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What the papers said
excerpts from the railway press from the 1840s to the 1990s


The purpose of this section of the IRS web site is to provide a glimpse of what the British railway press was saying about various issues in the past. Every month there will be a different selection of excerpts from the railway press from the 1990s to as far back as the 1840s, taken from the collections in the National Railway Museum Library here in York. Sometimes we will group the excerpts according to particular themes, but there will also be space for a more random selection of some interesting, entertaining, or just plain bizarre corners of the railway news of the past. We hope that you will find it interesting and illuminating. It's one way of finding out what has changed, and what has not, over the past century and a half of the railway press. Previous editions are now accessible through the archive page.

Next update: 3 December 2001.


November 2001
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Railway remembrance


186,475 railway workers from the railway companies of Great Britain and Ireland served under arms during the First World War. Of that total, 18,957 were killed in action or died of wounds received on active service. In this month of remembrance (Sunday 11 November is Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday in Great Britain and the Commonwealth) we look at how two railway companies - the Great Eastern and the Great Western - sought to remember and honour their dead after the war was over, through extracts from the pages of their company magazines.
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1922: The Great Eastern Railway Magazine reports on the unveiling of the GER war memorial at Liverpool Street Station, London

1921: The Great Western Railway Magazine reports on a war memorial erected by the staff at Swindon works

1921: The Great Western Railway Magazine reports on acts of remembrance on the GWR in London

1922: The Great Western Railway Magazine reports on the unveling and dedication of the GWR war memorial at Paddington Station, London


Day of calm sorrow, capped with tragedy, Thursday, June 22nd will live long in the memory of those present in the great Booking Hall at Liverpool Street Station at the unveiling and dedication of the lasting Memorial to our honoured Dead.

Over the station the flags floated half-mast high. Upon the main-line platform members of our own Old Comrades' Association units of the vast civilian army, brothers in the war-days, colleagues now in time of peace, formed a Guard of Honour to the gallant Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, Bart., G.C.B, who, alas, like those whose very memory he passed to perpetuity, was so soon to pay forfeit for his patriotism with his life.

A silent audience filled the hall, the sorrowing friends of those brave men whose names are writ upon the flag-draped scrolls. They rise as one as through the open door The Bishop of Norwich, Sir Henry Wilson, with Lord Claud Hamilton and many of the Directors and Officers of the Company all come to pay their homage to the dead.

The service, impressive in its simplicity, commenced. Boys of St. Stephen's Choir, Bush Hill Park, assisted by members of the staff, led in the singing of that time-honoured hymn "Let saints on earth in concert sing" and as the sweet sad strains died down, the Bishop offered prayer. Prayer for Pardon; Prayer for Peace; Prayer for the Dead. The Rev. J. Cooper (of Dovercourt) then read a message of comfort. "But the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God – They that put their trust in Him shall understand the truth."

A reverent pause followed ere Lord Claud Hamilton rose to introduce Sir Henry Wilson. In a brief speech he aptly described the War Memorial as "beautiful and dignified" and placed a charge upon the staff to keep that beauty unsullied, its purity undefiled, that future generations would be able to realise what the present generation considered a fitting memorial "to those who died that we might live." He then invited Sir Henry Wilson to unveil the monument. The distinguished Field Marshal stepped down, released the cord, and the Union Jack fell away, revealing the imposing tablet of marble, white and black, twenty feet high and twenty-five wide; its fluted columns, laurel-twined, binding together as it were eleven panels upon which, in bold black lettering appear the names of the fallen. The crowning pediment bears in colours the crest of the Company, surmounting this inscription:-

"To the Glory of God and in grateful memory of those members of the Great Eastern Railway Company who, in response to the call of their King and Country, sacrificed their lives during the Great War."

One long, long gaze; an indrawn breath of admiration at a work so well conceived, so admirably executed, then, Sir Henry Wilson, facing the monument, came to the salute - a soldier's tribute to the Company's dead.

The words that followed, his last speech, are worthy of the man:-

"It is always a proud duty for one soldier to speak of others. All over our country there are these memorials to those who carried out their duty in the great war.
"We soldiers count as our gains our losses. These names that we love most to honour are those who died in this great cause. On this tablet are placed the names of 1,200 or 1,400 of your comrades who, doing what they thought was right, paid the penalty."

Sir Henry closed his speech with the following quotation from Kipling's ‘Recessional':

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart;
Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!"

The Bishop then proceeded to dedicate the Memorial "to the Glory of God and in memory of the men of the Great Eastern Railway Company who gave their lives for us in the Great War." "O God our help in ages past" was sung, seldom, perhaps, with greater feeling.

