I had my vantage point picked out just inches from the edge of the track, ready to capture the 14:15 service ex Sheffield Park yesterday afternoon. I didn’t expect 170ton of steam loco to come thundering past me in the opposite direction!! This is 60009 ‘Union of South Africa’ on her short visit to the Bluebell Railway steam preservation line in West and East Sussex – one of her final excursions before permanent withdrawal next year.
She was truly mesmerising in full steam – up to now I had only seen her sister loco ‘Mallard’ sitting preserved; never flashed up and in motion.
She dates from 1937 and was assigned her name in order for her to haul the Coronation Service carrying the newly crowned King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother). When she entered production, however, she had been given the name ‘Osprey’ – a name she bore in the 1980s and 90s as international political opposition to South Africa became more vocal. Her original name that she carries again today was later restored.
Visible above the three large driving wheels is a picture of a springbok – a gift from a Bloemfontein newspaper proprietor in 1954.
60009 is not her original number, and she is not in her original livery; in fact she had been many colours over her career, entering service as LNER (London North Eastern Railway) no 4488 in ‘garter blue’; repainted ‘wartime black’ during the Second World War (as well as having the letters ‘L’ and ‘R’ overpainted in 1943 in an effort to confuse potential spies) before returning to her pre-war livery. The nationalisation of the Big Four railway companies in 1948 saw her assigned the number 60009 (and just ‘9’ for a period) and being repainted in British Railways standard express passenger blue before finally receiving a coat of BR ‘Brunswick Green’ – the colour she still wears today.
Still with me?
3 years ago she returned to regal duties, hauling a train carrying Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh to reopen the Borders Railway in Scotland.