By Dr. Michael Bailey
The remarkable story of Eric’s life has been well told in the substantial obituaries contained in several national newspapers on the 10 October, just two days after his death in his home town of Berwick-Upon-Tweed. He was 93 years of age and had been a member of the Society since 1937, its fourth ‘longest-serving’ member’. Eric’s interest in railways blossomed, as it has for so many of us, in childhood. Brought up outside Edinburgh, he witnessed the operations of the LNER and LMS and the industrial systems of Scotland and further afield as opportunity allowed. He joined the Royal Corps of Signals and in 1939 was deployed to India and Singapore as the signals officer attached to a unit of the Royal Artillery. His capture when Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942 led to dreadful experiences, particularly during the time spent on the infamous ‘Burma Railway’.
Eric kept himself mentally alert by remembering as much as he could about the details of the railway, including the numbers of each locomotive he saw. This mental strength remained with him throughout the remainder of his life, his remarkable recall of railway facts never failed to amaze all those who knew him. The very moving story of his wartime experiences, and the remarkable reconciliation with his one-time Japanese torturer, was told in his book ‘The Railway Man’, first published in 1995, and since re-printed several times.
After the war his interest in railways expanded and one of his contributions was to take part, with other SLS members, in the rescue of the old South Hetton Colliery locomotive, then known as Braddyll. This endeavour was recalled a year ago by Mike Fell and R.A.S. Hennessey in ‘Journal’ No. 872 (November/December 2011, pp.287-290). Eric’s interests included a passion for collecting railway books, maps and memorabilia. I met him nearly forty years ago and first visited him at his home in the ‘New Town’ of Edinburgh. In the knowledge that his collection was extensive I looked around in surprise to see no evidence of books! After a pleasant lunch he invited me to see the collection by suggesting I get my coat on to go round to his ‘other’ house in the next road where everything was stored! This was an Aladdin’s cave bursting with railwayana as well as books. Just to get in one squeezed past a glass-panelled display-case containing a brass model of Stephenson’s Rocket that used to grace Waverley Station in Edinburgh. How many children thrilled at the model’s movement when an old penny was inserted!
He showed me his ‘3-ton room’ full to bursting with the contents of the former Caledonian headquarters building in Glasgow which had a ‘turn-out’ after nationalisation back in 1948. He saved from the disposal bin not only books, but historic plans and maps, and a wealth of memorabilia, including the Caledonian Railway linoleum from the wash-room floor!
Eric later concentrated on acquiring antiquarian railway books at auction, and was a frequent bidder for lots at many of the country’s sales events. In particular he built up a major collection of maps, timetables and other publications from the Bradshaw publishing house, including a number that were extremely rare. He developed a knack of finding bargains where the book-dealers had not appreciated the rarity. He thus became well-known in the book-trade, although some dealers found him difficult to deal with. His horrific war-time experiences had left him with a stubborn resistance to authority or over-forceful correspondence.
With the passing of the years, the future of his collection became a worry and he felt obliged to sell the bulk of his collection of books and memorabilia at a major auction held at Hendon Museum a decade or so ago. Even so, he continued to track down rare Bradshaws from his perusal of auction catalogues. However his ambition to write a comprehensive history of the publisher was never fulfilled.
His remarkable story told in ‘The Railway Man’ touched the emotions of countless readers. The book has now been adapted as a major feature film due to be released in 2013. Eric as a young man is played by Jeremy Irvine, and as an older man by Colin Firth. Eric’s wife, Patti, who played such a crucial role in Eric’s rehabilitation and reconciliation, is played by Nicole Kidman.
In spite of all he had been through, I have such happy memories of a man with a wonderful sense of humour. Many are the days we spent swopping anecdotes and concluding in fits of laughter. Although his health prevented him from participating in SLS affairs for several years, he maintained his interest in the Society and enjoyed reading the ‘Journal’ right up to the end.
Although, understandably, the world will recall his extraordinary war story and the reconciliation, we have lost in addition a close colleague. I was privileged to give one of the eulogies at his memorial service on the 15 October at Berwick Parish Church, during which I was able to pass on the condolences of the Society and its members to Patti, his daughter Charmaine, and to his step-sons and step-daughter and their families. Eric will always be ‘The Railway Man’.
The Eric Lomax photographic negative collection
A prolific photographer his negatives were bequeathed to the SLS and these photographs are available to buy. (See the Photograph Collection for information about prices and ordering etc.) The photographs currently available cover the following subject areas:-
List 52 - United Kingdom standard and narrow gauge steam locomotives, including all of the 'big four' companies, industrial operators, trams, India and Holland. Photographs taken by E.S. Lomax between 1937- 1949 but with an interruption due to his incarceration during the War. His remarkable story is told in his book ‘The Railway Man’ which was adapted as a major feature film released in 2013
List 53 - Dutch railway locomotives photographed by E.S. Lomax during 1948.
Links to two of Eric's pictures are here - Locomotive on shed at Stirling | Locomotive photographed at Scarborough.