Then in full rich notes, reverberating, echoing under the high arches of the station roof, the Last Post was sounded by Grenadier Guards. Réveillé followed, and as the echoes died away, the Bishop pronounced the Blessing. A fitting conclusion to what had been a solemn and beautiful ceremony was the hearty rendering of the first verse of the National Anthem. The floral tributes laid at the base of the monument were many, including magnificent tokens from the Directors, Sir Henry Thornton (General Manager), The Old Comrades' Association and the staff.

Explanatory note: while returning through London from Liverpool Street Station after performing the unveiling ceremony described above, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson was murdered by Irish republican gunmen. The GER subsequently erected a memorial tablet to him beside the Liverpool Street war memorial.

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A tablet erected to the glorious memory of men from the "A" Erecting Shop at the Great Western Railway locomotive works at Swindon who fell in the war was unveiled by the Mayor (Ald. E. Jones) in the presence of several hundreds of onlookers on February 19th. The tablet has been put up on a convenient spot. On the memorial are recorded the names of 217 men from the shop who rallied to the Colours and have returned safely, together with 18 others who made the supreme sacrifice.

At the unveiling ceremony were the Mayor, the Archdeacon of Swindon (Dr. Talbot), Mr. C. B. Collett, O.B.E., Mr. W. A. Stanier, Mr. C. T. Cuss, Mr. R. H. Grey, the Rev. W. A. Prunell, O.B.E., Mr. E. T. J. Plaister, and Mr. G. W. Davies.

The Mayor referred to the loyalty displayed by the men of the G.W.R. when the war broke out, and said they were met on that occasion to do honour to the memory of those of their friends and fellow workers who had given up their lives in the service of their country. Both the management and the workers had identified themselves with the memorial.

After the Mayor had unveiled the tablet the "last post" was sounded, and all assembled joined in singing "Nearer, my God to Thee." Then the Archdeacon of Swindon dedicated the memorial, and the Rev. W. A. Prunell offered a prayer. The proceedings were concluded with the singing of "Onward, Christian soldiers," and a verse of the National Anthem.

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Many memorial services were held at Great Western stations on the morning of November 11th. At Paddington station - before the Roll of Honour on No. 1 platform - an impressive service was conducted by the Rev. Prebendary E. N. Sharpe, Vicar of St. James' Parish Church, and Rural Dean of Paddington ... Among those present were the G.W.R. Company's General Manager, Secretary, Superintendent of the Line, Solicitor, Chief Engineer, Electrical Engineer, the London divisional superintendent, and the Paddington station master.

The Roll of Honour was draped in purple, with the Union Jack, while upon and around it was a profusion of beautiful wreaths and other floral tributes.

Following the two minutes' solemn silence that fell upon the great terminus, the Vicar led in the Lord's Prayer and afterwards the National Anthem.

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At Paddington goods station a service, attended by all grades of the staff, was conducted by the Rev. Higgins, of Kilburn. Wreaths contributed for by the members of the staff were placed on the Roll of Honour by Mr. A. Maynard, the goods agent. Hymns were sung, and the "Last Post" and "Réveillé" were sounded.

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At Smithfield goods depot a large number of members of the staff and representatives from the district goods manager's office assembled on the goods platform. Led by the G.W.R. Smithfield Choir, some appropriate hymns were sung by the gathering, and the Choir gave a rendering of Sullivan's "Hymn of the Homeland." Mr. Strudwick presided at the Organ and Mr. Hayward conducted the service.

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The foregoing are representative of solemn gatherings that took place at stations and depots of all departments in all parts of the Great Western system. Upon the Rolls of Honour that are exhibited at many hundreds of places throughout the lines wreaths, either from the staff or relatives of the fallen, were placed in grateful memory of the Company's employees who gave their lives in the Great War.

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Before a huge concourse of people the Great Western Railway war memorial was unveiled at Paddington station on Armistice Day. Probably 6,000 people had assembled to witness the ceremony. They were chiefly relatives of Great Western men who fell in the war. Many had come from all parts of the system, having been brought as the Company's guests, by special and ordinary trains.

The position of the memorial is on the principal main line departure platform (No. 1) under the central transept and immediately in front of the royal waiting room. To provide a sufficiently capacious grand stand for spectators of the unveiling ceremony a stage was erected on platforms Nos. 2 and 3, and large-type well carriage trucks, upon which stepped platforms had been constructed, were placed on the lines between Nos. 1 and 2. By this arrangement there was formed a vast continuous stand facing the war memorial.

The gathering itself was a moving spectacle, with its thousands of sad and many tear-stained faces, and numberless hands fondly holding bunches of flowers that were to be laid, after the ceremony, at the foot of the memorial.

The great clock showed a minute or two after 10.45, when the service was opened with a reference by the Vicar and Rural Dean of Paddington, the Rev. Prebendary E. N. Sharpe, M.A., to the significance of Armistice Day, followed by the hymn, "O God, our help in ages past." The singing was led by members of the Great Western Railway (London) Musical Society and of the Swindon choir, under the conductorship of Mr. Joseph Ivimey.

