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Shropshire and Montgomeryshire in WWII

Part 1Takeover

 

With the outbreak of war the S&MR was seen, unlike for instance the WC&P, as a railway that was important to the nation and was accordingly taken into government control, although formal terms were not agreed till April/May 1940. Delays arose not only through bureaucracy but concerns about the Railways finances and the Directors misgivings about the indirect control relationship arising from a decision to deal with smaller companies through the majors; in the S&MR case the old enemy, the GWR. This was causing continuing tension on major issues, but in the short term, as with all railways, it continued to be managed and run as before.

However, all was not well. With the Depression and consequent crash in mineral traffic after the East Lancs road contract had been completed, income had dried up. Passenger traffic had long become uneconomic and even the bank holiday specials had been abandoned in 1936. Agricultural traffic was thin and the line survived on residual quarry traffic and substantial local traffic in Shrewsbury to the Anglo-American Oil Company’s depot established at Abbey station in June 1934. Government control allowed the line to continue at a guaranteed return of £1 profit but there were continuing concerns about paying for the maintenance backlog which this arrangement did nothing to alter. This factor raised doubts in the Ministry of War Transport about the continuance off government control and decontrol was actively discussed in February 1940. Nothing could cover up the terminal nature of the enterprise, which could only be rescued by a massive upturn in the Criggion roadstone traffic. The latter months of 1939, like everywhere in these early months of the war, were fairly normal and the only intrusion of the war was the use of the waiting room at Abbey Station for ARP meetings for 1 hour every evening.

January 1940 had, however, brought disaster: Ice flows in the river Severn attacked that Achilles heel of the line, Melverley Bridge, which was so damaged on the 27th that all Criggion branch traffic ceased. The quarry was severely hit and only managed to divert a part of its potential output by road to Four Crosses station. The S&MR could not afford the required repairs. Although of relatively small consequence and therefore of little consequence to the nation the Quarry had a Director with influence, Sir Henry Maybury former Director-General of Roads, Ministry of Transport 1919-1928, and a pioneer of the arterial road network. He used his contacts to press the Ministry of Transport to safeguard the bridge and get it repaired and also to get the GWR to operate the Llanymynech-Criggion section.

Income on the S&MR now plummeted and in the first six months of 1940, with the bridge out, the line lost £2028.. Under pressure from Sir James Milne, GWR Chairman and Chairman of the Railway Executive Committee, and following the agreement on financial arrangements for government control, some action was necessary. At its meeting on 29 May therefore the Board decided that their resources had to be concentrated on those parts of the line which might be made to pay and that the Kinnerley to Moele Brace section must be closed and arrangements made for the remaining lines to be worked by mainline companies or otherwise. This arrangement was endorsed by the REC and the Ministry. As a result financial arrangements would be made to repair Melverley Bridge and these were confirmed in June, although the Quarrying Company continued to negotiate on a perceived requirement to sent minimum quantity of traffic by rail. This caused further delay as Millne negotiated with the quarry. It was obvious to him that unless the Quarry dispatched at least 30.000 tons a year the S&MR, even in its truncated form, could not be remunerative Milne threatened closure and Sir Henry Maybury backed off offering two thirds of quarry output to the railway provided basic freight rates applied but still requiring operation by the GWR, which by October they agreed to undertake for £2,000 a year. The Minister and the REC had previously agreed these arrangements in September.

But whilst this was all grinding on other factors came into play.

 

The War Department takes Over

 

The war had gone ‘hot’ and after Dunkirk in May Britain was alone. It was a wakeup call for the Military and the scale of the war machine had to be stepped up. Importantly for the S&MR this meant more munitions stores and a need for stone to build runways.

Intimations that there were military plans to hold 50,000 tons of munitions in stores adjacent to the S&MR mainline seem to have been mooted as early as July and firm proposals were made in about September 1940; the Board had kept very quiet about this but finally broke the news to Sir James Milne on 12 November after the military had sent out a ‘Reconnaissance Party’ to inspect the line on 4 and 5 November. Thereafter plans firmed up rapidly and on 15 November the railway agreed to let the military have access to the railway immediately to start essential works, and the Minister of War Transport formally agreed to the takeover in December. The meeting at the War Office at which this was agreed was chaired by Colonel Stephens’ oldest and closest friend Sir Gilbert Szlumper in his capacity as the Ministry of Transport Director General of Transportation and Movements. He had been appointed with the rank of Major General to organise the transportation of supplies to the BEF in France, having previously been GM of the Southern. In attendance were some notable names; Keith Grand of the GWR, later to be GM of the Western Region of BR and leader of that regions last stand; and two military men: Colonel H L Woodhouse and Major D McMullan, later to be in the Railway Inspectorate where they proved of great assistance to the embryonic Heritage Railway movement.

