A WAR veteran got the red carpet treatment at a North-East museum after discovering he could be a distant relative of the father of the railways.

Donald Nicholson caused quite a stir at the weekly veterans group he attends when he announced he is a relative of George Stephenson – creator of the world’s first passenger steam engine, Locomotion No 1.

To celebrate the news, organisers of the group at Age UK Darlington arranged for the 92-year-old and his partner, Francis Aitcheson, 90, to visit the town’s Head of Steam museum and see the engine for themselves.

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Allyson Timm, a friend of the couple who introduced them to the veterans group, said: “We couldn’t believe it when he told them.

“Everyone stood up and gave him a round of applause and shook his hand.”

Mr Nicholson, of Houghton-le-Spring, said his mother, Sarah Elizabeth Stephenson, was a relation of George Stephenson but got married and changed her name.

“For me it is just normal. I just feel that I am a part of history – I am chuffed to bits,” he said.

“Everyone’s family is unique, but mine is a bit different.”

Locomotion No 1 was built by George and Robert Stephenson and pulled the first passenger train service to operate on the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825, heralding the Industrial Revolution.

The museum’s duty manager Sarah Gouldsbrough said: “We are always happy to welcome relatives of George Stephenson as we continue to celebrate his engineering legacy.”

During the Second World War, Mr Nicholson served as a flight engineer in the Royal Air Force, completing 31 operations with the 44th Rhodesian Squadron.

He had a lucky escape in 1944 when the plane he was flying in was shot out of the sky over Hamburg.

“We didn’t crash because I used my ability to save the crew by counteracting the dive we were in by manipulating the trim,” said Mr Nicholson, who lives with his daughter, Joan, 64.

“The plane came out of the dive. There were seven of us on that plane.”

Around nine years ago, Mr Nicholson met his partner, Ms Aitcheson, who also served as an Army chef during the Second World War.

The couple attend Age UK Darlington’s weekly veterans group, which meets every Wednesday from 10am to noon at Bradbury House, in Beaumont Street West.