Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry was born in Romsey, Hampshire, England
on the 15th June 1911.
He is best known as the author of The Railway Series of books in
which the character of Thomas the Tank Engine originated.
The son of a clergyman, Vere Awdry, and his wife Lucy Louisa Bury,
the Rev W, V. Awdry was educated at Dauntseys School, West Lavington,
Wiltshire; St Peter's Hall, Oxford (BA, 1932), and Wycliffe Hall,
After a spell of teaching at St.George’s School, Jerusalem,
he was ordained into the Anglican priesthood at Winchester in 1936.
In August1938 he married Margaret Emily Wale whom he had met in
Two years later he took a curacy in King's Norton, Birmingham where
he lived until 1946. He subsequently moved to Cambridgeshire, serving
as Rector of Elsworth with Knapwell, 1946-53, and Vicar of Emneth,
1953-65, before retiring to Stroud.
Margaret and Wilbert had three children - Christopher, Veronica
The characters that would make Awdry famous, and the first stories
featuring them, were invented in 1942 to amuse his son Christopher
during a bout of measles.
The war against Hitler was still in full spate when Wilbert Awdry
settled down at the bedside of his two-year-old son Christopher
to tell him a story, and drew from his imagination the tales of
Edward, Henry and Gordon, three steam engines which, readers were
later to learn, hailed from his fantasy 'Island of Sodor'. The stories
were written down, simply because the young Christopher demanded
to hear them again and again, and was fiercely alert to any inconsistencies
his father made in the re-telling. Wilbert's wife Margaret, sensing
that the stories could have a wider appeal, sent the scribbled words
to a literary agent, and in 1945, the very first book, The Three
Railway Engines, was published. It had a print run of 22,500 copies,
and sold for two shillings (10p) - a quite expensive sum then, but
reflecting the problems of paper supply through the war years.'Thomas
the Tank Engine' - the latterday hero engine - didn't actually make
his public debut until the second book.
After he wrote 'Three Railway Engines' Christopher wanted a model
of Gordon, however that was beyond the scarce wartime resources
available. Instead Awdry made a model of a tank engine from odds
and ends and painted it blue. Christopher christened the model engine
Thomas. Then Christopher requested stories about Thomas and these
duly followed and were published in the famous book Thomas the Tank
Engine published in 1946.
By the time Wilbert Awdry stopped writing in 1972, The Railway
Series numbered 26 books.His son Christopher Awdry subsequently
added further books to the series.
Wilbert Awdry's own railway knowledge was cultivated by his father,
who had shown him how to use a telescope to spot trains on the GWR
main line from the family home at Box, near Bath.
Wilbert Vere Awdry's enthusiasm for railways did not stop at his
publications. He was involved in railway preservation, and built
model railways which he took to exhibitions around the country.
He retired from full-time ministry in 1965, and moved to Stroud,
Awdry's story Henry's Sneeze (in The Railway Series book Henry
the Green Engine ) originally described some soot-covered boys as
being "as black as niggers". After complaints were made
in 1972, twenty years after first publication, the description was
changed to "as black as soot".
Wilbert Awdry was awarded an OBE in the 1996 New Year’s Honours
List, but by that time his health had deteriorated and he was unable
to travel to London. He died at the age of 85 from bronchial pneumonia
at his Rodborough, Stroud, Gloucestershire home on Friday March
21st 1997. Funeral services were held at Gloucester Crematorium
and Rodborough Parish Church on March 26th.
Wilbert Awdry's wife Margaret pre-deceased him in 1989
A Class 91 locomotive, 91 124, bears his name.
A biography entitled The Thomas the Tank Engine Man was written
by Brian Sibley and published in 1995.
Wilbert Vere Awdry, is our 7th cousin 3 times removed, descended
from our 9th Great Grandparents Robert Blachford born about 1624
in London and Elizabeth Wright born about 1625 in Winchester.
W.V. Awdry Totally Explained