Heritage - 51: London & North Eastern Railway at War - (1) Railway Gets Thrashed With No Help From Government
'Operation Pied Piper' and 'The Blitz'
New Barnet Station saw unusual activity on the morning of 1st September, 1939.
This was 'Operation Pied Piper' underway
A poster put up not long before warned of a skeleton service after the morning rush h our at this former Great Northern Railway station on the northern perimeter of the capital. A convoy of trains pulled up empty at the station's 'down' (northbound) platform, to be rapidly filled by hordes of children - some excited, some fearful of the unknown, some fearful of being separated from their families - who had alighted from the Piccadilly Line (Underground service) by way of a chain of buses a couple of miles away at Enfield West. Some of the trains 'cobbled together' in the emergency were made up of non-corridor suburban stock, some ancient corridor coaches that had perhaps seen soldiers leave for the Boer War in the last year of Queen Victoria's reign.
In the station car park Frank Pick, the Vice-Chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board sat in his official car to watch how the proceedings went. Formerly the London Transport member of the Railways Executive Committee (REC), he was mainly responsible for the well-thought-out evacuation plan that would keep the children from being swept up in the morning rush-hour chaos of large termini. They were to be transferred from Underground trains by bus at outer suburban stations such as New Barnet, Stratford (East London), Ealing Broadway (West), Watford (North-west) and Wimbledon (South-west).
Once filled each train pulled away in succession for provincial destinations far away from likely bombing targets. King's Cross District's progress at New Barnet was monitored by the other evacuation centres.
Railways Executive Committee In Operation
One of the most successful civilian operations in the war, it earned the thanks of Sir Ralph Wedgwood, Chairman of the REC. Having retired from his post as Chief General Manager of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER), Wedgwood was invited by the Minister of Transport to carry on his good work as Chairman of the advisory REC. He was soon after asked to go on in office when war was declared by PM Neville Chamberlain on 3rd September and the REC would be the vital link between Government and the railway companies.that were run indirectly by them for the duration of the war.
All the 'Big Four' railway companies had the same problems, not least of which was the 'Blackout', the night time lighting restrictions over all the UK that slowed down road, rail and air traffic. Added to this was the release of personnel to the armed forces, bomb damage sustained by motive power depots and shunting yards, reduced standards of maintenance and areas of large workshops being given over to war production by virtue of the facilities available in engineering skills and tooling.
Where problems in operating the railways were acutely felt it was at least a saving grace for the LNER that over the six years of the war the Chairmanship of the vital Operating Committee of the REC was held by Sir Michael Barrington-Ward. When war broke out he was appointed Assistant General Manager (Operating) for the company's entire system. The LNER's standards of mechanical skills echoed those set by the North Eastern Railway (NER) in WWI.
Nevertheless war overtook the LNER with severe drawbacks. Largely a freight-oriented system, it would bear the brunt of Government traffic along the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and east-west trunk routes off. Further, it would be prone to air attack from bases in Belgium, the Netherlands, North Germany and Denmark. As it was the raids were not confined to the 'dry side' - a feature of LNER seaside holiday advertising, (as the west coast was more prone to rain from the Irish Sea).
Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Plymouth sustained heavy bombing, with Hull and Sheffield being targeted incessantly (both were extensively rebuilt after the war, as was Coventry). Just as much as Hull, Middlesbrough and Sheffield, industry as well as shipping around London was mostly in LNER territory east of the City of London.
Gresley's penchant for (express) passenger locomotive building was a sort of handicap, and that they were maintenance-heavy did not help either. The LNER was therefore slightly less well placed for recently built mixed traffic and freight motive power than the.London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) or the Great Western Railway (GWR), relying heavily on former North Eastern Railway locomotives that were well suited to the task. However Gresley's Class V2 2-6-2 proved to be his saving grace. Heavily laden - even overladen - troop trains and general freight were the domain of the V2, and after Gresley's death Edward Thompson's Class B1 4-6-0 proved worthy rivals to the LMS Class 5 4-6-0 ('Black Five') and 8F 2-8-0 in performance.
The Central and Southern Area LNER found the pool of private owner coal wagons useful, although diverting to munitions traffic these meant coal supplies would be compromised both to industry and the railway itself. The Ministry of Transport had of affected the requisitioning in 1939. Instead of being returned empty to their own pool or collieries as was the practice in peacetime, these wagons could be used when- and wherever necessary.