Although at first the plan seems to have been for the War Department to requisition the line, the complications of existing civilian traffic and the military’s aversion to taking on the Criggion branch led to the suggestion of a voluntary agreement based on the Military’s takeover of the Chellaston Branch of the LMS (later known as the Melbourne Military Railway) earlier in 1940. The Secretary of State for War wrote to the S&MR on 10 December 1940 to this effect. At a meeting on 28 January 1941 at the War Office the S&MR agreed terms and Heads of Arrangement under which the WO would;

 

• recondition and maintain all permanent way between Shrewsbury Abbey and Llanymynech, including Kinnerley yard and build any yards etc it might need;

• operate all traffic including daily Abbey- Llanymynech goods for civilian traffic, picking up Criggion branch traffic as necessary at Kinnerley;

• not pay rent as this was abated by the refurbishment work. However the S&MR would retain income from civilian traffic and continue employ its existing staff, wages being reimbursed by the WO;

• take over property on land which they proposed to use for new exchange sidings at Hookagate but that otherwise all rents for properties would continue to be paid to the S&MR (or more properly the Shropshire Railways);

• be reimbursed for improvements to be made at termination of the agreement.

 

These terms were formalised on the 1 June when the running of the railway passed to the military.

An interesting aside at one of these meetings was a discussion of suitable locomotives. W H Austen suggested the use of ‘LMS Saddle Tanks’ that he had used and found satisfactory. He presumably meant Ramsbottom Special Tanks, that would have been easily available from Shrewsbury shed for most of the line’s existence, but regrettably no firm photographic or other evidence is available of these interesting loans. Regrettably too for the Army, and probably unknown to Austen, the last of these locomotives was just being withdrawn from capital stock on the LMS; other types would have to be found.

Meanwhile the Criggion branch and Melverley Bridge which were still the S&MR’s responsibility were eating into management time. At a meeting on Christmas Eve 1940 between the Ministry and the War Office it was revealed that the military were, with the apparent consent of the railway, about to remove some girders. Indeed they indeed have already removed some but they stopped the work and the Ministry agreed to try to get repairs done by the GWR. These repairs were reportedly commenced in May but the bridge and branch were not reopened until 27 October 1941.

Unfortunately for traffic efficacy the GWR had, through accident or design, only rebuilt it for an axle load of 9 tons. With the loss of the last Ilfracombe goods Hesperus, the S&MR did not have a light enough locomotive either, and although they were to try to obtain a small locomotive they did not succeed. In May at the meeting with all parties the WD had agreed to work the branch line and small locomotives that came to be used by the WD, such as a Manning Wardle 0-6-0ST, might however have been used and unspecified accounts were certainly presented by the WD for traffic working on the branch including, we must surmise, normal goods traffic which had increased, particularly with the construction of a BBC transmitting station near the branch and the dispatch of 2-300 tons of stone to the WD worksites on the line. Also as this was a Stephens’ line it is just as possible that, given the climate of the times, the Coal engines with their 11 ton axle load might have been used. Accounts that the line was worked from this date solely by the quarry’s Sentinel locomotive seem unproved. Latter, after further troubles occurred with the bridge in May 1945 it is thought that for a very limited period the quarry locomotive was used to push wagons to the Kinnerley side of the bridge without itself venturing onto it . After that damage had been patched up, and the bridge subsequently replaced, the locomotive certainly hauled traffic all the way to the Kinnerley loop until the branch’s closure in 1959.

The Criggion branch also required attention to its track if the rebuilt bridge was to be of real use and quite a bit of sleeper and track took place whilst the bridge work was underway. This work also involved replacement of half a mile of rail and 24ft lengths of 75lb rail came from the Kent and East Sussex Railway which in turn had been replaced by rail from the Southern Railway. Such swaps were needed at a time of acute material shortages.

 

The Railway’s Reconstruction

 

With the Military lease the character of the railway began to change and much of the line was fairly comprehensively reconstructed. By 1944 the WO were recording track mileage, presumably excluding the Criggion branch, as 84 ¾ a truly massive increase on the old line.

The mainline between the new exchange sidings and Kinnerley was completely re-laid with standard army 75lb flat bottom rail on existing and new, though untreated, wooden sleepers replacing the original rail and chairs that were largely those laid by the original ‘Potts’ in 1864-66. The army reconstruction gangs also rebuilt many of the small culverts and underbridges to take the heavier traffic, although the Shrawardine viaduct and two other bridges were subject to a 5 mph speed restriction for the heavier locomotives brought onto the line and, on the viaduct at least, this restriction continued throughout the war. Reconstruction continued after the war and in 1946/47 the war department repaired or renewed nine bridges on the main line, including that over the Severn at Shrawardine to take heavier locomotives. The river bridge was replaced in 1947 by a new structure located between the piers of the original, although parts of the old bridge lasted a little longer.

