On the outward trip from Stockport to Buxton that day Driver Axon had noticed a leak from the supply to the locomotive steam brake, and had requested and received fitter's attention at the Buxton depot. On the return trip from Buxton to Stockport the repair did not hold and the supply pipe broke away from the steam brake disabling the locomotive steam brake and whistle. This filled the locomotive cab with scalding steam and prevented Driver John Axon and Fireman Ron Scanlon from reaching the controls.
The crew of the banking engine at the rear of Driver Axon's train were unaware of the problems at the front and unfortunately kept pushing Driver Axon's train towards Dove Holes summit. Driver Axon told his Fireman Scanlon to jump off and attempt to apply wagon brakes but due to the speed the train was travelling he only managed to apply a few before the train reached the summit and began accelerating down the 1 in 58 gradient towards Chapel-en-le-Frith.
At the time of the locomotive failure, Driver Axon could have jumped clear of the then slow-moving train. However, aware of the danger that his train posed to life further down the line, he stayed with his accelerating train despite the scalding steam on the footplate. He probably hoped to regain control of his train on reaching a more favourable gradient.
Warned by the Dove Holes signalman, the staff at Chapel-en-le-Frith were able to evacuate a two-car DMU, but had no time to warn the crew of a Rowsley to Stockport freight. The runaway smashed into the rear of it killing both the guard and Axon himself.
Axon was posthumously awarded the George Cross. He was the subject of a famous radio ballad (The Ballad of John Axon), the first of the series, written by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger and produced by Charles Parker. A new CD out in June 2008, 'Primary Transmission' by the artist Broadcaster (Red Grape Records) includes the song 'Johnny' which is based on samples from the Ballad of John Axon and set to new music.
In February 2007, a Class 150 train was named "Driver John Axon, GC" at Buxton, and a plaque commemorating the events was unveiled, to be mounted at Chapel-en-le Frith station. The plaque is now mounted on the station buildings at Chapel-en-le-Frith facing onto the southbound platform.
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