The LNWR in the “Great War”  1914 to 1918

The outbreak of war in 1914 signalled the end of an era and brought  many changes to the country.  The LNWR  was fully behind the war effort, as were the other major railway companies.  The costs of that war, both in the horrendous loss of life and the strain on industry, were felt for many years after. In the case of the railways those effects were a major cause of the formation of the four big companies into which most, if not all, of the pre grouping companies were amalgamated.

The War Effort

During the War 74,311 loaded special trains were run for Naval and Military purposes, exclusive of upwards of 16,000 special trains conveying coal to the Grand Fleet, &.c.
For conveyance of wounded men in ambulance trains, refugees, and prisoners of war, an additional 13,318 special trains were provided.
It is estimated that the London and North Western Railway carried upwards of 25.4 millions of His Majesty’s forces and troops from the USA and the empire, together with the necessary complement of horses, guns, baggage, &c.
A total number of 3,288 of the larger description of tanks and 385 guns, varying from 50 to 189 tons each, were dealt with, together with approximately 13,937,000 tons of Government traffic.

In order to assist in the urgent necessity for home-grown food, the Company provided 14,000 allotments for vegetable growing alongside the line, and issued a small guide giving instructions for planting. &c.

In total 31,742 or 34% of employees served in the forces. Within this number were the  whole of the 115th Company of Royal Engineers including the officers, totalling 250, and two companies of civilian platelayers for work in France and Belgium.

Owing to the large percentage of employees joining up, female labour was employed in many branches of Railway work. i.e., ticket collecting, platform work, engine and carriage cleaning, at lathe, &c., work in the shops at Wolverton, Crewe, Earlestown. 6,584 females were employed in place of men.

CREWE LOCOMOTIVE WORKS provided two completely equipped armoured trains and specially fitted up a large number of engines which were sent over seas for work on Military railways. It also produced 138 Crewe tractors which were used on the light railways in the advanced battle area.

A special plant was laid down for turning out copper driving bands for shells. Crewe developed to a great extent the system of drop forging, and so supplied the War Ministry with reliable forgings which had hitherto been troublesome castings and considered impossible as drop forgings. Large quantities of fittings for 26–cwt. howitzers, aeroplanes, rifle fittings, &c were produced. The works re-formed hundreds of thousands of cartridge cases, also made fuses for shells, paravane cutter brackets (used for destroying sea mines), howitzer axles, &c. It supplied lifting equipment, machine tools. &c., for overseas engine-erecting and repair shops, and kept in repair the engines sent abroad, and those engines working on Military camp railways that were adjacent to the L & N. W. Railway.

THE CARRIAGE WORKS AT WOLVERTON converted 368 carriages for ambulance trains, and one complete train of 17 vehicles for the use of Military Headquarters Staff. A large number of vehicles were altered for War purposes, and 400 20–ton goods wagons and 40 35–ton trolleys were built, as well as 1,350 general service road vehicles. 2,550 ambulance stretchers, over 4,000,000 fuze parts, gauges, gaines, stampings, bomb forgings, &c., were made to order of the Ministry of Munitions. 676,000 18–pounder cartridge cases from overseas were repaired, and 48,000 18–pounder shells were painted.

THE WAGON WORKS AT EARLESTOWN altered for overseas War purposes 4,382 wagons, provided a large number of general service wagons, water-tank carts and cart cable drums. The works converted a large number of road delivery vans to War Office requirements, and supplied 2,400 picket posts and 20,000 picketing pegs. A large quantity of timber and ironwork and spare parts, for use on wagons overseas was also provided, and the Ministry of Food was supplied with 205 insulated covered goods vans.

THE ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT provided for overseas purposes 56 miles of permanent way, in addition to 30,000 sleepers and 500 ballast wagons. About 36 miles of sidings and connections were laid down abroad to deal with munitions and other traffic, and the War Ministry was supplied with large quantities of permanent way materials, tools and wagons for use in this country.

THE ELECTRICAL ENGINEER’S DEPARTMENT supplied a large number of telegraph signalling instruments for use overseas, and provided many telephones, lighting installations. &c., for Military purposes in this country. A number of machine tools were also supplied for overseas use.

THE MARINE DEPARTMENT was requisitioned by the Admiralty at the outbreak of War to provide four ships from the Company’s fleet. These were fitted with guns and sent for naval service.
Two of these were afterwards converted into Hospital Ships, and one was sunk by a mine off Dover, with a loss of three officers and 107 men, including wounded.
Another of the ships was torpedoed in the Mediterranean, with the loss of three officers and seven men. The remainder of the crew were imprisoned for 4½ months by the Senussi Arabs in the Libyan Desert, where, after suffering terrible privations, which resulted in the death of five, they were rescued by a British Expeditionary Force in armoured motor cars.
The remainder of the fleet were defensively armed, and, in addition to the heavy civilian traffic, conveyed across the Irish Sea 2,000,000 Naval and Military forces.
A Naval base was established at Holyhead, and the Company’s Marine Department supplied a large number of His Majesty’s ships with coal and oil fuel, and also attended to the numerous running repairs.

PRE WAR PLANNING In the years prior to the war, the Military produced contingency plans for an countering an invasion on the south or east coasts of England. The LNWR took a leading role in co-ordinating routes and timetables for the transport of troops and materiel from bases around the country to wherever on the coast they might be needed. This work proved invaluable when the mobilisation and movement of the army to France was required in August 1914.

Further information on the LNWR’s contribution to the War effort can b found in the LNWR Society’s reprint of the “War Record of the London & North Western Railway” by Edwin A Pratt which can be found via the Publications page of the web site.

LNWR Roll of Honour – Introduction

The LNWR collected the names of the 3719 emplyees who fell in the First World War, along with those who received decorations for their actions.
The company produced a printed book, listing those names, their jobs, where they worked and their rank. The families of men listed received a copy of this book. This section of the Webb site remembers the lives of these men.