From engine drivers to signal inspectors, the Anglo-Indian community dominated the Railways until well into the 1960s

If it were not for the modern convenience of sound-proof rooms, one would hear the constant rumble of trains at the Egmore railway station, as Noel Thomas, editor of a book on Anglo-Indian railway memories, passionately spoke about how the railway platform was their performance stage.

“We were in every act and in every scene and we gave a sterling performance,” he said on Monday evening, at the launch of ‘Footprints on the track – Anglo Indian railway memories’, a compilation of 35-odd articles by various contributors published by Anglo-Ink.

The compilation is a warm and passionate recollection of Anglo-Indian engine drivers who would never desert their engines, about the riotously vibrant life at the railway colonies and institutes, and stories of courage and deep knowledge about the railways.

From engine drivers to railway guards to signal inspectors, the community dominated the profession until well into the 1960s.

“Anglo-Indians have been part of the railways from very early on, right from when the tracks were being laid,” Mr. Thomas said. A railway man himself, Mr. Thomas joined the railways as an apprentice at the age of 17 and retired as a divisional mechanical engineer after serving in the railways for 42 years.

Harry Maclure, publisher, Anglo- Ink, who has also contributed to the book, has written about the ‘dancing driver’, the Fuller family in Chennai whose five generations have been employed in the railways. He has also written about the ‘Trichinopoly junction and Golden Rock’, a chapter which Mr. Noel said Mr. Maclure wrote at ‘the speed of his father’s mail train’. 

Mr. Maclure said the book also had material from various other sources.   

Historian S. Muthiah, who released the book, said it was not just a good read, but the history of a forgotten era.  “Anglo-Indians were found in other government services as well, but the Railways served as the lifeline of the community,” he said.  They took pride in their engines, and ensured that they were gleaming, he added.

However, the book is not just about nostalgia. “It is nostalgia with a message,” said Mr. Thomas. I think that Anglo-Indians have been misunderstood as a happy-go-lucky people. But we put duty first. What the outsiders did not see were the struggles and sacrifices,” he said.

The book delves into the sacrifices made by those such as Percy Carroll, driver of the Bombay-Calcutta Mail, who lost his life while saving the lives of the passengers on his train one fateful morning, Mr. Thomas said.  

Mike Nithavrianakis, British Deputy High Commissioner who received a copy of the book, recalled his two eventful train journeys in India.

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