Cantlie, Kenneth 1899 - 1986


Colonel Kenneth Cantlie (1899-1986), mechanical engineer, was born in London in 1899 as the youngest son of Lady Mabel Cantlie (née Barclay Brown, 1860-1921) and Sir James Cantlie (1851-1926), a surgeon and specialist in tropical diseases. Kenneth Cantlie had a long international career as a designer of locomotives and coaches in Argentina, India and China and promoting the British locomotive industries after the Second World War.

The Cantlie family had strong connections to China: Sir James trained Dr Sun Yat-Sen (1866-1925), who became the first president of China after revolution in 1911. Sir James and Lady Cantlie were instrumental in rescuing Sun Yat-Sen in 1896 when he was held captive at the London Chinese Legation by the Chinese Qing Dynasty. Sun Yat-Sen remained a close family friend and became the godfather of Kenneth Cantlie.

Kenneth Cantlie was educated in Scotland at Junior School and Gordon’s College, Aberdeen, and University College, London. The loss of his right eye in early childhood resulted in Kenneth being unfit for army service during the First World War, and instead undertook war work at London North Western Railway’s Crewe Railway Shops. He then became an apprentice and a pupil of Crewe’s Chief Mechanical Engineer Mr. Bowen-Cooke, subsequently obtaining a certificate on technical training at Crewe Technical College.

Between 1920 and 1923 Kenneth acted as an assistant to the Chief Mechanical Engineer, then Assistant Traction Superintendent and Train Ferry Supervisor on Entre dos Rios Railway in Argentina. In 1924 he joined the Jodphur-Bikanir Railway in India as the Assistant Locomotive Superintendent and then in 1928 as the Deputy Loco Superintendent building 70 coaches to his own designs.

In 1929 Kenneth Cantlie was invited by the Chinese government to represent his family at the state funeral of president Sun Yat-Sen when his remains were interred in the mausoleum at Purple Mountain, Nanking and was subsequently appointed to act as an adviser to the Chinese railways by the Minister of Railways Sun Fo, son of Sun Yat-Sen. Before taking up the post in 1930, Kenneth travelled in China, Japan and the U.S.

Kenneth Cantlie returned to China in 1930 as the Consulting Expert for Standardisation of Equipment and was offered the official post of the Technical Adviser to the Chinese Ministry of Railways in 1934. He contributed substantially to the rebuilding of the Chinese railways by engineering lines and designed bridges, carriages and locomotives, such as the 4-8-4 series 600 (KF7) class locomotives. Kenneth Cantlie was appointed as the Trustee of the British Boxer Indemnity Fund in 1931 and was later awarded the Order of the Brilliant Jade.

Kenneth Cantlie married Phyllis Gage-Brown (1896-1965) on 8th July 1931 in Shanghai. The couple had three sons, two eldest being born in China: Hugh (born 1932), Paul (1934) and Bruce St. George Cantlie (1937).

The Cantlie family stayed in Nanking until February 1937 when they left for England. The outbreak of the war and Japanese invasion in 1937 prevented Cantlie’s return to China and he stayed in London as the adviser to the Chinese Government Purchase Commission (part of the Indemnity Fund), a post he held until 1950.

Cantlie acted as the manager of Caprotti Valve & Gear Ltd Associated Locomotive Equipment Ltd. between 1939 and 1948, becoming the director from the start of the Second World War.

Kenneth Cantlie joined the British Army on the 2nd September 1939 and served in various positions in the War Office and invasion areas in Africa and Germany throughout the Second World War. In 1942 he was promoted as Lt. Colonel and 1946 he was posted to the German Section of Home Office in London.

After the war Kenneth Cantlie acted as the Overseas Representative for the Locomotive Manufacturers’ Association (LMA) promoting British railway industry exports between 1948 and 1956. He visited and reported on the railways of various countries in North and South America, India, Europe and the Middle East. Cantlie represented the Giesl ejector in the 1950s to the 1970s in various continents including Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. He founded and co-directed a consultancy company called Verity-Orient Ltd. with another locomotive engineer George W. Carpenter.

In 1956 Cantlie was invited to attend the 90th birthday anniversary of Dr Sun Yat-Sen as a guest of the Chinese Government, meeting key figures such as Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. He returned to China again in 1957 to 1958 promoting British companies and also reporting on the trips to the British Ministry of Defence and delivering messages between Zhou Enlai and the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Kenneth Cantlie maintained strong connections to China by visiting Peking and Hong Kong until the early 1980s.

Kenneth Cantlie was a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Locomotive Engineers, the Newcomen Society, the Society of Chinese Engineers and the China Society (London). He was also the founding member of the Conservative Commonwealth Council and a member of the West African Committee.

Kenneth Cantlie died 11 February 1986 aged 87 after a long illness in his home, 8 Chester Row, Eaton Square, London.