Tracks to the Trenches


Cliff Thomas reports from the Front Line in deepest Staffordshire.

THE Moseley Railway Trust’s (MRT) Tracks to the Trenches event made its debut in 2014 at the Apedale Valley Light Railway, a century after the First World War broke out.

The formula was repeated in 2016, 100 years after the Battle of the Somme began and Allied use of light railways took off, with a third event taking place on July 13-15 this year as the anniversary of the Armistice approaches.

The basis of Tracks to the Trenches is commemoration of the role of light railways in the Great War. The main passenger-carrying line at Apedale represents the steam-worked element of the First World War light railway systems which carried troops and supplies to forward depots, from where small internal combustion locomotives worked over 2ft-gauge tracks to the forward areas of the battlefield.

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The latter element is presented at Apedale in the form of a link from the yard area beside the main line to the field railway system, which has been progressively expanded.

The War Office Locomotive Trust’s ex-WDLR Hunslet 4-6-0T No. 303, hauling a public passenger train, passes Hedd Jones’ five-ton Marshall steam tractor works number 68574 The Mascot. The 1915-built tractor is also a First World War veteran having been requisitioned for war use, probably involving hauling horse bedding and/or fodder to railheads for onward transport to France of Belgium. At the controls of No. 303 is Martyn Ashworth, leader of the volunteer team who worked for six years to restore the loco to steam. CLIFF THOMAS

This system includes a branch serving a section of replicated First World War trenches, and during Tracks to the Trenches skirts a military encampment and a display arena where re-enactors present demonstrations of military operations.

The event is far more than a conventional gala and Mortons Media, publisher of The Railway Magazine, Heritage Railway and Rail Express, was again delighted to work with the organisers as official media partner as well as sponsor of the visit of the Greensand Railway Museum Trust’s (GRMT) First World War veteran Baldwin 4-6-0T WDLR No. 778.

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Operations on the main line comprised alternate passenger and war-era freight trains, hauled by a rotation of the steam locomotives. Following its private launch at Statfold Barn Railway on July 8 (RM Aug), the War Office Locomotive Trust’s ex-WDLR Hunslet 4-6-0T No. 303 (1215/1916) made its first public appearance in steam.

Joining it was the aforementioned Leighton Buzzard Railway-based Baldwin No. 778, which had visited for the 2014 and 2016 events and had to be present to appear alongside No. 303 – the first time these iconic First World War 4-6-0Ts had been in steam together since 1917.

Read more and view more images in the September issue of The RM – on sale now!

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