Heritage - 52: London & North Eastern Railway at War (2) Side Effects & Heroism, Material Damage Aside...
The company was hit in less obvious ways than its surface presence...
Keeping the levels of peacetime maintenance standards was hopelessly out of reach.
Many of the personnel who fulfilled crucial roles in peacetime were in military service, and many of Nigel Gresley's locomotive designs were wholly dependent on peacetime staffing levels for their upkeep and standards naturally suffered.
Aside from their mechanical condition, cleanliness of the locomotive stock became an afterthought with Government demands on all the railways. Pride in appearance paid second fiddle to running capabilities and trips to the works were fewer and further between. New building concentrated on mixed traffic and freight power classifications, what with workshops being sidelined to the production of military hardware
Passenger and freight stock also saw less maintenance, with the result that that had managers scratching their foreheads for serviceable vehicles to augment services at wartime levels. Whilst Doncaster and York Carriage & Wagon (C&W) workshops together.built glider parts for paratroop assault, Cowlairs and Gorton produced aircraft and tank parts. Doncaster also assembled gun mountings along with North Road, Darlington, Stratford (East London) and Cowlairs. Shil.don wagon works cast gun carriage forgings in conjunction with Gorton. Two workshops at Dukinfield near Manchester (GCR) were adapted for shell production, personally overseen by Gresley. Shildon was seconded to the production of ball bearings when supplies from overseas were cut, one main supplier being Sweden.
Personnel numbers were reduced from the onset of war owing to Territorial Army recruitment of reservists. Within the Army Supplementary Reserve (Royal Engineers), an operating company, a Docks Group and two Railway Construction Companies were manned by railway employees, many being keen young officers.
Railwaymen were not called up en masse. Different reservation ages were set for various grades, large numbers of railwaymen enlisted out of patriotism. In all the LNER delivered its quota for the four mainline railways, of 98,603 men and 3,129 women released to the military over the whole of the war. A minimum level of staffing had to be maintained. The problem was not critical in the early war months as fresh entrants were found to replace those called up or enlisted. However, as recruitment increased and munitions work paid better than railway rates a serious drift away from the ranks of railway personnel in 1940-41 was only checked by the Essential Work Order that was applied by Government to railway work in October, 1941. It was no longer possible for railway workers to leave public service without the say-so of their employers. Even then the manpower deficit deepened with the heavy workload imposed by HM Government on the railways. From May, 1942 onward no call-up from the operating grades was sanctioned unless by company agreement in exceptional cases.
Peak traffic flow up to D-Day created a problem owing to a footplate personnel shortage, chiefly trained firemen (stokers) who knew the routes and signalling on those given routes. Staff were drawn from other departments and some men were loaned by the military to tide the railway company over the crisis period.
Women were recruited to fill many posts usually held by men. The LNER saw over 15,000 thus employed.
Although some women's roles went unnoticed by the travelling public - signalling for example - some exceptions were notable.
As an example, travellers on the Great Central route from Sheffield to Marylebone became conscious of two female Train Attendants regulars came to know as Mary and Alice.
They had been seconded from carriage cleaning and were given thick, dark blue serge uniforms (a bit like the RAF mechanics) that barely matched the smartness or femininity of air hostess apparel. However these two proved popular with the public for their cheerfulness and particularly - where the lack of restaurant or buffet cars told - for the coffee they served from Thermos flasks to a kind of club that assembled in the brake van. This 'club' would gather after receipt of a secret signal from Mary or Alice as they passed along the corridors and checked the compartments occupied by their favoured regulars. The 'coffee club' was not run on a cash basis but plainly these popular hostesses were given small gifts in the manner of chocolates or cigarettes every now and then (as available). At a time these little luxuries were rationed they were gratefully received. This was after all a two-way exchange of favours.
'Incidents' and non-military memorials for valour
Perhaps intentional, the term 'incidents' covered many events that could be seen as distressing.
Whilst accidents on the permanent way were down to human error - tiredness or inattentiveness that warranted disciplinary action, 'incidents' in wartime brought with them a certain level of personal sacrifice or extreme courage that could lead to loss of life or limb and drew the attention of an otherwise unaware general public.
