Anglo Indians. Unsung Heroes of the Railways in India

The General Manager of Southern Railway, V. Anand, pays tribute to members of the Anglo-Indian community whose contribution was immense in making train services punctual and safe.


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ONE CANNOT afford to remain oblivious to the immense contribution of the Anglo Indian community towards the development of the Indian Railways, especially in the pre-Independence days. The skills of Anglo Indian locomotive drivers were legendary. Forty years of my association with the Indian Railways are filled with fond memories of those heroes on the locomotive footplate, who toiled round the year to make rail travel prompt and safe.

Every small boy of my generation dreamt of becoming an engine driver. I was no exception. During my school days in Shimla, I would run to the railway station to watch the arrival and departure of the trains. Occasionally, I was emboldened to run down from the booking office to the platform where I would land with a thump on the huge `Avery' platform scale.

My friends and I would take turns on the scale to compare our weight. I used to gaze at the footplate and admire the gleaming brass fittings and polished gauges. The engine driver in his immaculate navy blue woolen jacket would look at me with disdain. I resolved that one day I would enter a locomotive as a matter of right.

My first encounter with the Anglo Indian staff was at Asansol in the Eastern Railway. Our instructor was Beale who used to play the saxophone at a local restaurant - an example of the versatility of the Anglo Indian community.

Rose was a driving instructor, who taught us the rudiments of electric locomotive running and maintenance.

The legendary drivers of the Eastern Railway were, no doubt, Craker and Toker who used to work the diesel hauled mail trains. When the Rajdhani Express was introduced in 1969, I understand Craker took out the first train. I was then sent for training to the Southern Railway.

However, it would not be out of place to mention St. Dennis of this division who used to work the diesel locomotives of the Waltair Shed attached to the Howrah-Chennai mails. The first thing St. Dennis would do on entering the footplate was to cross himself, take out the little crucifix which he had round his neck and hang it on the engine brake handle. It is said that St. Dennis was a stickler for punctuality.

The `speed king' of the Arakkonam Shed was Tennant. Another famous driver, De Cruz, taught me the rudiments of steam loco driving and fireman-ship.

My interaction with drivers of the Central Railway was at New Katni where the Dick brothers and Bent held sway. Stewart, apart from being a good driver, had great skills in diesel locomotive trouble-shooting. From Katni, it was on to Bhusaval where the huge steam loco shed was on the verge of closure.

The Anglo Indian drivers had progressed from steam to diesel and from diesel to electric locomotives. The most famous driver was Misquitta who was the inevitable choice for ceremonial special trains such as the GM's inspection.

In those days, the Brindavan Express was perhaps the fastest train in the country and I remember an Anglo Indian driver, McGee, once covered the distance of 140 km from Jolarpettai to Bangalore Cantonment in 1 hour and 40 minutes flat.

The Brindavan Express was known for its punctuality and the passengers waiting at Madras Central could set their watch at 19.45 hrs by the arrival of the 40 Up Brindavan Express. De Monte was a legend of the Erode Loco Shed. To him, safety and punctuality were articles of faith. One day a message was received that De Monte was feeling unwell and complaining of chest pain, and that a doctor and ambulance should be ready at Erode. De Monte ended the trip by sheer will power. For, at the end of the journey, he collapsed and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital a true railway men till his last breath.

Let us bow our heads to those unsung heroes like De Monte.

(courtesy of the HINDU )

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