Thameslink has joined forces with The Veterans Charity on the nationwide 'Routes of Remembrance' campaign, which sees poppy wreaths touring the country's railway network to honour the fallen.
With many memorial events cancelled last year due to Covid-19, the rail operator is helping to keep Remembrance moving this year with poppy wreaths travelling on a number of services across its network.
To support this in Bedford, Thameslink invited officers from local base, RAF Henlow, to join them to transport a poppy wreath into central London, to be laid with others at the annual memorial service at St Pancras International. RAF Henlow is a one of only five RAF stations that dates back to WWI and is still in use today. Bedford Borough Council was represented at Bedford Midland Station by the Speaker of the Council, Councillor Jane Walker.
Leading the journey to safely transport the poppy wreath was Thameslink Driver, Noel Hughes, who spent six and a half years in the 216 Parachute Signal Squadron, part of the British Army's Royal Corps of Signals.
He left the Armed Forces and initially pursued a career in the police. He then joined Thameslink in 2016 as a trainee train driver. He says: "My current role involves a lot of rules, procedures and discipline, which is where my Army background comes in handy. I think that's why there is a big community of ex-Forces that choose to work in the railway."
When he heard about the Routes of Remembrance campaign, Noel, 45, was keen to offer his help. "Thousands of people sacrificed and continue to sacrifice their lives for our country and it's important that we continue to honour our veterans. I'm proud to be taking our poppy wreath into London today in memory of our fallen heroes."
100,000 railway workers were enlisted to help the war efforts and by the end of the First World War, 20,000 had sadly lost their lives. The railway remembers them in memorials across the country.
Bernie Lee, Thameslink Station Manager at Bedford station, said "The railway played a crucial part in WWI and WWII, not only moving equipment and rations around the country, but transporting healthy and wounded troops too. Bedfordshire is home to various former and current RAF stations, so it made sense to begin our poppy wreath's journey at Bedford station. It was an honour to be joined by RAF Henlow to mark the Routes of Remembrance campaign and pay tribute to all those who lost their lives fighting for our country. It's important that we continue to remember our veterans and as well as memorial services across our network, we will also be observing the two-minute silence at stations and on-board trains on Armistice Day."
Wing Commander William Andrew, Station Commander RAF Henlow, added "It is a privilege for RAF Henlow to play a part in the important Routes of Remembrance campaign. As we honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice across all the Armed Forces from WWI to today, it is fantastic to see the contribution the local community are making to support Remembrance."
Danny Greeno, CEO of The Veterans Charity, said "Routes of Remembrance is our way of keeping Remembrance moving and honouring those who have fallen as a result of serving in the Armed Forces. There are strong links between the railway and the military, so it's brilliant that Thameslink has teamed up with RAF Henlow to help transport the poppy wreath into London so it can be laid with others at St Pancras station."
To raise awareness of the Routes of Remembrance campaign, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is displaying information screens at every one of its stations. In addition, earlier this week saw WWI history come to life with a poppy wreath transported to Brighton by Southern. The train company was bringing to life the inspirational story of Manta Singh and Captain Henderson. Read more here.