Anglo-Indians' Contributions to Indian Railways

This article was published in several media outlets such as newspapers and also in brochures and other material (in somewhat different forms, abridged or edited) brought out on the occasion of the National Anglo Indian Railway Convention in late 2002 / early 2003. It is reproduced here by courtesy of Rakesh Misra, Indian Railways.

Preface from original post to IRFCA: Here is an article by Mr. V. ANAND, these days GM/Southern Railway, written on the occasion of National Anglo Indian Railway Convention some time back. Makes very interesting reading for the nostalgia buffs. Regards, Rakesh Misra.


The Anglo Indians undoubtedly made the Indian Railways what it is now. Their contribution to the development of the Indian Railways was immense. They dominated the Supervisory and higher management echelons particularly in pre Independence days.

Their most visible presence was in train operations and particularly the locomotive foot plate. Their least visible -- almost invisible -- but extremely important presence was in the telephone exchanges as Telephone Operators and in the Cipher Department.

The skills of Anglo Indian Locomotive Drivers were legendary. Their pride in workmanship and their devotion to duty was unparalleled.

As I complete 40 years of association with Indian Railways, I recollect the fond memories of my foot plate training. While I can recall a few names who were veritable heroes on the foot plate, there were hundreds of such unsung heroes toiling 365 days in the year and 24 hours a day to make railway travel safe and punctual.

Every small boy of my generation has dreamt of being an Engine Driver. I was no exception. During my school days in Simla, I would run off to the railway station and peer through the boiler tube fencing which separated the road from the railway tracks and watch the arrival and departure of the trains and the shunting movements. Occasionally, I was emboldened to run down from the booking office to the platform where I would land with a thump on the huge 'Avery' platform scale. My friends and I would take turns to jump on the platform scale to see who could register the maximum weight on the dial. We were, of course, chased away promptly by the station staff but we were undeterred till one day an engine driver stepped out and threatened to shove us into the firebox of the locomotive.

I used to gaze into the foot plate and admire the gleaming brass fittings and polished gauges. The Engine Driver in his immaculate navy blue woollen jacket would look down disdainfully. I resolved that one day I would enter the locomotive as a matter of right.

My first encounter with the Anglo Indian running staff was at Asansol in Eastern Railway. In its heyday, Asansol Steam Shed rivalled Bhusaval in Central Railway as the biggest Steam Shed. However, by the time we joined for training, the trunk routes had been electrified and our training was primarily on Diesel and Electric locomotives. Our Instructor was one Mr. Beale who used to play the saxophone at a local restaurant -- an example of the versatility of the Anglo Indian community. Mr. Rose was a Driving Instructor and he taught us the rudiments of electric locomotive running and maintenance. Though officially we were not allowed to drive, we were encouraged to do so by the Instructors under their watchful eye. It was only then we learnt how much of skill is required to maintain punctual running.

The legendary drivers of Eastern Railway were, no doubt, M/s. Craker and Toker who used to work the diesel hauled Mail trains. When Rajdhani Express was introduced in 1969, I understand Mr. Craker took out the first train. Their knowledge of the route was profound. Mr. Craker could literally drive blindfolded, as he knew every feature of the track. I still remember telling him while on the footplate of 5 Up Howrah -- Amristar Mail.

Self: Mr. Craker, you have just run through an ash pit at 100 kmph. Did you not know there is a speed restriction of 30 kmph! It says so right here in the Working Time Table!

Craker: Sir, the ash pit has been closed recently but the time table will be corrected only in the next issue. Till then, why should I slow down my train!

Every Shed had its own unofficial 'speed king' -- a Driver who could be relied upon to coax that little extra out of locomotive and run the trains punctually using every trick of the trade. Coincidentally they also had the best safety record and could judge the speed of the train without looking at speedometer. (In any case, very few locomotives had speedometers in those days!).

After my training in Eastern Railway, I was sent for training to Southern Railway. However, it would not be out of place to mention St. Dennis of South Eastern Railway who used to work the diesel locomotives of Waltair Shed attached to the 3 Up/4 Down Howrah -- Chennai Mails. The first thing St. Dennis would do on entering the footplate was to cross himself, take out the little crucifix which he had round his neck and hang it on the engine brake handle. It is said that when St. Dennis was the driver, 3 Up/4 Down Mail would never lose time.

The Erode Loco Shed, whether in its heyday of steam or in its present reincarnation as Diesel/Electric Loco Shed, is amongst the best on the Indian Railways. The quality of workmanship of the maintenance and the driving skills of the crew are unsurpassed. The steam engines particularly those which went into Madras Railway were treated with loving care. There was, however, a practical monetary aspect as the South Indian Railway (SIR) was liable to bear a heavy fine, if their loco failed on the Madras and Southern Maratha Railways (MSM).

The speed king of Arakkonam Shed was Mr. Tennant. There was another famous driver by name Mr. De Cruz, who taught me the rudiments of steam loco driving and firemanship.

