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South East Branch

Meeting Report 8th May 2006 by Bill King


Military Railways in World War Two by Mike Walshaw

Our meeting commenced with a thanks to Keith Mapley and the Ashford branch of the Kent & East Sussex Railway for the trip that they arranged to the Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme - it really was a great day out. Keith's report on the visit can be found HERE

Noel reported on the books sold during the period and that they had raised around £1000. Cheques for member's proceeds had been distributed. Then a number of the month's railway headlines were reviewed:
· A new line to Scotland and paralleling the WCML had been proposed at a cost of around £15bn
· It had been noted that there was a lack of leadership in the railways and their plans for the future
· GNER were in the news. They planned to take action against the Office of the Rail Regulator because of their decision to allow "open access" to Grand Central Railway

Longmoor MPDTo most British railway enthusiasts, "LMR" is the abbreviation for the London Midland Region of British Railways, but not for our guest speaker, Mike Walshaw. For him, it stands for the Longmoor Military Railway and his first presentation of the evening was about that line, in the period 1900 to 1969. Longmoor was the headquarters of the Transportation Corps of the Royal Engineers and Mike first visited it when he travelled to the LMR at Borden in 1950. His first slide was a typical "train" on that railway, being a 30 seat Wickham railcar, built in 1940 and powered by a Ford V8 engine. The second was an overall view of the motive power depot at Longmoor in 1967. The railway at Longmoor was a most important military location, particularly during the dark years of WWII, at the end of which more than a third of the Royal Engineers were engaged in transport activities.

The line had its origins in a "hut-shifting railway" - twin 18" gauge tracks 19' apart and powered by "the contraption" which was a steam-winch. It was used to move a number of barrack huts over a distance of four miles, but the LSWR had already opened a branch in the area in 1905 and a tramway from Longmoor to Borden was opened in the same year. That being said, the War Department had no plans to make a Military Training Railway at that time.

Longmoor MapIn fact, construction of the WIMR was started in 1908 and during WWI sappers were trained there to build railways. Running of the trains was in the hands of the Railway Operating Department. Like all the "main line" railways, its initials were converted to something more appropriate, so to many troops it was the "Will It Move Railway"!

A signalling school was established at Longmoor complete with an O gauge instructional railway - sometimes the officers commandeered it and played trains. The signalling school lasted until the end of the line, in 1969, when it was relocated to Munchen Gladbach in Germany, where it existed until 1985. It was then removed to Beverley and finally the National Railway Museum. Some parts of the layout are to be restored locally, at Chatham. Signal fitting was also taught at the school.

At this point Mike introduced the audience to the Military Railways Rule Book, 1938. This included many rules unfamiliar to main-line railwaymen, for example; Rule 5D - "Passengers travelling in open or flat wagons must sit on the floor"! The LMR was extended to Liss in 1933 and a physical connection to the Southern Railway made in 1942. It took on a most important role during WWII with a large number of depots and storage locations about the system. At that time, the route mileage was 12 and the track mileage 71. The maximum number of wagons exchanged with the SR in one day was 497 on 15th September 1944, just after D-Day.

AusterityJust prior to the invasion, the railway had 1500 staff and over 150 locomotives were stored there, although the railway's own allocation was 27 at this time! The variety of these must be legendary, and some have been preserved. Avonside B3 class 0-6-0T "Woolmer" is now at Shildon; the second "Gordon" - a WD 2-10-0 No. 600- is at the Severn Valley Railway, for example. The first locomotive to carry this name was an ex-Taff Vale 0-6-2T, received in 1927. "Kitchener" - an instructional 0-6-2T - was converted to oil-firing in 1942; a Drewery railcar was received in 1936 and lasted until 1959. It was followed by a number of Wickham petrol-powered trolleys, which were usually known by the unofficial name of "Whizz-Bangs". The LNER supplied 13 J69 and one J68 0-6-0T to the line. But by the 1950s, the backbone of the loco stud had become the Austerities - the well known Hunslet 0-6-0 saddle tanks. These were accompanied by a limited number of USA tanks and even some US Army S-160 2-8-0s. One of the latter carried the name "Major General Carl R. Gray Jnr." Later, diesel locomotives found their way to the line. Mike showed us a slide of a Whitcomb 650hp Bo-Bo, No. 890 "Tobruk". This class were capable of a maximum speed of 45 mph.Sentinal Diesel In 1963 the final locomotive delivered was a one off Rolls-Royce Sentinel 0-8-0 diesel-hydraulic No. 610 "Lord Robertson". This later moved to MoD Shoeburyness then to the Mid Hants and is now on the Avon Valley Railway. The line did, of course also feature a variety of, slightly eccentric and well-known, rolling stock, including unusual saloons, brake vans and a breakdown train.

The line was closed on 31st October 1969, at which time it was regarded as "the finest independent railway in the country". Track was dismantled in 1972 and the reminders of the line are now very few - the abandoned shell of the signal school still stands by the side of the Petersfield by-pass - and the trackbed has been converted into the Liss Riverside Railway Walk.

The second part of Mike's talk dealt with the movement of tanks, by rail. He showed us slides of a variety of specialised wagons, including Rectanks and Warflats. Britain is one of the few countries to transport tanks by rail. Owing to the limited loading gauge it has been necessary to adopt a number of special techniques to ensure that no damage is done to vehicles or structures. During WWI, for example, MkIV tanks were arranged with gun sponsons that could be "wound-in" to fit the loading-gauge. Later, the railway vehicles were painted with a central white line along which the vehicles had to be aligned when loading. Not that tanks were only moved on special WD wagons.

Tank Loading Wagon We saw pictures of tanks on ex-LSWR machinery wagons, Low-Macs, GWR "Macaw B"s and the same railway's well-wagons. Also illustrated was a most unusual tank-loading vehicle. This was, what appeared to be, a conventional four-wheeled flat truck, but with one pair of wheels, with axle, which could be removed. Lowering the unsupported end to the ground created a ramp up which tanks could be loaded onto their special train.

All-in-all, this was a most fascinating talk from a member of the WWII Railway Study Group and is highly recommended to other branches. Mike is also a keen military railway modeller and reminded us that his layout: "Lulworth Camp & Westport Gas Works" will be appearing at Tolworth Showtrain exhibition on 11th and 12th November, this year. Just to provide a little more interest, Mike had brought along a number of his scratch-built locos and other rolling-stock for us to examine. A most enjoyable evening!