Some things never change….
Here’s a snippet from “Time Table For Victory” by Evan John, published shortly after the end of World War 2, in 1947:
‘No-one wants to deprive the Englishman of his long-established Right to Grumble, and the fools or Puritans who attempt to do so are merely sitting on a safety-valve to the inevitable peril of their own back-sides. But there is a form of criticism which has a very different and more sinister colour. It has political implications. It is often curiously traceable, as in a clause italicised in the quotation given below, to those whose financial interests, or pride, are opposed to the welfare of railways. And it can do a great deal of real mischief, especially when it is given wide and expensive publicity.
‘On the 17th of November, 1940, when troop movements and the transport of war-freight were extremely burdensome, when the German Air Attacks were still intensive over London, and were just beginning to spread throughout the inland towns of the provinces, a leading article entitled ‘A Story of a Railway Journey’, appeared in a Sunday paper of very wide circulation. The following extracts give a fair idea of its tenor and of the spirit that inspired it.
‘ “Here is the simple story of a main line express train which made the journey from a provincial city to London a day or two ago. . . . The train pulled out of the station at 9.45 a.m. It was due in London at 1.50 p.m. At one point on the journey that train stood still for more than an hour. Then it went backwards for several miles. It eventually reached London at 8.0 p.m. – six hours late on a journey scheduled to last four hours. The train was packed. At many stations it stopped to pick up still more passengers. Although the news could have been telephoned all down the line that passengers, women and children, were already herded like cattle in the corridors, no attempt was made to fix additional coaches to the train. . . . There was a restaurant car on the train. Those who were rich enough to pay for the meal could get lunch in it. But after lunch the restaurant car went out of business. . . . When the train at last reached London most of the passengers had spent 10 hours in it without food or drink of any kind. . . . The train arrived in Town when the night raid was in full blast. No arrangements of any sort had been made to convey the passengers to their several destinations. . . . This kind of resolute and calculated indifference to the comfort or convenience of their customers prevails over the whole of the British Railways. It exists on the branch lines and suburban lines as well as on the main roads of railway traffic. . . . Goods traffic is in chaotic condition. . . . The railways must realise that the public expects them now not only to maintain a peace-time efficiency, but to improve upon it. . . . Let this also be said, the railways not only let down the nation by their present parrot-cry of “Don’t you know there is a war on?” as an excuse for 10,000 instances of avoidable inefficiency, but also lose the goodwill of the public. . . . The busmen who drive their vehicles to schedule through the bombardment, the firemen, the factory and munitions workers, are all laying up for themselves an immense store of public sympathy by the way they carry on their duties. . . . Only the railwaymen. . . . are in disgrace. They may come to be regarded as people who, having failed the nation in its danger hour, have no claims upon the nation’s bounty when the danger is past.”
‘Even in War-time, with a nation to save, the Railway Companies can hardly leave such rhetoric unanswered. The immediate target that had been chosen as a text for general
scurrility was clearly the 9.45 a.m. to Euston from London Road Station, Manchester, on Friday, 15th November. The L.M.S. immediately got to work on its records. The Story of this particular Railway Journey was then re-told with some knowledge of the circumstances, instead of from a basis of spite and wilful ignorance.
‘The night of the 14th-15th November was that of the first, sudden attack on the provinces – the ghastly bombardment of Coventry – which even journalists had hardly been able to predict. As we have seen, it involved a quite unique amount of railway damage, which left two unexploded bombs on the usual path of the 9.45 between Nuneaton and Rugby, and temporarily but completely severed the most suitable alternative route, which lay through Coventry itself.
‘Before the train left Manchester (exactly to time, as even the critic admits), it had been decided to send it, beyond Nuneaton, along the eastward line to Wigston, whence it could turn southward again to Rugby. A glance at the map [a 1941 map, of course! – Ed.] shows that this journey round two sides of a triangle involves some 20 extra miles and a corresponding loss of time; by normal standards this should have been about an hour, if the line of diversion was not already over-burdened with military or other Specials. The train made for this path, and arrived at Stone, still with seats for all passengers, 11 minutes behind time. Here news arrived that two more unexploded parachute-bombs had been just found near the proposed alternative route between Nuneaton and Wigston, and that the Naval experts taken to the scene had forbidden traffic.
‘There was nothing to be done except draw the train back to Stoke-on-Trent and find a new path for it through Uttoxeter, Burton, Coalville and Leicester. The stoppage and return to Stoke had caused a delay of an hour and a half, and the new diversion was bound to cause further loss of time. Progress according to the newly improvised plan was very satisfactory throughout the Midland network, though the exchange of engine-driver and fireman was not easily managed. But as the train approached London, leaving Tring for Watford, news came of a raid in progress and the Regulations dictated a maximum speed of 15 m.p.h. It was hardly surprising that there was further and prolonged delay. It was even less surprising that a train twice forced away from its scheduled path, and held up at various untimetabled places, should have been rushed by larger numbers of passengers than could be accommodated in comfort in the coaches marshalled for a shorter and less interrupted journey. And it is a little difficult to see how those in charge of the restaurant-car could have been economically provided with four times the amount of food which they would have required, had not the Luftwaffe chosen that particular moment to extend its attention, for the first time, to the railways of the Midlands.
‘Further comment is needless. There is hardly room for more reminders that, if the Passengers were indeed Long-suffering during the War, the majority of them remained commendably cheerful and commendably helpful towards their fellow-sufferers and towards the railwaymen who were trying to alleviate their mortification. They blamed Hitler rather than the inefficiency of the Railways, and if this article has not yet convinced the reader that they were right in doing so, then it is useless to make any further remarks on the subject.’
Recollections of a rail journey during the Blitz – part of the Railways At War series.