Reviews Of Recent Meetings
13 March 2019:
Six Decades chasing Trains with the Rev. Alistair Wood
A latecomer to the priesthood perhaps but a lover of trains since early childhood, before his father gave him a camera at the age of four. It was not a surprise to learn, therefore, that he has amassed a vast collection and wide ranging selection of photographs over the years, mostly his own but also including those of his father and other close associates who were happy for them to be shown.
Born in Marple and growing up there, Alistair began with a selection on mid-60s originals of steam through Marple Station before its buildings were removed in 1971/72, Marple Hill and nearby Romiley, Tiviot Dale, and Guide Bridge and then Stockport Edgerley sheds simmering away. We saw some early Class 304 emus and then more steam at New Mills and Chinley, now a shadow of its former self, west of Marple before visiting Manchester Victoria for a ‘then and now’ moment. Thereafter I thought Alistair’s presentation lost its shape a bit making life for me as the reviewer quite difficult.It became a quick succession of mainly wonderfully nostalgic images with a smattering of steam rail tours countrywide, black and white shots mingling with colour, lovely shots taken on 30742 charters all brought together with wit and humour and some irreverent anecdotes which brought smiles to everybody’s faces. Alistair rounded off part one of his presentation with a couple of songs accompanying himself on guitar for one and a ukulele for the other, both the with a railway theme: the Coalport Dodger and the last train to Much Wenlock.
Part two followed in similar vein but with an emphasis on more recent photographic exploits well as some older images such as the experimental Railcar at Droxford in 1968 and another black and white selection. He started with a Pendolino through Milton Keynes, 61306 on a rail tour and 34072 with a 30472 charter on the Swanage Railway. Coming towards the end of the evening Alistair homed in on his local area and we saw 33s, 47s, Hampshire Demus and HSTs around Warminster, Westbury and Fairwood Junction and steam specials through Trowbridge and a few more ‘then and nows’ before getting back to where it all started around New Mills, Woodhead and Manchester. Not yet done the WCML was next to feature along with Rugby and Class 91s at Doncaster. Unfortunately I had to leave at this point in order to avoid 'bustitution' to Winchester but I have been reassured that when his presentation finished with one or two more railway themed folk songs the Rev'd Wood was given a rousing round of applause and an enthusiastic vote of thanks by the Chairman. As Alistair hinted several times during his presentation, there is plenty more where this came from. I am sure he will be visiting us again.
27th February 2019
The First Fifty Four Years of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland with Leslie McAllister.
Before starting his talk, this evening’s guest speaker handed out an annotated map of the Irish railway system A wise move as it was soon established that although the Irish are our next door neighbours in the west, our knowledge of their geography and their railways left much to be desired. A presentation of the best part of 200 images meant a full length evening lay ahead to at least improve our knowledge of Irish railway preservation!
Leslie started with a brief reference to the fact that that no less than 3 different track gauges featured in the early history of Irish railways. The first railway built in Ireland, the Dublin and Kingstown was built to 4ft 8 ½ gauge in 1834. Two years later, in 1836, the Ulster Railway (UR) from Belfast to Portadown was sanctioned at a gauge of 6ft 2 ins on the advice of the Irish Railway Commission (and I K Brunel!). The next line, the Dublin & Drogheda Railway, was proposed to be built to a gauge of 5ft 2 ins on the grounds of lower cost but the UR complained about the lack of commonality of track gauge and the Board of Trade (BoT) decided to investigate. As a result in 1843 the BoT decreed that the standard gauge for Ireland would be 5ft 3ins and this was given legal status by the “Regulating the Gauges Act” of 1846.
After the Second World War, Irish railways suffered a similar decline as those in Great Britain with line closures and modernisation of locomotives and rolling stock. It became clear that, if historically significant and interesting examples were to be saved for posterity,an organisation would need to be created to carry this out. This realisation led to the formation of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) in 1964, the aim being to preserve and restore examples of Irish steam locomotives and rolling stock to a condition where they could be operated on the Irish railway network for all to travel on and appreciate. It started with humble beginnings. The first locomotive, an 0-4-0ST No 3 “Guinness”, was donated to the RPSI by the Arthur Guinness brewery of Dublin. It is worthy of note, that in an island that has been divided on so many issues, in railway preservation there is a history of shared and common interest between both communities, the first locomotive being donated from within the Irish state and the RPSI being established at Whitehead in Northern Ireland. The now extensive collection of locomotives, carriages and other rolling stock contains examples from both north and south of the border in Ireland.
The RPSI boasts a membership of over 1000 with members in many countries around the world. Since 1964 RPSI has collected many locos, carriages, and rolling stock some of which are operational while others are currently only suitable for display and it was clear that, to be able to keep them under cover and accessible to enthusiasts, a museum was needed. A museum has now been constructed which opened at Whitehead in 2017. This has quickly established a reputation not only for its displays but also for the quality of its restaurant which is well worth a visit in its own right. Of the locomotives that are currently operational, J15 0-6-0 No 186 built by Sharp Stewart in 1879 is the oldest steam loco in Ireland that is still in steam and featured in many of the slides the speaker showed. The delightful “laissez faire” attitude that Ireland is renowned for was very apparent in pictures of RPSI excursion trains attended by many sightseers some of whom could be seen standing in the permanent way! Enough to give a modern day Health & Safety Officer instant apoplexy.
All in all an interesting evening when many of us came to realise how little we knew about Ireland and Irish railways.
13 February 2019
From Gresley to Tornado with Alan Hayward
At the end of tonight’s talk by Society member Alan Hayward we should all have been able to tell the difference between an A1, an A1/1, an A2, an A3 and an A4 and which CME was responsible for what. This was an evening devoted mainly to matters LNER and how three successive CMEs, Gresley, Thompson and Peppercorn, made their own mark on the design and performance of LNER locomotives. Both Thompson and Peppercorn had worked under Gresley. Alan believed that each respected the other professionally but their characters were quite disparate.
Whilst remembered by many for his proliferation of new designs including the P2, the V2 and the Hush Hush 4-6-4 no. 1000, Gresley’s A1 Class no. 1470/4470/60113, Great Northern, the first loco with the 4-6-2 pacific wheel arrangement and forerunner of Flying Scotsman, is perhaps the most important, not forgetting his conjugated valve gear on the middle driving wheel. Flying Scotsman, of course, was the first locomotive to travel at 100 mph on 30 October 1934 whilst Gresley’s A4 Mallard subsequently achieved the world speed record for steam. His sudden passing in 1941 caught the LNER by surprise and Thompson, the next in line, took the helm. Maybe indicative of his temperament or character it seems that only his secretary had a good word for him. Be that as it may, he remained in office until his retirement in 1946.Thompson’s target on taking office was to standardise on ten classes. By his retirement, however, many of his plans remained unfulfilled. His undoubtable success was the building of 410 B1s and he also did away with conjugated valve gear. 04s rebuilt as 01s were also well received. The P2 2-8-2s we’re rebuilt as A2/2 4-6-2s numbered 60501 to 60506 and gained a reputation for high speed running Peppercorn succeeded Thompson. He was a more genial character with a more conventional approach and remained in office until retiring in 1949. Perhaps best remembered for a run of new build A2s, 60526 to 60539, he also was responsible for the A1s, basically a Thompson loco and fine engines. Under his watch, former top link A3s were transferred away from the ECML to the Great Central.
