Edwin A. Pratt.

British railways and the great war ; organisation, efforts, difficulties and achievements online

. (page 69 of 82)
Online LibraryEdwin A. PrattBritish railways and the great war ; organisation, efforts, difficulties and achievements → online text (page 69 of 82)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



chief berth, used for the Calais steamers, is reached by a ramp at the
seaward end of each of the station platforms. The distance between the
point where passengers step ashore at this berth and the nearer of the
two ramps is only about 80 ft. The other passenger berths are equally
convenient of access. A coaling berth is also provided.

The station proper offers every practicable facility for ensuring
alike the efficient handling of traffic and the comfort and convenience
of passengers. Covering an area of three acres, it has two island plat-
forms, each about 700 ft. long and 60 ft. wide, and accommodation is
afforded for loading and unloading four trains simultaneously. On
each platform there are three blocks of brick buildings, each 100 ft. in
length and 25 ft. in width. These buildings are allocated to a variety
of purposes, including waiting-rooms, tea-rooms, dining and refreshment
rooms, parcels-room, railway offices and so on. At the end of the plat-
form nearest to the old Admiralty Pier provision has been made for a Post
Office, and at the end of the other platform there is a Customs Examina-
tion Shed which has a length of 450 ft. and a width of 55 ft. Passengers
proceed direct into the shed from the boat, and, on the completion of the
inspection, go on to the platform where their train wiU be waiting.

The carriage shed immediately adjoins the old Admiralty Pier. It
forms a structure 770 ft. long by 63 ft. broad, and is intended mainly
for the cleaning of carriages.

It was, of course, upon the South Eastern and Chatham Railway
Company that the cost of constructing the station fell, and their outlay
on this account amounted to close on ;£300,ooo. Allowing for the £400,000
expended by the Dover Harbour Board on the work of reclamation, the
total cost thus came to, approximately, £700,000.

Of this important and costly undertaking the Government were able
to take advantage from almost the earliest stage in the war.

Difficulties certainly arose at the outset in dealing at Dover with the
sick and wounded troops from France, owing to the unfinished condition
of the new Marine Station. The situation was further complicated by
the concurrent arrival of shipload after shipload of refugees from Belgium,
the sum total thereof dealt with at Dover before the influx ceased being
over 15,000. The reception of sick and wounded was transferred, first
to Folkestone, and afterwards to Southampton ; but the necessary works
to complete the Dover Marine Station were so far advanced by the end
of 1914 that ambulance-train traffic could be dealt with in it on and from
January 2nd, 1915. Between that date and the end of February, 1919,
over 4,000 ambulance boats were received at the berths above-mentioned,
and 7,781 ambulance trains, conve3dng 1,260,000 patients, were dispatched
to all parts of England, Wales and Scotland from the Marine Station thus
made available. (See Chapter XIX, " Military Ambulance Trains,"
pp. 214-17.)

From July, 1917, overseas leave and draft men were conveyed via
Dover Marine, and from that date up to and including February, 1919,
the further traffic thus dealt with showed the following totals : By


sea, 1,993 boats and 1,774,932 passengers ; by rail, 3,372 trains and
1.774.330 passengers.

Repatriated British prisoners of war began to arrive at Dover on
November 17th, 1918. By February 28th, 1919, l8o boats conveying
55.398 passengers had been received and 130 trains convejdng 54.083
passengers had been dispatched.

In January, 1919, the large Customs Examination Shed in the Marine
Station was utiUsed for the sorting out of demobihsed men, who began
to arrive at Dover in large numbers and, after going through the necessary
formalities and being provided with bags of refreshments, were dispatched
by special trains to their allotted dispersal camps. The number who thus
passed through the Station down to March 20th, 1920, was 720,664.

So vast, so varied and so exacting an amount of traffic as that here
recorded would have been an impossibility at Dover under the earlier
conditions of the old Admiralty Pier, and the practical completion of the
new Marine Station by the end of 1914 was most fortunate and of great
importance to the country from the point of view of cross-Channel

Down to January i;8th, 1919, when the Dover-Ostend service was
resumed, no part of the station had been opened for public traffic, so
that until then the whole benefit of new works upon which, as we have
seen, the railway companies had spent so large a sum of money had
accrued to the Government for the purposes of the war.

