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Last ride for founder of Bluebell Railway
12:06pm Tuesday 16th October 2012 in News
One of the founder members of an East Sussex heritage steam railway has been honoured by having his coffin carried down the line ahead of his funeral service.
The coffin carrying Bernard Holden travelled nine miles on the Bluebell Railway from Sheffield Park to Kingscote on Tuesday following his death on October 4 aged 104.
His bowler hat and medals, including the Burma Star and his MBE for services to steam preservation from 1992, topped his coffin, which was draped with the flag of the Royal Engineers.
Four uniformed pall-bearers representing different departments of the Bluebell Railway carried his coffin into the brake van as friends and relatives looked on from the platform.
Bluebell Railway spokeswoman Avril Gaynor said: "The Bluebell Railway wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Bernard. He was always very positive and strong and very willing to help younger people. He was always very energetic and kept us going."
His final journey on a Southwestern coach, one of the first coaches at the Bluebell Railway, followed a lifetime devoted to railways. He held numerous roles, including as a manager with the Southern and British Railways.
He chaired the first meeting of the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society after British Rail closed the Lewes-East Grinstead route in 1958. Latterly, he became the society's president.
Dubbed the "founding father" of the Bluebell Railway, Mr Holden saw it steadily expand to what it has become today - a preserved steam railway attraction which draws 170,000 visitors a year. It has a turnover of more than £3 million, full-time staff, 700 volunteers, three Victorian stations and a collection of locomotives, carriages and wagons.
Mr Holden's long-held dream of seeing the Bluebell line reconnected with the main line at East Grinstead, West Sussex, is set to come to fruition next year. Ms Gaynor said: "Our only sadness is that he didn't see us going into East Grinstead."
The final journey was being followed by a funeral service at Ditchling. Donations which will go towards the line extension can be made to the Bluebell Railway at Sheffield Park.