On International Women in Engineering Day 2023, Southeastern, the railway company serving Kent Sussex and Southeast London has honoured engineering trailblazer, Kent-born Verena Holmes, the first woman to become an elected member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).
In marking International Women in Engineering Day, Southeastern wants to raise awareness of roles for women in engineering, traditionally a male-dominated field.
Verena a native of Ashford, Kent, was born on today’s date in 1889, with 23 June also being the date International Women in Engineering Day is marked each year.
The train being named after Verena Holmes is a Class 375 operating on Mainline routes between London, Kent and East Sussex, which was unveiled at a ceremony at London’s Cannon Street station. Verena Holmes’ family was represented by her great niece Caroline Yardley, and she was welcomed by Southeastern’s Managing Director, Steve White.
Verena was arguably the first female in the UK to have a full-time career as a professional mechanical engineer. She was also a strong advocate for women in engineering and was dedicated to the development of her fellow female engineers. She set up her own all-female engineering firm in 1946 after working on naval weaponry during World War Two.
Steve White, Southeastern’s Managing Director, said:
“Verena Holmes was born on our part of the railway, and she blazed a trail through a male-dominated world to deliver innovation, invention and inspiration in equal measure. We at Southeastern want to recognise that legacy and are proud to name a train in her honour.
“We want to build on Verena’s achievements by increasing the number of women we employ in engineering and in other roles. We want women to see rail as an industry where they can thrive. We have many female friendly policies, have been recognised as a Top Employer by ‘Women in Rail’ and are embracing diversity in every sense.”
Verena was the President of the Women in Engineering Society in 1931, and the current Chief Executive, Elizabeth Donnelly, was on hand to represent her organisation at the ceremony. She said:
“We are absolutely delighted that Southeastern has chosen to name one of their trains after the past President of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) Verena Holmes. It is especially fitting that this honour has been unveiled on International Women in Engineering Day, celebrated every year on the 23 June the date of both the founding of WES and the day Verena was born.
“Verena was a champion of Women Engineers throughout her career and in 1931 she became the first woman member elected to Institution of Locomotive Engineers, so we are incredibly pleased to see her honoured in this way.”
A faculty building is now named after Verena at Canterbury Christ Church University.
The Head of the School of Engineering, Technology and Design, Dr Ann Nortcliffe, speaking at the event, said:
“We’re delighted to attend today’s event celebrating one of the country’s, and Kent’s, most pioneering female engineers, Verena Holmes. She was a trailblazing mechanical engineer, a prolific inventor and someone who was dedicated to development and advancement of females in engineering.
“We started our engineering degree courses to specifically address the issue of diversity and female representation within the industry. Our STEM building, which opened in 2021, was named after Verena to honour her legacy and inspire generations of female engineers.”
Southeastern Technical Services Engineer, Nada Abouelhiga also attended the ceremony. She said:
“Southeastern has supported me in my ambition to be taken seriously as a woman engineer and has valued my skills and the contribution I can make.
“We all follow in the footsteps of inspirational women like Verena Holmes, and she richly deserves this honour.”