The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - Anglo-Indian Connections
Part 2 Eugene D’Cruz (Section 1)

Terry Case has been writing about his travels for steam, click here for the Case Notes Index. This is something a little different (and special RD).

Anglo-Indians ( were a distinctive part of the Indian Railway scene after independence, particularly on the operating side. Terry as a 'steam train' traveller as much as a dedicated steam photographer often met them when 'footplating'. Later he corresponded with two in particular who had migrated to Australia, as the Wikipedia article relates many others moved to other parts of the Commonwealth as well as the USA. These notes were originally published in the Australian Railway Enthusiast Magazine.

See also:

Bangalore Cantonment depot, with railway staff allocated for the President’s special 1961. Eugene is 5th in front row, to his right Lionel Pachenco (in a squash hat) the driver of Special No 1. (Photo: Eugene D’Cruz)

As a young passenger driver Eugene used to work into Madras and then take his engine to Basin Bridge depot. Crews took rest in the Running Room next to the shed, it was there he met Derek’s father and his uncle; both were senior Mail Drivers. Derek and his family worked on what was known as the North East line, (Madras – Calcutta route) whilst in steam days Eugene worked to Guntakal on the North West line (Madras – Bombay) and on the South West line to Bangalore, “Jolarpet” (Jolarpettai) and Erode. 

Eugene’s last years of service were as a senior Special Grade Driver, his VIP work included driving of the Pilot Train for the President of India’s tour train in 1961. The trains originated from Delhi and were manned entirely by Anglo Indian drivers, chiefs and guards. “We took over at Madras with our engines, our crews were also all Anglo Indians; we had been through tight security checks and had been recommended by the Railway Board.” En route security was tight, the tracks guarded by soldiers and police. Some of Eugene’s later VIP duties included being the Pilot Driver for the Prime Minister’s trains on the Southern Railway’s Madras Division.

A decorated WP prepared for the inaugural run of the Bangalore Link express (to Madras) (Photo: Eugene D’Cruz

Eugene was assigned to drive the inaugural services of three super fast express trains, which included the “Ganga Cauvrey” that ran to Benares (Varanasi). This express ran over the North East line (that Derek had worked) to Bezadawada (Vijayawada), a non-stop run of 422 km. Eugene is proud to have served for 39 years and 8 months of which the last 7 years were on diesels. After the death of his wife he thought of retiring to Goa where his grandfather had been born, but instead joined some of his children who had migrated to Australia. Two of his sons are drivers in Melbourne, another son plus a niece and nephew also work on Australian railways, maintaining a family tradition started in 1889.

Eugene celebrated his 90th birthday in November 2011, being a bit older than Derek he had more experience on the older BESA designed engines, particularly the W class 4-6-0s and a favourite memory is driving a VIP train with his engine 783 “Waverley” which rode well and was easily capable of speeds over 60mph when making up time.

Like Derek he was sentimental about the XBs “they were graceful and thrilling to behold as they flashed along.” When Eugene became a passenger link driver he was assigned XB 220 “Kings Messenger” (renumbered 22151 in the 1957 renumbering program). The XBs were restricted to 45mph following the Bhita accident (17/7/1937) that claimed 107 lives and left many more seriously injured. The train was the EIR Punjab express, normally hauled by a 4-6-0 type as the 3 classes of X class pacifics were already known to be unstable at high speed and there had been at least ten serious derailments prior to this crash. Many modifications had been tried and investigations held into their performance, incredibly the Indian Railway board had ordered more of the 3 classes of pacifics despite their faults! The XBs had been reduced to running the heavier Mail trains as they had a tendency to “hunt” at high speed or on sub-standard track.

The seriousness of the Bhita accident forced the Indian Government to intervene and they requested a special investigating committee be sent from Britain to investigate the riding of the X class pacifics. The French engineer on the team diagnosed the fault, excessive side play in the leading bogie, other design changes were made to the trailing truck and draw-gear to the tender. Alterations were carried out not only to the X series in India but also to some British locomotive classes including LMS pacifics.