With the thought of an award of suitable 'weight' to recognise valour shown by railway personnel, Sir Ronald Matthews put a proposal to the Wartime Emergency Board at York on 28th November, 1940. The proposal was that the Company establish the award of a specially struck silver medal for outstanding service and devotion to duty during the hostilities. A medal was designed by Gilbert Bayes, PRBS, that bore the LNER crest with the words "For Courage And Resource on the reverse.
The medal was awarded twenty-one times between January, 1942 and November, 1947, the last year of the Company's existence before Nationalisation in January, 1948. That it took so long between proposal and institution of the award was due to some objections on the grounds that awards of this nature were a Royal prerogative. The LNER files have not shown correspondence or minutes that confirmed such a suggestion. Additionally eighty-eight LNER personnel members in military service received decorations between September, 1939 and April 1944.
Of the twenty-two LNER award presentations, there were two related to the same incident. The Soham detonation needs to be told in some detail here. Driver B Gimbert and Fireman J Nightall were booked on Riddles' 2-8-0 War Department engine No. 77337 to take a train from Whitemoor Yard in Cambridgeshire at 11.40 pm on 1st June, 1944. The route they were to take wound around East Anglia. diverted to White Colne on the rural Colne Valley Railway in Essex. It would be reached by a roundabout route by way of Dock Junction, Ely, then the single track line section to Fordham. Bypassing Newmarket on a spur past Bury St Edmunds, ipswich and Marks Tey. In other words a railway ramble that would typify wartime routing.
Their train comprised 51 wagons of bombs, the wagon behind the tender laden with 500 lb bombs (presumably for releasing over the Pas de Calais area in France, to divert attention from Normandy) in the run-up to D-Day. Everything ran to plan until the train entered the single line section beyond Ely. On passing the Soham distant signal at a speed of 15-20 mph. Driver Gimbert noticed the first wagon was on fire (no 'barrier' wagon provided, as normal practice demanded). He sounded the whistle to warn the train guard. Carefully, bearing in mind the whole load might go up at any time, Nightall dropped down to rail level and uncoupled the leading wagon from the rest of the train and boarded the engine again. Gimbert set the engine in motion, meaning to get the wagon away from the built-up area, leave it uncoupled in an isolated siding and go on to Fordham. As he passed the signal box he called out to the signalman to find out if there was a train in section from Fordham. Just then the wagon load blew up, creating a crater 66 feet in diameter, 15 feet deep. It demolished the station and the stationmaster's house. A large number of Soham's dwellings was damaged. Yet had the whole trainload gone up the train would have been erased from the map.
Fireman Nightall lost his life, Driver Gimbert was badly injured. Sir Ronald Matthews presented the LNER medal in person to Gimbert and to Nightall's widow at a ceremony in the Marylebone Station Board room. This was equivalent to the highest civilian decoration for valour, the George Medal, also awarded to Gimbert and posthumously to Nightall. To show their gratefulness the people of Soham set a memorial tablet in the temporary station built to replace the destroyed one. Years later a Class 47 diesel bore the nameplate "Benjamin Gimbert, GC".
There were many other well earned awards presented at Marylebone, yet the Soham incident can be counted as outstanding for the cold courage shown by a locomotive crew who could easily have leapt from the footplate to save themselves. Instead they took a calculated risk.
Accident Reports were suspended during the war on grounds of security.
It was shown in 1942 nevertheless that an unusual mishap took place on the Great Central section on 11th February near Beighton Station. An insufficiently secured heavy steel plant underway from Frodingham Steel Works was displaced in the course of being shunted. It became stuck in the side of a heavily loaded troop train. Fourteen soldiers lost their lives and thirty-five others were seriously wounded.
A relatively minor mishap took place at King's Cross Station on 4th February, 1945. The heavily laden 6 pm London-Leeds train stalled on the rising gradient in Gas Works Tunnel and started to roll back. Coming out backwards from the tunnel the coaches ran into the 7 pm 'Aberdonian' express standing at Platform 10. The most serious side of the slow speed collision was that the still-moving carriages rose into the air, demolished the signal gantry, platform indicators, signals and shunting discs. A new gantry took a fortnight to erect. Suburban trains were meanwhile terminated at Finsbury Park and main line trains into or out of the west side of the station were hand-signalled.
