Railways at War
Shaun Houldridg, NRM
10 November 2008
Sixteen members were present on 10th November as
Alan Gosling introduced Shaun Houldridge from the NRM, our speaker for
the evening. We were also pleased to welcome into the audience Kitty
Chisholm, from the Board of Trustees of the NMSI.
Shaun's talk concentrated on the first years of World War II, but
he started much earlier, noting that although the Duke of Wellington is
credited with recognising that railways had a role in transferring
troops in times of war, it was actually General Napier who identified
this possibility in 1839. The Crimea War used railways to a limited
extent, but it was the Boer War that really used it for strategic
purposes, even using armoured cars.
By the late 1930s, there was no doubt about their strategic
importance. The armed forces were operating their own rail services at
docks, army camps and even airforce stations. The Emergency Defence Act
of 1939 brought all civil railways under government control.
Operation ”Pied Piper• followed quickly, evacuating children, women
and older people from London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. All
children were tagged with railway luggage tags and had a small case
containing half a loaf, some dried milk and sweets. The plan was to
evacuate 4 million people, but it only achieved around 1.5 million. A
second evacuation came in May 1940.
During the Dunkirk campaign, the railways moved troops away from the
ports. Eight days of special train movements were needed without any
prior knowledge. This involved 620 extra trains for 300,000 troops,
using carriages from all over the system.
In summer 1942, US troops were carried from arrival ports at a rate of 5000 trains a month.
The war didn't just affect the national system. The RHDR introduced
an armoured train, manned by volunteers from their own works. In 1942
the whole area, including the RHDR, was taken over as part of the PLUTO
Meanwhile UK factories were busy with war products. These required
not just goods trains but also workmans' trains, with special tickets.
In 1942, 400 million passenger journeys were made using these tickets.
Passenger restrictions were in force, cheap tickets were withdrawn and
leisure travel was discouraged. Even so 10,000 million more
passenger-mile journeys were made than pre-war!
At the start of 1943 there were only 20,000 women working on the
railways, by the end of the war this had risen to 105,000 out of a total
workforce of nearly 1 million.
In the locomotive works, austerity was the name of the game,
resulting in designs such as the Q1, and the expansion of mixed traffic
designs such as the LMS Black 5 and LNER V2. These locos achieved some
amazing feats - a V2 pulled a 850 ton, 26 coach, troop train from
Peterborough to London. However, the Black 5 was by far the most
numerous of the mixed-traffic type. Meanwhile the shortage of manpower
led to the simplification of maintenance and was the justification for
the removal of the streamlining from the Princess Coronation class and
the wheel covers from the A4s.
The war produced many heroes. In 1943 railway workers received 1
George Cross, 28 George Medals, 72 British Empire Medals, and 124
commendations. It just shows the contribution the railway, and its
workers, made during the war.