Folkestone in War-time.

On or about August 20th, 1914 — the exact date is now uncertain —
some fishing boats and colliers arrived in Folkestone harbour loaded up
in such a way as they had never been before. They brought with them
a number of homeless people from Belgium who were still so much under
the influence of terror on account of the scenes through which they had
passed that many of them at first refused to leave the boats and could
only with much difficulty be induced so to do.

When the good-hearted fisher-folk resident in the port heard the
news, they hastened to the harbour, took the refugees to their homes
and gave them food and shelter as far as their means allowed. Those
means, however, were soon exhausted and the help of certain local
ministers was sought and gladly rendered.

But these earliest arrivals were only the advance guard of a nation in
flight, and an elaborate organisation had quickly to be set up for receiving,
caring for and sending on to London or elsewhere the refugees who,
within the course of the next few days, were pouring into Folkestone in
their hundreds and thousands. Eventually the sum total of those who
were thus dealt with and were either sent on at the expense of the Local
Government Board or else paid their own fares was no fewer than 108,500.

So Folkestone was the first port and town in this country to come
into direct contact with the horrors to which the Great War was to lead ;


and so, too, it was that the South Eastern and Chatham, already carrying
so much miHtary traffic, had to provide for the transport from Folkestone
of a further i;oo,ooo passengers, a large proportion of whom they had
already brought from Belgium in their cross-Channel steamers.

Then, in October, 1914, Folkestone was called upon to deal with an
overflow of British and Belgian wounded who could not, at that time,
be received at Dover, and the railway had once more to come to the
relief of the town by conveying elsewhere those of the sufferers for whom
the available local accommodation did not suffice.

It was, however, not until about March, 1915, that Folkestone
entered upon the really great part which, from a miKtary point of view,
she was to take in the prosecution of the war.

Down to that time the port of Southampton, from which the first
Expeditionary Force was dispatched in August, 1914, with such complete
and remarkable success, had dealt with the bulk of the reinforcements that
followed. It was now thought better, for various reasons, to adopt the
shorter route, via Folkestone, for troops sent to the Western Front, and
arrangements were made under which Folkestone specialised in the
conveyance of personnel — drafts and reinforcements in one direction and
leave-men in both. The ordinary cross-Channel traffic, including that
which had been transferred from Dover to Folkestone, was continued
at the latter port until November 29th, 1915 ; but from this date civilian
passengers were debarred from crossing between Folkestone and Boulogne.
That route was thenceforward reserved for military traffic except in
the case of specially-important personages, members of the Young Men's
Christian Association or other organisations engaged in war-work, and,
later on, a few ordinary civilians who were allowed by the Passport
Department to cross via Folkestone and Boulogne instead of via South-
ampton and Havre. Eventually the number of persons embarking or
landing at Folkestone between August 5th, 1914, and June 28th, 1919, was
over ten and a half million, the exact figures being : —

British officers and men and Allied officers and men . . . 9,271,726

Civilians engaged in Red Cross and other War-work . , . 1,233,177

German prisonere of war . . , ... . . 2,010


This total represents, approximately, the number of troops and of
individuals concerned in the war who not only passed through the port
of Folkestone during the period in question but had, also, in most cases,
to be provided with rail transport by the South Eastern and Chatham,
mainly between Folkestone and London.

Much more, again, was involved in such transport than the conveyance
by rail even of so great a number of persons to or from the vessels in
which they were to make, or had made, their crossing.

Within a short time of the adoption of Folkestone as a port specially
suitable for dealing with military personnel, it was found that occasions


were arising when, on account of weather conditions, changes in the
Channel minefields, alterations in route or in the hour of departure,^ or
for other reasons, the sailings of particular troopships had to be delayed
or cancelled, this being done often at the last moment, when the troops
who were to cross in those vessels had either arrived at or were on their
way to Folkestone. This meant that the men had to be accommodated
in the town until such time as their passage could be arranged.

