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Bluebell founder 'had steam in his blood'

Bernard Holden MBE said 'steam was in his blood'. Photo: Jim Holden

One of the founders of the Bluebell Railway has died aged 104.

Bernard Holden MBE, who was the driving force behind the historic railway, said 'steam was in his blood'.

He was the Operations Manager at Victoria Station until 1959, when he retired in order to start the steam line, founded a year later.

He worked on it into his 90s and remained lifetime President of the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society.

He was awarded the MBE in 1992 for his services to steam railway preservation.

Bernard Holden, seen here in the middle. Credit: Jim Holden

Mr Holden's family connection to the railway dates back to 1840 when his grandfather worked on the Brighton to Shoreham Line. Bernard was born in 1908 at Barcombe Station, where his father Charles was Station Master.

During the Second World War he was stationed on the Indian Railways as a Captain with the Royal Engineers. They became the subject of his first book, "Let Smoke Make Steam", the preface of which was written by Dame Vera Lynn.

He had first met Dame Vera in India, and they remained firm friends. She joined him for his 104th birthday in March this year, and ITV cameras were there to celebrate with them.

The Bluebell Railway began when four young students knocked on Bernard's front door one evening saying they wanted to start a railway and asked for his help. In those days nobody under the age of 21 was permitted to chair a public meeting.

Bernard chaired that subsequent first meeting in a chilly hall in Haywards Heath which heralded the beginning of the world's first standard gauge preservation steam railway.

The first public train from Sheffield Park station on the Bluebell Line was on August 7th, 1960.

Some 50 years later the society repeated the ceremony again and Bernard, by now aged 102, and again wearing the same top hat, was able to ride the special train once more.

It was always Bernard's dream to see the line restored to East Grinstead. Work is now well on the way, and the final stretch of track should be in use by early next year, as Derek Johnson reports:

Bernard's family said he passed away peacefully, early this morning, at his care home in Ditchling.