The engine is numbered 90775, as the last British Railways engine of the same design was numbered 90774. 90775 was never owned by BR.
It was the third of the first batch of 100 from North British Locomotive Company’s Hyde Park Works, Springburn, North Glasgow in December 1943 as works no. 25438 (the second of the batch was the locomotive that is now WD600 Gordon on the Severn Valley Railway). The Ministry of Supply numbered it 3652 and, it is believed, painted it in MoD green. It was one of 12 Austerity 2-10-0s delivered in December 1943 and allocated for use in the Middle East.
After the end of the Second World War, the newly formed United Nations used various agencies to discover the needs of war-ravaged countries and find ways of supplying urgently required materials. In the case of Greece it was abundantly clear that many locomotives were necessary: only 94 standard gauge engines had been located in that country and of these only 46 were worth repairing. From the stock of locomotives then available to the UN ten were allocated to Greece – records do not specify the type but probably refer to the American 2-8-0s. However, in October 1945 the British military authorities in Egypt declared that the 16 2-10-0s in store in Egypt were surplus to requirements, so they were considered for use in both Greece and Yugoslavia, but very quickly it was decided to send them all to Greece. Purchased at a cost of approximately £12,500 each, it was first planned to send them by rail but Turkey demanded an exorbitant fee for their transit so instead they were despatched by sea to Salonika in January 1946.
Now in the ownership of Hellenic State Railways, the 16 were renumbered in order of MoD numbers, thus 3652 became 951, and they became Class Lb. Now ready for service they were allocated to the Thessalonica Division in the northern part of the country and divided up between the depots at Thessalonica, Drama, Alexandroupolis and Pithion (Pythio) situated on the Turkish border. During the mid-1960s they had ten daily booked jobs on both passenger and goods trains. Their top link duty was the Istanbul express between Thessalonica and Pithion and another important job was the Athens to Yugoslavia International express between Thessalonica and the border. Much of the line to Turkey, through Thrace, on which the Istanbul express ran was heavily graded which necessitated the engines being kept in good condition. They were well suited for this service – although diagrammed to change locomotives at Drama, about halfway between the two cities, they sometimes worked right through, a distance of 347 miles, taking 15 hours. At an average speed of some 23mph the ‘express’ moniker was more to do with the status of the train than the speed it operated at.
However, by 1967 diesel locomotives were put into service in the Thessalonica Division so the 2-10-0s were then concentrated in the eastern part where some lines required locomotives with a light axle load. They remained in service through the 1970s with the last being withdrawn in 1979.
Little alteration was made to the class by the Greeks other than conversion to right hand drive; they were fitted with headlamps, a second roof and the chimney was lengthened having a small deflector behind it.
After a working life in Greece of 27 years, 951 was eventually repatriated in August 1984, arriving back in the UK at Ipswich Docks onboard the Greek vessel Empress. Before departing from Greece many worn parts had been interchanged with good (or better) ones from the other ‘scrap’ locomotives to ensure that restoration in the UK would be a fairly straightforward task. Also secured at the time were a considerable number of ‘new’ spare parts including some complete fireboxes still in their NBL crates!
The locomotive was restored in a relatively short time and it entered traffic at the Mid Hants Railway (MHR) early in 1988. During the restoration it had been stripped of the many foreign fittings that it had gathered during 40 years overseas. To match its new UK appearance, it first appeared on the MHR as BR number 90775 following on from original BR number series. In 1989 it was repainted, this time into Longmoor Military Railway ‘ROD’ red and blue livery as WD601 Sturdee (next in WD sequence after 600 Gordon). It was named ‘Sturdee’ to follow LMR tradition of naming locomotives after famous British Commanders – Sir Frederick Charles Doveton Sturdee (1859–1925). A further move followed in 1992 when its MHR owners sold it to the Essex Locomotive Society who transferred it to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR).
Unfortunately it was soon out of traffic for major boiler work. Following repairs it was returned to traffic in October 1994 when it was again painted in BR black as 90775, but this time with ‘British Railways’ in full on the tender side. It was about this time that it starred in two episodes of series five of ITV’s popular Heartbeat drama. After a further overhaul it departed from the NYMR in 2002 and moved for a year to the Great Central Railway at Loughborough.
In late June 2003 it moved to the North Norfolk Railway (NNR) on loan and in the following year, due to commitments on their other engines at the NYMR, the owners put the engine on the market with a substantial six-figure asking price. The Society was exceedingly fortunate in that a generous benefactor enabled us to secure its purchase in 2006 for future use on the NNR.
90775 was taken out of service in March 2009 for a major overhaul. In September 2016 the boiler passed its out-of-frames steam test at Weybourne.
In May 2017 the locomotive moved under its own steam again and achieved the full boiler working pressure of 225lbs/sq in.
Following the official boiler insurance inspection the locomotive underwent running in trials before running to traffic at the end of May on the North Norfolk Railway.
In September 2017 the locomotive was given the name The Royal Norfolk Regiment.
In September 2021 the locomotive was renamed The Earl Haig to mark the 100 years of the Royal British Legion.
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