The memorial was unveiled immediately previous to the two minutes' silence by the Rt. Hon. The Viscount Churchill, G.C.V.O. (Chairman of the Great Western Railway Company), with whom were His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury... [p. 358>]

Before unveiling the memorial, which was draped with the Union Jack, Lord Churchill, addressing the assembly, said:-

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are assembled here this morning on the fourth anniversary and at the solemn moment of the signing of the Armistice which put an end to the fighting in the great and terrible war. We are assembled for the purpose of unveiling a lasting memorial to those gallant men, members of the Great Western Railway Company - no fewer than 2,524 of them - who gave their lives so heroically for their country's sake. The memorial is the work of the eminent sculptor, Mr. Jagger, who stands close to me here, and who himself fought for his country and served in the trenches. It depicts a fighting man, though at the moment in no fighting humour, for he is reading a letter from his dear ones at home. I can only hope that when you gaze upon it you may find some solace in the remembrance of those many letters that you wrote to your loved ones at the front, and that you will realise not only what a comfort they were to them, but also how they imbued them with fresh strength and fresh spirit to endure the many horrors and hardships of war.

"I feel certain that at this moment you would also wish to join me in paying grateful tribute to those other 22,955 men, all Great Western men, who also willingly came forward during the hour of their country's need, and who were equally ready, if necessary, to sacrifice their lives as have their fallen comrades, but who through the mercy of God have been spared to come back to their homes. It is only another instance of that patriotism and loyalty which have made the British Empire the foremost in the world. I am proud to be the chief of a body of men upon whom I [p. 359>] know that I can absolutely rely and trust at any moment when called upon to do their duty.

"It is now approaching the hour of eleven, and I will unveil the memorial, and the solemn silence which will then be observed will be broken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has kindly come here to-day to dedicate the memorial; and to whom I feel sure that you will wish me to offer our most sincere and heartfelt thanks."

The memorial was then unveiled. This was followed by the two minutes' silence. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave the dedicatory prayer, and then addressed the assembly in these words -

"My friends, Armistice Day will, while life shall last, be memorable to us all. To every thoughtful man or woman, our two minutes' silence are among the most voiceful moments of the year. We have marked the fourth anniversary here and now by this dedication, offered in proud bereavement and in deliberate Christian hope.

"Up and down the land, on churchyard wall and village green, we are adding to our country's history, in the thousands of our local memorials, an imperishable record. It is well so to do, for from every single parish in the land brave men went forth, at the call of King and Country, at the call of God and Right, to make their sacrifice. The record gives now sacredness to every village. It strikes a note of high meaning and of bright example in the quiet story of nearly every family in the land.

"To-day we mark a wider thought, a far-flung comradeship. We think with grateful hearts of the mighty band of public servants holding a place, high or humble, in one of the sturdiest and most honourable fellowships which England knows - the Great Western Railway Company. On those public servants and on their unseen care, along hundreds of miles of travel, we have, as year follows year, been daily, nightly, accustomed to depend. From that great fellowship there went forth gallantly and gladly at duty's call, in the Great War years, some twenty-five thousand men, of whom 2,524 came not back, but gave their lives by sea and land that we might live. With bowed heads and throbbing hearts we remember their sacrifice to-day. "From what they did and dared we have learned to how high a level the ordinary man - for these were ordinary men - can, God helping him, attain, when the call to tasks of high enterprise rings out. It is an inspiration no less than a remembrance. God give us grace, as the years of life run on, to bear our part on behalf of whatsoever things are just and true, whatsoever is lovely and of good report. The daily opportunity is ours, be it in great things or in small. As we offer our prayers and fashion our resolves, the sacred memory of to-day should stand us in good stead. God give us, in His care for everyone, the perseverance and the power, as Christian men, to go from strength to strength."

On behalf of the Great Western Railway Company, the Chairman laid a wreath on the memorial, and on behalf of the whole of the officers and staff, one was deposited by the General Manager.

The ceremony closed by the singing of the National Anthem, and afterwards the bereaved relatives and friends laid their personal tributes around the base of the memorial. Following the ceremony, the relatives and friends were provided with light refreshments, a large buffet having been erected specially for the occasion.

[...] The memorial is in the form of a wall treatment, and consists of a bronze figure of a soldier standing against a background of marble and granite. The soldier is dressed in the rough habiliments of war, with his greatcoat loosely thrown over his shoulders. He has just opened a letter from home, which he is in the act of reading.

On the great white background are engraved, [p. 540>] at the sides, the badges of the Navy and the Air Force.

A vellum Roll, on which are inscribed the names of the 2,524 men who gave their lives, is deposited beneath the figure, in a sealed casket made at Swindon works.

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Compiled by Dr Ralph Harrington, Institute of Railway Studies, York.


Updated 1 November 2001