Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry, OBE, 1911 1997

 
 

 

 
 

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, Oxford.

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 Palestine.

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 and Hilary.

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, Gloucestershire.

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