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Thomas the Tank Engine: not just for the kids

Everyone has heard of Thomas the Tank Engine, the most famous of several imaginary steam engines, and many know that these children’s books were written by Revd Wilbert Awdry. Wilbert had picked up his interest in trains, and his Christian convictions, from his father who also was a clergyman.

Did you know that Wilbert was a pacifist in WW2?

It was in Birmingham, in 1942, that an event took place with a significance no one could have foreseen. His first child, Christopher, was confined to bed with measles. Wilbert amused his son with a story about a little old engine who was sad because he had not been out for a long time. The rest was history.

The stories featured impish Thomas, industrious Edward, argumentative Henry and proud and pompous Gordon, plus a few others.

Those adventures reflected human faults and weaknesses. The morality of the stories was clear and Christian: misbehaviour led to suffering and retribution; however, provided the culprit showed repentance, restoration always followed. "The important thing," Wilbert said, "is that the engines are punished and forgiven - but never scrapped."

The analogies between the Christian faith and the ways of the railway are obvious: the engines are meant to follow the straight and narrow way and pay the price if they go off the rails. No wonder Wilbert enjoyed drawing the parallels between railways and the Church: "Both had their heyday in the mid-19th century; both own a great deal of Gothic-style architecture which is expensive to maintain; both are regularly assailed by critics; and both are firmly convinced that they are the best means of getting man to his ultimate destination."

Wilbert was a man of simple tastes who was unconcerned by the ways in which the world rates success. His royalties from his books meant little to him.

“I should like my epitaph to say,” he said “ `He helped people see God in the ordinary things of life, and he made children laugh.' " He died in 1997.

(The above partly cribbed from an obituary to Wilberd Awdry 1997)

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United Benefice of Leighton-cum-Minshull Vernon and St. Leonard's Church, Warmingham

Deanery:  Nantwich
Archdeaconry:  Macclesfield
Diocese:  Chester

St Peter's Church
Leighton-cum-Minshull Vernon
Middlewich Road





Revd Catherine Cleghorn
The Vicarage
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Minshull Vernon
Crewe, CW1 4RD

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