From the earliest planning stage there was concern whether the single line would have adequate capacity and starting in 1942 the line assumed a form of double track for virtually the whole way from Shrawardine to Kinnerley, a relatively simple task as the railway was originally constructed as a double line. The line was however never operated as a conventional double track, for one of the lines was used as the running line and the other for siding access. Of the old stations, Hookagate had to be demolished to make way for the new exchange yard and those at Shoot Hill & Shrawardine relocated. New halt platforms were built at Pentre and Nesscliff (these two were new and distinct from the old station with that purported to serve both villages), Ford yard, and Kinnerley Halt, slightly to the east of Kinnerley Junction. Further halts were built on the loop lines to serve individual depots and finally a four platform terminus was built on a spur line at Nesscliffe camp, which was commonly referred to as Lonsdale. All this work seems to have proceeded at a somewhat more leisurely pace than that envisaged in 940 and extended throughout 1941, perhaps the blackest year of the war, when the supply of materials etc was at its lowest ebb.

 

Hookagate

 

Marshalling and interchange traffic were key early considerations. The existing interchange at Moele Brace was considered suitable for expansion but in the event another site at Redhill was considered better as construction was simpler. Llanymynech was not selected as it was less convenient for interchange with the wider railway system but three sidings were developed there so that it could be used in an emergency if the line was blocked or Shrawardine viaduct damaged.

On 13 December 1940 plans were made for opening new exchange sidings with the Joint Railways at Redhill, to be called Hookagate, where the S&MR first came alongside the Welshpool line from the West and where the line’s promoter, Samuel France, had first planned his junction back in the early 1860s before his ambitions to reach the Potteries got the better of him. The Army plans and the traffic arrangements for them were finally firmed up at a meeting the following February, including upgrading the Joint Railways’ mainline from the limited GWR ‘Blue‘ classification to the full mainline ‘Red’. The Hookagate exchange sidings were brought into use by 29 January 1942. Already a considerable amount of traffic had been received for both railway and depot construction at Moele Brace and that yard, certainly initially, remained the exchange point for civilian and construction traffic, whilst Hookagate was exclusively for military traffic, and was to remain until it finally closed on 23 September 1946. As originally envisaged Hookagate sidings were used almost exclusively for interchange and a set of sorting sidings was developed at Ford to disperse and assemble the wagons coming and going to the 206 storage sheds that came to be scattered over the flat Severn plain.

 

The Depots

 

The munitions storage sheds were concentrated in groups served by large loop lines from the mainline. The first depot at Nesscliff was followed by others at Kinnerley, Argoed, Maesbrook, Shrawardine, in two parts, and Ford. Depot construction was proceeding in late 1941/42 despite shortages, and the most advanced receiving munitions by February 1942. Shrawardine seems to have been finished sometime that summer, Ford by August, Nesscliffe by the end of the year and Kinnerley in 1943. Nearly 600 Italian POWs were used in addition to Sir William McAlpine and Co and the Pioneer Corps staff. Ultimately there were 206 storage sheds served by spur lines branching off huge loops of railway cutting through the rural countryside.

 

Signalling

 

After examination the WD condemned nearly all the S&MR signalling equipment as worn out our obsolete. In practice however it seems that some equipment survived. Understandably the army adopted its standard operating procedures although, certainly in the early days, these were breached, leading to several accidents.

The lines with lowest use, namely Kinnerley- Llanymynech and Hookagate - Shrewsbury and the Criggion branch, were worked as one-engine-in-steam. Nesscliff to Kinnerley, the busy centre section was worked by electric token and the remainder of the line by telephone and ticket with Annett’s keys for the siding loops. Army block posts, rather than signal boxes, were established at Hookagate (2) Ford & Crossgates, Quarry, Nesscliff and Kinnerley.

The S&MR, in common with all Stephens’ lines, had ungated road crossings. However, with increased traffic, by early 1943 there had been 3 accidents and one death and safety concerns came to the fore. Pole gates and attendants huts were therefore established on the two busiest roads, those at Nesscliff and Shoot Hill, in the spring of 1944.

 

Other Reconstruction

 

Kinnerley locomotive shed was initially assessed as being in good condition with adequate inspection pits and coaling and water supply arrangements. However improvements to accommodate additional locomotives were soon required but whilst the work was underway a heavy snowstorm in January 1942 partially demolished the shed. It was therefore completely rebuilt on the same site.

 

Part 2: OPERATION

 

Wartime Locomotives

 

Of the remaining S&MR mainline locomotives the last Ilfracombe Goods, Hesperus, had fallen by the wayside about 1938 and was reported as having grass growing up between the frames when the Army arrived. Engine power was desperately needed and reportedly fitters spent the whole of one weekend tinkering about with her, but on the Sunday they tried to raise steam she would not move so they gave up. She was later sold for scrap, being cut up in the Corporation Sidings at Shrewsbury Abbey in November 1941.

 

The trio of Coal engines were refurbished by rotation in 1941. In February 1941 8182 had been prepared for transport to Crewe for overhaul, her condition was 'very bad'. 8236 was reported as 'generally bad' and No 2 (8108) was 'serviceable' but with a 'condemned' boiler. No wonder one fitter reminiscing in the Railway World in 1960 remembered the latter as 'about as run down as could be, and was hardly fit to bake chestnuts'. The worst two were promptly dispatched to Crewe and received heavy overhauls: 8236 and 8182 in March; No 2 (8108) in June. To cover the absences two Coal engines were loaned from the LMS, 28204 and 28308, the first of which became almost an S&MLR engine and seems to have been on the railway continuously till at least September 1943.

