I dare say that a large number of you reading this will be fully aware that we recently marked the 75th anniversary of Mallard (for those who don’t know, she is an “A4” steam locomotive built for the LNER) getting the steam hauled rail speed record. A record that still stands today.
The National Railway Museum at York have marked this occasion by assembling all of the preserved A4s together for the first time since they were withdrawn from general service. They also threw what was, I can tell you, a rather nice meal on the evening of the actual anniversary on July 3rd.
The 20’s and 30’s were a time when achieving superlatives was seen as a matter of national pride as well as being beneficial to industry and business. The Germans seemed to have Grand Prix racing sewn up but we did pretty well with aeronautical feats, most notably in the Schneider Trophy as well as with altitude and endurance records.
These examples had a large input from government but we also dominated in the land speed record arena too, always a more personal endeavour by those involved. It seems that whether you were running the country, building something in your shed or at any point between then if you wanted a crack at making your place in history it could be done. In fact one could go so far as to say that, if at all possible, it was your patriotic duty to get out there and keep at it until you had gained a glorious victory.
The reasons for such high octane profligacy may possibly be found in international tensions. A number of countries were jockeying for position on the world stage with little doubt as to the danger of aggressive acts if someone thought they could get away with it.
Under such circumstances the advantages of direct technological advances were surely matched by a clear message sent out regarding just what we could do if we put our minds to it?
We need only look to a later age where America and the USSR sought to match each other in the space race to see the pattern once more repeated. However a different world along with the sheer size of the task, and possibly the more focussed target, meant that the 60’s and early 70’s saw this as a purely government led competition.
So what of today? We have our threats and troubles, as with any age, but they are not from rich and powerful countries. No longer is there seen to be a need to break records for the sake of our national standing. However our industry still benefits from the exposure gained by these single-minded dreamers. Thankfully we still produce those who can – and do – take on the world.
Please join me in not only raising a glass to Mallard and Sir Nigel Gresley but also to those who are breaking records and flying the flag for British industry today.