Great War Railwaymen

Great War Railwaymen

This really is a quality book on what is an oft-neglected subject and is undoubtedly the most comprehensive work ever conducted in its field. Quite simply, the contributrion of the railway to the war effort between 1914 and 1918 both at home and overseas was crucial; without the railwaymen and the permanent way infrastructure, engines and rolling stock then the war would have ground to a halt and it was the only way that vast quantities of materiel, supplies and men could be moved around.

 Jeremy Higgins has meticulously researched just about every aspect of the railway at war, including the personal stories of over 12,500 of the astonishing 20,000 railwaymen who died in military service. Of those, the author details over 1,000 and thus brings alive the story of the railwaymen who served, as well as those who continued to serve in railway-related occupations, and the price that was often paid. His work also gives a good idea of range, scope and scale of the effort that was required to keep the service running and the war effort sustained. It is an effort that in part is portrayed on the jacket illustration showing British and French troops struggling to recover a derailed locomotive at Maricourt in Septermber 1916.

The detail of railway operations, including in far-flung places like Egypt and Palestine, is covered in superb detail together with accounts from the Home Front and Western Front alike including some harrowing detail of the Quintishill Railway disaster in Scotland on 22 May 1915 which took the lives of 272 men, soldiers who were simply passengers caught up in this devastating railway accident.

As a railwaymen himself, the author clearly has both a passion for and an affinity with life and work on the railway, although it was often death on the railway that stalked his predecessors of 100 years ago.

This is a book that will appeal greatly to those interested in looking at overlooked aspects of the First World War and to railway enthusiasts alike. It is also a book that can be most thoroughly recommended.

(extract of review by James McCarthy-Edwardes)

HIGGINS (Jeremy), Great War Railwaymen. Britain's railway company workers at war 1914 - 1918, London, Uniform Press, 2014, 348 pages

Uniform Press