Bravery of Blue Mountains railway men remembered

They were 18 ordinary Valley Heights railway men living normal lives, but as Springwood social historians Shirley Evans and Pamela Smith tell it, many paid the supreme sacrifice after signing up for the Great War.

Descendants of one of the early railway men honoured last week. Pictured are Peter Honey, 86 and Stuart Honey, 88, with Stuart’s sons Geoff and Stephen Honey in front of the 3214 which operated during WW1 and has been restored by the volunteers at Valley Heights.

Descendants of one of the early railway men honoured last week. Pictured are Peter Honey, 86 and Stuart Honey, 88, with Stuart’s sons Geoff and Stephen Honey in front of the 3214 which operated during WW1 and has been restored by the volunteers at Valley Heights.

“Urged on by patriotism, propaganda, recruitment drives and possibly the chance of adventure [they] enlisted to serve their country,” the authors wrote in the book Remembrance, which documented the lives of those on the Springwood district’s honour roll and helped provide inspiration and background for a new honour board.

Last Wednesday at the unveiling of that new board — the Valley Heights Locomotive Depot Honour Board —at the restored depot and museum, many descendants, local politicians and other railway men, paid tribute to the men’s service 100 years ago.

In an emotional speech prior to the unveiling, Keith Ward, the depot’s publicity manager, said they may have been lured by the adventure of overseas travel and the call to arms.

They “exchanged railway overalls for army uniforms, swapping the certainty of secure jobs, keeping the wheels of industry turning here, for the uncertainty of fighting a dismal war on distant shores. 

“They gave up their duties amongst the clanging of the iron horse up and down the Blue Mountains, for the sound of real horses amongst the clamour of warfare and not too distant gunfire.”

The 18 railway men represented one third of those from the Springwood district who signed up. 

Four of the men, including the first man on the board, Charles “Percy” Aldred, never made it home. Ironically 98 years from the day the board was unveiled last week [October 7], Percy died near Ypres, in Belgium, aged just 22, an emotional Mr Ward said, fighting back tears.

Their values, work ethic and trade skills were highly regarded and many went into railway battalions in Europe, building temporary tracks to enable speedy movement of troops and munitions, he said. 

One who did make it back was Private Albert William Honey, whose direct descendants watched the unveiling, as did members of the Britt and Quigg families.

“My dad was a railway man,” said Peter Honey, “And because of that we didn’t see a lot of him. He drove a wheat train for weeks at a time.”

Mr Honey, 86, of Lindfield, said he was 11 when his dad died of a heart attack shortly after finishing a shift on the railways. 

But Albert Honey had been lucky to return safely  from the First World War.

He enlisted in 1917 and sailed on the Ballarat which was torpedoed in the English Channel. Later, while driving an ammunitions train close to the front line, a howitzer shell fired from a German gun hit his engine but it failed to explode. 

Mr Ward said they were “privileged and honoured to have direct descendants of some of the 18 men here today”, adding the honour roll was made possible with the support of the Federal MP for Macquarie, Louise Markus, under the federal government’s Anzac Centenary local grants program. Mrs Markus congratulated the committee members and volunteers of the museum “for their vision, dedication and for applying for funding” and thanked the descendants for “sharing their touching, personal stories”.

The depot opened in January 1914, playing the crucial role of piloting steam trains — essentially shovelling coal like mad  — up the steep rail corridor from Valley Heights to Katoomba. The diesels were the death knell for the depot. It closed in 1988 and has been conserved as a museum by a dedicated band of volunteers.