The sole surviving A3, Flying Scotsman, was, at first, privately owned on its withdrawal from BR service. Over the years, it changed hands several times before coming into public ownership. It’s travails when privately and publicly owned are well known but it is back this year.
In the absence of an A1 on the preservation scene a new build gained momentum in the early 1990s and by 2008 an improved example had been built at Darlington and soon entered service, since heading numerous main line runs and visiting plenty of heritage railways. The new loco has been well received everywhere but during a planned 90mph run on 14 April 2018 the combination lever to the middle cylinder failed and the loco was out of service until recently. Meanwhile a now clearly recognisable new build P2 has emerged causing much excitement and anticipation. Completion is still some way away but, as Alan clearly illustrated and explained, the Gresley/Thompson/Peppercorn triumvirate’s influence remains as strong as ever.
Alan kept to his word for which I, as a non-technical person, was extremely grateful. The subject matter clearly had the potential for complication (conjugated valve gear for a start) but Alan’s drawings and diagrams were very helpful and he painted very clear pictures of the three key figures and their personalities. Alan was rewarded with a very good turnout and members were similarly rewarded with an interesting and clear analysis of the LNER’s wartime and post-war challenges and their contribution to modern steam traction development and performance.
9 January 2019
London Underground by Design with Paul Joyce
The trouble with the Underground is that you seldom take the trouble to notice station design above ground because you are in the throes of travelling from A to B. Paul’s approach was to encourage us to stop and enjoy the architecture and design of the Underground’s built estate in the streets of London. This he demonstrated with a series of photographs of tube stations on a few select parts of the Underground Network. There were too many to detail here but I will endeavour to give you a flavour.
Starting with some images of building work on the first Tube station at Praed Street, Paddington and the disruption which that had caused to everyday life, we were soon heading south on the District Line towards Wimbledon. West Brompton was of particular interest with its Italiante style. LSWR influence was also evident en route but Wimbledon Station is pure Southern Region. Variety was going to be the cornerstone this evening.
Paul then looked at Barons Court to Gloucester Road to reveal further architectural gems. The station building at Barons Court was constructed to a design by Harry Ford in a style similar to that used at Earl's Court and Hammersmith. It is an example of early system building, the fundamental elements of the design also featuring at other District Line locations. It retains many of its original features, including art nouveau lettering. Gloucester Road has two station buildings adjacent to one another: the first built by the Metropolitan Railway in the 1868 in its then house style; the second, now serving the Piccadilly Line, a new surface building of 1906 designed by Leslie Green with his distinctive ox-blood red glazed terracotta façade. Nearby Down Street Station was closed before WW2 and played a significant role as a shelter and government hub. At Leicester Square, Chalk Farm and South Kensington art nouveau features strongly.
Next up was the City and South London Railway of 1890 from Morden to Bank, the latter location suffering serious bomb damage in WW2 including a bus falling into the bomb crater. Holden’s design influence was widely in evidence here. He had also designed the London Transport HQ building at Broadway. Other interesting design features which Paul highlighted included the almost Dali-like clockface at Gants Hill, the blue station name signage, the variations on a theme of the roundel attached to a white vertical of differing shapes and sizes, the possibility that the early London General Omnibus roundel was the basis for the London Underground’s own version, of which we saw plenty of colour variations during the evening. What an icon that is. Not finished yet, Paul, in bringing his talk to a close, introduced European influences on station design - Swedish curves at Chiswick Park, German influence at Wapping and Hangar Lane before a flurry of mosaics at Leytonstone illustrating Alfred Hitchcock films.
Clearly this is a topic almost without limitation and I, for one, was quite taken in by the history which Paul's talk revealed and the plethora of historic features to be seen above ground. Paul promised more at some point in the future .
23 January 2019
AGM followed by MEMBERS’ QUIZ
Society's Annual General Meeting occupied the first part of the evening. John
Clark was re - elected Chairman with yours truly continuing as Vice - Chairman
and Newsletter Editor. Tony Wright was re-elected as Secretary and Wally Stamper
as Treasurer. Below is the Committee for 2019 but if you would like to
contribute to the running of the Society by joining the Committee then please do
not hesitate to contact any of us:
Membership Secretary - Graham Lambert
Programme Organiser - Roger Smith
Programme Support - Jeff Proudley
Publicity - George Porter
Overseas Trip Organiser - David Brace
Raffle - Richard Stumpf
Information Technology - Iain Henshaw
Website Coordinator - Andy Fewster
After the break members formed themselves into groups ready for David Brace's quiz of four rounds with ten questions in each round. The four categories were bendy locomotives, place names, photo connections and stations viewed from the air. There may have been fewer railway images than some might have expected but with John Clark asking the questions, Wally Stamper projecting the images and keeping time and yours truly keeping the score we finished just in time. We would have finished a little sooner had I not concluded, after totting up, that there was a tie between two teams for first place. This was something that we had not anticipated so I thought of something as did Wally but our suggestions were lost amid the banter and general melee. We, therefore, called it a day and the joint winners visited the book table to select their prize. Whether the Committee decide to do something similar after the 2020 AGM we shall have to wait and see. I certainly felt that all those taking part enjoyed it and that it was generally well received. Some of the questions which looked for connections would have been well suited to the BBC's Only Connect quiz programme - there were certainly a few obscurities and heads were scratched followed by groans of 'of course' or something similar when the answers were given.
Many thanks to David Brace for compiling the quiz and to all those members who, win or lose, heartily engaged in the event.
19 December 2018
Minder on the Orient Express
49 members attended for this year's film and buffet. More a comedy than thriller, it was a television film made in 1985 as a spin-off from the successful television series Minder starring Dennis Waterman and George Cole. It had first been broadcast on Christmas Day 1985 as the highlight of that year's ITV Christmas schedule.
In a nutshell, when Nikki South inherits the contents of a bank strongbox left by her former gangland boss father shortly before his death, she realises that the contents form a clue to the number of a Swiss bank account used to stash her father's ill-gotten gains. She is waylaid on her way to her birthday party but is rescued by Terry (Dennis Waterman), who is working as a temporary doorman at the club where the party is to be held. She later thanks him by presenting him with two return tickets for the Orient Express to Venice. Terry doesn't realise that Nikki has an ulterior motive for inviting him. She plans to travel to Switzerland with her boyfriend Mark on the same train to claim the contents of the bank account but plenty of other former associates of her father have their eyes on the potential windfall. Meanwhile, Arthur (George Cole) is on the run to evade a subpoena and tricks his way onto the train. The clue to the details of the Swiss bank account number is in an envelope and everyone is after it. Consequently mayhem follows on the train as its Inter City liveried Class 73 (rail blue large logo by the time it got to Folkestone!) makes its way from London Victoria to the coast. As the train travels through night-time France, matters eventually come to a head and a free-for-all scrap ensues. After quietly pulling of the emergency cord, Arthur, Terry and Nikki get off the train and make their way to a wayside station where Terry and Nicky crack the code whilst Arthur sobers up. Later a local dmu arrives and following a fight with two of the villains who had followed them off the Orient Express, the partial Swiss Bank account number is lost. So there's no pot of gold for anyone and the protagonists return to Fulham Broadway.
