Funeral date for ex-councillor and former train driver

Len Smith

Len Smith

First published in News

THE FUNERAL of former Swindon councillor and GWR train driver Len Smith is to be held this week.

Len, who died aged 89 in May, was a Labour member for some 12 years until the early 1980s, and was proud of helping to bring the Oasis Leisure Centre to Swindon.

The great-grandfather-of-two was also once chairman of the local branch of ASLEF, the union for engine drivers and firemen, and used to organise dances to raise funds for retired drivers to have an annual dinner.

His daughter Anne Williams, 64, of Wroughton, said: “He was a caring, charming man and everyone says how grateful he was for anything anyone did for him. He was always pleased and never grumbled.

“He was a typical Swindonian, he loved Swindon, he was incredibly proud of Swindon and I think he instilled that in us with our upbringing.”

Born in Purton on July 10, 1922, as the eldest of three children, he was adopted by his uncle and aunt in Wootton Bassett at the age of just seven after his father died.

He left school aged 14, and even though he had passed exams to enter grammar school, a lack of money meant he needed to work.

After a brief spell as a trainee butcher he applied to become a train driver. First he had to work as a cleaner, then as a fireman and then became a driver. He was nicknamed “Bassett” to distinguish him from the other employees called Smith.

In 1946, he met his first wife-to-be Frances at a dance in Purton, and they married in June 1947. Anne was born in 1948 and his son Stephen in 1950. The whole of his working life was spent living in Ferndale Road and Collett Avenue, Swindon.

One of the perks of working for the railway were the free passes to travel on the train, which included a foreign pass enabling Len to take his family to Spain and Italy long before package holidays became popular.

After 40 years of driving both steam and diesel trains, Len took early retirement, and started a new career at Allied Dunbar (now Zurich), where he worked for 10 years in mortgage administration.

Len was elected as a Swindon councillor in 1971 to represent the Western ward. He became chairman of the arts and recreation committee, in which he played a key role in helping to bring the Oasis to town.

Anne said: “They wanted to have a recreation facility, not just a swimming pool. As chairman of the committee, he went to look at other pools that had a similar thing.

“They looked at the Oasis as being somewhere you could go if you didn’t necessarily swim, like a beach.”

Len and Frances moved to Wroughton to be closer to Anne, but Frances died of heart disease. In 1982, he married his second wife Nesta, who died in 2006.

Len moved to Whitbourne House care home, in Park South, as he became ill with Alzheimer’s and later moved to Moormead Nursing Home, Wroughton, where he died of a chest infection on May 22.

His funeral is on Thursday at the Parish Church of St John the Baptist and St Helen in Wroughton.

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