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These are the ghosts of The Trains Now Departed. They are the railway lines, and services that ran on them that have disappeared and gone forever. Our lost legacy includes lines prematurely axed, often with a gripping and colourful tale of their own, as well as marvels of locomotive engineering sent to the scrapyard, and grand termini felled by the wrecker's ball. Then there are the lost delights of train travel, such as haute cuisine in the dining car, the grand expresses with their evocative names, and continental boat trains to romantic far-off places.
The Trains Now Departed tells the stories of some of the most fascinating lost trains of Britain, vividly evoking the glories of a bygone age. In his personal odyssey around Britain Michael Williams tells the tales of the pioneers who built the tracks, the yarns of the men and women who operated them and the colourful trains that ran on them. It is a journey into the soul of our railways, summoning up a magic which, although mired in time, is fortunately not lost for ever.
THIS EDITION REVISED AND UPDATED TO INCLUDE MAPS.
But there is a story that has hitherto been largely overlooked. It is a tale of quiet heroism, a story of ordinary people who fought, with enormous self-sacrifice, not with tanks and guns, but with elbow grease and determination. It is the story of the British railways and, above all, the extraordinary men and women who kept them running from 1939 to 1945.
Churchill himself certainly did not underestimate their importance to the wartime story when, in 1943, he praised ‘the unwavering courage and constant resourcefulness of railwaymen of all ranks in contributing so largely towards the final victory.’
And what a story it is.
The railway system during the Second World War was the lifeline of the nation, replacing vulnerable road transport and merchant shipping. The railways mobilised troops, transported munitions, evacuated children from cities and kept vital food supplies moving where other forms of transport failed. Railwaymen and women performed outstanding acts of heroism. Nearly 400 workers were killed at their posts and another 2,400 injured in the line of duty. Another 3,500 railwaymen and women died in action. The trains themselves played just as vital a role. The famous Flying Scotsman train delivered its passengers to safety after being pounded by German bombers and strafed with gunfire from the air. There were astonishing feats of engineering restoring tracks within hours and bridges and viaducts within days. Trains transported millions to and from work each day and sheltered them on underground platforms at night, a refuge from the bombs above. Without the railways, there would have been no Dunkirk evacuation and no D-Day.
Michael Williams, author of the celebrated book On the Slow Train, has written an important and timely book using original research and over a hundred new personal interviews.
This is their story.