XB224 “Queen Mary” during speed trials for the Stanier commission. In white standing Joe Selvey (driver) In shorts, Englishman Jim Streeten (Senior Inspector), on running board, seated Vivian MaGee (2nd fireman) and Eric Tennant (1st fireman). (Photo courtesy of Eugene D’Cruz)

Eugene’s favourite XB was green liveried number 224 “Queen Mary” at the time it was an M.S.M.R. loco based at Eugene’s home depot of Arkoram. It was selected for riding trials for the international commission; Eugene knew the crew who all migrated to Australia! Driver Joe Selvey (whose sons live in Perth), First Fireman Eric Tennant migrated to Perth after a career on Indian Railways that saw him become a top link VIP train driver; he received the inaugural Madras Academy Award for most outstanding driver of the year from the four Southern states; (Eugene received the award in 1976). Second Fireman Vivian MaGee ended his career in India being one of the two drivers assigned to work the Brindavan Express, then considered to be India’s fastest train; he migrated to Sydney. 

The test runs were carried out on the Renigunta – Gooty line (Madras – Bombay main) and the section from the watering stop at Kondapuram featured some sharp reverse curves before entering a lengthy girder bridge. Eugene drove both W class and XB locos on express and Mail duties on the sector, he commented that they had to drop their speeds as locos would lurch through the curves sending any unsecured items rattling around the cab; more concerning was the behaviour of the XBs which could sway in an alarming way. The driver would see the front end of his engine hunting or “nosing” whilst the unfortunate firemen would watch as the tender flap plate would develop a sideways movement and jump as the engine passed over a weak spot in the ballast. At the time some firemen could not afford shoes; as late as 1990 I saw 2nd firemen wearing cheap sandals!

The report was published in 1939, E.S.Cox the secretary and assistant engineer to the group claims that they solved the problems and the engines went on to give good service; other writers noted their poor steaming capacity and poor availability due to cracked frames, tubeplate fractures and chronic coupling rod breakages. 

Derek said the XBs rode well which would support the idea that the problem was fixed; but why did they remain restricted to 45mph? The old 4-6-0s designs remained on express duties whilst the XBs hauled the slower but heavier trains. Eugene thought the answer lay in the Railway Board being cautious as the various departments refused to accept blame. Track conditions could vary with heavy monsoons causing the track-bed to become soaked and not drain properly; ballast being squashed out by the weight of trains over any weak points accentuating problems. The other problem for gangers and engine crews in India was the extreme summer heat causing track to buckle and engine crews to wilt. Eugene remembers his firemen panting with exertion as they tried to keep trains running to time, skinny blokes (like himself) who had to shovel 8-10 tons on an 8 hour trip in unpleasant conditions.

The three of us corresponded about single line tokens and running at night.

Derek: We had the Theobalds ball token (on single line), pick-up was by hand, sometimes running at speed. The cane hoop was one and a half feet in diameter, with a leather pouch for the ball token (showing codes for the stations) you had to have the knack of picking it up with back flow on the vacuum (brake) to hit the shuttered window behind you and pelt round your arm. Sometimes the ball escaped and fell to the track, if it was lost we would be issued with a paper ticket. The stationmaster was issued a daily private code to be written on the ticket in such a situation; this was meant to ensure its safety. (I will let the safe working experts ponder this).

On the Bangalore section some firemen would be black and blue by the time they went home after exchanging many hoops at 60mph, some inexperienced firemen misjudged the exchange or hit the porters who held out their arm for the outgoing token as you were passing. A nervous porter the victim of some previous exchange or shaken by the wind and speed of the train might flinch and he or the fireman would receive a mighty hit. Running the Calcutta Mail at night the engine crew would try to spot the Station Porter holding a fire torch in one hand and the hoop in the other, “if in bad weather (monsoonal) we missed an emergency stop had to be made. We tried to slide the outgoing token along the platform so that it stopped opposite the SM and pick up the new token from the porter who was also holding a fire torch.”

Eugene then wrote about a night run he made as a young driver, this was early days on the Southern Railway when crews largely stuck to the pre amalgamation boundaries and rosters . Eugene was given a late change of orders at Madras station and instructed to run the Blue Mountains Express (the forerunner of the Niligiri Exp) with his W 783 “The Waverley”. (The class had fascinating names, Rob Roy, Kenilworth, Ivanhoe; someone liked the Walter Scott novels!). The Blue Mountains Express was a prestigious ex SIR (South India Railway) train and the regular engine had failed; the Senior SIR Crew refused a MSMR loco. Eugene knew the road (joint running) and was instructed to take the train; although the SIR guard who checked watches and took the engine crew details was dubious and said “Son, this is an express monitored by the Railway Board.” Eugene wrote of his determination to show those SIR blokes that we could work that train. “My firemen were splendid and gave me the gas, they picked up those line clears without a blink or miss doing it with aplomb at over 60mph (on a night run) picking up on the right was mine and the left which was more difficult was the job of the first fireman; who with only the flicker of a fire torch to judge the exchange. The token hoops were made of bamboo cane encased in leather and were heavy, you had to be accurate and get your bare arm inside that loop and take the slam with a little give. Eugene ran before time to give a few minutes extra for fire cleaning at two halts on the 196 mile run. They cut off at “Jalarpet” (Jolarpettai) and Eugene was delighted when the Guard complimented them on the sharp running.