In the first instance provision was made for them by a resort to the
system of billeting ; but in proportion as their numbers increased it was
found necessary to adopt other measures. Accordingly, in August,
1915, the War Office began to organise " rest camps " at Folkestone.
This was done, partly by taking over successive blocks of houses mainly
on or adjoining the Leas, and partly by utilising the Folkestone Drill
Hall. The number to be provided for increased stiU more rapidly from
April, 1918, when American troops, to the eventual extent of close on
19,000, made a short stay at Folkestone before crossing to France. The
Hotel Metropole was taken over for the housing of members of the
Women's Legion (afterwards incorporated in Queen Mary's Army Auxili-
ary Corps), who served as cooks, etc., in the camps, and contributed
greatly to the comfort of the troops.

Then in April, 1917, a Labour Concentration Camp was set up to
accommodate (in tents) 2,000 Chinese and South African natives who
were to go to the Western Front to undertake such heavy work as the
loading or unloading of shell. Nor did this one concentration camp
suffice. It was soon followed by an auxiliary camp for another 2,000
of the same class of workers. In the summer of 1917 the services of the
Chinese labourers were utilised for building two blocks of reinforced
concrete hutments, with kitchens, sick-wards, etc., and dignified with
the name of " Cherry Garden City."

During 1917 and 1918, the average number of men passing through
these various camps daily was between 8,000 and 9,000. The highest
figures of aU were attained in March and April, 1918, when men were
being rushed to the Western Front for the beginning of the last terrific
struggle with the enemy, nine boats crossing every day to Boulogne
with reinforcements. The stream of troops then passing through the
camps averaged 12,000 men daily, with a maximum of 16,000 for one day.

In addition to what was being done in Folkestone itself, the activities
of Shorncliffe, alongside, are also to be taken into account. When Lord
Kitchener's new armies were being formed, thousands of the men who
joined them received their training at Shorncliffe. In February, 1915,
Canadian troops began to arrive, and they kept on coming in such numbers
that by the end of 1916 about 70,000 had been trained, equipped and sent
on to France. The number in camp within the Shornclife area during
1917 was approximately 30,000, and the number during 1918 about

Hythe, which might also count as a suburb of Folkestone, became, in
1 At one period boats were allowed to leave only after dark.


turn, with its ranges and other conveniences, a centre for the training
of airmen in the art and practice of aerial gunnery.

Under these and various other conditions Folkestone assumed the
aspect of a cosmopolitan city. There were to be seen in the town, on the
Leas, or. passing along the Lower Sandgate Road, British, Dominion,
Ciolonial, American, French, Russian or Serbian troops, together with
contingents of Indians, Chinese, Kaffirs, West Indians and Fijians.
Not only, too, was the South Eastern and Chatham concerned in the
conveyance of these hundreds of thousands of men, gathered together
from all parts of the world, but provision had to be made, also, for the
transport of the food supplies, the materials and other necessaries wanted
in connection with the camps.

Nor did the responsibilities of the railway company in regard to cross-
Channel traffic end with the conveyance of personnel. Between August
4th, 1914, and June 28th, tgig, they had further carried by the Folke-
stone route 93,433 tons of Government stores ; 63,740 tons of supplies
for Expeditionary Force Canteens ; over 12,000 tons of materials and
stores for Red Cross Societies, and (in addition to the military mails
spoken of above) 192,000 tons of general cargo.

Such, indeed, was the importance of that short bit of railway line
between the Central Station, Folkestone, and the harbour and S.E. & C.R.
pier which had so much to do with the passing of all this military traffic
to and from France that the Germans might well attempt to effect its
destruction from the air, as they sought to do in their raid of May 25th,
1917.1 They did bring about a massacre of innocents in Folkestone
town on that occasion ; but the railway remained intact, and the flow
through the port of men and matter for the Western Front went on as

Purchase of Railway Material for Overseas.

