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A Light Railway's War

In the Colonel Stephens Railway Archive a typed report exists, almost certainly written for official purposes at or near the end of the war, reporting the East Kent Railways War record. We are not sure if this ever went into print. As a snapshot of a now forgotten time and age it seems worth now setting down in Topics.

"Railways in War Time"

 

This small but nevertheless important standard gauge Light Railway which was opened in October 1916 has a physical Junction with the Southern Railway Company's main London, Chatham and Dover Line at Shepherdswell, serving that part of East Kent which lies between Shepherdswell, Eythorne, Eastry and Wingham, together with a branch line Eythorne to Tilmanstone Colliery and similar branches from Eastry to Richborough and Eastry to Hammill.

The opening up of the district served by this Railway gave transport facilities and services to some of the most fertile fruit and vegetable producing lands in the County and afforded a speedy and direct service for products to the London and other Markets. #

It will be seen from the statistics given below that during the War period the tonnages have very considerably increased both in regard to Goods and Mineral Traffic.

 

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Total Traffic Carried

 

Year Goods Tons Mineral Tons Coal & Coke Tons Total Tons

1940 7,950 4,390 330,684 343,024

1941 8,205 5,617 285,188 299,010

1942 11,733 5,955 263,925 281,613

1943 14,365 7,547 274,987 296,899

1944 18,336 6,248 278,033 302,617

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Train and Engine Miles

 

Total Train Miles Shunting Other Total

Year Coaching Goods Total Miles Miles (Light, etc) Engine Miles

 

1940 6,544 15,823 22,367 2,085 1,504 25,956

1941 6,205 15,376 21,581 2,292 1,203 25,076

1942 6,322 15,654 21,976 3,530 1,433 26,939

1943 6,170 16,233 22,403 4,007 1,570 27,980

1944 6,129 15,452 21,581 4,080 1,603 27,264

During the War period 1940/1944 extensive operations and exercises were carried out on the Railway by the War Department.

In May 1940 a squadron of the Royal Air Force entered upon the Railway and took over complete control of Staple Station, for all intents and purposes that station being closed to the general public. Both the inwards and outwards traffic formerly dealt with at Staple Station had to be diverted to either the Company's Wingham or Woodnesborough Station, and the Company's Clerical and other Staff attached to the Station had to be temporarily transferred to Woodnesborough Station. The Company's trains were only permitted to pass direct through the Station except in cases where goods were consigned for or to be dispatched by the RAF, and that procedure continued until August 1940 when the squadron was transferred elsewhere, after which Staple Station and premises were handed back to the Company.

On the 8th September 1940 three super heavy batteries of Artillery entered on the Railway with their 0-6-0 six wheeled tender engines together with heavy guns, which were mounted on six wheeled bogie undercarriages, each of which weighed approximately 82 tons. These guns, together with the locomotives, were stabled in the Company's Sidings at Shepherdswell, Eythorne and Staple Stations also at Poulton Sidings. At frequent intervals exercises took place at certain points on the Railway, the guns with their gun crews for such exercises being hauled by W D Locomotives. Firing practice took place on several occasions with live shells, the Sidings in which the guns were stabled being specially equipped with anchorage for securing the gun carriages when firing took place. On the occasion of such practices a good deal of damage was done to the Company's buildings by gun fire concussion, doors and windows blown out, portions of roofs being lifted, etc. When firing practices were to take place it was necessary to cease all traffic movements within a certain area and to withdraw the staff from the sheds and shops. On the first occasion of such practices it was considered unnecessary to remove the coaching stock from the station and as a result of not doing so some of the drop and quarter lights were blown out of some coaches which were stabled about 100 yards from the guns. It was then decided for the future to remove such stock during the period of the practices to other sidings as a precautionary measure.

The super heavy batteries remained on the Railway until December 1944 when they were transferred elsewhere.

From the period September 1940 to January 1945 the W D engines and trains ran 10,349 miles over the Company's System in the course of their exercises and for other purposes. This mileage is not included in the Company's mileage statistics.

The War period has not passed without this Company experiencing some incidents which called for special precautions to be taken. During the period the Battle of Britain was in progress there were occasions when it was necessary to delay shunting and other operations for a period and for the staff to take cover. Fortunately only once was the track damaged by enemy action, that was on the 19th September 1940 when a high explosive bomb fell, blowing out a 14'0" length of track on an embankment on the Richborough Branch, leaving a crater 8'0" deep by 12'6" in diameter. The crater was filled in and the track replaced, normal working being resumed within twelve hours of the happening.

There were several near misses from H E bombs which fell just clear of the Company's boundaries at various parts of the System. Apart from the severance of telephone and tablet wires from time to time, nothing of a very serious nature happened other than previously stated.

The percentage of staff serving with the Army, Navy and Air Force is 12.

# Dick Cash, a long time East Kent employee, recalled ' we might have anything from a dozen to twenty wagons on the evening train, most of it fruit...we used to pick up everywhere then, every siding, staple was the busiest place, you could easily pick up a dozen wagons there.' Truly heroic work for the O1s 0-6-0s largely involved which were limited to ten wagons on the Coal trains in BR days.

+ Mrs Cash Recalled ' I particularly remembered the rail guns, one day I had a nasty fright as I didn't know they were going to fire the Guns. I had finished work and walked down by the Railway. It was very quiet, no one was about and there was no traffic, I asked the Control point if I could go past down the road and they let me through. I had just gone by when the guns fired, I was so frightened.' And who wouldn't be....