The film raised plenty of laughs, many arising from its occasionally un-PC script, and it was a pleasure to see everyone enjoying themselves. Many thanks to Membership Secretary Graham Lambert for coming up with title and to Iain Henshaw and Wally Stamper for making it happen. Thanks also are due to The Wote Street Club who, as usual, provided the half time buffet and seamlessly met our timetabling requests given that the film took us past our usual finish time.
6 December 2018
American Steam Part 2 - The West with Chris Ardy
It was a welcome return to the Society for Chris Ardy who, a year or two ago, had given us an excellent presentation on steam in the eastern USA and where to find it. Tonight he concentrated on central and western states including Alaska as well as Squamish, Jasper and Calgary in Canada, all of which he had visited in recent years.
Our clockwise journey began at Los Angeles at the Pomona Fairground where Big Boy 4-8-8-4 no. 4014 was among the static exhibits. This locomotive is now in Cheyenne undergoing restoration to working order as we saw later in Chris’ travels. Among others, we also saw an ALCO with an unusual 4-12-2 wheel arrangement. Then onwards to Sacramento in 2016 for its new build museum containing Chris’ highlight, an enormous Southern Pacific Forward Cab 4-8-8-2 no. 4284. We then travelled down to Squamish in Canada to see Canadian Pacific 2860 and at Jasper, also plinthed, we saw 4-8-2 no. 6015. After Skagway in Alaska in 2014 and some video footage highlighting the wonderful scenery, it was back to Canada for the Calgary Heritage Park which held both operational and plinthed steam locos. Back in the USA in 2016 Chris had visited Sheridan in Wyoming and the Black Hills Central Railroad and, in particular, the sole surviving 2-6-6-2 Mallett no.110 which we saw in operation on video. Passing through Cheyenne we saw Big Boy no. 4004 plinthed where its classmate no. 4014 is hopefully getting back to working order. Moving south to Colorado, Chris visited the Colorado Railroad Museum at Golden and then the Forney Museum of Transport at Denver and a third Big Boy in no. 4005. Next was the Georgetown Loop and video footage of its operations before a quick visit to Alamosa where Chris had come across a loco being prepared for the following day’s run which, unbeknown to those lighting the fire, had been cancelled!
Colorado’s Cumbres and Toltec and Durango and Silverton operations were a ‘must’ and we enjoyed extended videoclips of their operations with the former climbing to just over 10,000 feet at Cumbres from Antonio and the latter clinging to the edge of the rock face in places as it wound its way up to Silverton. Not far away, of course, relatively speaking, is the Grand Canyon Railway at Williams where, given one of its locos is fuelled by waste vegetable oil, the homely aroma of fish and chips is often in the air. Bringing us right up to date Chris finished with a shot at Fort Worth where he had visited earlier this year.
Chris' format closely reflected his approach to his previous USA talk here. His banter, the wide variety of images and his video footage made for another engaging evening. Several times he expressed his disappointment that plinthed locos were fenced thus not allowing real photographic opportunities and that many of the museum locations that he had visited took little account of the needs of those who wished to make decent photographic records. As one member said, the US has a tendency to take a 'theme park' approach rather than promoting and protecting railway heritage. To manipulate the words of Captain Kirk, 'its preservation Jim but not as we know it'.
21 November 2018
Home and Away with Ian Francis
Tonight we welcomed long standing Society member Ian Francis for a picture packed session covering his travels over the last couple of years. First up was a trip to Ireland in 2016 which involved plenty of steam haulage on the Emerald Isle Explorer using the Dublin & South Eastern Railway Mogul Class K2 No. 461, 2-6-4t Jeep no 4 and RPSI 4-4-0 no. 85 ’Merlin’ with time to snap Irish diesel locos and multiple units. Also in 2016 Ian had joined the Society’s visit to Northern Germany for the delightful narrow gauge Mollibahn with street running through Bad Doberan and more narrow gauge steam on Rugen Island, including a visit to the sheds at Putbus where, among the locos present was, unusually, a narrow gauge tender engine. In 2017 after the Society’s Mulhouse trip Ian, John and Andy had spent some time visiting well known Swiss hotspots - Art Goldau, Erstfeld, Bellinzona, Brig, Spiez and Montreau which had generated many and varied photo opportunities and, in particular, plenty of freight movements. Ian also showed images from the Society’s visit to Dresden this year including the steam festival and exhilarating video coverage of parallel steam running on the main line which drew gasps from the floor as first the train edged a head and then the heavy freight loco would creep up on the adjacent line and pull slowly past the open windows as everyone on board tried to record a piece of the action.. Also this year Ian had made a further visit to Germany with Society member John Howie with visits to Cologne West, Bremen, Hamburg Harburg and Bad Bentheim among others to add to his colourful European picture collection.
For his ‘home’ selection, it was clear that Ian has his ear to the ground and his finger on the pulse as we saw new trains in service, unusual workings, liveries and locations galore, steam specials, trains on test, visits to heritage railways and more. You could not have asked for a more comprehensive and complete selection. Add to that the consistent high quality of the images Ian presented and a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining session was guaranteed. Ian’s shows never disappoint.
7 November 2018
Annual Photographic Competition
With over 150 entries overall there was plenty of choice at tonight's meeting when members were selecting their favourites and yet only one shared place, the joint second place taken by three entries in the Metros and Light Rail category. Many thanks to David Brace for collating all the images and managing a successful evening.
Overall winner of the Steve Sachse Trophy 2018: Tony Wright
1st: Tony Wright;
2nd: Andy Fewster;
3rd: Richard Stumpf
Infrastructure and Miscellaneous
1st: Wally Stamper;
2nd: Sandra Brace;
3rd: Howard Ray
1st: Andy Fewster;
2nd: David Brace;
3rd: David Hinxman
Metros and Light Rail
1st: Wally Stamper;
2nd=: Sandra Brace, Howard Ray, Roger Smith;
3rd: Alison Bown
24th October 2018
A Tour de France By Narrow Gauge with Mike Bunn
Mike opened this, his third presentation to BDRS, with a map that reminded us of the size of France and the enormous number of railways that existed there at the zenith of the age of the train. Of particular interest was the line drawn from North East France down to the South West. To the West of that line the terrain is mainly gentle rolling country with principal railways being of standard gauge and secondary routes, in thinly populated areas ,being laid in metre gauge. Metre gauge was used to connect towns on the main lines to market towns in rural areas or sea-side towns.To the East of that line drawn on the map the terrain is much more mountainous and most lines were constructed in metre or 60cm gauge. By 1870 the capability of 60cms to carry freight and passengers had been established by the narrow gauge railways in Wales, the Tal-y-Llyn and Festiniog Railways being the pioneers in narrow gauge railway construction and operation.