Within a very short time of the outbreak of the war, the French
railways found themselves faced by an imperative necessity for acqmring
large supplies of railway material alike for the repair or renewal of their
existing lines and for the construction of new ones required to meet the
needs of the military situation. This railway material, however, was not
then obtainable in France, and it was accordingly determined to purchase
it in England. Yet even here a serious difficulty arose. Every man on
the staffs of the French railways concerned who could possibly be spared
had been called on to join the Fighting Forces, and there was no staff
available for the taking up of what would be an entirely new branch of
work for the Railway Administrations in procuring the necessary supplies
from British manufacturers. The Chemin de Fer du Nord was especially
affected by these adverse conditions, while the same difficulty was also
experienced by the Belgian State Railways.

When these facts were made known to the Railway Executive
Committee by the British War Office, and a request was made for the

1 See Chapter XXX, " Railways and Air-Raids," p. 435.


assistance of the railway companies here, the services of the South
Eastern and Chatham Company's Chief Engineer, Mr. P. C. Tempest
(now General Manager), were placed at the disposal both of the French
railways and of the Belgian Government for the acquiring on their behalf
of the material in question. This offer was gratefully accepted, the
Belgian Ministry of Railways and the Chemin de Fer du Nordin particular,
among the French companies, being especially eager to take advantage of

The task thus undertaken meant that Mr. Tempest was to make
contracts for the production of the requisite material at works or factories
all over great Britairt, and that he was to assume the responsibihty
either of supervising the testing of the work or of inspecting it, or both,
before it was dispatched across the Channel. For the carr5dng out of
these duties a considerable degree of organisation was necessary, and
even with good organisation a great amount of labour was involved.

The total value, in fact, of the material dealt with, down to the end
of 1918, was no less than ^2,500,000, while among the items which had
then been dehvered to the French and Belgian authorities, mainly through
the agency of Mr. Tempest, were 71,099 tons of rails and fishplates ;
11,997 tons of bolts and coach-screws ; 6,749 tons of bridge work,
girders, plates and angles ; 2,620 tons of cast-iron chairs ; 1,616 tons of
signalhng apparatus ; 240,000 signalling pulleys ; 70 mUes of pipes,
weighing 10,307 tons ; and 120 steam-engines, weighing 522 tons.

War Work of South Eastern and Chatham Steamers.

The fleet of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company
comprised, in August, 1914, seven passenger and eight cargo steamships,
as follows : —

Passenger Steamers.

Cargo Steamers.













The Queen.

Achille Adam.

C. W. Eborall.

Two other passenger steamers, the Biarritz and the Maid of Orleans,
were added during the war, increasing the total to seventeen.

Under the conditions detailed in Chapter XXIX, " Railway Com-
panies' Steamships," all vessels owned by controlled railway companies
on the outbreak of the war, and any purchased or built in substitution
thereof, were to be regarded as taken over — equally with the railways
themselves — imder the Act of 1871. In accordance with this tmder-
standing, the whole of the above-mentioned vessels were requisitioned by
the Government with the exception of the Biarritz, which was chartered


from the Managing Committee by the Government and not requisitioned
by them under the Act of 1871, as were the other vessels.

Within three days of the declaration of war, the whole of the cargo
steamers mentioned above were, on thus passing under State control,
sent to Newhaven to convey advance troops and Government stores from
that port to French bases. It is claimed for the Hythe that she was the
first steamer to land British troops at Le Havre during the war. Of the
passenger steamers, three, Empress, Engadine and Riviera, were fitted
up as seaplane carriers and taken away from their home ports to be used
by the Admiralty for special services in foreign waters. The four
others, Victoria, Invicta, Onward and The Queen, remained at Folkestone or
Dover and continued to run in the cross-Channel services, conve3mig,
however, for the most part, military passengers, stores and baggage.
Those of the public cross-Channel services running from and to Dover
were transferred to Folkestone the day before war was declared, the port
of Dover being then closed to all but naval vessels. At the end of
September, 1914, the four passenger steamers were utilised by the
Government for a regular daily service between Dover and Dunkirk for
mihtary purposes. In the following month they were employed to bring
Belgian refugees to this country from Ostend. Troops were conveyed by
them between Folkestone and Boulogne or Calais.

