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A FATHER whose legacy is formed by generations of men who worked at Walton railway station takes a journey back in time to the heyday of steam.

Geoffrey Smith-Gillard, 68, grew up watching his father, grandfather, uncle and even his step-grandfather and uncle, loyally serve Walton.

It was in the family blood, beginning with Geoffrey’s grandfather Harry Day, who started his career in London’s Stratford Station before moving to Chelmsford and then Walton-on-the-Naze.

As foreman loco driver in charge of the loco yard, Geoffrey explains it was common for people to remark they could set a clock by his granddad’s train times.

He said: “He was always on time. Grandad couldn’t go to fight in the First World War because he was in a preserved occupation so spent almost all of his career on the railway.

“I remember him telling me once there was a doodle bug on either side of his train and when I asked what he did, he replied, ‘I slowed down and let them pass’.”

His son, Charles Day, after a long-standing career, was honoured by British Railways for 55 years’ service.

One of the highlights was driving the last train out of Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, and being asked to stay on past his retirement.

Geoffrey said: “Originally my uncle was a porter at Kirby station. He had to clean the platform and toilets, but it wasn’t what he joined for, so after about a year he told them what they could do with their job.

“He ended up working at the Naze Farm, selling milk from a hand cart until a job came up at Walton as a loco cleaner.

“Naturally he got the job as his father Harry was in charge and very quickly he rose up the ranks to fireman and then driver.

“After that, he was posted to Colchester and then Parkeston before getting another promotion in Norfolk at Dereham, and Norwich Yards.”

Gazette:

In charge - Harry Day pictured with a little boy on the train

During the Second World War, Geoffrey’s father Leonard Smith-Gillard was a member of the British Expeditionary Force in France as a signalman in the Royal Signals, and had to fight his way back to Dunkirk.

After Geoffrey’s parents, Edith Day and Leonard married, she was organising troop trains at the station master’s office in Colchester for the Eighth Army, which Leonard was stationed with.

They were short of men so once back in England, he helped out on the railway in 1949 as a platelayer, Geoffrey believes.

He said: “It was the life. Driving the trains was hard work, but there was something about it.

“They laid their bacon and cracked their eggs on a hot shovel before cooking them in the fire box. It was every boy’s dream.”

Mr Smith-Gillard was 71 when he died after suffering seven strokes. Mrs Smith-Gillard (nee Day) was 93.

Gazette:

Happy times - Geoffrey’s mum, Edith Smith-Gillard as a bridesmaid at a wedding party. Pictured with former reporter Ken 'Scoop' Adams.

Thinking of the family’s railway history continues to spark excitement in Geoffrey, of Kirby Cross, and twin brother Jeremy, 68.

The former policeman has gone on to establish the Kirby Cross Railway Modellers group, now Tendring Hundred Modellers, in Clacton, and former North East Essex Railway Association.

Making models is still a pastime for dad-of-two Geoffrey and as a 10-year-old boy, he has fond memories of the escapades he and other railway children would get up to.

He said: “We would carry people’s bags from the station to their holiday homes with our barrows, but had a friendly war with the taxi drivers because we’d pinch their fares.

“We were allowed to go on to the platform to tout for business, but they weren’t.

“One taxi driver took us kids for a spin and gave us money for ice cream, but while we were getting them, he’d turn the taxi round and leave us to walk back.

“To get revenge when they went for a cuppa, we’d buy an ice cream wafer and smear the wrappers over their taxis. But somehow we all remained quite good friends.”

One of the world’s most famous steam trains will be running along the track from London to Walton and Colchester on August 12.

Geoffrey says it will make the town proud.

He said: “What a sight for the new generations of children to see such a big steam locomotive.

“It’s a great pity we don’t have a steam train running from Walton to Thorpe.”