 

In late 1944 and early 1945 all the S&MR Coal engines received further light overhauls at Crewe to keep them going, but by 1946 the weight of wartime work was showing. 8236 was sent to Crewe for overhaul again in August 1946 but on 16 September the boiler was reported uneconomic to repair, 8182 was stopped with a leaking firebox foundation ring in the same month and 8108 was stopped with a cracked firebox in November after it failed in traffic on 15 November. With the end of the war the WD had plenty of their Dean goods available and more had been drafted in, so the trio, which had been worked to death and beyond more than once, were left in the sidings at Hookagate for disposal.

 

The WD’s requisitioned ex GWR Dean Goods with 12 ton axle loads were authorised for use in early December 1941 but were subject to very severe 5 mph speed restrictions for an unspecified period over the Shrawardine Bridge, the bridge over the Welshpool line and another bridge (no 41).The first (WD No 200 ex GWR 2552) arrived from Longmoor on 12 December 1941 with the second (WD 97 ex 2442) from Long Marston three days later. WD 96 (ex 2425 ) from Long Marston and WD 177 ( ex 2430) from Cairnryan in February 1942. By June 1942 they were joined by WD 176 (ex 2558) from Ipswich and WD 98 (ex 2425 ) from Poulton. Although 175 , 177 and 200 departed to Elham, Kineton and Goldenwood ( near Ashford) in Kent in February and March 1943 . From then onwards there were usually 4 or 5 of them on the line . The type became, with the 3 refurbished S&MR coal engines, LMS 28204 and two ex LNER J15's that had arrived from London Film Productions ,Denham in September 1942, the standard ‘mainline' locomotives.

 

Other locomotives were needed to construct and shunt the ammunition sheds. They were a fairly eclectic bunch that never really seems to have been fully satisfactorily. Indeed the main management concern throughout 1942 was shortage of suitable motive power for this work. At the beginning of February the WD had 6 mainline engines, three steam shunters and 3 small diesels available but four of them were out under repair and two more locomotives, just arrived, were considered useless without heavy repair. Sir Alfred McAlpine, whose firm were building the depots, was constantly badgering the War Department to provide more locomotives. They in turn produced a variety of locomotives some useful and some unsuitable, the latter quickly laid aside. In truth McAlpine would seem to have preferred road transport but there were neither roads nor lorries to meet the need.

 

A memo dated 2 February 1942 gives details of 13 locomotives and a slightly later memo dated 1 April gives, without many details, 12 locomotives on the railway, one of which was hired. Putting the two together it is possible to get a picture of the loco situation at the time. The three Coal engines and the first two Deans were operational although a Coal engine was hired in during February to cover a repair to one of the S&MR ones.

Two steam shunters were available; LNER Y7 982 which arrived on hire by 29 December 1941 from Tyne Dock ( having left Sunderland on 12 December travelling via Knottingley, Chester and Wrexham) ;and a brand new outside cylinder shunter WD No 73 (Bagnall 0-6-0PT 2643/1941) diverted from a Turkish order. This later locomotive however proved foul to gauge in many places so had restricted availability and its lubrication was by grease boxes so it was constantly running hot. Both of these locomotives departed in 1943, 982 to a US depot at Wrea Green in the Fylde (after a month in York ) by the end of January and the Bagnall to Sinfin depot Derby. Three new 150 hp 0-4-0 Drewry designed Andrew Barclay diesels, Nos 40, 44 and 45 were also available and two more, 47 and 48 were due in the first week of April; they were however continually under repair and ahd all departed by mid-July. Two further shunters had recently arrived; one WD No 68 Yeovil (0-6-0ST HC 1529/1924) had only just come from a John Mowlem contract building an aerodrome at Llanberis and had been tried but it had sharp flanges and some other problems so it was said in April that it 'will have to go away'. Repaired at Wolverhampton works an returning, in August however it left for Longton ,near Carlisle The other locomotive, WD 234 Victory (0-4-0ST Neilson 420/1859), had arrived in January 1942 in bad repair and was probably the one described in the April memo as 'going away to Stafford for repairs'. In fact it seems to have been repaired at Pecketts in Bristol and was reported returned to Shropshire in September but leaving for Northfleet Deep Water Wharf, Kent on 11 November 1942.

 

An intriguing reference in the April memo said ‘a GWR steam loco would be available to be sent to Long Marston when ‘the new Hunslet’ was run in’. This mystery locomotive was most likely one of 0-6-0ST WD 65-67 (HE 2412/4/6 of 1941), very similar to the later standard Austerities. They were part of a batch of eight locomotives for a Ministry of Supply ironstone mine project at Islip. This scheme did not start so three of the locomotives were delivered to the WD in 1942 and ended up at Long Marston Military Depot. Presumably the intention to swap locomotives did not materialise as the locomotives were far too heavy for the S&MR mainline and this fact would have been quickly realised.