Mike then moved on to a description of the products of the Decauville company who specialised in track, locomotives, and stock for the narrow gauge. Their name came into prominence in Paris in 1889 when the Eiffel Tower was opened and Decauville built a narrow gauge railway that ran along the bank of the Seine and round by the Eiffel Tower along the Champ de Mars during the 1889 Paris World Fair. This line carried over 6 million passengers and established Decauville as the most successful manufacturer and operator of 60cm railway equipment.This was of greatest significance during the first world war when temporary track was laid and 60cm gauge locos and tractors hauled armaments and ammunition right up to the front lines of the conflict. At the end of the war there was a vast quantity of surplus equipment, a lot of which found its way onto narrow gauge railways elsewhere. After the first world war ended the railway system declined in France much as it did in the UK and by 1950 most steam traction on the smaller gauges had been replaced by diesel railcars and many lines had been closed .
Most of the first half of the evening was devoted to the smaller gauges but after the interval Mike shifted his attention to the metre gauge lines The best known metre gauge line is probably Le Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme, popular with British enthusiasts as it is only just across the English Channel. By 2016 only 5 lines of metre gauge were still open and these are essentially operated as “heritage” lines rather than running to fulfil their original purpose. It was interesting to learn that local authorities are sometimes keen to keep their heritage lines open as an attraction to their district and are even known to invest money in them to this end.
This was a very wide subject to cover in a single evening and it was, therefore, inevitable that there would be only the briefest glimpses of the many lines featured. Mike has a wide knowledge of his subject and it is to be hoped that he will return to give us an in-depth presentation on one of the several lines that members have been out to visit in France.
10th October 2018
Steaming through Sussex with Bill Gage
A first timer at the Society, Bill Gage, former Deputy County Archivist at West Sussex County Council, was welcomed with a very good turn out by members. We had been given advance notice of his need to finish at 9.30pm for a train home but he still got in all the topics he had promised. His train, however, failed to appear as he joined me and others from the Society heading south close to 10.00pm. He was going to be home much later than he had anticipated.
His presentation centred largely on railways in West Sussex and, given his career, he had had access to much of historic interest by way of photographs, articles and other publications: the replacement of the bridge over the River Arun in 1953 for example, Drayton Station being used by King Edward VII for getting to Goodwood races, the original overhead roof at Chichester Station and, in Hampshire, works at The Hard in Porstmouth, Portsea viaduct and more. In similar cross-border vein Bill treated us to video of the Hayling Island branch and AIX terrier no. 32661 in action. The film was scheduled for inclusion in the next West Sussex County Council railways DVD series but this remains to be progressed. Bill then touched on Brighton sheds, a boiler explosion at Lewes in 1879, a runaway at Petworth in 1859,the two stations originally at Midhurst, the Royal Train at Singleton, a photograph of a throng of onlookers at an accident at Cocking in 1904 - the photograph revealing that the wearing of a hat seemed essential! Then there was Queen Victoria's funeral train, hauled fom Fareham to Victoria by LB&SCR Class B4 no. 55 Empress, this being the first and only time that she travelled on the LB&SCR apparently. In conclusion Bill talked about the Selsey tramway and showed rare footage of one of the tramway's railcars entering Chichester in the 1930s. What foresight by the person holding the camera and now secured for posterity along with much of the other material to which Bill had access in the West Sussex County Record Office.
It became apparent that he has other rail related presentations up his sleeve and, from the applause he received at the end of this talk, it seems highly likely that we shall see him again at some time in the future. Quite a character full of facts and many amusing anecdotes. It soon became apparent that his generalist approach meant that technical questions were not the order of the day.
26 September 2018
GWR Camp Coaches with MIke Fenton
Mike had had his book on GWR Camp Coaches published in 1998, more a social history of the 1930s than a railway book. Starting with a blank canvas, Mike had worked hard to compile information on his subject including placing advertisements for people who had taken part in camp coach holidays to contact him with their stories and photographs. This approach had met with a mixed response from area to area within the GWR but from among the replies there had been a number of very detailed and informative contributions.Mike’s talk was well illustrated with copies of promotional and advertising material and an abundance of snaps from families whose family holidays in the 1930s centred around a week on a GWR camp coach: nannies, cooks and the children in the camp coach whilst mummy and daddy found peace in their tent a short distance away; groups of teenagers enjoying a holiday by the sea before entering the world of work: three generations formally posed outside their coach for a photographic record; station staff doing their utmost to keep their tenants happy, all facilitated by some forty camp coach locations around the GWR. As the Second World War approached, however, demand for camp coach holidays declined. The threat of war caused many prospective holidaymakers to cancel bookings as the level of uncertainty increased and as time went on all the coaches were requisitioned by the Government. Post war, holiday patterns changed and, despite promotional publicity shoots, camp coach holidays never really recovered. Some sites stayed in use, such as Dawlish Warren, but most closed whilst some accommodation can still be found on heritage railways for volunteer use.
12 September 2018
That was the Year that was -1966
It was a pleasure to welcome back Geoff Plum who, in December 2016, had delighted us with his impressive pictorial record of our railways in 1967. We were anticipating more of the same tonight as he took us through the highlights of his pictorial record of 1966 and were not disappointed. Holding down several paper rounds in the 1960s, he had been able to save enough money for a good camera. Film was not cheap either. Here was a man on a mission.
Geoff started his year on the Great Central and Metropolitan joint line at Chorley Wood and Bourne End, close to home. At the time he was also volunteering on the Ffestiniog Railway and, in February 1966, we saw how primitive the railway’s operations were. We then spent time at Crewe works where Geoff’s father was working replacing ancient, life expired boilers and pipe work. How times have changed. Rail tours featured heavily given that the end of steam was quickly approaching with trips to the Longmoor Military Railway (so popular the tour was rerun a couple of weeks later) and the Somerset and Dorset whose days came to an end on 6 March 1966. A visit there later in the year presented a picture of emptiness and desolation. With WCML electrification came promotional cheap fares out of Euston, an opportunity not to be missed. Photographs of the dying embers of steam at Crewe, Chester and Birkenhead were the result.We visited the fledgling Bluebell Railway, called in at Robertsbridge and saw A1X 32650 at Rolvendon followed by trips to London Waterloo for an LCGB tour with Green Arrow from the LNER which failed, a return volunteering session at the Ffestiniog, the Pennines, Skipton shed, the Settle and Carlisle, Oxenholme, Tebay, Carnforth, Blackpool trams and the Great Little Trains of Wales before finishing where had begun, back on the Great Central and Metropolitan Joint lines and an unfashionable de-icing unit at Rickmansworth.
What a night of nostalgia and a brilliant selection of images to whet our appetites for another session in the future. Geoff did admit to doing a presentation on 1965 so we must wait and see. Personally the only paper round I ever did was one week as cover for my brother. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I have to rely on my memory rather than any photographs of my own from that time.