Sometime things did not go to plan with disastrous results, one night his fireman Fred Besterwitch was injured when he reached out in blinding rain on a curve to pick up a line clear. At this location the main line had a loop either side in which two freights were held, it was past midnight and with low visibility on a curve where the pick up was always difficult to spot and the only light being the flare of a torch which could not be spotted on the curve. Eugene spotted the dimly lit starter and departure signals and Fred stretched out of the cab to collect the hoop and was caught in a gust of wind, the hoop angled on impact and Fred dislocated his shoulder. It is more or less falling grades once over the hill out of Guntakal, Eugene’s 2nd fireman was Fred’s brother in law, he and Eugene got the train to Guntakal and did most of the work on the return working to Bangalore. Fred did not make a full recovery, with a weakened shoulder he was removed from working on steam and made an Assistant diesel driver; within a week of returning to work he was killed in a shunting accident. Members of the tight knit Railway Colony were shocked by his death; his brother in law later migrated to Sydney.

Eugene suffered his share of accidents; once fracturing his knee in 3 places having slipped on moss by a water column whilst examining tender oil-boxes whilst working a Night mail. The two firemen pushed him up and back into cab, where he stood on one leg holding to a top support and drove the Mail till relieved at 4.30am He couldn’t get off the loco when it arrived on shed, somehow the staff got him down and the firemen helped him home!

The first pacifics on MSMR were the “Yankees” 900 and 901 numbers 1000 and 1001 were a Heavy Goods version the engines came from Baldwin in 1924/1928. Eugene first saw them when he was a child, “they were within hand’s reach from over our wall.” 40 years later he was driving the pacifics, and reported “they were frightful to get started, but a jewel on the run and then a nightmare to detach and get to shed”. The engine brake was steam operated, a disadvantage as it took time to slam on and to come to a stop. The other problem was on the run when the regulator might jerk itself open. These engines had 6 foot 2inch drivers, bar frames and high running plates making an interesting contrast to contemporary British built locomotives.

Eugene had started work on the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway (MSMR) as an apprentice fireman in 1939, the course lasted two years. On most other Indian railways firemen rose through the ranks, i.e. cleaner, call boy, lighter, in slow promotions. The minimum education for an apprentice fireman was a High School, or Cambridge School Leavers Certificate, after WWII all railways appointed special grade “A” firemen and ran specialised supervision of them.

Pre war, selection was by the Selection Board, most Apprentice firemen were Anglo Indians. The course was broken into 6 month terms, the first being with the fitters, then with the Boiler makers. During their time with the Fitters they were often assigned to the drop pits, where wheels and axle boxes were detached and scored ones were filed out. Engines were jacked up with hand pumped hydraulic jacks, secured and then the wheels lowered by the same pump kit into pits. The pits were usually distant from the bustle of the running shed and out of sight of the foreman, but close to the Railway Colony. It was a dream place, no fences, just a paved road separated the houses from the depot. The fitters could chat to people on the road whilst working; young girls would bring the toiling workers a glass of lime juice; most staff had families in the Railway Colony.

Eugene loved being sent to work in the forge, working the bellows as there was no air compressor at the time and the diesel generator was expensive. “We pumped the huge bellows and when the fire was red hot we’d pick up the sledge hammer and deftly hammer a huge side rod or plate into shape. Those Blacksmiths were incredible they could shape or straighten anything, any size. Bare footed, jumping up or stamping as sparks and chips flew.” By the end of the six months apprentice firemen were expected to independently reduce big ends, attend lubricators, lap leaky oil pipes, clean injectors, sort out vacuum problems and complete an examination, theory and practice.

The second year was spent with the shed master, and the final term was on shunting and freight trains as second firemen; although some like Eugene were able to join drivers who requested them on express and Mail train duty as a 2nd. Usually the second fireman was the labourer and was not promoted beyond a freight train driver. His main duty was to trim the coal and break it up; coal was usually supplied as large lumps. The second fireman would also operated the fire hole door as the first fireman was firing, closing and opening with each shovel fire. If on the run he had no work, he would stand behind the driver to assist in signal spotting. There were no distant signals whilst some lower quadrants were behind hidden the driver only having a few seconds to pick them out.