 

It was probably as a result of this experience that the authorities standardised on the Deans and in addition to those above the following are thought to have served during the war:93 (ex 2433, 1943-48), 99 (ex 2528, 1944 -48), 169 ( ex 2479 1944-48) ,170 (ex 2536, 1944-45).After the wars end in 1946 94(ex2399), 95 (ex2470), 180(ex2514), 196(2576), and 197(2540) arrived; all went for scrap in 1948 All WD numbers had 70000 added to their numbers after late summer 1944.

 

The 1 April memo records that the Ministry of Works and Buildings had offered two small Contractors' locomotives which the WD said they would accept. These were probably MW 0-6-0ST 654/1877 WD 92 (originally WD 654) and WD 202 Tartar 0-4-0ST AE 1407/1899 which had originated from the Oxted Greystone Lime Company and Midland Tar Distillers Limited respectively. The first seems to have settled in for the duration but, probably after the construction phased ceased, Tartar departed as did the brand new Andrew Barclay diesels 0-4-0s which, probably due to unfamiliarity, were often criticised for unreliability.

 

These memos do however raise nearly as many questions as they answer, particularly in respect of the smaller locomotives that are known to have been considered or were on the railway at some stage around this time. On 27 May 1941 WD 201 Dillichip (0-4-0ST HE 304/83) was inspected at CoD Bonhill but it is not known whether it came to the railway. Also in 1941 an 0-4-0 diesel WD 32 (Drewry 2159/41) identical to the later Barclays is thought to have been present and worked into 1942, later becoming one of the first four allied locomotives to land in France after D-Day. WD No 1872 Ashford (0-6-0ST AE 1872/1920) is known to have from George Cohen and Sons in 1942. Also known to have been on the railway were the two very odd ex LNWR Webb 0-4-0WTs Nos 3014 and 3015 that arrived from Crewe works in July 1942. Their brakes proved unable to hold the three wagons required to be placed in each depot and after several smashed shed doors they were laid aside; recorded as at Kinnerley in March 1943 they departed for scrap the following July. Two other locomotives 'Staines' (0-6-0St HC 1513) and 'Thika' (Bagnall 2197) also flitted through briefly in 1942

 

Clearly the situation with small shunters was very fluid in 1942/3 as the railway struggled to cope. Eventually matters appear to have settled down but by 1944 the heavy D-Day traffic was upon them and more shunters were drafted in. Three USATC 0-6-0T (WD Nos 1395, 1399, and 1427) came to the railway the latter two in September 1943 and 1395 in January 1944 but these were far too heavy to use over the bridges. They must have been used purely as depot shunters for the heavy traffic pre- and post-D-Day and they disappeared in late 1944 for dispatch to the Continent; one (1427) becoming SNCF No 030TU1 and another (1399) ending up on the Greek state railway as Da class No 52. Even the marginally lighter standard Austerity 0-6-0STs could not be used till the bridges were reinforced two years after the war had ended. This is probably why two ex LNER J69s WD 84 No (ex7388) and WD 91(ex 7088) arrived in 1945 and 1944 respectively.

 

Derailments of one sort or another were reportedly a fairly common occurrence and no doubt added to the railway’s maintenance burden. Moreover collisions also occurred and took their toll on the locomotive stock. The first serious one was just before Christmas 1941 when a brand new diesel ,WD 44, collided with the rear end of WD 97 and was so badly damaged that there was difficulties in getting it to run on the rails at all for nearly a week and it was returned to its maker for repairs, never to return to the S&MR ; the Dean lost it tender and a replacement had to be provided.One head-on collision took place, on 26 July 1943, on the single line between Shrawardine and Ford when both of the locomotives (Dean No 176 and J15 No 212) were written off and two , possibly three,

of the ex LT&S coaches were badly telescoped and damaged beyond repair. The Dean was scrapped in January 1944 but the J15 hung on longer. Locomotives had to be very extensively damaged to justify withdrawal in wartime but the J15 was eventually scrapped at Stratford in late 1944. Strangely its sister No 221 was also dispatched for scrap on 31 October 1944 but there is no evidence that she was in a collision although reprted in need of ,probably routine ,repair since the previous May. Probably with an influx of Deans available from coastal defence duties following the successful invasion of France she was finally surplus.

 

A new role for Gazelle

 

Gazelle had found a new role in the opening phase of the WD years as an inspection locomotive. On 1 December 1941 there were some incidents where points were tampered with in an apparent effort to wreck or delay trains. The police were called in to investigate and the trouble was attributed to extremists among non-combatant troops in the neighbourhood. It was therefore deemed prudent to make regular inspections and Gazelle was roped in to help. She still had her rebuilt passenger trailer, which combined the old tramcar chassis with the Wolseley-Siddeley railmotor body, and the railmotor goods trailer that had at some time been fitted with small buffers to run with her. However these were not used on inspection duties and indeed the rear passenger shelter was soon removed as it impeded visibility when running bunker first. Nevertheless this unique structure survived for some time and was photographed, roughly placed on the loco, in February 1946. Eventually the non-combatant troops were moved out of the district and the incidents ceased. By this time, though, there were big concentrations of troops in the district and it was difficult to get anywhere near the only pub, the ''Cross Keys ", at Kinnerley. Gazelle of course had to be taken out on the line to be sure she was running well so the staff regularly ran test trips that, just by coincidence, terminated at Llanymynech or Criggion where there was a better chance of getting served at the local.Last officially steamed on 7 April 1942, and by March 1943 reported as laid aside , with the arrival of some Wickham railcars, it is unlikely that she was ever used again.

