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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

UK trains to the front


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Hi all,


I'm writing a piece of historical fiction and wanted some more information on trains in the UK in 1916 so that I can get my protagonist to the front! He is currently entrained from Victoria to Southampton and I was trying to ascertain whether all trains on this artery to the south coast would have been military or whether civilians would have still used these simultaneously. Can anyone offer any advice or direct me to where this information might be held?





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As with all things Great War, it depends!  Who is your protagonist? When and with whom was he travelling?  


The BEF mobilised en masse in August 1914 after they had gone things went back to normal for a short while, it was August after all.


  Throughout the war there were 'special' military trains and Victoria Station was the main hub for the leave trains.   The arrival and departure of the leave trains was a spectacle known to  every Londoner as thousands of men arrived and thousands more left for the Front.  It was described by one contemporary visitor as generating 'moving scenes that people can hardly speak of for their pathos'. 



Passenger trains, albeit restricted still ran but the focus at all the mainline stations was khaki and the needs of the men, including it must be said those provided outside the military.   


As the war progressed and against much protest restrictions on normal passenger travel were introduced but this was mainly as a consequence of demand from the military for increased traffic on the line and their demand for rolling stock and men in France.  However it might make it difficult for your protagonist to be accompanied but obviously not to meet someone on the train.


It was probably more likely that an officer would travel on a normal passenger service on this route but every man in a military or naval uniform travelling on the railway took precedence over civilian passengers.  


A useful starting point may be Pratt's two volume Railways and the Great War (1921)

Volume 1 is more relevant and may be downloaded here https://archive.org/details/cu31924092566128





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Hi Ken,


Thanks for your response - really helpful. Having had a browse through some of the suggested work, I can see that restrictions were introduced around January 1917. As he is travelling in April 1916 it would seem that passengers would be permitted to travel on the same train - but as you point out those in uniform would take precedence. With the upcoming Somme offensive it is therefore likely that virtually every individual would have been military or logistical, but not impossible for others to be onboard. 


My protagonist is heading to France in April 1916 as a member of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry 1/4 Battalion. He is travelling along, but I wondered whether he would have been sharing the train with only other soldiers or others too. It seems that the latter is the case but that they would have been hugely outnumbered and encouraged not to travel if necessary. 


Thanks for the pointers - really helpful!





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