Freight diagrams would - for the time being at least - see off previous inter-company rivalries.
Longer routes were preferred, to rack up the mileages on the originator company's rails.
Another wartime move was the abandonment of engine 'diagramming' or advance planning on duties per locomotives at motive power depots (or sheds). Under wartime conditions shedmasters were often faced with with assigning the first suitable locomotive to a duty. There were large numbers of non-timetabled services, run on a day-to-day basis - even at times hour-by-hour. Locomotives could finish a duty at a shed far from their own. They might be allocated to a duty that took them wide of a normal given route back to their home depots. Such a mode of operation might see Pacifics, for example, on a heavy freight (as sometimes happened in the latter days of steam on British Railways when diesels were put on express work). Goods and mixed traffic engines might be seen on passenger services. Again this would be seen in the 1960s, with Riddles' WD 2-8-0 engines taking summer Saturday excursions.
Emergency Timetabled Passenger Services
Like the Government, the REC thought the Germans would start bombing straight away and decided only a skeleton passenger service could be maintained - in the style of pre-war Sunday services, only slower. They had envisaged speeds of 45 mph or less on average, with 60 mph at most on trunk routes. Timetables were posted at stations o n 11th September, 1939 to show the new services. The 'Flying Scotsman' service - 10 am either way from Edinburgh and King's Cross - was supplemented by a semi-fast service that called at all major railway stations (the 'Scotsman' was normally scheduled non-stop) between the two capitals. The train would be overcrowded and much slower than in pre-war years, and inadequate for the travelling public, who carried on as before. There was no bombing for the time being, so after three weeks the railways brought out 'Emergency Time Tables'. the The LNER booklet dated 2nd October, 1939 in 'Bradshaw' format marked the centenary of Bradshaw's publications listing passenger railway timings, with drastically slower and less passenger services. This was to allow an expected increase in freight traffic for war purposes. The series of expresses that left King's Cross the previous month was now a pale shadow of itself. 'Flying Scotsman' services now took nine hours, five and three-quarter hours to Leeds and just over seven hours to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The 10 am from King's Cross was booked to stand fifteen minutes at Grantham, the 10.30 am Leeds train stood eighteen minutes at Peterborough. These stops reflected the days before restaurant cars were introduced on the railways and before corridor trains with their car-end toilets. When the restaurant cars were attached again the long station stops ceased.
Great Central and Great Eastern route services
Savage cuts were brought in on the Great Central route between Manchester Victoria station and Marylebone station in north-west London, where only two Manchester expresses were timetabled, and took six hours, forty minutes. There was one night train on the route and no fast service trains between 10 am and 5 pm.
On the Great Eastern section the 60 mph speed restriction made little difference, the journey times to Norwich or Harwich being only around an hour at the best of times.
Restaurant, Buffet and Sleeping Car services
Restaurant and buffet car services and three tabled sleeping car expresses were withdrawn in the early months of the war, although when it was realised the expected heavy bombing would not materialise , demand for better rail services grew and upgraded timetables appeared on 4th December, 1940, 1939. Frequency of services and timings were improved and a limited restaurant and buffet car service was restored. More sleeping cars were also added to late services. Passenger usage stayed at pre-War levels throughout the war years for various reasons. Petrol rationing cut the numbers of cars on the roads for long journeys, and service personnel were given rail vouchers for leave purposes at all times. A level of family visits was necessary to maintain contact with evacuee children and mothers with infants and tots, who looked forward to seeing fathers at weekends. Commuter journeys took longer following moves to safer areas outside cities.
In view of the pressures the official propaganda message, "Is Your Journey Really Becessary?" had little effect. The railways just had to cope. .
Sleeper, Restaurant and Buffet Cars
Original REC instruction for train working with the onset of and during air raids:
... After warning was given passenger trains should stop at the next station, where those aboard would be told of the raid and allowed to leave the train if they wished. The train would carry on 'under caution' at a maximum 15 mph.
Freight trains were stopped at the first signal box and be allowed to go on at no more than 10. mph. This went on until warnings became more frequent as the 'Phoney War (September, 1939 to June, 1940) ended and frequent dislocation of train services began to bite into the war effort. In November, 1940 the decision was taken that after a warning a passenger train could run on at 25 mph in daylight, 15 mph in darkness. Freight trains would run at 15 mph day or night. Three months later a new ruling was made that in daylight all trains were permitted to run normally, drivers no longer being told of 'Red' warnings. At night all trains were stopped and warned, thereafter allowed to proceed at 30 mph.