 

Gazelle's old trailer had been used for occasional officers' inspection specials but at some stage, probably in late1942, its old tramcar chassis had broken its back and its body was put to use as an office near Kinnerley where it remained for many years after the railway's ultimate demise. Thereafter when the army had to run any sort of VIP inspection special they used the old royal saloon (No 1A) with one of the new small diesels. Quite a combination.

 

The use of Gazelle and the royal saloon seems to have endeared them to the Army and these two veterans were thereafter both cared for, eventually passing to Longmoor, although regrettably the saloon eventually fell to be scrapped by those of lesser vision.

 

Petrol Trolleys

 

With the extensive rail network emerging and few roads the need to transport permanent way and other staff and materials over a large area made the single inspection vehicle, Gazelle, clearly inadequate. The S&MR had possessed one unused motorised PW trolley assessed as ‘presumably serviceable after overhaul’ but it was probably too far gone and disappeared at an early date. Eventually a delivery of new Wickham type 17 trolleys appeared. Wickham records show a total of 4 ( with two trailers) supplied to the Ministry of Supply at Shrawardine (Works Nos 3041-4) on the 2 March 1942. Five were recorded in May 1945 and 4 were recorded on the railway in January 1946 so probably included the first delivery.

 

Coaches

 

As soon as the army arrived the need to transport construction and other work teams arose and in January 1941 the army asked the mainline companies for 4 six wheeled thirds and 2 six wheeled brake thirds by April, although it seems unlikely that these were ever supplied. The first troop arrivals included a team of repairers who arrived on 20 March 1941 and patched up some of the remaining S&MR coaches, certainly at least 3 of the Midland bogie coaches and one of the LSWR coaches (No 12) and the North Staffordshire ones were reported in use in September 1941. The Army improvised in those early days and the S&MR's old Fordson tractor at the back of Kinnerley shed that had been rigged up to a circular saw was fettled up, a few trees were felled locally and the wood used for repair of coaches and wagons. An NCO was posted to the railway on 24 March 1941 especially for this work. These coaches seem to have lasted till the turn of the years but most were dumped at Ford by January 1942 and probably broken up in the first part of the year. Coach No12 had a short stay of execution being labelled as a breakdown van in 1941 at lasted longer but was replaced by by 25 the September 1943 and was then reduced to a flat wagon and scrapped in 1945. Coach Nos 7 (ex LSWR) and 17(ex GER & K&ESR) and 18 (ex NLR) had been stripped and used as grain stores at Abbey; they survived in this role till broken up at Hookagate in 1952. Ex Midland Passenger Brake Van 1 seems to have continued in use as the Civilian Goods brake van at least for a while.

 

Something more was needed and following an appeal to the main line companies by the military for hire coaches to be used at Bicester, Cairnryan and the S&MR. On 11 February 1942 the Military expressed a need for 25 coaches stressing that they should be 'vehicles with old upholstery are suggested as they will doubtless have fairly rough usage', lighting and toilets were also to be removed. Clearly the War office had a good grasp of soldiers' likely conduct. The S&MR took delivery of four GWR bogie coaches (listed as Nos 2929, 2266, 3190 (3rds) &2323 (brake 3rd)) a Moele Brace on 1 April 1942. The delay in delivering the coaches arose from an inspection at Swindon on 23 February when it was shown that they needed repainting and the roofs made watertight. A further four (Nos 333, 720 (ex-Cambrian Rly), 2230 (3rds) & 945 (Brake 3rd)) were authorised on 21 October and arrived from Swindon the next day behind GWR Bulldog Class No 3377 ( formerly named Penzance) ,though one report says they were delayed going into service till about February 1942. There were some changes in this loaned coaching stock for repairs and certainly all 3rd coaches Nos 2790 and 1223 replaced 945 and 333 in June 1944.These coaches seem to have returned off loan as the need for them lessened; but the only remaining records seems to be of 2323 returned off loan on 4 September 1946 after having been sent to Oswestry works for repair on 17 January, and the return of 720 to the GWR from WD Kineton on 15 September 1946.

 

A request for more coaches on 1 July 1943, was fulfilled with the arrival at Hookagate on 21 August 1943 of two ex LNWR coaches from store at Airdrie to replace two written-off coaches (see below).They were Nos 19406 a 42ft composite built in 1893 and 19463 a 45ft brake composite of 1896 They were later joined in February 1944 by an ex Caledonian coach previously used at Longmoor (LMR No 120), probably a Non-Corridor 65ft 8-compt Brake 3rd Third either ex LMS 24311 or 24316.By the late 1950s an ex-Midland 9 compartment coach with its interior stripped to become a saloon was in use.

