Britain's Railways in the First World War (Pen & Sword)

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This is a detailed account of the effect of World War I on the British railway network and the part played by the railways in the war effort. Britain’s Railways in the First World War reveals how both the railway, and railway employees, played an important role in the hostilities. Over 100,000 railwaymen enlisted in the First World War and during the first few months this led to fears that it could have a detrimental effect on the running of services. With the resulting scarcity of male railway workers, women were employed to fill roles that historically they would not have carried out.

As early as 1912 the British government had set up the Railway Executive Committee, with the probability of war looming they wanted to ensure good communication between the government and the 176 railway companies operating around Britain. The Crimean War had shown the importance of the railways to the military, and in 1856 the Military Train corps was formed and assigned the task of ensuring the movement of supplies. In the 1860s two voluntary railway corps were founded and following on from this another one was created in 1887 in Crewe. These voluntary units would construct, maintain and defend the infrastructure of the railway, the platforms and other associated structures such as bridges – or conversely destroy the same if they were to fall into enemy hands and could be put into use by them. The Army Railway Council was then created in 1896, made up of the managers of six railway companies; its job was to coordinate troop movements in wartime. Therefore, when Britain declared war on 4th August 1914 the foundation of a rail support system was already in position.

Michael Foley looks at every aspect of the ways in which the railways featured in the conflict, from transporting soldiers and supplies across Britain to the south coast, to carrying British refugees returning from Germany; transporting wounded soldiers from the front, often on ambulance trains, and the refugees of war arriving here to relative safety. He explains how Germany used armoured trains to invade Luxemburg; Belgium sabotaged their own railway in an attempt to slow Germany’s progress; France’s sabotage and its railway improvements; Russia’s need for locomotives from Canada and America and Britain’s railway companies’ workshops being called on to manufacture munitions, hospital trains and railway equipment.

The six chapters cover individual years from 1914 to 1919. At the back there are appendices which list: The Railway Companies after the War and World War I Railway Memorials in the UK. Well illustrated with around 116 black & white photographs. Hardback. 232 pages.

Britain’s Railways in the First World War is a companion to author Michael Foley’s book Britain’s Railways in the Second World War.

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