When I was growing up we lived in an area where there was a bridge at the end of the street leading to the nearby fields. There was a railway line below, often used by freight trains and passenger trains. I used to play in those fields a lot, as did other kids. Some of the kids used to play down the embankment and trespass on the track. I never did. My parents had warned me not to of course, but it was something else which was the main deterrent. The Beano Summer Special 1964.
That first Beano Summer Special contained a two page General Jumbo story drawn by Dave Sutherland in which a boy had his foot trapped between the rails as the points changed. It stuck with me forever.
Back then, when I was only 5 years old, I hadn't developed the habit of saving comics so I threw out the special after I'd read it. However, this image was so powerful that it was committed to memory...
...and I also remembered there was an oncoming train in the story...
I found that panel with the trapped foot such a powerful image that even to this day, 50 years later, it comes to mind sometimes if I'm near a railway track. Heck, it even springs to mind every time I walk over the tramlines at Blackpool! Even though there were no points on the stretch of track at the bottom of my street, the message that trespassing on the lines was dangerous still hit home.
Back then, after throwing out the comic, the details of the story were mainly forgotten. (For years I'd misremembered it as Jumbo himself getting his foot trapped.) The only panels that were burned into my mind were the one with the foot trapped and the onrushing train. I knew that in reality there would be no toy soldiers to save the day, so the message was clear: keep off the track! Subsequently I never played on, or crossed, the track as a kid. (Or as an adult, in case you were wondering.)
As far as I know, no one was ever killed or injured on the railway line near my old house, and perhaps I'd have been safe too, but thanks to that General Jumbo story I didn't chance it.
As I said, that Beano Summer Special is long gone but a few years ago comics historian Ray Moore kindly sent me a photocopy of that story which I'm showing here. So thanks to Ray, thanks to artist Dave Sutherland for drawing such an influential image, thanks to whoever wrote it, and thanks to General Jumbo for (perhaps) saving my life.
Images Copyright © DC Thomson & Co. Ltd. Click on the strip to see it at a readable size.