‘They could have stayed at home – but they volunteered’

The Reverend Richard Cook at Preston Railway Station with the new book, pages from which are reproduced

The Reverend Richard Cook at Preston Railway Station with the new book, pages from which are reproduced

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Sarah Fielden meets the Railway Reverend out to commemorate railwaymen who went to war.

What’s in a name? Everything, says Reverend Richard Cook, railway and British Transport Police chaplain for the North West and Manchester – particularly when it comes to the matter of remembrance.

Now a book has been produced which lists the Preston railway staff killed in the war, which will be dedicated at a special ceremony next month.

Many brave rail workers were among the thousands who volunteered to join the fight – and many never came home.

Rev Cook will lead the ceremony to dedicate the commemorative book, and he explained the idea behind the whole project.

He says: “I do 11 remembrance services in 14 days in November, and someone said to me ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could know the names of some of the people we do these remembrance services for?’

“It set me thinking - at some places there are memorials but Preston didn’t have any.

“A chap very kindly lent me a book published by the Lancashire and North West railways at the end of the First World War. It was for every family who had a member on the railway who had served in the war, so of course Preston had quite a few names.”

Rev. Cook decided on the idea of the book and, sponsored by station staff and Virgin Trains, took on the Great North Swim last year to fund it.

“The idea was, from present staff to previous staff, thank you,” He says.

The one-mile swim was held in Lake Windermere, and Richard says: “It was quite a revolting day, weather-wise.

“But I thought all I’m worrying about is a few waves and wind, the people I am swimming for faced gas and shells - there’s no comparison really.”

The book has now been produced, and will be dedicated on August 4.

Rev Cook says: “There’s plenty of room in it, so when we eventually find out who served in the Second World War we can put them in as well.

“There are people who have done incredible things, but what are their names, who are they?

“To some people these are their uncles, their grandfathers, their fathers, their friends.

“And the Preston railway staff just want to turn around and say thank you.”

There will be a ceremony where the book will be dedicated, and relatives of those who served are invited to attend.

Rev Cook says: “Part of the ceremony will be on platform seven, which was platform nine, and we are going to do a re-enactment of answering the call-up.

“Then we will get the standard to lead us to the Preston Pals memorial where wreathes will be laid.

“Anyone who wants to can come, and we are looking for relatives of those who served.”

He adds: “In 1916 to 1917 conscription came in but the railway was a reserved occupation and you didn’t need to go.

“They could have stayed on the railway for the duration but they volunteered.”

The names of some of those who served are listed and anyone, including those with family members named in the book, is invited to attend.