Betty Freestone – an Obituary

Betty proudly displaying ‘her’ crossing name board

By Alan Gildersleve

                      Betty Freestone 1931 to 2022


Betty was born on the 2nd July 1931 in Barrington, Cambridgeshire where she attended Barrington Village School until the end of WW2. Remaining in Barrington, she then worked for J.F.Hall in the village General Stores for nine years.

In 1950 she moved with her family to the neighbouring village of Orwell where she met Malcolm; they were married on the 14th August 1954 and she spent the next six years of her life as an RAF wife, accompanying Malcolm on his various postings around the UK! On the 11th December 1955 she gave birth to their first son, Ranald.

While still serving, Malcolm became a member of Cambridge & District MES in October 1959 and Betty was soon enrolled as part of the Catering Team, a role she carried out for almost 40 years!

In January 1962 the young family moved to a permanent residence (at last!) in Gamlingay. This was followed on the 1st February the following year by the birth of their second son, Nigel.

In the early 1970s Betty became the proud owner of a 12-ton Fowler Steam Roller! The aim was to restore it, as near as possible, to its original condition. More or less full running condition was achieved and she took part in several rallies, but sadly lack of time and finances precluded the original aim!

In late 1997 she joined Bedford MES, along with Malcolm and Nigel and she acquired the basics of a 7¼” class 08 shunter, which Malcolm and Nigel completed as an LNER class J45, a rare prototype.

In 1999 the new railway at Summerfield’s fruit farm was developing and with multiple tracks at Hammer Hill and an island platform interchange, a pedestrian level crossing was installed. That needed a crossing keeper for the safety of crossing passengers and trains. Betty to the rescue! She volunteered to be the Crossing Keeper, a role that she carried out with her normal, enthusiastic, approach, keeping all safe and free from incidents. So integral was her role to the railway that a formal trackside sign was erected identifying it as ‘Betty’s Crossing’ and it even appeared thus on all later drawings of the railway! This role she carried out for some years until Lottery funding allowed the Club to manufacture a steel footbridge to interconnect all three railways that run through ‘Hammer Hill’!

Alongside these roles and involvement with the operation of railway activities the majority of BMES and 7¼” Gauge members will be aware of her welcoming smile and cheerful greeting at the AGMs and other gatherings where, accompanied by Malcolm, she would book you in and issue you with the appropriate information and forms!

Apart from her railway, model engineering and aviation interests, Betty was a dedicated member of the Women’s Institute – at all levels. Her enthusiasm extended to becoming a member of the Associated Countrywomen of the World (ACWW) and Friends of Kreis Viersen, the latter being a twinning arrangement between Cambridge and the German municipality. These activities in turn led to a number of journeys overseas that all helped to broaden her outlook.

Betty Freestone will be sadly missed by all that ever had the pleasure of meeting her.

Additionally, at this sad time, we must offer our deepest sincere sympathies and good wishes to Malcolm, Ranald and Nige at the loss of such a lovely lady.

Alan Gildersleve

Golden Wedding day – 14th August 2004