 

To accommodate the construction crews and operating troops the Railwaysystem was scoured for camping coaches which were much in demand by both military and civil authories. The first coaches sent from the main line railways came from the LMS of which 242 existed at the outbreak of war most of which were fully equipped camping coaches of LNWR origin. These accumulated until an observer counted 32 examples most of which appear to have been LNWR Diagram 268 50 ft 3rd class corridor carriages dating from 1898-1903, or their WCJS D52,which had been gutted internally for camping use over the 1934-39 period. Their LMS numbers in the departmental series were

46001/2,015,022,025,027,032,036,043,046,051,053,058,065,071,04-5,091,125,133,140,153,170-1,190-1,198,206,219,221-2,231 but it has not proved possible to match these with their original running numbers. The personnel occupied these for several months before a permanent camp with Nissen huts was ready and were then moved to WD Kineton and ,it is thought, subsequently to Scotland for use by the WD. Sixteen (possibly different individual coaches)returned to the S&MR on 24 November 1943 but were simply stored at Ford until they were returned to their parent company on 20 January 1944.

 

In many ways the stock that came to epitomise the latter period of the S&MR, and which indeed was destined to last to the end, were the LT&SR coaches. These coaches designed by R H Whitelegg and were distinctively different from anything else on the line being saloons with longitudinal sets, centre corridors, toilets and sliding doors built for use on an Ealing Broadway to Southend service operated jointly with the District Railway. The 16 coaches built became Midland Railway property in the same year and as 'Ealing stock' led an uneventful life until that service was withdrawn on 30 September 1939. Eight of these coaches known as No 66 Excursion set comprised 2 corridor brakes(Nos 6399 & 6400), 5 thirds(Nos 3067-70 & 3073) and 1 composite (No 4784) were stored at Burton-on-Trent. A further set No67 (comprising 3066,3071/2/4/5,4785 & 6398) stored on the Middlestown branch were also offered but these do not appear ,ultimately, to have been hired. From the military's viewpoint these coaches were ideal, being Westinghouse brake fitted for use with their locomotives which were so fitted for use on the Continent. They were hired from 4 January 1940 for use on the Melbourne Military Railway but four (Nos 3067-9,6399) were transferred to the S&MR arriving on 27 July 1941,with the remainder serving until that line lost its role in training individual troops in late 1941,arriving on the S&MR on 10th January 1942. The S&MR thus ultimately received all the Melbourne eight six framed into two car sets (4784+3072,3068+3069 and 3070+6400 (some of which had a handbrake added)) . This system broke down at some stage and three (3067,3070 & 6399) , were destroyed in a collision, on 26 July 1943, along with the train engine ,Dean Goods 176, and J15 221.The remaining 5 were ultimate purchased by the military at the time of nationalisation and several survived till the end and were then transfered to other military lines.

 

Other Rolling Stock

 

At takeover 15 S&MR goods vans were in use at Abbey as grain stores by a local miller, and another as a general store van. The overall condition of the goods wagon fleet was described in an inventory as 13 very bad, 21 bad and seven (including two crane runners) just useable. The army made early use of the railways travelling crane together with its runners and the horse box (probably as a packing van) for engineering purposes.

The Military mind abhors untidiness so that much of the old rolling stock found so endearing by the enthusiast was cleared away in late 1941 or early 1942, much for immediate scrap. The movable stock at Kinnerley was moved to the sidings at Ford by January 1942 to get them out of the way and seem to have succumbed succumbed over the next few months when labour was available. In any event all S&MR stock except the grain store wagons and coaches, the crane, the royal saloon and Gazelle's (ex-railmotor) goods trailer disappeared during the war. The grain store wagons were finally broken up at Hookagate between April and July 1952 following a big clear up. The bodies of the 9 box wagons continued in use as PW stores throughout the system and are commonly seen in latter day photographs but the 6 cattle wagons were broken up. The crane was moved to Swindon on 20 July 1953 but it is doubtful if it saw further use.

 

Probably hundreds, certainly dozens, of wagons were drafted in by the military but their identity is unknown. Specimens from the LMS, LNER, L&Y, LSWR and newly built brake vans of the standard army (similar to SR) type Nos 11024-29 were delivered new from Ashford works on 26th March 1942 , have been identified.

 

Traffic

 

A shroud of obscurity, and probably indifference due to routine, descends on the official record as the construction phase ebbed and the Royal Engineer companies moved in by rotation to operate the line. Nor do any traffic details appear to be available so we are unable to ascertain whether the forecast of wagon traffic (250 wagons in and out per day) was correct. The first ammunition had been received, 346 wagons, and 73 wagons dispatched, during the first three weeks of February 1942. A latter sample week's figure is available for the month of October 1944 when there were 2,974 wagon movements and 9,002 passenger journeys. Whatever traffic figures might actually have been it was certainly very heavy with 11 tender locomotives available for main line service from 1942 to 1945 of which probably at least 7-8 were in steam daily. One estimate is that more than 1 million tons of ordinance were dealt with between the opening of the depots in 1942 and the end of the war.

