George Albert Barlow was born in Nottingham in September 1916 and developed a life-long interest in railways of all gauges and steam locomotives in particular. On leaving school, he tried to join the LNER as an engine cleaner at Colwick but the company was recruiting only a few new staff at that time and George was one of the unlucky applicants. Instead, he joined the Nottingham Journal where he became a proof reader until being called-up in 1940. With his interest in railways, George applied to join the Railway Operating Department of the Royal Engineers and – to his surprise – he was accepted.
After his initial military training, George served on the Melbourne Military Railway (a ten-mile branch line between Chellaston Junction and Ashby-de-la-Zouch) where he learnt his footplate skills. Having passed out as a driver in 1941, he undertook diesel loco training and returned to the Melbourne Military Railway as a diesel instructor. Until his demobilisation, George worked on some ten military railways around the country, gaining experience on many types of steam and diesel locomotives and cranes.
On his return to civilian life in 1946, George was unable to settle back in his old job as a proof reader and sought an opening as a loco driver. By now, he was too old to join any of the ‘Big Four’ companies and, having responded to an advertisement in the Model Engineer magazine for a “driver for a famous miniature railway” but having failed to get a reply, he wrote to the General Manager of the 15-inch gauge Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway asking if they had placed the advert. Major J T Holder replied, saying that they hadn’t – but they did need a driver for the 1947 season and would George like to come for an interview? George duly got the job and he and his wife, Miriam, and their daughter Pat moved into their new home at the Pilot Halt near Dungeness at the beginning of 1947. In 1948, they moved into a railway house in New Romney and their son, John, arrived later that year.
George’s original locomotive was Southern Maid but after a very short period, he took over Green Goddess – a locomotive with which he was to be associated for over thirty years. George’s practical and organisational skills that he had developed during his time in the Royal Engineers had stood him in good stead and he was made Foreman Driver at the end of his first season at New Romney. During the following years, George became the face of “the Friendly Line” and met many famous people including Tommy Handley, Laurel and Hardy and Walt Disney and in 1957, he drove Hurricane – Captain Howey’s favourite engine – on a Royal Train conveying HM The Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. In 1968, George was promoted to Operating Manager, the post that he held until he retired. In 1982, he was awarded the British Empire Medal for his services to the RH&DR. During his many years with the railway, George became a well-known member of the extended railway family and had the opportunity to drive main line locomotives in this country and in France.
After his retirement, George was able to enjoy running his own miniature steam locomotives on the local Model Engineering Society track and he and his wife Miriam travelled across the world to visit the many friends they had made over the years. Miriam died in 1997 and George himself passed away on 23rd June 2006.
George bought his first camera in 1933 and was an enthusiastic photographer for seventy years. His collection includes many photographs taken in around Nottingham, together with others taken when out on his frequent cycling trips to other parts of the country. He was able to record some of his wartime activities and, although his work on the RH&DR restricted his free time in later years, he still found the chance to take occasional photographs of steam on the main line.
We are sure that George would be pleased to know that his collection is now available to enthusiasts for the first time and we hope you enjoy the results.
We are grateful to Paul Ross for the above narrative and for placing the George Barlow collection with The Transport Treasury.