Footprints On The Track — Anglo-Indian Railway Memories is a tribute to the community that excelled in both railway services and sociability

The country has an extensive coverage of railway lines that connect almost every village, town and city, thanks to the British responsible for its introduction and to the Anglo-Indian community that was closely involved in the running of crucial services — locomotive drivers, guards, station masters and others.

In his book Britain’s Betrayal In India, prominent Anglo-Indian leader the late Frank Anthony wrote, “During several strikes since Independence, the Railways have been kept working because of the loyalty and courage of the Anglo-Indian railwaymen.”

Arakkonam, Asansol, Bitragunta, Bhusawal, Bezwada, Dongargarh, Guntakal, Trichinopoly, Jolarpet, Jamalpur, Khurda, Kharagpur, Madurai, Villupuram, Perambur, Podanur… — the bastions of Anglo-Indian communities also known for their Railway Institutes, were popular for the several dances, parties and social gatherings too.

Stories of simple people

In a fitting tribute to the “skills of Anglo-Indian locomotive drivers whose pride in workmanship and devotion to duty was unparalleled” (according to V. Anand, retired GM of Southern Railway, in Unsung Heroes Of The Railways In India, one of the stories in the book), author and editor Noel Thomas has compiled 38 true stories (including a poem and a ballad) of simple railway folk of hard-working men, of mothers, wives, sons and daughters who made railway colonies model centres of social interaction, community service and harmonious living in his book Footprints On The Track — Anglo-Indian Railway Memories (published by Anglo-Ink).

Footprints… carries emotional reminiscences from those who lived in railway colonies, their descendants, non-Anglo-Indians closely associated with the railways as well as a few from publisher-editor and Noel’s close associate Harry MacLure who has been pioneering a movement to record the history of the community. For instance, V. Anand pays tribute to the community whose contribution was immense in making train services punctual and safe. Manobina Dasgupta talks about her memories of “growing up in railway colonies....where colonial style bungalows set in acres of land with trees, lawns edged with flower-beds, lily pools and a vegetable garden at the back were safe from the intrusion of the outside world”.

The pioneering spirit of the Anglo-Indian railwayman was even found in distant lands. In The Pioneers, one of the stories in the book, by Reginald Maher notes: “For, the first railway in that country (Kenya) was built for the British by an Anglo-Indian, R.O. Preston of Madras, with labour from India... because Africans refused to do the work.”

Harry MacLure records his memories in Trichinopoly Junction, Golden Rock and The Fullers: Five Generations Of Railwaymen: “Being a railwayman’s son, and growing up in this (Trichinopoly) not-so-small South Indian railway town, I was fortunate to experience all aspects of Anglo-Indian camaraderie and bonhomie.”

Noel Thomas, whose famous quip about the average Anglo-Indian youth of those days ‘going from fourth form to platform’ was himself an inductee as an apprentice to the railway’s Jamalpur Workshop, which he joined as a teenager, only to retire in 1999 after 42 years of service. His years of interacting with Anglo-Indian families in different places have stood him in good stead to be given the responsibility of sourcing, coordinating, rewriting and editing dozens of manuscripts that came in from all over the world.

Months of toil

In the book, Noel has penned Khurda...As It Was and Anglo-Indians: Loyal Workers Or Good Soldiers? as well as A Railwayman Looks Back and Percy Carroll’s Final Run. A Colony Called Home

“I have been a regular contributor to Harry MacLure’s magazine Anglos In The Wind. When one reader suggested that we do something to remember the railwaymen amongst the community, we set about the task of inviting anecdotes and articles from all the readers. We did get an overwhelming response. The result of six months of toiling is what we now see as Footprints…,” says Noel Thomas, a resident of Visakhapatnam.

With an apt introduction from Frank Anthony and peppered with photographs, sketches and anecdotes, Footprints… is a historical chronicle that, in historian S. Muthiah’s words, “will help preserve the essence of the Anglo-Indian community for posterity”.