Following the end of hostilities there were two further 'incidents' in 1946, and another in 1947 with more serious effects. Curiously the two 1946 mishaps occurred within a short space of time and geographically fairly close together near Hatfield on the former Great Northern main line - largely thought of as being a 'showcase' section, the LNER's pride and joy, but had suffered from wartime over-use and neglect due to staff shortages.
On 15th July, 1946 the 7.05 ex-King's Cross to Aberdeen behind a V2 2-6-2 was derailed on the wide curve at Hatfield. By some sort of miracle there were no fatalities. Two schoolboy 'train-spotters'* perched on a fence across from the site of the derailment were able to accurately describe what happened,
"The tender was going one way and the boiler another. As the engine passed", they continued, "the wobble was sideways, like a snake".
The leading coupled wheels came off the rails first, and the rear coupled wheels became dislodged. Four months on, on 10th November at Marshmoor between Brookmans Park and Hatfield the 4.45 from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to King's Cross was also behind a V2, also at speed. The engine was again derailed but luckily the carriages stayed upright on the rails and there were again no serious injuries or fatalities. It was an open case of the track being marginally misaligned that led to both incidents. The Inspecting Officer went further in his assessment, that what also needed to be looked at was the design of the swing link control of the locomotive's leading pony truck. The defects in the track cross-levels and alignment only served to highlight the problem. Adjustments to the whole class were attended to, and the decision was taken to downgrade the V2s' allocation from express passenger workings to the mixed traffic duties they were designed for. The new Pacifics that entered service - P2 2-8-2 and V2 2-6-2 locomotives converted to Edward Thompson's specifications - would take over 'Top Link' passenger working
The final notable incident during the LNER's existence happened eleven months later, on 27th October, 1947 at Goswick between Berwick-on-Tweed and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Trains were being diverted to the Up Independent line with a severe speed restriction over the facing point points. The driver of the 11.15 Edinburgh-King's Cross booked on at Edinburgh Haymarket m.p.d but failed to take in the diversion notice. Additionally he took an 'unauthorised person' on the footplate, which may have contributed to a loss of concentration at the relevant signals a train near Berwick.
At Goswick the signalman would have left the Up Distant on 'caution' and when a train neared and slowed enough to clear the home signal, the train would draw forward and the signalman would show a green flag - at the time still the colour for 'caution under a flag' signal control rules - whilst lowering the starter that controlled the turnout where the point was switched in to the Up Independent line.
On nearing Goswick the driver failed to heed the distant signal warning, owing (as he told later in his defence) to its being obscured by steam from the engine. The signalman also saw steam emanating from the safety valves and assumed the regulator had been closed, the brakes on. He then mistakenly lowered his home signal. The driver was not braking and, seeing the home signal being pulled off assumed he had a clear road on the main line. As the train closed on the point the signalman saw too late that its speed was not checked and he threw back the home signal to danger, pulling the detonator placer lever to catch the driver's attention.
The warning came too late. Locomotive and all eight carriages were derailed, falling from the track into a lineside ditch. Twenty-seven passengers lost their lives and fifty-nine - including driver and fireman - were badly injured. This incident mirrored others, where Sunday diversion regulations were ignored, overlooked or forgotten. In his report the Inspecting Officer indicated that some sort of audible warning at tghe distant signal was likely to have been effective in averting an accident of this severe nature. The device was however not introduced on the East Coast Main Line until some time after Nationalisation in January, 1948.
* I don't know about the US, Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere, but in the UK - England particularly - schoolboys in the 1930s-1960s and to some extent now also used to spend their leisure hours by the railway taking numbers of locomotives or just watching trains pass. Sometimes their observations proved invaluable as evidence in accidents. A series of booklets published by Ian Allen listed classes of locomotives with their numbers by region, and boys would spend hours in the hope of being able to cross off an outstanding number on the list, even to the extent of travelling out of their way to obtain that number where it was more likely to appear. Such was the dedication to a hobby that often went on into senior years, where an adult would refer to his ABC booklets when he needed to know something in relation to research or railway modelling. I have to say here the only railways I went on or lived near in my youth had the same engines time and again, or were served by diesel multiple units.
Wartime freight - how Government targets were met
Wartime freight demands - how Government targets were met
Patently it was an unpalatable fact that some sort of contribution had to be made by Government. Only after a huge effort by the REC on behalf of the railway companies did the ministers and their civil servants wake up to this fact.