22 August 2018
The Royal Arsenal Railway with Ian Bull
Ian mentioned at the outset that he had researched the Royal Arsenal and its railways over many years and, as the evening progressed, his depth of knowledge became very apparent. In a talk laden with history both home and abroad, He was fluent, lucid and very listenable with a wide selection of images for illustration.Located in south east London and stretching for some three and a half miles along the banks of the River Thames, the Royal Arsenal would have been 500 years old this year, 500 years and 34 days to the day of our meeting to be precise such was Ian’s grasp of his subject. It was, naturally, a highly secret location given that it was the headquarters of the UK's ammunition production. Towards the eastern boundary individual magazines were located a safe distance from one another with several close to the waterside. A risky situation given that much of the site here was 6 to 12 feet below sea level! To the west lay the heavily built-up part of the site where plenty of hazardous work went on handling explosives, making ammunition and so on. Buildings and walkways had been carefully constructed to avoid sparks. At its height around WW1 the Arsenal comprised 1,100 buildings and employed 75,000 workers excluding military personnel.
In 1824 the first railway serving the Arsenal appeared but these early plateways soon floundered. It was not until 1859 that the South Eastern Railway built a standard gauge branch into the Arsenal and so began the multi-gauge system that would serve the Arsenal until its closure, 18" gauge track being laid extensively after narrow gauge systems had proved so beneficial for the movement of armaments, goods and personnel in the Crimean War and other military campaigns. Some 1ft 111/2" narrow gauge track also existed at the site. The first narrow gauge loco to arrive was a Manning Wardle, the number increasing soon afterwards from that source and Hunslet who together formed a cartel. More locos were supplied by Vulcan Foundry and Hudswell Clarke. There was also a considerable number of standard gauge industrials. By 1880 the system extended to 30 miles. In response to the failed Sudan campaign more powerful locos were built and by WW1 petrol locos appeared, a significant safety improvement, together with more efficient telephone signalling. Given the heavy loads carried by the railway the narrow gauge track was heavy duty. Although at its zenith during WW1, post war the railway soon fell into decline and locomotives and rolling stock began to be sold. Somehow the site escaped damage during WW2 despite its proximity to the capital. The decline continued, however, and steam motive power disappeared in 1954 replaced by diesel traction but this did not delay the inevitable: the remaining narrow gauge lines closed in 1966 and the standard gauge system closed when munitions manufacture at Woolwich ceased in 1967.
Is anything left? Well the site has largely been redeveloped but parts of it can be accessed. On the rolling stock front, work is proceeding with the aim of Avonside 0-4-0T 1748 of 1916 'Woolwich' returning to steam. Ian could give no timescale for this but was clearly heavily committed to literally getting the loco back on track. Someone afterwards used the word ‘inspirational’ for Ian's excellent presentation and I would not disagree.
8 August 2018
An African Adventure with David Brace
In March and April 2017 David and wife Sandra had enjoyed a varied and colourful holiday in Southern Africa run by Geoff's Trains. Some might remember that the said Geoff had talked to us about his operations a year or two previously. David and Sandra chose 'African Adventure' which featured a mix of railways, cultural and countryside visits and several wildlife safaris in different countries.
The trip started with a leg from Johannesburg to Kimberley where time was found to visit the “Big Hole” where 2700 kg of diamonds had been dug out between 1871 and 1914 and the local museum which contained the steam locomotive that pulled the coffin of Cecil Rhodes to his final resting place in then Rhodesia. Next it was Beaconsfield and Steamnet 2000, where a number of large steam locomotives - Garratts, Class 25 4-8-4s and the like - were being restored before Bloemfontein for some siteseeing followed by a visit to the Sandstone Heritage Trust's locomotive restoration and maintenance facility which was shared with the national freight operator Transnet. The following day in isolated and very poor Lesotho was sobering. After that, David and Sandra visited Sandstone to enjoy the large collection of trains, planes, old agricultural and military equipment and a children's railway together with a journey along the entire 25km of 2' gauge track. An ox cart ride in true Boer fashion was essential but not to be repeated!
The next destination was Pretoria and Rovos Rail which operates high quality tours from Cape Town to Victoria Falls and other destinations. There was a conducted tour around their works and a visit to their museum here before heading off for Pilanesburg and then over the border into Botswana and a game reserve for a two night stay. The reserve is located close to Sun City, the Las Vegas of South Africa. Never were such opposites so near to one another.
After a stop in Francistown they continued northwards to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe where they were free to roam around the vast depot, now a shadow of its former self. Despite the dereliction, however, loco no. 611, destined to be the loco at the head of their charter train to Victoria Falls, was operational a couple of days later and Garrett 414 Ubhe Jane was able to take them out and back from Thomson Junction for an afternoon’s photography. Later David was to have a cab ride in this loco. The afternoon trip along the colliery branch to Hwange, however, did not go to plan as Ubhe Jane derailed during the lunchtime and a coach deputised. The next day no. 611 arrived and took the charter to its destination, Victoria Falls where the train was stopped on the bridge for photographs. Later they were taken by coach over the bridge and into Zambia to the Livingstone Railway Museum from where a finely restored train and a Zambian locomotive took them onto the main line and backed up a few miles so that photographs could be taken of the train on the bridge and the majestic waterfall. Not done yet, David and Sandra wound up their African Adventure with three days at a luxury game lodge on the Chobi River in Botswana, all courtesy of Geoff's Trains, to hone their wildlife photography skills as demonstrated by the wide range of colourful images which David presented to bring his presentation to a close.
clearly had enjoyed themselves as did we as we joined them on this re-run of
their African Adventure in the
Spring of 2017.
25 July 2018
CROSSRAIL 2 with Richard Joslin and Stuart Bugg
There was a change of Presenter for this evening, Gavin Cambridge being replaced by Richard Joslin and Stuart Bugg, (Project Development Manager). The opening slides showed the London area and how transportation requirements were being met by the existing railway network and the nearly completed Crossrail 1 project. These have left an unfulfilled corridor running from North East to South West London and the provision of a new rail link, Crossrail 2, from the Enfield area to Wimbledon form the basis of a plan to meet the transport needs of this part of the metropolis. Planning has started but problems are many. For example, a budget cost price has been calculated but this price is based on the assumption that the price will be accepted without delay. However history records that all previous projects have been the subject of considerable delays before budgets have been agreed. The current budget price (£31bn), even if accepted, will be in competition for the current demand for funds to complete HS 2 and funds to build the 3rd runway at Heathrow. Delays are inevitable and increasing budget costs may even prejudice the likelihood of the project being approved at all.
Like Thameslink, a lot of the cross London track will have to be in tunnel and at a deeper level to avoid the raft of tunnels already in place for existing lines. This is another factor which will drive up costs of construction. Even deciding where tunnels will come up to the surface is difficult and objectors to plans can be very vociferous. Public enquiries to settle matters are very expensive and time consuming. Add to all this the current political pressures to secure funding from private sources rather than funding projects from central government, (and the political uncertainties associated with “Brexit”), and it is clear that progressing from concept to project completion is very uncertain.