Relocation and Accommodation
Plans for wartime operation were given momentum after the Munich meeting in 1938 (between PM Neville Chamberlain, Chancellor Hitler and Benito Mussolini), the reasoning being that as London was expected to be the hub of bombing, railway offices would be provided with evacuation centres in safer districts. On the LNER the Company Secretary's office might be accommodated in York's ex-NER office complex (near the old station inside the walls adjacent to the - present - 1877 station). The Hotels Department of the Southern Area in the Felix Hotel, Felixstowe (Suffolk). The Area Rating Department was re-housed at the Peterborough station waiting room. Most moves were however to be to accommodation on the periphery of the capital. The Chief Accountant's staff were by and large given space in rented houses at Hadley Wood north of London. Similar premises were allocated to the Goods Manager at South Woodford (now on the Central Line north-east of Stratford), the Advertising Manager was accommodated at Stevenage, one of the new towns in Hertfordshire.
Chairman Sir Ronald Matthews decided that under war conditions he would no longer live at his large country house, Aston Halll near Sheffield. He moved to a small picturesque cottage near Worksop in nearby Nottinghamshire, keeping his London flat near Marylebone Station for the working week. He rented Aston Hall to the LNER at a nominal £100 a year. The hall was assigned to the Sheffield District Goods Manager, the District Engineer and the Mineral Agent.
Locations of some important departments were kept to key personnel for security purposes, although railway staff, delivery personnel and others also needed to know. Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer had a small headquarters staff based at King's Cross, who would move to his private house at Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire - from then known as 'HQ2'.
Lord Hampden leased his home, 'The Hoo', to the LNER for £1,000 for three years from 1939-42,.subsequently lowered for the rest of a term of 21 years. The company had the option to terminate the lease after three, seven or fourteen years. The Chief General Manager, the Divisional General Manager (Southern Area) and their staffs moved to 'The Hoo'. The mansion's accommodaton proved inadequate, so the stable block was turned into office space. Later a bungalow and other temporary housing was introduced. 'The Hoo' was never the size of the LMS equivalent, 'The Grove' near Watford, and took the form of a shanty town around the main building. Planning these moves fell to the clear administrative mind of Robert Bell. In June, 1939 the CGM publicised a circular to chief officers to explain that there would be two kinds of wartime organisation, "X" and "Y". Under "X", "...Departments will, until further notice, carry out their fu nctions from their existing locations and communication will be via the present telephone numbers. Under Organisation "Y", departments located in London will be transferred to oth4r centres. The general administration of the railway, together with the direction of the Southern Area departments, will be carried out from one centre, to be designated HQ1".
The circular went on to explain that HQ1 would be manned throughout the 24 hours of each day on a shift rota, and that the institution of either organisation would be signalled through a code telegram. Altogether around 600 staff members were moved, the new accommodation including Kings Lynn and Hunstanton in Norfolk, Cambridge, Peterborough (then in Northamptonshire) and Retford in Nottinghamshire.
Plan "Y" was notified and the changeover went smoothly. Displaced staff experienced a little discomfort at first, although amenities were soon improved. At HQ1 a 'light weekly review' titled "Ballyhoo Review" was circulated as early as 26th September, 1939, the editor George Dow had earlier the same year succeeded E G Marsden as LNER Information Agent. At around twenty pages it sold at the reasonable price of one penny (half a penny at today's prices). The publication was aimed at, and succeeded in raising morale amongst the displaced and sometimes disoriented staff who would call themselves 'career evacuees'.
"Is your journey really necessary?"
Phases in the hostilities
The war brought new twists and turns as it changed from 'phoney war' to 'active war' after the withdrawal from France of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and a large assorted contingent of French troops from Dunkirk and other north-western French ports. There was the re-armament after the abandonment of all vehicles - large and small - and the lead-up to D-Day in mid-1944 that began effectively in late 1943.
Over the five-and-a-half years of WWII the Blackout was responsible for a general slow-down of operations and hazards faced in the large marshalling yards and motive power depots. Locomotive crews had to put up with flapping tarpaulins between cab roof and tender top. Tank engines were much less affected, with their overall roofs, although the bright yellow dancing light from fires had to be kept from view at cab sides. Goods depots and stations were poorly lit, accidents commonplace. Hoods over colour light signals on trunk routes had to be extended to avoid them being used to navigate by from the air.
