There are many traditions that link the British military with the civilian world, and one of these is naming locomotives after the regiments and units that comprise the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces. REME has been no exception to this long-established activity, and this article marks the beginning of a series that describes each locomotive named REME, as well as outlining the relevant material in the Museum’s object and archival collection related to those respective histories.

The first REME locomotive was originally built in May 1934 at the Derby works of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company, and given the number 5996 (in common with the ‘big four’ firms that dominated Britain’s railways from 1923 until post-war nationalisation, the company was usually referred to by its initials, LMS). It cost £5,453 8s 10d to build, a sum that equates to about £277,000 today.

At the time it was built, 5996 was designated as a member of the Royal Scot class (a class was a group of locomotives with specific characteristics associated with the purpose for which it was originally designed). First built in 1927, the Royal Scots were produced to meet the need for a modern locomotive that could pull LMS express trains to the north west and Scotland from Euston station. A year after it was built, 5996 was renumbered 5528 and the entire group of Royal Scots were redesignated as the Patriot class.

A total of seventy Patriots were built, and it appears most of them were named after British regiments or military organisations; many of the units chosen were based in geographic areas served by the LMS and from which the Army recruited. Oddly, 5528 remained unnamed up to the point when the railways were nationalised in 1948. This was a strange situation: REME was without a locomotive, and 5528 was without a name.  Fittingly, it took a former member of the REME TA, who had returned from National Service in the Middle East, to resolve the situation.

Black and white photo of a train on tracks moving away from a station.

‘REME’ on 27 March 1960 at the Camden shed in London. This is a fitting location, as it is where the locomotive was based for much of its later years. One of the two nameplates can just be seen on the left-hand side. A:1975.1361.072.

Mr. John Webb was a fireman employed by the newly-formed nationalised British Railways at the Stewarts Lane MPD (motive power depot) in south west London, and in 1958, he wrote an internal memo suggesting a locomotive should be named REME. History does not record if logic played any part in the decision, but the unnamed 45528 was ultimately chosen as the loco to receive the designation (5528 had by this time been renumbered as 45528 as part of the many changes brought about by nationalisation). The name ‘REME’ was applied at Crewe North MPD without any attendant ceremony (and also without consulting the Ministry of Defence), in August 1959. Surprisingly, the naming was not recorded in The Craftsman!

The newly-christened REME had the distinction of being the shortest name applied to any loco in the post-war period, as the pre-war HLI, or Highland Light Infantry, had long been replaced by the much more elaborate title ‘Highland Light Infantry (City of Glasgow Regiment)’.

REME had an eventful life. It worked all over the geographic area served by LMS, and was based at various times in north Wales, the Midlands, London (principally the Camden depot), the north of England and Scotland. It even appeared on the Irish boat trains from Carlisle and Glasgow. It was also the first Patriot to ever haul a Royal train, as it took King George V and Queen Mary to visit the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire at their home in Chatsworth, Derbyshire.

Black and white photo of a REME Officer in uniform and a gentleman in a suit standing next to a train with curtains opened to unveil a REME cap badge and name plate reading "Craftsman".

John Webb, the former REME soldier who first suggested a loco be named after the Corps, stands next to another, but much more modern, REME locomotive. This was taken in October 1987 when a class 47 diesel was named ‘Craftsman’. Captain Lionel Campuzano of REME TA’s Specialist Sector stands alongside Mr Webb. E:09.0822.012.

REME continued working until it was officially withdrawn from service in January 1963. The increasing reliance on diesel locomotives and British Railway’s move to electrification made its demise inevitable, and it was cut up at Crewe in the spring of that year. By the end of its 29 years of existence, it was calculated REME had travelled over one and a half million miles.

This was not the end of the Corps’ association with the REME loco, however: 126 Infantry Workshop (a TA unit) was based on Delamere Street in Crewe, and quite a number of their members worked in the many railway establishments located around the town. Somehow, and it is not altogether clear how, members of 126 managed to get hold of the nameplates that graced both sides of the locomotive. One remained, and was presumably displayed, in the Workshop until the late 1960s when the unit was disbanded. At this point, the OC, Major H. Bridgeman decided to donate 126’s nameplate to the Museum.

Metal nameplate with gold lettering and border and black background. The plate is slightly curved and reads "R.E.M.E.".

Nameplate of the first REME locomotive. 

The Museum’s archival collection contains a number of documents relating to the donation. They show that the nameplate was presented at a formal ceremony that took place at the Museum’s former home in Moat House, Arborfield, on Saturday 25 February 1967. Three officers, five senior ranks and four soldiers were in attendance, in addition to the party from 126.

Typed letter with pencil and red pen annotations.

Presentation by 126 Infantry Workshop REME (TA) of REME plaque to REME Museum Arborfield. A:1967.0791.

The fact that the nameplate remains an important part of the Museum’s collection is an appropriate tribute to the original REME locomotive.

Richard Davies, Curator. Published in The Craftsman, March 2022. The series will continue on this blog and in future editions of The Craftsman.