Sunday, September 23, 1963, was a day when one of the mightiest cogs in the industrial revolution was taken away from the people of South Pembrokeshire.  

This was the day when steam locomotive No. 6118 – the mail train bound for London – left the Dock platform for the very last time, to make way for the diesel engines.

Her passing marked the end of an era for the townspeople who had heard her whistle since time immemorial, her passengers who had boarded her at so many stations across south Pembrokeshire and the staff who had manned her with a commitment that reigned supreme.

To mark the 60th anniversary of her final journey, the Western Telegraph met up with Les Evans who was a 23-year-old railway fireman on the day of her departure.

“September 23, 1963, was possibly one of the saddest days I can remember,” he says.

“Dr Beeching wanted to make the railways pay, so his decision was to close so many down.

“I’ll never forget 5.55pm that Sunday evening, when the mail train left Pembroke Dock for the very last time - it really was the end of an era for so many of us.”

For as long as he can remember, Les’ dream was to become a train driver.

“I remember being asked in school what I wanted to be when I grew up and my ambition was always to be a train driver. So in 1956, when I was 16 I joined the Whitland railway as an engine cleaner.”

Les stayed with the Whitland station for two years and then, when he was 18, he moved to Southall in Middlesex where he began training as a railway fireman.

“Moving to London from Kilgetty was a frightening thing in those days,so when I was offered a transfer to Pembroke Dock around 18 months later, it was the best news I could have hoped for."

In those days, Pembroke Dock steam trains were manned by six drivers and seven firemen.

“When I moved back to Kilgetty this meant a 12 mile journey to and from Pembroke Dock every day.

"I got home on the Friday night with £20 in my pocket and the following morning I hitch-hiked to a man in Llawhaden who was selling motorbikes. I told him what I wanted, and he showed me this little BSA Bantam that he was selling for £16. So I bought it, which meant I could travel every day to the station in Pembroke Dock.”

If Les was working the early shift, he had to be at the station in time for the first train that left at 4.30am. And the last shift was back at the Dock at 11pm.

“We’d leave Pembroke Dock then travel to Pembroke, Lamphey, Manorbier, Penally, Tenby, Saundersfoot, Kilgetty, Templeton, Narberth and Whitland,” he recalls, without a moment’s hesitation.

“And the mail train worked in chain shifts from Pembroke Dock to Whitland and then another to Swansea, another to Cardiff and then on to London.

“In those days the trains were so busy. You’d see different faces all the time and you’d know who to expect on the first train in the morning, then you’d see people getting on to get to work in Tenby and all the way along the line to Whitland.”

The driver on the day of the train’s final departure from Pembroke Dock was William George Hall of Pennar, who was known as Bryn.

Western Telegraph: Les (left) and Bryn Hall on their final journey on the 6118Les (left) and Bryn Hall on their final journey on the 6118 (Image: Les Evans)

“In those days we weren’t supposed to use the whistle so much, but that night I knew I was really going to blow her,” Bryn Hall said in an interview with the Western Telegraph following his train’s final departure on September 23, 1963.

“And why not? This was the last team run from Pembroke Dock, and I was getting my cards.

"All the years I've ben driving, the novelty has never worn off.  It's a pity it has to end like this."

Les, like Bryn, had to find alternative employment after serving as a fireman on the steam trains for seven years. His first job was as a security policemen at the Manorbier Army Camp and then in the steel works in south Wales.

“These days people wake up in the morning and think to themselves, ‘Another day’s work’ but when I was working on the railway, I’d look forward each and every day, to waking up and going to work,” concludes Les.

“It was a hobby more than a job, and it gave me more satisfaction and enjoyment than you’d ever know.

“They were very special days and when the 6118 travelled out of Pembroke Dock for the very last time, it really was the end of an era for so very many people.”