Wilbert Awdry

The Revd Wilbert Awdry

Creator of Thomas the Tank Engine

BA History (1929)

The Revd Wilbert Vere Awdry (15 June 1911 – 21 March 1997) was a clergyman whose literary creation, Thomas the Tank Engine, has sold upwards of 50 million books worldwide.

Awdry came up to Oxford in 1929, attending what was then St Peter’s Hall, where he read History. Theological study up the road at Wycliffe Hall followed, with Awdry being ordained Deacon (after an intervening three years teaching English in Jerusalem) in 1936.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, Awdry declared himself to be a pacifist, a decision that led to his being asked to leave his parish in Wiltshire. He eventually became curate of King’s Norton, and it was while here that his eldest son, Christopher, fell ill with measles, an event that resulted in the birth of Thomas the Tank Engine as a source of distraction and amusement for his sick child. 

Now a staple in homes throughout the world, Awdry’s simple stories combine the two pillars of his life – his faith and his fascination with trains – with a strongly moralistic tone: many of the mishaps in his stories are a result of character-flaws in the trains themselves but, as he put it, 'The important thing is that the engines are punished and forgiven … but never scrapped.' The Revd Wilbert Awdry was awarded an OBE in 1996, and died in Stroud, Gloucestershire, in 1997.