After a lean time in the inter-war years the newly created LNER, for example, had not been able to build enough spare capacity from its own resources. The Company had come into being as a result of demands made on the railway companies by the War Office, and Royal Ordnance Department (ROD) in particular in WWI, and the inability of some companies to cope with demands in technical upgrading. The special works programmes underpinned through the Development (Loan Guarantees & Grants) Act, 1929 and the Railways Agreement Act, 1935 went only a small part of the way to endow some of the new facilities a wartime situation demanded.
High on the list of needs was to take note of the effect of heavy bombing on the railways in the London and industrial areas of the Midlands and North as well as in Scotland and Wales. In the London area the north-south connections needed to be augmented in addition to east-west routes, i.e., the Metropolitan Railway's 'widened lines', the East London Line and the North & South-west Junction Railway (N&SWJR). Government gave the nod to rapid building of new links, a number being under the auspices of the LNER. A single line spur was laid in at Harringay in North London to link the GN main line to the Tottenham & Hampstead Joint Line (T&HJL), with a link at Gospel Oak between the T&HJL and the LMS' North London Line to Barking (on the Fenchurch Street to Southend Central route). This allowed the LNER to direct traffic to the Southern Railway (SR) either via the West London or N&SWJR instead of the East London or 'widened lines'.
A link from the GN to the GE lines was laid in at Bounds Green to permit traffic from the North by way of the Hertford Loop onto the GE if the GN main line was blocked south of Langley Junction near Stevenage. Outside the London area, a primary North-South route was by way of Oxford and Reading to the SR either by way of Basingstoke (Hampshire) or Staines (Middlesex) to the west of the capital. Its capacity was nevertheless limited and diversions were arranged by a link at Sandy (Bedfordshire) on the main line. This allowed the LMS Cambridge to Bletchley (Buckinghamshire) route to be utilised, in conjunction with another link at Calvert between the Oxford-Bletchley line and the GC main line.
Yorkshire, North East and Scotland
In the North Riding of Yorkshire, between Northallerton and York on the former NER the LNER was 'throttled' by bottlenecks at Thirsk, Sessay, Raskelf and Skelton Bridge on the Up side (southbound to London). Even though much of the route was quadrupled since NER days, it was heavily used in peacetime by East Coast passenger traffic alone. aside from through freight along the England-Scotland axis and heavy industrial traffic emanating from Tyne, Wear and Tees districts that crossed or joined the main line.
'Convoy' coal trains made the traffic problem worse by occupying the slow lines when other freight had to be moved along with other 'non-essential' workings. Widenings were laid in between Pilmoor and Thirsk, Thirsk and Sessay. Stations were part rebuilt and a new bridge was added to aid the widening scheme near York. Near Northallerton an avoiding link was laid in lest the junction (ECML over Leeds Northern plus connecting spurs) be targeted by enemy bombers and create a blockage. The Hawes branch, although not a major factor, would also have been seriously affected. Levels and gradients meant a five-foot clearance between the new avoiding line and the Hawes (Wensleydale) branch, which was set on rollers to clear as needed. The Hawes branch was then still accessible by a reversal, and the use of a triangular spur (often used instead of turntables to turn tender locomotives).
Another novel development was a new line built to serve a cluster of munitions factories - split sites to reduce the possibility of accidental explosions setting off a chain reaction, or bomb damage doing the same - at Thorp Arch on the Church Fenton to Harrogate line. Eighteen thousand workers (some probably ex-LNER employees) were employed here on a twenty-four hour, three shift rota. The L NER was prevailed upon to provide passenger rail services for the workers from Leeds and intermediate towns for those three shift changes every day. A circular single track line, six-and-a-half miles in length was laid in to serve the main factories at four temporary stations, the train workings running in one direction only as they had done at the Wembley Exhibition route in 1924. With the aid of colour light signalling, services were frequent.
Although on a smaller scale, substantial services for munitions workers were provided at Aycliffe, not far north of Darlington. Here twenty trains served the plants. Large works were needed at Faslane, 'Emergency Port No. 1' based on Gate Loch and used for ships earmarked for US forces landings in North Africa in the autumn of 1942. The rail link was from the West Highland Line (Fort William to Mallaig) on a steep falling gradient. Operational problems arose from the severe gradient, with trains having to be double-headed to cope with the extra traffic.
