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Bert Hooker

R.H.N Hardy's tribute to Bert Hooker, railwayman and Institution member, delivered at his funeral.

 ert Hooker, our old friend, of New Cross Gate, Nine Elms and Slade Green, was a remarkable railwayman and there is not a shadow of doubt about that.  He chose to remain a driver where he was truly happy and, first as a fireman and then as a driver, he mastered his craft-and he always said that firing was the greater of the two arts-and indeed, what he and his driver, Jack Swain, achieved during the 1948 interchange trials, is a part of the railway legend.

 Bert pursued perfection, both at work and in his private life. On the footplate, he could be exacting but if he had a fireman prepared to learn, he would go to great lengths to help a younger man. His enthusiasm for real railway life never waned and he was content and happy in his last seven years of work near here at Slade Green, where his father had started work back in 1906.He had done it all,he was rich in contentment and he lived in a railway colony, with friends up and down the road.

 Kindly, direct and sensitive, Bert was still very much the Londoner. He had the most beautiful handwriting and his letters are and always will be a joy to read for I have many of them still. He tackled life courageously after Rene died and he faced his long and distressing illness with great fortitude. He always wore his ASLEF long service badge with pride, highly polished like his uniform cap with the brass Southern Enginemans badge which, with the shining boots, offset those spotless overalls. His kindness to people is reflected by this huge gathering, from far and wide.  He loved to show his non BR friends how the job was done, on the QT so to speak. His kindness to our own children will always be remembered. And when George and Miriam Barlow's children passed through London, he would always be there, whatever his turn, to see them across. When a Nine Elms driver retired, Bert would buy his surplus overalls and pass them on for the use of the Romney boys who had to buy their own. And more than one uniform cap, several sizes too big for him, found its way to those he called "His big headed friends" at Romney.

 Without being familiar, he was natural with people in all walks of life, without losing an equally natural and friendly dignity. Never more so than with Reginald Jennings who had been a famous housemaster at Marlborough College and whose ambition it was to travel on a steam locomotive. His world was very different from Berts but from the moment they met, you could feel the mark of mutual respect. But I never expected to see them that same day sitting side by side in the messroom at Bournemouth, eating sandwiches and calling each other by their Christian name for that was in 1966 when the immediate use of the first name was a rarity.  Or later, when he talked to the boys at Marlborough about his life on the railway. He held those boarding school boys, by force of personality, in the palm of his Cockney hand. It was a revelation.

 After he retired, he helped and guided his friends involved in the operation of steam locomotives, big ones and the littleones, spoke to countless societies, wrote with distinction and slipped through the Channel Tunnel to Paris. How he loved the French enginemen. Edraond, Henri, Andre and Lucien, they took Bebert, as they called him,to their hearts although he could not speak a word of French. He was hosted in their homes and on the footplate. And he returned the complement on the Bournemouth road although, sadly, the drink had to be tea, not wine as on the French footplate in the days of steam.

 To Denis, his son whom I have known since he was a boy, and to Mrs Hooker, to Audrey, to the family and to Dolly and other close family friendsour deepest sympathy for the loss of one who gave pleasure and happiness to countless people, who served the railway well and truly and who was a good and legendary man.

 Bran Hardy

Tuesday May 2nd 1995