Since all in Eugene’s batch commenced employment on the same day, rank/seniority was based on exams. Eugene was lucky being from a railway family and was able to absorb theory and practical skills; he came 1st out of the 29 Apprentices on the Division and that helped his rapid promotion; becoming a Mails and Express driver by the time he was 36.

The Punjab Rifles in 1919 with their armoured train. This unit was composed of staff from the North Western Railway. (Photo: H.V.O. Waters; Neville Thomas collection)

All the Anglo-Indian rail workers were expected to join the railway Volunteer Army and Eugene belonged to the Madras and Southern Maharatta Railway Rifles Battalion. Every Railway company had its own regiment, for Europeans and Anglo Indians. A training camp for 10 days every year was held at an old military garrison, Army staff conducted parades, shooting range drills, route marches and military training. They were provided with regular British Army uniforms and were used to back-up the Regular Army. In 1921 the regiment took part in the suppression of the Moplah rebellion and in 1932 were on guard at railway installations during the Salt March protests led by Gandhi; tasks which did not endear them to the leaders of the Independence movement.

Eugene signed up for WWII service in a Railway Engineering Regiment, and was sent from Arkoram (Arakkonam) in the south of India to a training camp in the north of the country. After 5 months of square bashing he was shipped out to Iraq and sent to Basra to work supply trains; his father had also served in Iraq during WWI. Eugene spent four years in the desert working supply trains carrying every type of war material.

In 1942 he was part of the crew who unloaded engines from ships coming from India, the engines had to be first transferred to a barge that would bring them to the shore. He recorded engines such as Jodhpur Railway 60, a 4-6-0 being unloaded, similar metre gauge steam engines and rolling stock had been sent from India to Iraq in WWI.

Supplies came from the US, travelling via the Cape to Basra Port, they included aircraft, motor vehicles, and ammunition these were sent to a base north of Basra where there was a big railway yard; this was where Eugene was based. He and other crews then took trains heading north to Baghdad to supply forces in the Middle East, Greece and the Mediterranean ports (as the supply route via the Atlantic was too dangerous for shipping). They took trains over the Shat el Arab bridge to Tanoma, the transhipping point in Persia (Iran) for onward supply to Russia; here they met Russian crews and some engine drivers to his surprise were women.

Engines took some rough handling, desert sands and storms played havoc with bearings, covered the tracks and reduced visibility, the dust in the air could make it suffocating for days and this tested crews’ patience and ability to endure. Sometime in 1944 they received supply of oil fired “MacArthurs” which were a great improvement on the old engines they had been operating.

Following VE day the base started winding down, a skeleton staff was left and was handed over to another Indian Railway operating unit; Eugene’s regiment left sometime in Oct/Nov 1945 and their troop ship landed them back at Karachi. Eugene wangled a cab ride on the Sind Express to Lahore hauled by a large Caprotti XC class; unusually for an Indian engine it was fitted with a mechanical stoker. The driver was a big burly Englishman; with an AI (Anglo-Indian) fireman; they gave him an unforgettable ride running over 60mph with desert dust flying behind.

In the regiment’s base they were trained for Jungle warfare; ready for posting to fight the Japanese in Burma. Before being sent to embark they were given 10 days leave (out and back); for most it was their first chance to see their families since joining up. After returning to his base Eugene heard about the atomic bomb being dropped, shortly after they were disbanded and given a ticket home plus a length of cotton for a suit, a shirt, trousers and shoes. Later he received two medals; and was one of the lucky ones to have a reserved job to go back to: many of his comrades had resigned in order to join up.

The old MSMR had been generous and helped by paying them a 50% overseas allowance, (more than the military rate of pay), some of the other companies paid this and annual increments plus contributions to their providential Fund. They also received Railway circulars; one conveyed the news that the MSMR, the SIR and Mysore State Railways had amalgamated to form the Southern Railway; which was government owned.

Back home in Arkoram, Eugene’s neighbour fireman Eric Tennant (who took part in the XB trials) was briefly assigned to take Eugene for re-familiarization work on coal fired locomotives whilst giving him the opportunity to relearn the road following his war service. 

Click here for Section 2 

Rob Dickinson