This book might not ordinarily have caught my eye had I not at home a train-obsessed toddler with a particular passion for steam engines. As a result I have whiled away several very pleasant hours with this delightful book written by a blue-blooded train enthusiast whose passion lights up every page.
It was the afternoon of 3rd July 1938 when the A4 Pacific locomotive Mallard swept along the East Coast main line, reaching a world-record top speed of 126mph that has never been beaten. It was the culmination of decades of rivalry amongst England’s railway companies, particularly on the all-important London-to-Scotland lines.
The ingenuity of British engineering was on show, for domestic and international audiences, in the later ages of the British Empire. Courage, skill and artistry, and a desire to stay ahead of the Germans (who held the record that Mallard broke), fueled spectacular achievements. A couple of American locomotives may have exceeded Mallard’s time, but they were not officially timed so the English record holds.
Hale sympathetically explores this golden age, one that intersects with both World Wars, bringing to life with careful detail the stories of those who dedicated their lives to the railways. There is much to enjoy and admire in the unfolding dramas.
This is not a book that will threaten any bestseller lists but if you like steam trains, or have an inquisitive toddler that you need to stay one step ahead of, this is one to pick up, find some shade under a tree and escape into.
Author: Don Hale
Reviewed by Nick K, Ranui Library
Nick K enjoys reading crime fiction, demonological adult and young adult fiction, classic children’s fiction like Arthur Ransome and picture books, especially those illustrated by Quentin Blake. He hates reality TV.