Armistice Day and ANGRMS

On 09/11/2011, in Members, by ATRQ Admin

Armistice Day Friday 11th November 2011


Terry Olsson, from ANGAMS contributed this following article:


With this Friday being Armistice Day, I think it is important we all pause and remember those who made the supreme sacrifice. Railways played an important part in World War 1, with many Australian railway personal involved both here and abroad. ANGRMS has a direct link to WW1 as we have a genuine WW1 war relic in our collection – a Hunslet 610mm gauge steam locomotive which saw active service in France. Light railways played an important part in WW1 in France. In the environment of the Western Front, main line railways could get no closer than five to eight kilometres from the trenches, as they were a prime target for artillery and were very expensive to install and maintain.

Narrow gauge ‘light railways’ served as the vital connection between the main line railheads and the forward areas. By 1917, an average of 165,530 tons of war material was being moved per week on the light railways. A peak of 210,808 tons was reached in October 1917 in connection with the Battle of Ypres. By the Armistice in Nov 1917, these light railways totalled about 6000km of track in the British sector alone, to which about 750 steam locomotives and a similar number of small internal-combustion locomotives had been delivered.  Australians played an important part in the operation of these “Light Railways”, with several Australian Light Railway Units. Below is a very interesting “YouTube” link to some great old WW1 war footage showing these “Light Railways” …


Also, below is a copy of a letter sent home from one of the Australians who helped operate the “Light Railways” in WW1.


The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866-1939), Saturday 30 June 1917, page 41 LIGHT RAILWAYS IN FRANCE.THE ANZACS. S. H. Hancox, formerly in charge ofthe electric power house at the railway workshops, North Ipswich, writes from France to a friend in Brisbane:

I owe you many letters, but must plead the urgency of public affairs. Building and running light railways at the Front is a most time-absorbing occupation, especially when there is a thaw after abig freeze, and the whole country mud. Some of our lines were built during the winter, and, of course, are all more or less over shell holes, and as we had no ballast, and could not possibly get any, there was a good deal of ice under the line. That did not matter till the thaw came. Just then they piled in tons of ammunition for us to carry. I nearly went white headed over it. However, we struggled through. Many are the woes of railway building and working at the Front. To start with, we have to build the lines over shell holes, many 10ft. and 12ft. deep. Then we have greattrouble with the rails. We got over that to a great extent by gathering up old German rails, many of which had been blown up, bent and broken. We straightened them out, and pulled old dug-outs, &c, to pieces to get rails. Then we could not get sleepers for a long time. We split trees, but they were filled with shrapnel that that did not pay. We cut any timber we could get; Then we could not get dog spikes, but managed to eke them out. We never could get enough ballast. We got a little, and have used bricks and chalk chiefly, but it is slow work digging them out, and  of course, the railways are wanted in a hurry. We managed to set some locomotives which no one else wanted, as they were too hard to keep on the line. We got some tractors and trucks, but it is a terrible job to get any parts. We got a forge in an old shop and fixed it up to be driven from our motor tractors, and cast our brasses for bearings. We are now using old brass shell cases, and pick up scraps of iron in different villages for the blacksmith, and old machinery for tools. We even rose to making springs for our tractors, using whale oil to temper them in. I forgot to Say we had to lay our rails without any fishplates I had the selection of the men to work the lines. I  went through all the battalions, and we got a pretty good crew of traffic and locomotive employees and fettlers together. Of course, in addition to the ordinary troubles of railways, we have German shells to contend with. We have been very lucky so far as we have not had any rolling stock hit. Altogether we have quite a decent show of mileage of track and rolling stock, and what we have managed to do surprised every one. The corps staff says it has been a huge success, and has exceeded their most optimistic expectations. The chief engineer of the army says the Anzacs are the only people who take these light railways seriously, and construct and ran them as railways. One thing we did was considered so important that the people concerned immediately wired to GeneralHeadquarters to tell them. It is is important, too and I can see great possibilities from it. Now under the present exciting circumstances of course every one is worrying us, and we are in a great rush to build more lines. Herb would enjoy these railways. Our initials are A (Anzac) L (Light) R (Railways). I heard some one say they stood for’Always Leaving Rails’ It will be all right when we get dry ground though. While the big freeze was on we ran heavy loads at a great rate. I am glad we took. It would have been most disappointing if they had not let us do it after leaving us here all the winter. In fact, I’m rather proud of the way in which the Anzacs have held their front right through the winter, under. I suppose, the worst conditions in the front…

Thank you to Greg Hallam, Tony Weber and John Browning for  their conntributions to the above… 

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