 

Later Events

 

With the end of the war, in October 1945, the War Department asked the company if it could consider taking over the operation and maintenance of the railway and the war department sidings on behalf of the department. Austen and his Chairman were strongly attracted to taking up the option which involved employing 120 plus staff against the twenty or so pre-war employees (although the railway had employed around 70 in its heyday), but the imminence of nationalisation seems to have caused a fatal pause. The line was therefore nationalised with all the other controlled railways although the Army retained operational control. Public traffic had been withdrawn from the Criggion branch on 1 May 1949 although quarry traffic continued until 31 December 1959 and all traffic on the main part of the S&MR, except Abbey station, ceased on 29 February 1960.

 

However, the Stephens' legacy of service to the community still endured. Melverley Bridge, over the river Severn, on the still civilian and relatively busy Criggion branch carrying roadstone, was so severely damaged during the 1940s as to require replacement. Austen persuaded the Ministry of Transport in July 1947 not only to accord the replacement of the bridge high priority at a time of material shortages but to loan the company the cash (it finally cost around £23,000) to do it! This of course he did in the certain knowledge that the newly nationalised railways would have to pay the bill. Later, the great white chief in charge of all nationalised transport, Sir Cyril Hurcomb, expressed retrospective dislike of the decision of the Ministry (even though at the time of the decision he had actually been its head civil servant) but could do nothing. Perhaps the more junior official who took the decision knew better than he, for the bridge still serves to this day as an invaluable road bridge for the local community.

 

People

 

Directors

 

The Chairman James Ramsey, a retired Caledonian railway officer, who had been on the Board since 1930 died on 5 February 1943, having served as Chairman and Managing Director since Stephens died. John Pike, another long term director who had been Goods Commercial Manager of the LMS, then became Chairman and Austen was appointed managing director. Ramsey's place on the Board was taken by Cornelius James Selway, another senior railwayman who had been Passenger Manager (Southern Area) of the LNER until 1940, and who subsequently became Chairman after John Pike died on 2 March 1946 at the age of 78. Thomas Ward Green, after nearly 50 years of association with the railway, tendered his resignation at that meeting and another senior railway John Pattinson Thomas who had been General Manager (Railways), London Passenger Transport Board till 1938, was appointed in his stead. Probably through the agency of mutual acquaintance in the Retired Railway Officers' Society the S&MR certainly had no lack of talented direction in its dying years and as directors had not drawn fees since the financial crisis of 1932 their service was even more notable.

 

Staff

 

When the Military took over, S&MR staff were retained and worked alongside their military colleagues nominally for civilian work only but one suspects that boundaries were flexible. There were about 20 of them and most were of long standing having been employed since before, or shortly after, the First World War. As an example the only remaining driver, Frank King, worked throughout the war having had been employed on the railway since September 1912 before which he had probably come from the Kent & East Sussex, previously having been a cleaner at Nine Elms with the L&SWR.

For perhaps the first time these long term stalwarts became part of a wider world of railwaymen and their pay came under central scrutiny. Behind the scenes Austen was conducting a ferocious battle against Union, and indeed REC, 'interference' in the affairs of independent railways , for not only was he, like his mentor Stephens, against Unions in principle but also acted in the knowledge that his railways could not support national railwaymen's wage rates. The fight seems to have been a draw but war controls imposed heavy new wage costs on railways, although academic in the case of the S&MR which never regained its independence.

 

The railway seems however to have remained a close knit, if old fashioned and impoverished family. The Kinnerley station agent, H.G. Funnell (Senior), effectively Tonbridge's main contact and man on the ground for many years became ill, probably from heart trouble to which he had long been prone, on 28 November 1945, after the war's end. He was thought to be unlikely to recover sufficiently to resume his duties but was obviously well regarded for he was kept on the payroll until 8 May 1946 when the board resolved to give him one month's notice to retire and to make him a 'compassionate gift' of £25. Perhaps poor compensation for a man who had seen it all and worked through a great and tumultuous time but all that could be afforded by the company. How different things might have been if the million tons of munitions the system handled had been paid for at commercial rates.

 

Sources & Acknowledgements

 

National Archives (PRO): S&MR Minutes at RAIL 621; WO32/ 19181; AN2/50;

AN2/167;AN2/396;AN2/377-9

NRM Search Engine ;PSH series papers

Colonel Stephens Railway Archive

Bob Darwell, Industrial Railway Society

S&MR by Eric Tonks, IRS, 1949 &1972

S&MR under Military Control, Mike Christensen, WW2 Railway Study Group, 1997

War Department Locomotives, Tourret, Tourret Publications, 1976

Railway World, article A Railway Goes to War by W J Thorne (ghost written by R C Riley) October 1960

Locomotives at War, P M Kalla-Bishop, Bradford Barton

The Wickham Works List , K Gunner & M Kennard , Dennis Duck Pubs ,2004 SLS Journal , January 1946

Great Eastern Journals No 77 & 93

The Colonel, Various issues