Wilbert Vere Awdry was born on 15 June 1911 (passed away in 1997), near Romsey in Hampshire. Young Wilbert had a passion for steam engines. He loved to play with the model railway his father had built in the garden, and to pore over copies of The Railway Magazine.
When Wilbert's brother, George, was born, the Awdrys moved to Box, near the Great Western Railway's main line from Paddington to Bristol.
"Lying in bed as a child I would hear a heavy goods train coming in and stopping at Box station, then the three whistles, a tank-engine, which would come out of his little shed to help the goods train. There was no doubt in my mind that steam engines all had definite personalities . . . little imagination was needed to hear in the puffings and pantings of the two engines the conversation they were having with one another: 'I can't do it! I can't do it! I can't do it!' 'Yes, you can! Yes, you can! Yes, you can!' "
Wilbert went to Oxford and then taught at St George's school in Jerusalem, where he met his future wife, Margaret Emily Wale. Returning to England in 1936, he was ordained into the Anglican Priesthood. Two years later he married Margaret, and in 1940 their first child, Christopher, was born. When Christopher was two, he had measles. Wilbert told him a story about a sad little engine called Edward. Eventually Wilbert wrote it down and illustrated it with simple line drawings. Stories about Gordon and Henry followed, and Margaret encouraged Wilbert to send them to a publisher.
The Three Railway Engines was successfully published by Edmund Ward in 1945, and the following year the most famous of all Wilbert Awdry's engine characters appeared in Thomas the Tank Engine. From James the Red Engine in 1948, Awdry published a new Railway Series title every year until his last book, Tramway Engines, in 1972. The setting was the wonderful fictional island of 'Sodor', situated near the Isle of Man, for which Wilbert devised its people, engines, history and geography.
In recognition of his services to children's literature and campaign work on the preservation of England's steam railway heritage, Wilbert was awarded an OBE in the 1996 New Year's Honours List. He died peacefully at home in 1997, aged 85.
Although he wrote his last book in the series in 1972, Rev. Awdry's creation lives on! In 1983 his son, Christopher, published Really Useful Engines, the first in his own series about Thomas and his friends.