The business case in favour of the project is ambitious , it is calculated that the project would provide a £150bn bonus to the economy with an increase of 200,000 new jobs with the possibility of building 50,000 new homes per year. Questions and comments from the floor questioned the wisdom of such an expensive project in the metropolis at a time of financial stringency and the perceived need to increase funding for projects distant from London. It was claimed that Crossrail 2 would enable a more frequent and greater capacity service to run but again comment from the floor of the meeting was that although commuters might well benefit with more trains and more seats history showed that improved services led to more expensive housing. However it was counter-claimed that without a major improvement to our urban train services by 2041 in London, 17 tube stations will have to close for a period every morning and evening because of overcrowding dangers.
This was a meeting that looked at railway development from a different perspective. It was a thought provoking presentation given by speakers close to the heart of the concept. Richard Joslin remarked that at the projected completion date in the 2030's he would be retiring. This remark was made with great feeling and it was plain to see that this was going to be a very difficult project for the planners who were assured of a bumpy ride!
11 July 2018
27 June 2018
The Bridge over the River Kwai - The True Story and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society with Paul Whittle
Two talks for the price of one this evening. First, Paul outlined the events in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula which led to Japanese forces overrunning the area early in 1942 and inflicting the heaviest of defeats on the British and Allied forces leading to their surrender on 15 February 1942. Japan then turned its attention to Burma and the construction of 250 miles of metre gauge railway across the country to shorten supply lines. They had a significant but unwilling workforce by way of 16,000 POWs and some 180,000 Asian Romusha working with 13,000 Japanese troops trained in building railways. Thousands perished building the railway because of accidents, disease or the strict Japanese regime. But the railway did not achieve what had been expected of it. It was single track limiting capacity; the infrastructure was hastily built and the British and Allied POWs would find ways of hindering progress. Meanwhile our forces had reassembled and begun to make inroads into Burma such that, by June 1945, key bridges over the River Kwai had been seriously damaged so as to disrupt supply lines. The Japanese forces were soon to become Japanese POWs and then came surrender after Hiroshima. The railway was subsequently sold to Thai Railways and remains open between Bangkok Central and Ram Tok. There is little evidence of the railway beyond Ram Tok.
But how true to life was the 1957 film? It was filmed in then Ceylon rather than Burma and 2’ 6’’ gauge smaller Celanese locomotives and rolling stock were used rather than metre gauge. A bridge, coincidentally looking like the Forth Bridge, was built to be blown up but no bridges met their end in the book although they did in reality and in the film. A diesel shunter, out of sight, shuffled the train onto the bridge ready for the explosion scene. Regardless, the film was a major box office success but the Japanese felt insulted by it because it suggested that they could not build railways and there was concern at home because the film suggested through the role played by Alec Guinness as the POWs’ commanding officer that the British and Allied POWs collaborated with the Japanese in the building of the railway. The reality was that the real life commander of the POWs was obdurate and unhelpful doing whatever could be done to impede progress. It was a very expensive film to make and nearly did not reach the cinema, the tapes having been lost but eventually recovered at Cairo airport!
Fascinating stuff and very entertaining too. Paul was definitely on top of his subject as the facts and fallacies flowed. And there I had been as a naive and innocent 10 year old sat in the cinema with my grandmother believing every word I heard!
To complete the evening, Paul gave a half hour presentation about the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) and the work of the DHR Society of which he is vice chairman. Some Society members had travelled on the DHR and a good number had enjoyed a day at The Beeches Light Railway in Oxfordshire where Adrian Shooter, Chairman of VivaRail, had recreated a little of the DHR’s atmosphere in his garden including an original DHR locomotive. The DHR Society has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Indian Railways to enhance cooperation and is twinned with the Indian Steam Railway Society. Membership now spreads to some 20 countries and its influence extends to work in the community in India.
The line had opened in 1881 primarily for freight. It is 55 miles long and rises to over 7,000 feet above sea level at Darjeeling. There are 14 steam and 16 diesel locomotives. The line has become a significant tourism destination over the years and, for aficionados, ran a first freight charter in November 2016. The line is fragile, however, with many a land slip disrupting services. There were major incidents in 2010 and 2012 and for 6 months up to December 2017 much of the line was closed. Well illustrated and well informed, Paul did a good job selling the railway and is rightly proud of what the DHRS has achieved.
13 June 2018
The Severn Railway Bridge Disaster 1960 with Alan Hayward
It is tempting to start with a question that Alan asked towards the end of his fascinating presentation describing the fateful events of 26 October 1960 when two vessels heavily laden with fuel and oil collided in the foggy darkness of the River Severn and caught fire and then, out of control, hit pier 17 of the single track Severn Railway Bridge - was this an accident waiting to happen?
Sharpness Docks, close to the site of the accident, are still operating today. In 1876 when work building the bridge commenced, the docks played an important role moving coal from the Forest of Dean and it was the intention that the bridge would bring the coal to the docks much more quickly. Built at the rate of about one span a week, the bridge opened on 17 October 1879 with a 15mph speed restriction but traffic was slow to materialise, largely because of the opening of the Severn Tunnel. After its completion the bridge was struck on many occasions sometimes causing the loss of life. Among these was a collision in 1943 with pier 17, the very one which collapsed on impact in the 1960 disaster. Unperturbed it would seem, in 1950 the Western Region of British Railways were in charge and they chose to ease the axle load to allow the passage of 2-6-0 locomotives. Later, 4-6-0 Castles were also considered but before this could be achieved, the bridge needed strengthening. Started in April 1960, the work was expected to take a year. By the time of the accident that October the fourth span had been reached. There was still a long way to go. Fortunately no workers were on the bridge when the collision occurred but 5 ships crew perished. The collision ignited the cargo and not all the respective crews could swim. Meanwhile the crew of a coal train hauled by 2-6-0 no 6341 on the Sharpness side had seen the fire through the fog but, not sensing any danger, set off across the bridge thankfully reaching safety before pier 17 was struck by the blazing, entangled, drifting boats. It took time for BR to decide whether to rebuild the bridge and so, somewhat bizarrely, the strengthening work continued! There was also still time for another collision with the bridge, pier 20 being struck before the decision was taken to demolish the bridge.This was not completed until early 1970 given issues with demolition contractors.
And so the bridge was no more. BR pressed their case in court and were awarded a mere £5,000. At low tide Alan said that you can still see remnants of the bridge and the two vessels in question. So, was the bridge an accident waiting to happen? The significant number of collisions caused by the unforgiving tidal surges would suggest it was. but, to me, there also seems to have been no awareness of the likely impact of the pending opening of the Severn Tunnel. Perhaps if there had been, the fated bridge would never have been built. I was totally engrossed by Alan’s comprehensive analysis of the events and was very grateful that he glossed over the technical detail in favour of bringing the sad story to life.