Altogether, the money spent on Ministry of War Transport works for the LNER totalled £3,571,000. Robert Bell wrote hopefully in 1945, "...that these running lines, the requisite signalling and various additional installations represent a valuable addition to our transport equipment, provided that the quantity of post-war commercial traffic is sufficient to keep them in constant use". Under British Railways it was sadly not to be, at least not for long.
Locomotive building and loans from outside
Under Ministry guidelines, only freight or mixed traffic motive power was to be built. A standard type was to be preferred.
For example LMS class 8F* Stanier 2-8-0 and Ivatt 4MT 2-6-0 - nicknamed 'Flying Pigs' by local crews - were built in numbers not only at LMS centres such as Crewe, but also at Darlington and Doncaster on the LNER. In 1942 a Robert Riddles' designed War Department (WD) Austerity 2-8-0 appeared. This was a modified Stanier design (Riddles was an LMS engineer), cut down to essentials to avoid over-use of scarce essential materials and steel. The North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow, and Vulcan Works were advised by the LMS Chief Draughtsman on design requisites and the LNER gained from being loaned over five hundred until they were recalled for transport overseas to war-torn Europe (some of which found their way to Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East. A small number of 2-10-0 WD designs was also ordered for difficult lines overseas, Persia (now Iran) in particular. The LNER also found themselves allocated 168 US 2-8-0 Baldwin tender locomotives that were also destined for Europe when hostilities abated. This extra motive power was welcome when wartime traffic was at its peak until and for a short time after the D-Day operation took the pressure off in a small way, although supplies were still being moved to the South Coast ports for onward shipment..
In 1939 forty 4-6-0 goods/freight locomotives were loaned by the LNER to the Great Western Railway (GWR) because the GWR had been shorn of some of theirs by the War Office for overseas service. The LNER also provided thirty-five tank engines for Government use. Of these, sixteen saw work on armoured trains near coastal lines. Ninety-two Robinson designed former Great Central Class O4 2-8-0 were loaned to Persia (Iran from 1935) for war materials trains to Russia.
Building of passenger stock was halted for the duration of the war, with carriage workshops at York, Cowlairs (former North British) and Dukinfield (Cheshire) made over to war production. Two hundred and ninety vehicles were produced nevertheless for ambulance trains. Also, specially-built carriages for VIP trains rolled off the LNER's production lines. For instance, General Eisenhower wrote a personal letter of thanks to Sir Ronald Matthews for an armour-plated passenger vehicle that had been produced for his personal use. The LNER also provided carriages for 'Rapier', the special train used by the Commander-in-Chief Home Forces (C-in-CHF).
New Introductions, Stock
In comparison to passenger vehicles, wagons were deemed essential for war service. Amongst the many built, 'Warflats' and 'Warwells' were introduced to transport tanks and other tracked or wheeled military road vehicles. The Ministry of War Transport (MWT) provided the wherewithal for the provision of steel 16 ton coal and other mineral end and side-tipping wagons, produced in considerable numbers. They were an upgrade of the pre-war timber-built 12 and 13 ton wagon, several thousand of which were still in service from pre-WWI days, built by among others Charles Roberts of Wakefield for collieries and coal merchants around the country apart from the NER who had a monopoly in the North East with their timber and steel hoppers. Steel hoppers were introduced for North Eastern coal traffic from 1936 by the LNER and Hurst Nelson under contract.
Many NER and LNER timber-built and steel hopper wagons would see extended life on the National Coal Board's internal routes in the late 1940s.
Eventually it would be British Railways who had the final say on which of the new assets would continue in use during peacetime, and at what price to be compensated. Not all fulfilled their requirements although many 'Warflats' and 'Warwells', amongst others, would be adapted for industrial use.
*LMS engines were given power classifications of 'F' - freight, 'MT' for mixed traffic and 'P' - passenger. The system was adopted by British Railways for all its motive power classifications (the GW kept its own designations). Engines were subdivided by 'RA' classificatons, i.e. 'route availability' from 1-9, the limitation being the axle weight bearable by track in different areas. '9' was understandably restricted to main line and (large) dock area use
Conveying war materials
© 2018 Alan R Lancaster