In the docks the Blackout accounted for a hundred-and-fifty railway and ancillary workers falling into the Humber at Immingham or into the sea at Grimsby. Forty-one drowned. In motive power depots covers left accidentally off ash pits between the rails led to many falling into flooded pits after heavy rain, or sinking into a deep morass of ash, clinker and water.
Regulations were relaxed after a while to ease handicaps. three main lighting forms were introduced, the hardest kept to North Sea coastal areas in the east and Channel areas facing France and Belgium. Master switches were added in some districts so lighting could be dimmed centrally 'as and when' on 'Red' or 'Purple' warnings. At times barely workable lighting was imposed. In country districts gas lamps could hardly be seen at ground level, let alone from the air in peacetime, yet they too were dimmed in wartime.
Early on in the war, before the air raids began, the LNER recorded some of the worst winter conditions yet experienced. A snow storm in 29th January, 1940 blocked the ex-GCR Manchester-Sheffield 'Wath' route, the main line around the Pennine edge of south-west Yorkshire. The blockage lasted several days. The locomotive on a ballast train was buried chimney-deep in snow. The West Highland line, Fort William to Mallaig, was also blocked and it was only through the combined efforts of four hundred railway and military personnel that freed a snow plough. Train services were held up for a fortnight.
The evacuation of troops from Dunkirk in late May to early June, 1940 under 'Operation Dynamo' affected the LNER less than the Southern Railway (SR), although as Norman Crump wrote in "By Rail To Victory", "A fair proportion of the Dunkirk Specials to the North ran via Oxford and Banbury where they passed on to the former Great Central line, which carried them in via Woodford (Northamptonshire) and Leicester. At Leicester ablution benches were set up on the platform to give the men fresh from Dunkirk a chance to get a wash after the mad rush to entrain them at Dover. During June, 1940 special trains, including a number of the Dunkirk trains, passed through Leicester. Others went around the west of London and passed on to the Great Central section at Neasden in north-west London.
Moving 'The Black Stuff', and resulting passenger discomfort
In 1940 diversions from coastal shipping of coal from the North East to London and the South East saw the introduction of 'convoy coal trains' [that fore-shadowed post-war block workings]. These were routed obviously over the ECML and this in t urn impacted on other services. Passenger services between King's Cross and the Newcastle-upon-Tyne area (as far north as the Ashington coal field close to Blyth, from where the coal would normally have been shipped along the east coast) were further reduced to accommodate urgent Government traffic.
Restaurant cars were taken off once more, and sleeping cars were reduced in number on long-haul routes. Restaurant cars were restored by and by to East Coast trains but were taken off again altogether from Easter. 1944 on Ministry of War Transport instruction.
Train lengths had to be increased to make up for the reduction in frequency. Twenty coach trains began to be the norm, putting a strain on locomotive power, and trains had to be drawn up more than once at platforms for passengers to alight in safety. At King's Cross difficulties in accommodating train lengths brought new problems in fouling the neighbouring tracks and pointwork for other trains. Sometimes the solution lay in limiting trains of empty carriages into departure platforms. Locomotives with more carriages backed onto the stock in platforms shortly before departure time. Incoming trains were split between two platforms. Moving these overweight trains up a steady incline through Gasworks Tunnel was problematic even for Pacifics or the powerful Class V2. The carriage pilot engines that brought in empty stock were forbidden from banking (bringing up the rear) these heavy trains on account of one enthusiastic carriage pilot crew some tie earlier in the century, who caused a derailment in the tunnel.
The record for a passenger train on the LNER must go to the 10.45 am from Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 31st March, strengthened at Peterborough to make up twenty-six carriages. Total weight was about 762 tons tare (850 tons gross) behind Class V2 4800 when the train arrived at King's Cross in 103 minutes - just nine minutes over the scheduled time for the approximately 100 miles distance.
The evacuation of children in 1939 was repeated - albeit on a smaller scale - in May, 1940 when invasion threatened. Children who had previously been taken from London to East Anglian destinations such as Clacton, Felixstowe, Walton-on-the-Naze and Woodbridge would now be taken across country to the west of England and into South Wales. This was considerably out of the way from any possible German landing in the South East. Another large-scale evacuation was undertaken later in the war, at the time the V1* and V2** flying bombs began to rain down on the South East in 1944.
