Earlier today, Sunday, I was listening to a very fine version of that old blues classic ‘Rock Island Line’, an Arkansas prison work song, immortalised by Huddie Leadbetter, aka ‘Leadbelly’. We don’t have a tradition of prison work songs here but, we do have a very fine piece of English folk music dedicated to the man, who died at the controls of his engine, just like the one above, trying to save the lives of others.
John Axon was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his heroism and a forty five minute radio programme, based on the tragic series of events which led to Axon’s death, ‘The Ballad of John Axon’ was broadcast in 1958 and repeated later that year; and again in 1960 and 63. The GCR, where the photograph above was taken, have also held events to celebrate Axon’s heroism and his George Cross was donated to the NRM by his family. I remember listening to the broadcast, as I guess many a trainspotter did, it made quite an impression on me, as my own Dad had just died, though not in a horrific accident. When I listened to it again, in 1963, I was a footplateman myself.
I’ll leave you with the way Ewan McColl began his ‘Ballard of John Axon’:
If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: