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War veteran joins Royal Engineers to see how they do it today

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 25, 2012

  • Cyril as a soldier working on the railway (second from right)

  • Specialist TA soldiers from 170 Engineer Group (Royal Engineers) fit new sleepers on Bodmin Steam Railway watched by Second World War veteran Cyril Thomas Picture: Emily Whitfield-Wicks

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A Second World War veteran cast his experienced eye over his former regiment as they helped carry out track repairs during an exercise at a heritage railway in Cornwall.

Former sapper Cyril Thomas, from Falmouth, was called up to the Royal Engineers in 1943 from his job as a fireman on the Falmouth Docks railway.

Trained as a driver, Mr Thomas worked on the construction of the bridge spans which were vital to the success of the D-Day landings before being called on to dredge harbours in Europe.

But this week he was the VIP guest of his old regiment as members of the 170 Engineering Group (Royal Engineers) worked at the Bodmin and Wenford Railway.

"The equipment they have is fantastic," Mr Thomas, now 88, said. "In my day you had either a big hack saw or a burning lamp to cut through rails which used to take 20-30 minutes but the machine they have can do it in two.

"I never thought I would be mixing with all these high ranking officers. During the war we were the lowest of the low and didn't mix with officers at all and when they shouted an order you jumped and did it."

The Nottinghamshire-based 170 Engineering Group, under the command of Major Andy Smith, were living under canvas at Lanhydrock.

The Territorial Army unit is predominantly made up of professional railwaymen.

During Mr Thomas's visit, he was presented with a regimental beret while he has also become the unit's veteran mascot.

Major Smith said: "Our commanding officer is from Cornwall and knows Mr Thomas, so arranged for the beret to be presented, and Mr Thomas was absolutely thrilled to receive it.

"It has been a valuable training exercise which tested the team's capabilities, and everyone has appreciated working on the railway at Bodmin."

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