23 May 2018
25 years on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway with Ian Foot
Ian opened his presentation by inviting a show of hands of those who had visited the NYMR and it was clear that a majority of those present had been to the railway even though from Basingstoke it is one of the more distant heritage lines. The first half of the evening was an illustrated potted history of the Whitby and Pickering Railway from its opening as a horse drawn line in 1830 to its rebuilding as a standard gauge railway by George Hudson in 1845. Its heyday came in the early years of the 20th century followed by its decline in the 50's and 60's and its closure to passengers in 1965 and closure to all traffic a year later between Pickering and Grosmont. With no centres of population in the moors closure was inevitable. Moves to re-open the line began in 1967 in the belief that a line operated by volunteers could be financially successful. Like many heritage lines the first years were very difficult and the line struggled to survive. The granting of running powers over the Esk Valley line from the junction at Grosmont to Whitby made a very significant difference, more people now arrive in Whitby off trains from Pickering than passengers from the Esk Valley line and the opening of a second platform at Whitby in 2014 has enabled the Pickering to Whitby service to expand to 5 trains a day.
The line is run by a not-for-profit charity and Ian Foot, who now lives in the district (in retirement!) drives and fires steam engines and, when required, also drives diesel locomotives. Truly a “hands on” railwayman. The evening concluded with a showing of 80 slides, many in the spectacular scenery of Newton Dale through which the line passes. The line, which has some fearsome gradients, some as steep as 1 in 49, climbs up from the Esk Valley at Grosmont to Goathland and a summit just beyond there before the line descends to Levisham and Newton Dale valley. In BR days loads in excess of “5 on” were required to be double headed but Ian took great pride in showing that in NYMR hands “8 on” was possible and with the most powerful locos, even”10 on” was sometimes possible. The second half of the evening was a slide show featuring many of the different locos that worked the line at numerous locations. The majestic Larpole Viaduct, still standing, where the coast line to Scarborough crossed over the NYMR featured in several of the photographs of this very photogenic part of the country.
Like many heritage lines the NYMR is faced with projects requiring considerable capital expenditure such as bridge replacements and they are currently working to raise a further £2.5M finance to meet a target of £9.2M. A very entertaining evening from an enthusiastic railwayman who clearly knew his subject well.
Peter Wells / Roy Palmer
9th May 2018
Running a Modern Railway - A Personal Viewpoint with Dave Penney, Managing Director, Chiltern Railways (ED.)
This was an absorbing, interesting, entertaining and, at times, amusing session with Dave Penney, the Managing Director of Chiltern Railways, a railway enthusiast with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, 20 years a volunteer with the Cadeby Light Railway, 6 years on the Bakerloo Line, then running Eastcroft Depot at Nottingham before moving to Chiltern Railways as Engineering Director and then stepping up to Managing Director.
Dave is a very interesting man, confident but not overly so, no airs or graces, intimately familiar with every aspect of his business, driven yet extremely personable and more than happy to engage with members both at half time and over questions at the end of the evening. In a nutshell he gave us the Chiltern Railways story from the threatened closure of Marylebone to the thriving innovative franchise of today. From the veteran emus in the early days, their replacement by Class 165s and 166s, struggling on with the ever popular Class 121 single diesel railcards until relatively recently, renewing and redeveloping Birmingham Moor Street Station, reinstating double track to increase flexibility, building new stations and owning some of them, introducing and reclassifying cascaded Class 170 and 171 emus as Class 168s, the short-lived Wrexham and Shropshire open access operation, the leasing of Class 68s for an improved Marylebone-Moor Street service and, most recently, opening of the Bicester Chord to facilitate an alternative direct route to London from Oxford with new stations at Oxford Parkway with parking at £2.00 a day, and Bicester Village with direct access to the outlet shopping there.
Dave also included some interesting and unusual features in his presentation. There were plenty of photographs to help tell the story but the use of time lapse photography, for me, emphasised the scale of some of the building work involved. Watching a Class 68 take shape from nothing was novel and a cab ride over new Bicester chord was fun. An excellent evening from an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, funny and down to earth railway man.
25 April 2018
The British Transport Police since 1948 - Company Servant to Queen’s Officers with Steve Beamon of the BTP History Group
The BTP is a national special police force that polices railways and light-rail systems in England, Scotland and Wales. Seventy five percent of the Force's funding comes from Britain's privatised train companies. Before the establishment of the BTP in 1949 railway policing could be traced back to 1824 and the Stockton and Darlington Railway. In the earliest days the railway policeman’s duties included signalling, issuing tickets and law enforcement there being no formal local authority based police forces until 1856. The many railway companies employed their own staff. In 1922, a myriad of railway companies, canal companies and road haulage firms had been brought under the auspices of the BTP and, later, the London Passenger Transport Board also came under their jurisdiction. Then along came the British Transport Commission Act 1949, the cornerstone of the BTP now.
Steve gave us pen pictures of the BTP Commission's first four chiefs of police and had worked the current postholder, Paul Crowther. He explained how the first training college at St. Cross, Tadworth had developed and operated from 1948 until 2010 and that the first HQ for the force had been established in Coronation Road, Park Royal in 1959 until 1983 before moving to Tavistock Place from 1981 until 2005. It is currently in Camden. In 1962 the British Transport Commission was disbanded and the word 'Commission' was dropped from the name of the force, which became the British Transport Police. British Road Services and Inland Waterways were no longer within the BTP’s jurisdiction and in 1984 Associated British Ports decided it longer required the BTP’s services. As the years passed the needs and demands of modern society would have a significant impact. Trams in the Midlands and Croydon in 1999/2000 placed new demands upon the force; in December 2001 jurisdiction includes anti-terrorism; Police Community Liaison Officers with power to arrest arrive in 2004, and, from 2012, jurisdiction was extended to include the setting up of firearms units
Interspersed with plenty of anecdotes and concluding with a lively question and answer session, tonight's meeting came at railways from a different angle and prompted points from the floor. Steve had his own experiences to refer to bringing a personal touch and, the service being what it is, humorous situations abounded tempered very much by the impact of responding to crime and accidents. Pretty sobering at times but a different and enjoyable evening nevertheless.
11 April 2018
A Rambling Railwayman’s Recollections with Geoff Burch
Tonight was Geoff’s third visit to the Society in recent times, returning to enlighten and entertain us with more tales from his long and varied and mainly railway career spanning from 1961 to 2009. With the later years of his career spent delivering training, Geoff was very much at ease in front of his audience tonight.
His previous session with us ended with him about to transfer to Woking as a second man. He was 21 years of age and impatiently waiting for his 23rd birthday when he would qualify as a driver. In the meantime he worked with Class 33s, 73s and 74s before passing as a driver in 1969 and working on 4 SUBs, 2 HAPs, 2 BILs and 4 COR Nelsons. Driver training on Cromptons and Electro-Diesels followed soon after. His first appointment as a driver was at Effingham Junction for a year before returning to Woking to drive spoil and stone trains, then REPs and Cross Country 47s. He had driven the very last Class 33 push/pull from Waterloo to Salisbury.
In 1987 Waterloo Training School beckoned and it was not long before he was appointed senior instructor there training drivers on Class 319s, the Gatwick Express and Class 456 emus and, at Salisbury, Class 158s and 159s. Privatisation in 1994 brought a period of significant change and saw Geoff take voluntary redundancy after 33 years service to British Rail. Soon afterwards he began an 11 year IT training career with Surrey Police and 10 different job titles but in 2005 he took he opportunity to join Southwest Trains as part of their training team in Basingstoke where he stayed until retiring in 2009.
