Wilston Samuel Jackson was seriously injured in a train crash, but he didn’t panic at all. Wilston moved to London from his hometown of Portland in Jamaica
“I’ve never been late,” Wilston Samuel Jackson would proudly tell anyone who asked about his career as London’s first-ever Black train driver.
His legacy opened the doors for future generations of Londoners of Afro-Caribbean heritage to take up important positions on the capital’s Underground and rail networks. Jackson, who was known as Bill by his close friends and family, migrated to the UK from his hometown of Portland, Jamaica in 1952, aged 25, upon the sudden and unexpected passing of his father.
He also worked as a fireman until 1962. The unforeseen tragedy sent shockwaves through his family and forced him to abandon his childhood dream of becoming a dentist. Instead, Jackson found himself off-course in London, where he first got a job working in a glass factory. It wasn’t before long, however, that Jackson landed himself another job, repairing railways that had been damaged during the Blitz in World War II.
He also worked as a fireman until 1962, when he finally qualified as the first Black person in Britain to become a fully licensed locomotive train driver. He had achieved what even other Black workers on London’s railways didn’t believe could be. Meanwhile, a number of Jackson’s white colleagues were alarmed to see a Black man break through the ranks and disrupt the status quo of white dominance in the industry.
Just two years into his new career, his train-driving days almost met a premature end. They conspired to boycott Jackson, with all agreeing to abstain from working with him.
On his first day as a train driver, the white fireman assigned to work with Jackson refused to join him. Thankfully for Jackson, however, not all of his colleagues were so narrow-minded. His foreman has his back, and instructed the bigoted fireman to go home as he was fired.
Shocked, the fireman later went back to Jackson and took back what he said earlier, to which Jackson coolly replied: “I don’t have a problem with you, it is you who have a problem with me. If you do your job well, we’ll get along fine.”
But just two years into his new career, his train-driving days almost met a premature end.
On October 5, 1964, his train was involved in a head-on collision with another.
The crash was caused by a faulty green-light signal in foggy conditions near Finsbury Park station. He and a colleague had to be cut free by the fire brigade.
His 18-year-old companion escaped with just a few scratches, but Jackson’s legs were completely severed.
He was immediately rushed to the hospital, where he underwent surgery to reattach his legs.
Despite the accident resulting in him spending the next two years receiving treatment, a report published by the Evening Standard quoted a fellow railwayman as saying that Jackson “didn’t panic at all” and that he simply smiled when rescue workers reassured him.
By 1966, Jackson was back on his feet. Never one to miss an opportunity, he answered a call from Zambia, where experienced train drivers were badly needed. While there he met the love of his life, Naomi, and together they decided to settle in Zambia long-term. He later took up a life of farming, until moving back to the UK in 2002 to continue receiving treatment for his tired 75-year-old legs, bringing his wife and kids back with him.
Jackson sadly passed away at the age of 91 on 15 September 2018, not long after suffering from a stroke. A year before his passing, a blue plaque was displayed at Kings Cross train station in his honour, and his family now hope his memory will be externalised with an official National Heritage Blue Plaque that is expected to be unveiled at the station later this year.
Author: Edward Collins