Tenterden - Northiam - Bodiam
Kent & East Sussex Railway

Pullman Car No. 247 'Isle of Thanet'


Originally named 'Leona' when constructed in 1924 by the Midland Railway Carriage & Wagon Company, like her sister 'Lydia', she was part of an order for seven First Class Kitchen Cars and three Parlour Cars, each with 24 covers.

In 1925 ‘Leona’ was moved by rail to Harwich, enroute to Italy via Paris, for operation by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits on services between Milan – San Remo - Nice and Cannes.

In December 1929, Leona was repatriated and rebuilt at workshops in Birmingham before renaming and entering service as 'Princess Elizabeth' on Golden Arrow and Ocean Liner Express services.

During World War Two the Car was the car was retained for the use of The Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, for his Command Train, on loan from Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Car suffered damage due to enemy action in October 1940 and May 1943 and was utilised during planning for D Day.

Following the cessation of hostilities, 'Princess Elizabeth' resumed her place in the Golden Arrow, but was rebuilt again in 1947 as a ‘Guards Brake Parlour’ for use in the ‘Devon Belle’ service. Renamed 'Isle of Thanet' for use in the ‘Thanet Belle’, she continued to spend much of her time as part of the ‘Golden Arrow’.

During the 1950's and early 1960's, 'Isle of Thanet' was often included within special Pullman workings for the Royal Family and visiting Heads of State. These workings frequently included 'Lydia' and 'Aries', both of which are now also resident at the K&ESR. 'Isle of Thanet' and 'Aries' were included in the first electrically hauled working of the Golden Arrow on 12th June 1961.

In January 1965, ‘Isle of Thanet’, with ‘Lydia’, were included in the funeral train of the late Statesman Sir Winston Churchill.

Sir Winston Churchills Funeral Train at Clapham Junction © Ben Brooksbank

Isle of Thanet's last recorded Royal Train working was on the 9th June 1967 and just a few weeks later she was withdrawn from service.

However there was still much of interest yet to come, for at Kensington Olympia Station 25th November 1968, the Duke of Edinburgh performed a sending-off ceremony for Pullman Car Isle of Thanet and L.N.E.R. coach No. 1592 (which was from General Eisenhower’s train in Great Britain and later in France and Germany). H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh presented them to His Excellency David Bruce, the Ambassador for the U.S.A., who received them as gifts from British Rail for the National Railroad Museum at Green Bay, Wisconsin. Shipped from Liverpool Docks in September 1969, Isle of Thanet then accompanying the famous Flying Scotsman locomotive on a tour of North America until 1972.

Following private purchase, ‘Isle of Thanet’ was repatriated once more, arriving at Newport Docks in November 2000. Significant restoration was undertaken at workshops in Carnforth, but the Car remained in store there until she was privately purchased and moved to the K&ESR on the 16th November 2023. Although interior reassembly will be required, she will one day join ‘Barbara’, ‘Theodora’ and ‘Lydia’ in the K&ESR’s Wealden Pullman dining train.

Isle of Thanet in the Tenterden C&W workshop. Beyond may be seen the GWR Railcar W20 whose restoration is nearing completion.

One of the marquetry panels from Isle of Thanet, as collected from long term storage.

Wealden Pullman dining services

With thanks to Terry Bye for his help with compiling this article