It was clear that Geoff had thoroughly enjoyed his railway and Surrey Police careers as evidenced by the numerous tales he had to tell. Many of his stories were very amusing and made us chuckle but, given his time on the railways, it was inevitable that others would bring home the impact on drivers, their families and colleagues and the public at large of railway accidents, large and small. This was a down-to-earth session from a man with railways in his blood and I sensed that he hasn’t finished yet.
28 March 2018
Mulhouse Meanderings with Richard Green
It was a pleasure to welcome Honorary Member Richard Green back for his annual visit to relate the comings and goings of the Society’s trip to Europe at the end of May 2017, by Eurostar via Paris to Mulhouse from where there was ready access also to Germany and Switzerland. Richard’s technical wizardry was again on show bringing together a wide selection of photographs submitted by those taking part to make for an interesting and informative evening for all. As usual several friends and former work colleagues of Richard were in the audience to enjoy his singular sense of humour.
Despite Bank Holiday chaos at St. Pancras and some associated delay, onward travel on the first day went to plan and the party duly arrived at Mulhouse in good time to check in at the hotel and walk the short distance back towards the town centre to eat. The first full day involved tram/trains from Mulhouse to Thann St. Jacques and return to France’s national railway museum, the Cite du Train on the outskirts of Mulhouse to view the impressive selection of locomotives and related railway artefacts there. Mid afternoon, the party set off for the attractive town of Colmar where a canal boat trip felt obligatory. It was a step down to the canal boat but no one got their feet wet. The canals were not extensive so the trip was soon over leaving time to explore before the day was brought to a close at a local restaurant in the bustling town centre for a very enjoyable evening meal.
On the Sunday, the party headed for Haltingen for a one-way trip on the Kandertalbahn where steam was running in glorious sunshine behind an Austrian 2-8-2 tank loco built in 1927. There was barely time for a photo of the loco before departure but several were taken at Kandern before the bus arrived for the journey back to Basel Bad Station and a group ticket was settled with the driver. Then a minor hiccup: on arrival from Basel Bad Station the departure platform at Basel main station was empty; the scheduled train had been cancelled. With Swiss efficiency, a replacement soon arrived and within half an hour the group was at Olten, a busy railway location. After just over an hour there everyone reconvened and headed for Biel/Bienne to take a bus to the local funicular, a quick trip up and down as our intrepid travellers were now running a little late, and a bus back to the station to start the journey back to Mulhouse.
Now it’s Monday already! Just one more day left before the party heads back to Basingstoke. The challenge today was too see the impressive waterfalls at Schaffhausen and then, by way of several tight changes, get to railway hot-spots at Pratteln and Liestal in Switzerland with the option of a trip on the threatened 750mm gauge Waldenburgerbahn from Liestal out to Waldenburg and back. Getting to the falls involved a trip via Zurich to Schaffhausen and then a short 5 minute train journey to Schloss Laufen where a boat was taken across the water in front of the falls to the other side and back. There was some uncertainty here, however, as to how to get to Neuhausen Reinfall, the planned departure station, and most did not attempt it, returning to Schaffhausen the way they had come. Schaffhausen to Pratteln was achieved in six moves and they went like clockwork despite an unscheduled platform change. At worst there was some breathlessness but everyone had recovered by arrival at Pratteln where there was plenty of action to record for some whilst others headed for Liestal and roadside running up to Waldenburg and back. Then, back at Mulhouse, a first - an Indian meal in a private downstairs room at a restaurant called Mantra. No Chinese meal in 2017.
On the final day, Tuesday, the Bown's headed off for their French residence and and Andy, Ian and John headed off for Swiss Railway hot-spots. The remainder of the group left Mulhouse on the 09.16 for Strasbourg. On arrival soon after 10.00, there were 5 hours for exploration before the 15.10 from Strasbourg to Lille Europe. The priority was to take a tram across the very new bridge taking the newly extended tram line from the outskirts of Strasbourg across the border canal to Kehl in Germany. Mission accomplished, the party then split up to follow their own preferences, some to the European Parliament building, some to follow railway interest and others to the attractive town centre, including a trek to the cathedral's high viewing point. Gathered all together, the party were back at St. Pancras soon after 8.00pm and at Basingstoke by 9.30pm - another European trip successfully completed.
And so 2017’s European trip was put to bed and, as usual, I left with the impression that everyone at the meeting had very much enjoyed Richard's recollections of it, his humour, his story telling and the contributions made by his fellow travellers either by way of supplying photographs or, perhaps a little embarrassingly at times, appearing in them. Everything was taken in good heart and there were plenty of laughs as well as recognition of the hard work put in by David Brace in pulling the whole trip together
14 March 2018
Operation Dynamo - Railways to the Rescue with Peter Tatlow
Making a return visit to the Society, Peter told the story of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of some 300,000 troops from Dunkirk and its environs over a period of ten days, an average of 30,000 each day, including a significant number French, and the significant part played by the Southern, the Great Western, the London Midland and Scottish, and the London and North Eastern Regions as well as the London Transport Passenger Board in dispersing the often tired, battle worn and exhausted soldiers from the South Coast on their arrival after their hazardous journey back to England from Northern France. Peter’s father had been among those brought safely home on 2 June 1941.
Peter briefly outlined the key moments leading up to he Declaration of War and went on to explain how the need to evacuate had come about: after progressing through Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands the German army was making a rapid approach through France towards the English Channel and Allied Forces were under serious threat. At home, children were evacuated away from London and the South and buses and coaches were requisitioned for use as ambulances and ambulance trains were formed in readiness for the arrival of the wounded among the evacuees.
On the evacuees’ arrival on these shores trains were loaded up with their human cargo and sent on their way largely to the country inland away from danger. A small number were taken north. In all 620 special trains were run. Peter showed an interesting selection of images of trains crammed with soldiers at Dover Marine and elsewhere, changing trains at Ashford, Redhill and Guildford for more distant locations, trains returning to the South Coast for their next mission, constant turn rounds to keep services running and, in true British spirit in difficult times, housewives serving meals on station platforms and, in some cases, when trains had to stop in loop lines, reaching up with sandwiches to soldiers leaning from open coach windows.
It would not be long before fighting units would be reformed as the troops recovered from their ordeal and they would be heading back across the Channel. In this context, Peter ended on a sombre note by reading a poem his father had written about his wartime experience and the withdrawal from France in particular. Many of those evacuated did not return to the Front, including Peter’s father, who had been declared unfit for further service and accordingly returned to his work. The evening concluded with a question and answer session during which several members related their own stories of events in the Basingstoke area handed down to them from family.
Not as long a presentation as we may be used to and a little short on specific railway interest perhaps but, from my perspective, nonetheless an interesting session covering a topic which many of us may have taken for granted without a true appreciation of the scale of the task and of the many logistical obstacles that somehow were overcome to allow our troops to rest and reassemble.