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Rail tragedy inspires Hailey’s Commando debut

Dundee University pHD student Hailey Austin has become one of the first female writers in more than 30 years to be published in Commando.
Dundee University pHD student Hailey Austin has become one of the first female writers in more than 30 years to be published in Commando.

An American student who came to Scotland with no experience of writing comics has become one of the first female writers in more than 30 years to have a story published in the Commando war comic.

Hailey Austin, a PhD student at Dundee University, has written Steel Inferno, a fictional version of a true Second World War story of bravery and sacrifice.

It will be published tomorrow as Commando #5241 by DC Thomson.

Steel Inferno is inspired by the Soham Rail Disaster which took place in the early hours of June 2, 1944.

As Britain prepared for the D-Day landings, a 44-wagon ammunition train caught fire in Soham Station, east Cambridgeshire.

The crew detached the wagon from the rest of the train and were drawing it away when the cargo exploded.

Steel Inferno is Commando #5241 and uses the real Soham Rail Disaster as as inspiration.

Several people were killed but had it not been for the bravery of those involved, the Cambridgeshire town would likely have been reduced to rubble and the number of fatalities would have risen into the hundreds.

The fireman of the train, James Nightall – who died in the disaster – and driver Benjamin Gimbert were both awarded the George Cross for their role in preventing a greater tragedy.

Hailey, 24, from Colorado, said: “Commando sometimes issues a call for new writers and I thought that was something I could do.

“I began researching these really brilliant stories from the Second World War that aren’t as well-known as they should be.

“I came across the rail disaster and was struck by the incredible bravery of those who sacrificed themselves to prevent an even greater tragedy.

“With 44 carriages packed full of ammunition the damage and loss of life would have been colossal if they had not got the wagon on fire as far away as they could.

“No one really knows how the fire broke out but for my story I thought ‘what if it wasn’t accidental?’ and had a Nazi spy sabotaging an ammunition delivery, only to be foiled by these men.

“Luckily the editorial team at Commando loved it and I’m very excited to see it published.

“I loved doing it and want to do a lot more in the future.”

Commando has already picked up another of Hailey’s stories about the women of the French Resistance.

It will be published to coincide with International Women’s Day next March.

The work of writers Diana Muriel Garbutt and Mary Feldwick previously featured in Commando, but 2019 marks the first known appearance of female authors for 35 years.

Georgia Standen Battle, a Commando editor, wrote the script for a story published earlier this year.

Georgia, Hailey and another soon-to-be-published author, Kate Dewar, form a new generation of women writing for the title.

Hailey’s PhD research attracted media attention last year after she discovered rare comics dating back to the 1800s in the university’s archives.

These included drafts and proofs of early DC Thomson comics.

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