Wilston's first-class journey

Train (edited)
Written by: Joe Emery, edited by Anita MacCarthy

Wilston Samuel Jackson's Story

By the end of the Second World War in 1945, much of Great Britain lay in ruins. In 1951, the country was still rebuilding. It was then that a 24-year-old Wilston Samuel Jackson, after the untimely death of his father at just 40, decided to emigrate from Jamaica to the UK.

On arriving, Wilston first worked as a glass factory worker before trying his luck with the railways. His application was successful, and in 1952 he started laying bomb destroyed tracks. However, Wilston's ambition was to be a train driver, and so he took a job as a fireman. In 1961, after many years shovelling up to 10 tons of coal a day, in a noisy, dirty, labour intensive environment, that would raise the eyebrow of any health and safety executive today, Wilston gained the title: Britain's First Black Train Driver.

Wilston was at his happiest out on the track, as fireman on the Mallard and driving the Flying Scotsman, towing the Elizabethan, the Queen's Train, (carriages) ensuring the safe passage of many travellers on many journeys.

The Crash

One dense foggy early morning in 1964, after a signal man gave the green all clear signal in error, Wilston's train smashed into the back of a stationary goods train. Just as Wilston's train hit the back of the goods train he was able to save his fireman by yelling at him to jump out of the cab. However, it was too late for Wilston whose legs were severely crushed.


Wilston spent many painful months in hospital, never complaining, while doctors fought to save his legs; most believing it could not be done. But once again, Wilston's grit and determination won the day, and months later he walked, albeit on crutches, smiling out of the hospital.

In 1966, Wilston was once again able to return to driving his beloved trains. That year, Wilston heard that African countries were crying out for train drivers. After much discussion, Wilston, his Burmese (Myanmar now) wife Rita, and his three school age children, travelled to the newly independent, Zambia, where he passed on his knowledge of trains and driving to the recently liberated Zambians.

In 2018, Wilston suffered a stroke that he could not recover from and Saint Francis Hospice nurses kindly cared for him in his home in his last days. In 2018, Wilston who was now resident in the UK with his second wife Naomi had a stroke and lost his speech, hearing, and movement from which he could not recover. He wanted to be cared for at home, and our Hospice at Home team happily obliged.

As Naomi explained, "A nurse from the Hospice would come round every evening. Sometimes they would just comfort me or sit with him, which gave me a chance to get some sleep in the other room.

"I didn't sleep well without someone from the Hospice there, for fear of him not being there when I woke up. I was always getting up and checking how he was, so the Hospice offering me some relief was wonderful and of great help.

"Wilston loved his life as a train driver. You could often see tears in his eyes whenever he saw an old train."

Sadly, Wilston Samuel Jackson passed away on 15th September, 2018 at the age of 91.


For further information on The First Black Train Driver, please email Molly Jackson at mollyjackson@strictlylaw.co.uk.

Find out more about how you can support Saint Francis Hospice by visiting here, or get in touch via email fundraising@sfh.org.uk, or phone 01708 753319.



The crash: October 1964 


Naomi and her grandchildren with Wilston's photo at our Hospice


This blue plaque at Kings Cross Station recognises Wilston's place in British history.

You might also be interested in