recording this occurrence. As Duke and Duchess of York, our present Majesties inspected the Southern Railway Works at Ashford, on October 20, 1926. They viewed with pleasure the new Southern locomotive “Lord Nelson”—at that time the newest and most powerful locomotive page 34 page 35 on the system—and the Duke of York himself drove it from the Works to Ashford Station. Over many main-lines the Duke and Duchess travelled, the majority of the trips being visits to industrial centres. Even on their honeymoon, the Duke and Duchess of York, as they then were, made use of the railway to travel by special train from Waterloo Station, London, to Bookham. The Southern Company's London terminus then was tastefully decorated with flowers and shrubs, and railwaymen and villagers at Bookham joined hands in decorating their little station with flags and streamers.
Journeys between London and Scotland are among the most important of the long-distance runs made by the Royal Train. Both the East and West Coast Routes are used on occasion. Normally the trip from London to Balmoral is made by the West Coast Route out of Euston Station. Built as long ago as 1900, in the Wolverton shops of the London and North Western (now L. M. and S.) Railway, the Royal Train always stands in readiness for a “journey at Wolverton. Twenty coaches are available for forming the train, these all being painted outside in the old L. and N. W. colours—lower panels in carmine lake, and upper panels in white, with lining of gold leaf. As a general rule, only ten of the available vehicles are selected to form the Royal Train, these ten coaches weighing approximately 370 tons. Two of the carriages are special saloons for the personal use of Their-Majesties, and these carry on the lower outside panels the Royal Coat-of-Arms, and the insignia of the various Orders of Chivalry, such as St. George, The Garter, St. Andrew and St. Patrick, these all being exquisitely hand-painted. The cornice mouldings are ornamented with an oak-leaf design and gilded; while the headstock ends are carved with lions' heads, gilded, and all the door handles are gold-plated. Replacing the conventional step-boards, there are provided leather-covered folding-steps extending to ground level.
Highly-polished teak double doors give access to a square vestibule at each end of the Royal saloons. In the case of the King's saloon, the forward entrance leads to the smoking-room, finished in fiddle-back mahogany. An arm-chair, covered in apple-green Morocco leather, stands in each corner of the smoking-room, while on each side is a table of the beautiful fiddle-back mahogany. Normally, this is the saloon in which both the King and Queen sit during their journeys. Only when night travel is involved, it is usual to attach the Queen's private saloon to the train.
Adjoining the smoking saloon is the day compartment, where the furniture coverings include imitation Jacobean tapestry patterned with quaint figures upon a cream ground, and a selection of green silk rep coverings which were personally chosen by Queen Mary. In the King's day compartment—largely devoted to office affairs en route—there is a special desk for His Majesty, where there are handled the messages brought to the train by King's Messengers at the various stopping-points. Connecting with this compartment is His Majesty's sleeping saloon, furnished with a silver-plated bed and satinwood dressing-table. Adjoining the bedroom is the bathroom, and a compartment for the sergeant footman attending upon His Majesty.
The Queen's saloon corresponds largely to the King's, but the interior colour scheme is in blue. A noteworthy feature is that all the interior equipment is arranged in duplicate—two writing-tables, two easy-chairs, and so on. This is explained by the fact that the carriage was originally designed for Queen Alexandra, who was always accompanied on her travels by Princess Victoria. The furniture is of satinwood, the walls are finished in white enamel, and the decorations are Georgian. The bedroom furniture is covered in blue silk brocade, and a pink marble wash-stand is a feature of the adjoining bathroom.
Behind the Royal saloons is marshalled the dining-car, with the kitchen end trailing. The car is of standard design, and the food is cooked by specially selected members of the railway catering staff. The complete train, including the locomotive cab, is linked up by an elaborate system of telephones. In addition to the ordinary train staff, the Royal train carries a special staff drawn from the carriage and wagon department, to act as train attendants and be available in case of emergency. Two skilled telegraphists also are included. A first-class corridor brake van, marshalled next to the locomotive, accommodates the train staff. The King, it may be remarked, only uses the special train when this is essential, many journeys being made in an ordinary reserved coach attached to the regular expresses. Incidentally, Their Majesties do not, as is sometimes supposed, travel free by railway. A charge is made to the Royal Household for the service, just as is done in the case of a private individual requiring special accommodation.
Quiet efficiency and dignity are the key-notes of Royal travel. On all but formal occasions, railwaymen and the public respect Their Majesties desire for reasonable privacy, but on State occasions the railways and railway workers meet to the full every ceremonial demand made upon them. Conveying Royal travellers is a great responsibility, but a great privilege. By one and all the duty is so regarded, and at this historic Coronation season railway folk the world over echo, loyally and with all their hearts, the time-honoured toast: “Gentlemen, The King! Long May He Reign!”page 36