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Vital Role Britain’s Railway And Its Staff Played In WW1

Vital Role Britain’s Railway And Its Staff Played In WW1

Exhibition Telling The Story Of The Vital Role Britain’s Railway And Its Staff Played In WW1 On Show At Manchester Victoria Station

The free exhibition uses original photographs, documents and historical facts to bring to life the achievements of the railway in helping to transport hundreds of thousands of troops and thousands of tonnes of equipment.

The city of Manchester was crucial in the war effort. During World War One, the Manchester Regiment formed an extra 38 battalions in addition to the pre-war establishment of two Regular and two Militia and six Territorial Battalions. This was mainly due to the volume of volunteers. It was awarded 72 Battle Honours and 11 Victoria Crosses and lost 13,770 men during the course of the war.

The exhibition will sit alongside the Soldiers Gate, which soldiers used to pass through prior to departing to on trains taking them to war. As part of the wider redevelopment of Manchester Victoria station by Network Rail, the Soldiers’ Gate is being refurbished and will include a new feature in the original gateway as a permanent reminder of the role the city played.

Unveiled today (12 March) and produced by the Rail Delivery Group, which brings together Network Rail and the owners of Britain’s passenger and freight train operators, it also tells the story of the women who kept the railway running when large numbers of men left to fight, sowing the seeds of social change in the process.

10,422 members of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway staff (27% of the total staff employed) served in the armed forces during World War One. Of these, 1465 railway men lost their lives during World War One. They are commemorated on a plaque displayed at Manchester Victoria, one of three war memorials at the station.

Whilst men were fighting on the front, many women took up railway jobs on the home front with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.

Part of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s works were given over to the manufacture of weapons, and from June 1915 onwards, around 2,200 shells were made every week.

After war was declared at 11pm on 4 August 1914, rail helped Britain’s armed forces to mobilise. The fast movement of troops from across the country, including cities such as Manchester, to the docks at Southampton was crucial.

Within the first few weeks of war, troop trains arrived at Southampton every 12 minutes across for 14 hours a day. By the end of August trains had transported:

Around 118,000 army personnel;

37,000 horses;

314 guns;

1,800 bicycles, and

Over 4,500 tonnes of baggage

Michael Roberts, director general of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “As the country continues to commemorate World War One, the exhibition marks the important contribution made by the railway during the conflict which also saw men from across the region depart Manchester by train to travel to the front line.

“The pictures and words in the exhibition, which has been touring some of Britain’s biggest stations since August 2014, also tells the story of how women kept the railway running when so many men left for war, meaning vital supplies were still able to reach our troops in France.”

Natalie Loughborough, customer service director for Northern Rail, which operates Manchester Victoria station, said: “When Britain declared war against Germany in 1914, it was the railway that enabled the rapid mobilisation of British forces and their equipment to France. Rail played a crucial role in the war effort and not just through transportation – stations were places to advertise vital information and feed and welcome home troops on leave or those who were brought back injured.

“It is also important that the bravery and efforts of people from different parts of the country are remembered and local history is preserved. Along with our permanent memorial in the station, we are pleased to help tell their story as well as highlight the role of the railway in the region to a new generation of rail staff and our customer.”

The exhibition will remain at Manchester Victoria station until 28 March.

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