b. 23/04/1932 Barbridge, Cheshire. d. 12/06/1965 Wythenshawe, Manchester.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 05/06/1965 Crewe.
Wallace Arnold “Wally” Oakes (1932-1965) was born on 23rd April 1932 in Barbridge, near Nantwich, Cheshire, the son of Wallace and Mary Ann Oakes (nee Smith), and he had a sister Audrey. At the time of Wally’s birth, his father was a general labourer, and originally came from Winsford. He was educated at Acton C of E Primary School, and in 1947 he joined the London Midland and Scotttish Railway Company at Crewe as a locomotive cleaner.
Three years later, he was called up for National Service and served with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. This was a two year stint and he spent it first at 1 Training Battalion in Dorset and then at 3 Training Battalion at Arborfield in Berkshire. He was discharged in September 1952 and then spent a further 3 and a half years with the 23 Medium Workshop REME (Territorial Army) at Crewe, whilst resuming his railway career. On his return to the railways he was promoted to a Fireman and then to Driver. On 25th August 1956, he married Dorothy Leggett. They would have no children.
On 5th June 1965, Oakes was driving a relief express passenger train when, about 7 miles from Crewe, travelling at 60 miles per hour, the engine cab suddenly filled with smoke and flames, blowing back from the firebox. The fireman at once climbed through the window and somehow managed to get on to the cab steps, where he extinguished his burning clothes. He could not get back into the cab but, realising that the brakes had been applied, remained on the steps until the train stopped. When the flames subsided, he re-entered the cab to find Oakes was missing. He was found lying on the cutting slope with 80 per cent burns. He had applied the brakes himself to save his passengers. He died from his injuries a week later in Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester.
Following a well attended funeral, Wally was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in St Matthew’s Churchyard, Haslington, near Crewe. This remained the case until in 2017, it was announced that Wally’s George Cross was to be sold at auction in Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire on 2nd September. (They had previously been sold at Sotheby’s in 1995). Due to the publicity generated by the sale in the railway industry, Geoff Courtney from Heritage Railway magazine began a campaign to have Wally’s grave marked with a headstone. On 1st February 2018 a headstone was placed on Wally’s grave following the fundraising. Wally’s George Cross was sold for £60,000 at the auction, and was purchased by the National Railway Museum in York, where it will be displayed. There are commemorative plaques to Wally at Crewe Railway Station and at Acton Primary School. In 1981, a nameplate was unveiled at London Euston naming the Class 86 No 86260 locomotive “Driver Wallace Oakes GC”.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL RAILWAY MUSEUM, YORK.
BURIAL PLACE: ST MATTHEWS CHURCHYARD, HASLINGTON, CREWE, CHESHIRE.
Block F Row 3 Grave 4.