Altogether these vessels transported, down to the end of 1918, over
three and a half million troops from Folkestone to Boulogne, two and a
half million from Boulogne to Folkestone, and nearly a quarter of a
milhon in each direction between Folkestone and Calais. This they
did, also, without a single casualty — a remarkable fact, having regard
to the activities of enemy submarines, especially of the minelaying type,
off the ports and in the Channel. The reason for this great achievement
was, of course, mainly due to the splendid protection afforded by the Dover
Patrol ; though the results attained also bear testimony to the degree of
efficiency with which the services themselves must have been conducted.
Many narrow escapes from disaster were avoided only by the skilfiil
seamanship and the resourcefulness of those concerned in the making of
passages which had become exceptionally dangerous.

In addition to the transport of troops and members of the various
auxihaiy services, the passenger vessels carried an enormous volume of
other traffic, including rails (350,000 toiis), and Government stores
(100,000 tons) of every description. They were specially retained from
time to time to convey H.M. the King and other Royal personages to and
from France. It was, also, a matter of fairly frequent occurrence for
special steamers to be requisitioned for members of the Government
who were crossing to France under conditions of urgency or importance.

When, in March, 1916, the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway
Company's steamer Sussex was torpedoed in the English Channel, it was
thought expedient to alter the appearance of the South Eastern and
Chatham boats, having regard to the large number of passages they
were themselves making, and action was taken accordingly. In the


following year further changes were effected, and the vessels were painted
a uniform grey colour. Early in 1918 the " dazzle " scheme originated
by the Admiralty was applied to them, and in this camouflaged condition
they remained until the war was over.

Another measure adopted, in March, 1918, was the defensive arming
of the cargo vessels running in the transport service between Folkestone
and Calais. Arrangements had been completed, just before the Armistice
was signed, to arm the larger transports, as well ; but the change in the
military position rendered the adoption of this course no longer necessary.
Meanwhile, however, it had been decided that all masters and chief
officers of the company's boats should undergo the five days' Submarine-
Menace Course of Instruction instituted by the Admiralty for officers
of the mercantile marine.

Passing on now to services rendered by particular vessels belonging
to the company's fleet, the fact may be mentioned that the day after the
Empress was handed over to the Admiralty, at Sheemess, she was put on
patrol duty for air service between that port and Ostend. In this
capacity she acted as guard over the improvised air station at Ostend,
where a fortification was erected to cover retreat to the ship in case of
need, the enemy being then on the outskirts of the town. She also
acted as tender to large troopships, going alongside of them in the road-
stead and transferring troops to the harbour. After refitting at Chatham,
she was attached to the Harwich Patrol and took part with the light-
, cruiser squadron in several sweeps in the Bight, the most notable being
the air-raid on Cuxhaven on Christmas Eve, 1914. In this operation,
the Empress was under fire from the enemy airship, L 6, for over an hour,
the dexterity with which she was manoeuvred frustrating every effort
made by the airship to get directly above her, so that all the bombs
dropped fell on either one quarter or the other. In June, 1915, the
Empress was refitted at Liverpool and, after being provided with seaplanes,
was based on Queenstown. Whilst in this service she was instrumental
in saving 300 Mves from the torpedoed Hesperian.

For some time the Engadine and the Riviera were attached to Com-
modore (afterwards Admiral) Tyrwhitt's command, taking part in many
operations in the Bight, and being present at the air-raid on Cuxhaven.
They saw much service in the numerous attacks on the Belgian coast
and were especially active in the chasing of enemy submarines. Later on
the Engadine was attached to the battle cruiser fleet at Scapa Flow,
and was able to render excellent service in the Battle of Jutland. Her
achievements have already taken their place in the history of that
memorable event, but a brief reference may be made to them here.

The Engadine left base with the battle cruiser squadron on May 31st,
1916, to sweep the North Sea, and it was when about five miles ahead
of the British Fleet that she first sighted the German ships. A seaplane
was put up from the Engadine to report as to the strength of the opposing
forces. Fire was opened on the enemy just before four o'clock in the
afternoon, and the great battle was soon in full progress. The Engadine


was detailed to submarine-screen the battle cruisers during the operations.

Online LibraryEdwin A. PrattBritish railways and the great war ; organisation, efforts, difficulties and achievements → online text (page 69 of 82)