Steam Railway (UK) - - FOCUS -

For­mer South African Rail­ways steam driver John Gilberthorpe passed away in his sleep in North Wales on Septem­ber 13, fol­low­ing a num­ber of strokes.

Born in Sh­effield in 1947, he be­came in­ter­ested in steam at an early age and moved to South Africa in 1971 after a pe­riod work­ing on steamships. He ini­tially worked as a fire­man at Greyville shed in Dur­ban be­fore be­ing pro­moted to passed fire­man at De Aar and to driver at Ger­mis­ton shed in 1978.

His friend Richard Niven, who de­scribes him as “an ex­tremely proud and pro­fes­sional en­gine­man”, re­calls: “Even though Ger­mis­ton had over 100 steam lo­co­mo­tives on its books, he hated the place be­cause of all the shunts and trip work­ing. Thank­fully he soon man­aged to trans­fer to Mafikeng where he was once again out on the main line with ‘19D’ 4‑8‑2s, which I think were his hap­pi­est times on the SAR.”

After fur­ther spells at Vry­burg and Ger­mis­ton, he ended up at Kim­ber­ley depot in 1989 with Richard as his fire­man and ‘25NC’ 4‑8‑4 No. 3488 as his reg­u­lar en­gine. Here, says Ken Liver­more of the North Bri­tish Lo­co­mo­tive Preser­va­tion Group: “John will be best re­mem­bered for his amaz­ing ex­ploits with the mighty ‘25NCs’ on the Kim­ber­ley to De Aar rac­ing ground which lasted un­til April 1992. He was quite pos­si­bly the last great Bri­tish ‘top link’ steam driver.”

John fi­nally re­tired from SAR in 2002 and re­turned to the UK. His fu­neral was held in Ban­gor on Septem­ber 26.


John Gilberthorpe at the reg­u­la­tor of ‘25nc’ 4‑8‑4 no. 3500 at vry­hof loop, en route to mafikeng on fe­bru­ary 12 1988.

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