During the depths of winter 2012 John Baker had the idea of a reunion for British Rail Apprentices who had attended the Works Training School from 1962, because this year would be the 50th anniversary. Living in Somerset, he needed a little Swindon based help, and contacted a few of us through various sources.
The idea of a British Rail Apprentices Reunion was born. Opened in 1962 it out-lasted the Rail works and trained lads until 1993. Some 2,800 lads and a few lassies went through the school, training to become Coachbuilders, Fitters, Electricians, Carpenters and many other trades. When the idea of a reunion came about, and Facebook attracted 30 or 40 eager ex-apprentices, we decided to give the reunion a go. We banked on around 60 or 70 coming, and then thought we may get 100.
The Steam Museum was booked, too large we thought. Facebook grew to 300 and the rolling ball of interest from ex-apprentices grew and grew. After much hard work, local papers, radio interviews, and the best way, word of mouth, the said date September 22, 2012 arrived and we held our breath and hoped. How many would arrive to do their “time inside” again at the Great Hall at the fine Steam Museum.
We need not have worried. A sunny, bright and cheery day greeted us, and former apprentices aged from 35 to 70 rolled in through the door. Everyone was issued with a name and year badge and proceeded to meet fellow colleagues of many years gone by. Over 500 of us turned up. Twenty came from Plymouth, others from London, South Wales, Reading etc, one from Malta and one from Australia – even old Isambard would have been proud. Mind you not many would fit a pair of apprentice green overalls again, and some of the “Trendy” 60’s and 70’s haircuts had disappeared, just like the 1962 built Training School has done since.
Early on in the day much team and coffee was consumed and later in the day when the specially brewed beer came on track, Western Apprentice by RCH Brewery, at 5% ABV a full head of steam in a glass got the tongues wagging much more. A fantastic day was had by one and all and many asked when it would be re-run? Who knows? Not for a while that’s for sure!
This whole event was a meticulously planned operation and we think we pulled it off well. Many thanks to all who helped promote the day, The Steam Museum and most of all the hundreds of former apprentices who pitched up. It has been said many times that the folk who worked “Inside” were like a huge happy family and this gathering certainly proved that to be true.
Pictured: top, left to right, Colin Finch, John Baker and Andy Binks; bottom, Andy Binks with former training school boss Roy Hazell