The sudden death of Paul Cotterell on May 2nd, 2007 shocked and saddened the readers of "HaRakevet Magazine" and all those who find the railways of this area interest. The only consolation is that Paul left a vast legacy of historical information, much of which appeared in "HaRakevet" and will in the future be accessible on this site. An appreciation by Rabbi Rothschild is printed below.
An appreciation of Paul by Rabbi Walter Rothschild, reprinted from Issue 77 of "HaRakevet":
9th. July 1944 - 2nd. May 2007.
On 2nd. May 2007 news spread swiftly, news that changed the world for many people. Paul Cotterell, Pol or Meester Pol to so many Israelis, had died suddenly, suffering a cardiac arrest while working for the Israel Railway Museum, searching through the photographic archives at Kishon Works.
Paul was a legend. A stern critic of sloppiness in any form (including in Harakevet!), he was also a guide and mentor to many who sought information or sought to help - according to his own exacting standards. A railwayman through and through, a Brummie and formerly of Saltley depot in that city, a British enthusiast who photographed extensively on the British railways system of the 1960s, (with an especial love for the former LMS and S&D), he later moved to Israel and worked for many years as a signalman at Haifa Central Station signal box. He then moved on to the Railway Museum at Haifa East, where he had long worked in any case on an unofficial overtime basis in his free time. Though there was always a figurehead ostensibly in charge, it was Paul who made things happen there - and such a lot it was, too. A total rebuilding of the museum facilities to incorporate the old HR engine shed and the surrounding trackwork, the acquisition, restoration and display of several fascinating items of motive power and rolling stock.....and small exhibits, tickets, badges, photos, signalling equipment and so much more. He ran a team of volunteers who slogged away at the mountains of putrefying and yellowing paper, covered in pigeon droppings, in damp rooms and in the attic, and transformed all this into a properly shelved, cleaned, rolled, stored, protected and catalogued Archive. His comments were often sardonic, but you knew that if he ever said something positive, he meant it, and that it was praise indeed. He was respected by all and it was amazing how many Israel Railways employees would light up if you asked them whether they knew Meester Pol.
If there was anything to know he knew it. If there was anything not yet known - he would be on the trail of it and often with success. On his computer at the Museum were the materials for several more articles for Harakevet and an album of pictures of Israel Railways master shots with extended captions, that he was preparing for publication. One hopes his friends can make these materials available for publication after all - alas, now in his memory. He was a regular contributor also to Black Eight, the magazine of the Stanier 8F Locomotive Society, and to the Industrial Railway Record - indeed, his interests always tended towards the arcane, the little industrial or military lines that had brief and hidden existences, the obscure byways that he delighted in bringing into the light of his research. He tolerated diesels if they were unusual and interesting but, as has been said by others, his eyes would light up when steam was mentioned.....
In recent months he had following a slight stroke - stopped smoking and improved his diet; When I last saw him, in March, he strode up and down the roads with myself panting to keep up. He hated being photographed and it was hard to get a shot of him without a crazy expression on his face. He had married, once an Israeli - and then moved to Canada, where they later divorced. A large wall map of the Canadian Pacific Railway and its vast empire graced his flat thereafter. They had no children. He came back to Israel alone and became an Israeli, though he never completed conversion to Judaism. He lived alone and spent a lot of his working life alone - night shifts in a signal box are not for those who need constant chatter. And yet - we had many deep discussions about theology and life, about railways and archives and wills - and the need to ensure that collections remained intact.
When I lived and studied in Israel in or around 1980, and began my own personal travels through various archives, everywhere I went I learned that a Paul Cotterell had been there before me. But no-one knew who or where he was. Then one day, sitting on a bench on a station on the North London Line I opened a copy of Continental Modeller- and there was a book review of The Railways of Palestine and Israel - by Paul Cotterell! A letter to Rick Tourret, the publisher, followed, and contact was made, and the next time I came to Israel we met at Haifa Bat Galim station, and a friendship was formed. An irreplaceable one. We discussed his book and the fact that he had already learned since publication much that was new and much that corrected or modified what had been published. But there appeared no realistic chance for a second edition. So the idea of Harakevet was born one day, as I walked my dog along Nursery Lane in Leeds - a small newsletter for the small circle of people who were known to be interested in this arcane topic, a chance to share new information on an informal basis without all the hassles of a real publication. There was simply a need for a Boswell for Pauls Johnson, and I decided that I was to be he. The magazine began as typed A4 sheets on my synagogue typewriter, photocopied at work - I think originally there were six copies of No. 1 and grew from there. Paul was always the major contributor, often impatient when items stayed on file for too long. I used to refer to him as Katar-El - The Locomotive of God. Steam, of course...... And high pressure, too. Paul will indeed be an impossible act to follow. A professional railwayman and an amateur archivist, he nevertheless brought professional standards to both. He was able to negotiate and haggle within the hierarchies and committees of Israel Railways- an amazing feat for someone who, in many respects, could have been classed as an outsider. He Got Things Done - in his own way and pace, but they Got Done.
Paul was buried on 7th. May at the Kfar Samir Anglican / Greek Orthodox cemetery in Haifa, close to Hof HaCarmel station. Almost 100 people attended, almost all of them Jewish, and eulogies were given by several friends and also senior figures on Israel Railways. As Sybil wrote, Few people are lucky enough to be able to make their hobby their profession, and fewer still are privileged to die without suffering, while doing what they love best. Paul would have hated another stroke and a slow decline. The end came mercifully swiftly - albeit still far, far too soon.
Zecher Tzadik Livracha. May the Memory of a Good Person be a Blessing for all who knew him.
Photo: Paul Cotterell (in blue shirt) discussing the fine points of railway history with a group of enthusiasts.