Lest we forget… the vital role of wartime railways

A host of events with railway connections are set to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War. Craig Amess reports.

They say that in life two things are certain, death and taxes, but as true as this statement is, it misses something else that plagues the existence of mankind – war. It has gone on since ancient times and unfortunately is still happening in the Middle East.

Our railways played different roles during the First and Second World Wars to match the nature of the conflicts. Standard-gauge trains took troops and materials to their points of embarkation in both wars, but with trench warfare being the main strategy in the first conflict, supplying the front line by field narrow-gauge railways was essential because horses and carts, lorries and mule trains couldn’t sustain the trenches.

Narrow-gauge railways were first adopted by the British Military from early 1916, and by sheer coincidence all the combatants eventually used quickly laid 60cm gauge systems. The British Light Railway operation alone used more than 2000 locos, and transportation peaked at 210,000 tons per week.

The War and Peace Revival at the Hop Farm Family Park in Paddock Wood, Kent at the end of July promises to be a spectacular event and will include some of the best model collections around.

During the Second World War the British railway companies’ managements joined together, effectively creating one company that was responsible for the transportation of troops, goods and weapons and the evacuation of children from the major cities.

As the nature of warfare changed so did the face of the railways, with devastating blows coming from the sky and the Luftwaffe targeting lines, locomotives (painted black during the period) and trains. Women became involved with the railways, taking over from the men who had gone to fight. In Nazi-dominated Europe, the railways’ darkest hour came when 11 million people were transported to the death camps of the Holocaust.

In Britain, many people wear their poppies with pride as they remember the fallen from every war in which the country has participated, and at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, a two-minute silence is observed, focused nationally at the Cenotaph in London.

After being killed in battle on land, sea and in the air, thousands were rendered unidentifiable and their remains were buried in graves with nameless headstones.

For the full article, see the May edition of Modelling – available now!

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