* Interesting, the Germans should introduce weapons of mass destruction (where have I heard that before?) by the same reference as the LNER had introduced two classes of steam locomotive in the 1930s;
** The V2 was a rocket more than a flying bomb, and flew at twice the speed of sound, more or less into space. Consequently air raid warnings did not come and the rockets fell, burying themselves underground before exploding. They were at first dismissed to stop the general public from panicking, as 'gas leaks' - they jokingly became known by the public for as long as the South East was in range as 'flying gas mains'.
Away from London...
The extent of damage on the LNER system is hard to pinpoint, as it was on the other railway companies affected by bombing.
German raids on London began in late summer, 1940. They were concentrated on the docks and industry in East London and western Essex, east of the River Lea and hit the railway badly. On one day the ex-Great Eastern sections, Liverpool Street to Cambridge main route was blocked at London Fields, Gas Factory Junction, Custom House, Canning Town and Bethnal Green. Liverpool Street Station itself was hit several times by bombs on Platforms 1, 4 and 18 adjacent to the Bishopsgate exit. A delayed action bomb fell on the engine roads at the station 'throat' near Platform 10 and blew up later. Two railwaymen were killed, who had gone on with their work after four ballast wagons had been positioned to act as a screen. The District General Manager's (DGM's) headquarters offices in the station were badly damaged on 10th May, 1941. The wisdom of moving to HQ1 was thereby underlined. Elsewhere in East London, on the LMS route out of Fenchurch Street Shadwell was badly damaged.
King's Cross station was badly damaged too when two 1,000 lb bombs chained together fell on the General Offices parallel to Platform No.10 (as it was then), bringing down a sizeable section of the main trainshed roofspan onto a newspaper train. Marylebone passenger station was not directly hit but the goods station - the GCR's spacious one - was largely burnt out by incendiary bombs during the night of 16th April, 1841. Twice Marylebone passenger station was put out of action by bombs in the nearby St John's Wood area. A section of the shallow tunnel at Carlton Hill had to be opened up thereafter as a permanent cutting.
All King's Cross District suffered bomb damage. Holloway, Finsbury Park, Barnet and elsewhere was affected badly. Trains were kept going only by dedicated personnel, of whom a number were killed on duty. They were led by District Superintendent W E Green, who assumed his duty at a critical time an won an MBE (Member of the British Empire) award in doing so.
Bombing elsewhere mirrored that on London. although overall not as concentrated. Some cities were the exception. Hull was heavily bombed on 7th May, 1941, the docks being a prime target although East Coast shipping was minimal. Hull's peacetime trade was normally with the Hanseatic ports on the North Sea and Baltic coast of Denmark, Germany and beyond. Paragon Station still stood amid the ruins of whooly destroyed buildings. The effect on railway operation upward of a hundred raids until February, 1944 says much for the dedication of the railwaymen and women.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne suffered less, and York felt the effects in late April, 1942, the station suffering direct hits at the south end whilst the Night Scotsman stood at Platform 9. Some of the carriages were set on fire, the passengers having been evacuated when the 'Red' alert was sounded. Coaches either side of those on fire were detached and pulled clear, forwards and and back to be coupled up even as the raid went on. Class A4 Pacific No. 4489 was destroyed in York North Shed by another bomb.
Sometimes trains were strafed by German aircraft, the worst case being the 'Flying Scotsman' service at Marshall Meadows north of Berwick-on-Tweed (the former boundary between the North Eastern and North British railway companies). Two planes dropped bombs, missing the train, and then raked the train from end-to-end with machine gun fire. The only only casualty was the fireman, who received arm injuries. Following a 'quiet' period, 1942-43, nicknamed 'Doodlebugs', V1 flying bombs were sent over from France and hit Finsbury Park, Neasden Yard, Marylebone passenger station signal box, Stratford as well as other sites in the South East. The short time between a 'Red' alert and impact made preparation extremely tight. Improvised signs, such as a board with an arrow pointing skyward were finally suspended from a signal box window to warn footplatemen to carry on under caution during V1 attacks. There was nothing that could be done - aside from 'fingers crossed' - to prepare for V2 attacks from September, 1944 to March, 1945. Several sites were struck, including Palmers Green, Stratford (again), Lea Bridge Road, Channelsea, Angel Road, Wood Green and near the station at Manor Park on the way out to Ilford.
© 2018 Alan R Lancaster