Wally & The Flying Scotsman

Popular North Gate Court customer Wally Blazey moved into their McCarthy Stone apartment with his wife Gladys seven months ago, and the couple have just celebrated their 72nd anniversary. At 92, Wally is one of the two last surviving drivers of the Flying Scotsman, the most famous steam locomotive in the world.

Wally was on the railways for 48 years, having started out cleaning trains aged just 15:  ‘I was told to clean the underneath of a big streamlined engine with rags and paraffin: they’d just hit a bullock and there was bits of meat everywhere!’

As soon as he turned 16, Wally became a fireman, shovelling many tons of coal before moving up to be a driver: ‘I was a fireman with Shirley Frost, a driver who’d come to King’s Cross from the Midlands and wasn’t au fait with the engines.

He was a heavy driver, and all the sparks would come out the chimney and set the fields alight. Three times we ran out of coal out of Potter’s Bar and had to coast into King’s Cross!’

Wally himself spent 30 years as a driver: ‘You started at the bottom: you didn’t get your own engine, you just went on any one that came up, like the Green Arrow, the Flying Scotsman or the Mallard. 

I spent a long time on ‘link 3’, which meant starting at 6pm at night one week and 2am the next, and staying in lodgings. It was known as the birth control link, which may be why we have just the one daughter!’ 

Wally worked his way up to what was called the ‘top link’: 14 drivers and 14 firemen, each pair with their own engine, with his called the Dwight D Eisenhower. One of his claims to fame involves royalty: ‘We relieved the Gateshead driver and fireman at Doncaster at 10.30pm, and there was a Chief Inspector on board who said Prince Philip was on the train. Well the signalmen always know there’s a VIP aboard so it’s green lights all the way, but when we got to Potter’s Bar I just touched the brake and the train stopped dead, like it was hitting a wall - turns out they’d put in a new valve in front of the engine and it had frozen up.

'Everyone fell out of bed, including Prince Philip, so I never got a tip off him when he came by at Kings Cross, and that was my chance of a knighthood out the window…’

After retiring in 1989, Wally was a much-loved volunteer at North Cambs Hospital for 14 years, clearing up breakfast, doing the rounds with jugs of water, tea and coffee, and straightening the beds. On his 90th birthday they put a big spread on for him, and they did the same again when he and Gladys left Wisbech. The hospital’s loss has turned out to be North Gate Court’s gain, as Wally is always a source of good cheer and excellent stories, and has also taken charge of serving hot drinks at coffee mornings.