Our MG Steam Loco Shed training was at Villupuram, where Mr. Andrew Batty used to take the 137 Down Trivandrum Express from Villupuram towards Madurai. The 180 kms. of Villupuram -- Tiruchchirappalli section would be covered in 3 Hours flat with one halt for watering at Vriddhachalam. By the time the train reached Lalgudi, the tender used to be almost empty. The drivers of Villupuram considered it infra dig to take water at Lalgudi. They would leave the village women disappointed as the water columns used to be made operative for 137 Down, but it would zoom pass without stopping. Mr. Andrew Batty's knowledge of the road was also immense and he considered that restricting the speed of the YP locomotives to 75 kmph was an insult to the excellent track and would, therefore, sometimes touch speeds up to 85 kmph with perfect safety.

Mr. Andrew Batty had a border line case of cataract but such was the confidence of the Divisional Mechanical Engineer in Mr. Andrew Batty's safe driving that he was allowed to continue as an 'A' Grade driver till his retirement and did not have to face the indignity of being medically decategorised.

Then there was Besterwich family of which the driver from Madurai is remembered with admiration. When the firemen went on strike in 1968, Besterwich used to bring the train up to Tiruchchirappalli with only one Yard Khalasi who had been given a crash course in Firemanship. No train in his charge would lose time during firemens' strike or otherwise.

My interaction with drivers of Central Railway was at New Katni in Central Railway where the Dick brothers and Bent held sway. Stewart apart from being a good driver had great skills in Diesel Locomotive trouble shooting.

On one occasion an Anglo Indian driver (I forget his name) had written on the Engine Repair Book, "Engine failed due to thick black smoke white in colour coming out of exhaust ...". As we could not make anything of the remark, we called the driver to the Shed and cranked the engine in his presence. When we asked him what he meant by "thick black smoke white in colour", he replied, "Sir, it is like Indira Gandhi's hair!" When the engine was cranked, we indeed found thick black smoke coming out of the exhausts with white plumes of steam. The turbo super charger casing had a crack with the result that it was not able to send enough air to the engine. This led to the "thick black smoke". The water was leaking out of the crack and getting converted into steam and indeed resembled Ms. Indira Gandhi's hair! With his choice of vocabulary, this driver had saved us hours of investigation.

From Katni, it was on to Bhusaval where the huge Steam Loco Shed was on the verge of closure. The Anglo Indian drivers had progressed from Steam to Diesel and from Diesel to Electric locomotives. The most famous driver was Mr. Misquitta who could be relied upon to bring the train on time and was the inevitable choice for ceremonial special trains such as GM's Inspection. M/s. Mascarenhas and Domingo were other names I can remember. The senior drivers had gone on to become supervisors and power controllers. De Cunha of Headquarters Office and M/s. De Mello and Noel Dickson of Bhusaval have retired.

The two incidents I narrate now sum up the essence of Anglo Indian engine drivers.

In those days, the Brindavan Express was perhaps the fastest rain on the Indian Railways and I remember driver Mc Gee (there was a write up about him in the popular Tamil Weekly 'Ananda Vikadan') once covered the distance of 140 Kms. from Jolarpettai to Bangalore Cantonment in 1 hour and 40 minutes. The Brindavan Express was known for its punctuality and the travellers waiting at Madras Central could set their watch at 19:45 Hrs. by the arrival of 40 Up Brindavan Express. One day the train was 5 minutes late. The Chief Operating Superintendent (COPS) Mr. Godferry Saldhana and Mr. E.S. Muthukrishnan, Chief Mechanical Engineer happened to be on the platform. When the train came to a halt, the COPS walked up to the engine and the following conversation ensued:

COPS: Mc Gee! you are late!

Mc Gee: So would you be, Sir, if you had to pass loop lines at five stations between Arakkonam and Madras.

Suffice it to say that the COPS called for the control charts and other records next day and ensured that the Brindavan Express would be given a line clear right through the main line. Such was his faith in Express drivers of the calibre of Mc Gee.

De Monte was a legend of Erode Loco Shed. On one occasion, when was driving 6 Up Nilgiri Express which was running a few minutes late, he received a message from the Section Controller.

"Driver of 6 Up to run at maximum permissible speed and make up the time."

Mr. De Monte, however, did not make up a single minute. When he was called up by the Assistant Mechanical Engineer, Olavakkod to explain, he replied:

"Sir, does De Monte have to be told to make up time?"

It is understood that the Assistant Mechanical Engineer issued orders that Section Controllers should not issue such messages which would hurt the pride of our mail engine drivers.

For De Monte safety and punctuality were articles of faith. The same De Monte while driving 1 Down Mangalore Express which started late nearly an hour late from Madras, actually overtook Cochin Mail which had gone ahead.

One day a message was received that De Monte was feeling unwell and complaining of chest pain, and that a Doctor and ambulance should be ready at Erode. De Monte ended his last trip with the hand still on the brake lever, by sheer will power. The moment he stepped out of the foot plate he collapsed and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. He was a true railwaymen till his last breath.

On the occasion of the National Anglo Indian Railway Convention let us bow our heads to unsung heroes like De Monte and send a prayer for their souls. Let us not forget our sacred duty to the travelling public. If we do so, the sacrifices made by railwaymen like De Monte would have been in vain.

Material provided by V Anand, Copyright © 2003.
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