‘Roll out the red carpet. The royal train is due in half an hour and there’s not a minute to be wasted.’
This opening line in The Royal Station Master’s Daughters would once have been a regular scene at Wolferton Station as staff busied themselves putting together the finishing touches to welcome their latest royal visitors. Kings and queens would rest in the plush royal retiring rooms, one suite for the King and his male guests, while the Queen and her female companions rested in their own elegant rooms across the corridor, before continuing their journey to Sandringham House.
As we look forward to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee marking the historic 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth, what better time is there to indulge in a royal saga inspired by a real royal station master and his daughters at this once bustling rural Norfolk station? Royals were welcomed here from all over Europe and beyond and the station was used by our present royal family up until 1965. If walls could talk, countless untold royal stories would no doubt unfold.
The Royal Station Master’s Daughters is a World War I historical saga – the first in a trilogy -which centres on the heartache of women grieving back home during the tragic Gallipoli Campaign in 1915, when estate workers joined the Sandringham Company to serve king and country, suffering horrific losses.
I learnt about the extraordinary life of royal station master Harry Saward, who ran the station from 1884 – 1924, from his great grandson, Brian Heath, and felt instantly that this was a gem of an untold story that readers would enjoy. Incredibly, Harry records 645 special royal trains steaming in and out of Wolferton during his first 27 years there, including those of Queen Victoria, the German Emperor, King Carlos of Portugal, the King of the Hellenes, the Queen of Portugal, the dowager Empress of Russia and many more.
Rasputin is even reputed to have arrived at Wolferton on route to Sandringham House in the early 1900s, turning up out of the blue to talk with King George V on matters of war. It is said that the king would not see him – and instructed the very capable station master to send him back to London.
It is clear that Harry was clearly much more than an ordinary station master. He was bestowed with numerous medals and honours by European royals and invited to state dinners at Sandringham House, where he mingled with crowned heads of state and distinguished guests. He would have been invited along with a handful of local people to these occasions, and Harry would dress formally, his medals pinned proudly on his dinner jacket.
Actors, musicians and even a circus also alighted at Wolferton to provide entertainment for the royal family at Sandringham. One of his recollections describes loading an elephant onto a truck – and the mayhem and destruction that followed when it uprooted a lamppost and demolished the station gates!
It is through Harry’s daughters that we share the heartaches and courage from those times. Jessie pines for her sweetheart who serves as the devoted King’s Messenger, while helping her mother in the royal retiring rooms; Beatrice is the post-woman delivering heart-breaking telegrams of loss while waiting for news of her own beloved; and Ada overcomes her nerves to bring together this tight knit community and royalty at a special service for their fallen men, as the fate of men with Sandringham Company remains unknown.
The unexpected arrival of a lowly unknown relative, Maria, throws their life in chaos and as her secret unravels, the family, with its proud royal connections and respected position in society, are forced to question their own values.
Book 2 in the trilogy, The Royal Station Master’s Daughters at War, will be available as an e-book in September and paperback in April 2023.