Serving soldiers and veterans paid a special and fitting tribute to fallen heroes this morning, aboard a train from Northumberland to London.
The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers worked with Virgin Trains to dedicate a journey to those who have served their country in the Armed Forces.
The 06.00 service from Berwick to London King’s Cross, which hosted 15 veterans on board, was saluted by serving Army personnel at stops along the route. Serving soldiers and veterans also spoke to passengers during the journey, while the Fusiliers' band performed in the carriages.
The train was headed by Virgin Trains’ Battle of Britain Memorial Flight locomotive 91110, one of two of its locomotives which have been dedicated to the Armed Forces.
The Fusiliers’ corps of drums played the popular North East song, Blaydon Races, to welcome the veterans and serving soldiers of the Fusiliers into London King’s Cross station shortly after 10am where they were joined by the commanding officer of the First Fusiliers, Lieutenant Colonel Jez Lamb MC, for a short ceremony.
He said: “We Fusiliers are incredibly proud of our rich heritage. This year, in particular, we remember the incredible deeds of the Fusiliers who served with such distinction 100 years ago.
"I am therefore very grateful to all the staff at Virgin Trains for this amazing gesture of support. The Remember the Fallen, Remembrance Journey allowed us all to honour our forefathers' sacrifice in a very special and unique way. It was especially poignant this week as tomorrow will mark 100 years since the end of the Battle of the Somme.”
David Horne, Virgin Trains’ managing director for the East Coast route, said: “Our 936-mile route serves a number of the UK’s Army regiments and the British Army's largest training establishment, Catterick Garrison, in North Yorkshire.
“Many of our 3,100 staff, or their friends and family, have also served in the British Armed Forces, or continue to serve as reservists. We’re incredibly proud of them, and all of those men and women who have served their country.
“It’s been a privilege to dedicate a journey to them during the week of Remembrance Sunday, and for our train to have received a salute by the Fusiliers at stations across England.”
One of the soldiers on board was Vicki Cooper, who is a Reservist for the Fifth Fusiliers. She is part of Z Company, which trains at Cramlington, as well as a crew leader for Virgin Trains. The 30-year-old had the original idea for the firm to create a wrap on the outside of a Virgin Train to remember the fallen. The special livery, designed by Paul Gentleman and unveiled in 2014, features images, stories and tributes to regiments and people who served in the Great War.
She said: "I am so proud of what the train represents and how much it means to people. It is great to be on board today."
Former soldier Chester Potts was one of the veterans aboard this morning. He said: "It is a great way to remember those who have given their lives, not only in the two World Wars, but also throughout history. It has brought the public and the military together in a poignant way. Every soldier who has gone to war has travelled by train and here we are, travelling to London by train, on a route that many soldiers, especially from the North East, would have travelled. It is very fitting."
Virgin Trains’ Andrew Kelman, from Newcastle, volunteered to drive the train as he had served in the Fusiliers from 1996 to 2002.
Andrew, who started driving trains in 2008, said: “It was an absolute honour to drive the train today and it was an emotional experience as it brought back many memories for me.
“I would not be where I am today without the things I learned serving in the Army, and the salutes we received at the stations were particularly special.”