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Memorial to WW2 railway hero set at York station

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LNER, the British Transport Police (BTP) History Group, ‘Raids Over York’ heritage project, and Normandy veteran Ken Cooke have joined together to commemorate the life of Robert Smith, an LNER railway police constable who served at York Railway Station during World War Two.

A memorial and dedication service took place at York Cemetery on Monday 29 April, where a wreath was laid at the site of a new headstone, which will act as a lasting reminder of the life of Robert Smith. The police officer, along with another LNER worker William Milner, were among 94 people who lost their lives during the Baedeker air raid in York during the early hours of 29 April 1942.

Hundreds of people were injured in the Luftwaffe raids which hit historic targets, with York one of five English cathedral cities bombed. Warning of an imminent air-raid attack had already been given that night as the late running 22:15 London King’s Cross to Edinburgh sleeper service arrived at York station. Eight hundred passengers had been safely evacuated from the train when the first bomb fell.

This was closely followed by another near the parcel office, together with a shower of bombs across the station buildings. Debris from the roof soon set fire to the station and was further fuelled by hundreds of gallons of paraffin in the lamp-room. Robert Smith was working in the station’s post room and was killed. William Milner also lost his life.

Until now there has never been a memorial stone for Robert, however in 2017, the BTP History Group unveiled a wooden cross for Robert and his family on his resting place. Now, 82 years on, LNER has arranged for a permanent headstone to be placed at his previously unmarked grave.

David Horne, managing director at LNER, said: “With no family of his own having been located, to see Robert Smith’s railway family come together for his memorial service ensures that we will never forget his immense courage and bravery. There is now a lasting memorial to a dedicated LNER colleague and family man, who sacrificed his own life to save others.”

John Owen from BTP History Group, added: “Robert’s story was first uncovered when researching the Roll of Honour of fallen railway police officers. When we realised he had received very little recognition, we worked on finding out more about his life. His grave at York Cemetery had been unmarked and unkept for many years. Now there is a fitting tribute for everyone to pay their respects to a former colleague and to honour Robert’s life.”

Image credit: LNER

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