The Railway At War – 1914-18
Articles, Blog

The Railway At War – 1914-18

November 16, 2019

100,000 employees enlisted into the armed forces
during the First World War and of that, roughly 20,000
were killed. The First World War was the
first real sort of industrialised, mechanised, mass,
industrial conflict and as part of that, it was the first
major conflict that really utilised the full kind
of range of possibilities of the railways. Most of the main
railway stations in London were hugely symbolic
as a kind of location of parting for soldiers
and their loved ones. The most significant stations
were Waterloo for transit through Southampton
docks, and Victoria for Folkestone and Dover. For many people, they were the final
frontier for the war. That was where you went to wave
off your loved ones and it was where you
saw them come home. Women were absolutely vital to
the functioning of the railways during the First World War. Actually before the war started,
there was a female contingent as part of the workforce of the railways. There were about 13,000 women but that expanded massively. That opened up a number
of new roles for them in different areas they hadn’t really worked in before, such as manning the stations, ticket offices, ticket collections and in some cases,
becoming guards. Another role that they took
was engine cleaning, which sounds very
mundane, but it is, in fact, a very important role. Without them taking on the
roles that were left vacant by those that enlisted, the
railways wouldn’t have been able to provide the continuity of
service and the flexibility of service that they did. Around 1912, they started designing the ambulance trains in secret, which meant that the first ambulance trains were rolling into Southampton, ready for action 18 days after the outbreak of war. Ambulance trains made the journey
home a lot quicker. There was an account of men who were injured, first thing in the
morning in France one morning, being back at Charing Cross
by 2:15 in the afternoon. On one of those huge trains, the grunt work was done by orderlies who were quite
often untrained, very young and they would be doing
things like changing dressings, cleaning out the train,
serving the dinners. The vast majority of people who
travelled on ambulance trains, particularly in the UK, would
have survived the journey because you weren’t put on board if there was thought to be any risk. There were rudimentary
operating facilities on board, so that staff could do
emergency procedures to stem the flow of bleeding
before passengers were taken to a proper hospital. We think that there were only
about four people died on board ambulance trains in the UK,
which is such a small number when you think that 2.7 million men travelled by ambulance train. The refreshment stands
at mainline stations were quite sort of indicative of the
wider war effort, particularly in the beginning of the war,
where there was a huge sort of groundswell of voluntary
activity to help support troops. All of the main railway
companies erected memorials at a lot of the main stations.
They’re still there today. They still act as a sort
of a massive source of kind of public memorialisation. Obviously, with
poppies and wreaths left there on the 11th of November for Remembrance Sunday. Many of the railway families –
there’ll possibly be many generations of people
working for the railways and therefore, they will have
lost several generations during the conflict.


  • Reply European Train Driver November 10, 2019 at 9:30 am

    Gefällt mir

  • Reply Silent Hunter November 10, 2019 at 10:17 am

    There were in fact narrow gauge railways built on the Western Front to transport materiel to the front line; often operated by drafted railway employees:

  • Reply David Costin November 10, 2019 at 10:30 am

    Lest we not forget.

  • Reply EssexLad 8919 November 10, 2019 at 11:18 am

    Lest We Not Forget. And never be forgotten. 😢🙏

  • Reply MJ Knight November 10, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    We thank those that are no longer with us. We thank them for what they scarified, so that we could be free.

  • Reply amtrakharry November 11, 2019 at 2:51 am

    Thank You !!! :):):)

  • Reply Alxandro Megalo November 11, 2019 at 11:17 am

    And that's when the UK was pro-Russian, i.e. pro-Serbian

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