Veterans were given the VIP treatment as Thameslink commemorated the 75th D-Day anniversary and celebrated the launch of its newest partnership, uniting communities and their local train stations.
RBL members, local dignitaries and members of groups supporting older people were welcomed aboard a specially decorated first class carriage along the Bedford to St Albans route and whisked away for a tea-dance style afternoon of entertainment at St Albans Museum + Gallery on Thursday. Eighty special guests enjoyed cream teas and music from 1940s band The Femmes as Thameslink commemorated the Normandy Landings and remembered the bravery of those who played their part in liberating Europe.
This special afternoon not only brought communities together, supporting St Albans City and District Council in its bid to tackle loneliness, but also marked the launch of the new not-for-profit Community Rail Partnership (CRP) for the stations on the Bedford to St Albans route. The CRP will be working to connect the railway with the communities it serves, for example, by providing opportunities for ‘adopting’ a station, maintaining station floral displays, creating art work to brighten up an area of the station and even helping run special events such as on-train activities.
During the event, Thameslink and Great Northern managing director Tom Moran paid tribute to the courage of railway workers during the Second World War, highlighting how they transported vital supplies, ammunition as well as injured servicemen and evacuees. Tom said: “We will never forget the sacrifices they made, nor the debt of gratitude we owe them.”
Commenting on the new CRP, Tom said: “Our new CRP is about bringing the community together, uniting residents with the stations that serve them. We look forward to hearing rail users’ ideas on how to improve their stations and how we can work together better.”
Bedford to St Albans City CRP line officer Andy Buckley added: “We are treading new ground in many ways as this is the first CRP based on a Thameslink mainline, and one of only a handful mainline-based CRPs nationally. We have fantastic opportunities to look forward to and I am looking forward to realising those opportunities together.”
Bedford station manager Bernie Lee said: “The day has gone brilliantly. It was so good chatting to the veterans and finding out about their lives. The CRP is fantastic and it’s going to pull our communities together. It will also give people an insight into some of the challenges we face and give them a bit more understanding.”
Luton Airport Parkway and Harpenden station manager Joe Healy said: “It’s been a really good afternoon listening to people’s stories and the train down was fantastic. I’m excited about the new CRP. There’s a lot of activity we’re doing with gardening, so we will be getting the community involved in that. Harpenden is the next station to be looked at.”
St Albans City station manager Harsitt Chandak also spoke warmly of the new CRP, saying: “It builds a relationship with the community.”
Govia Thameslink Railway is proud to already be providing support and core funding for eight CRPS across its Great Northern, Southern and Thameslink route stations. Each CRP has a steering group made up of local stakeholders, who agree an activity plan for their partnership.
Thanks go to Community Embrace UK, who were Thameslink’s partner in making Thursday’s event happen. Community Embrace UK “seeks to promote Diversity and Inclusion among local groups” through delivering community events.
Veterans and Royal British Legion members thoroughly enjoyed their afternoon of travel and entertainment. RAF 209 Squadron veteran Tony Kemp, 75, said: “It was a very well organised trip.” He was sat next to Flitwick’s Poppy Appeal organiser Michael Eves, who added: “The carriage looks very patriotic.” Fellow passenger John Howkins, 80, of Flitwick, commented: “The decorations and music are lovely – just the job. It’s a great day out.” RBL Bedfordshire chairman Eric Robertson also enjoyed the afternoon.
Govia Thameslink Railway
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express services as follows:
- Thameslink – cross-London services between Bedford/Peterborough/Cambridge and Brighton/Horsham/Littlehampton/East Grinstead, and between Luton/St Albans and Sutton/Wimbledon/Rainham; plus services between London and Sevenoaks
- Great Northern – services between London and Welwyn, Hertford, Peterborough, Cambridge and King’s Lynn
- Southern – services between London and the Sussex coast (Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne, Bognor Regis, Hastings) and parts of Surrey, Kent and Hampshire (Ashford International, Southampton, Portsmouth)
- Gatwick Express – fast, non-stop direct services between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria