Friday, May 20, 2011

Wolverton Works in WW I

While some railwaymen were off fighting the railway companies played a key role in the war effort. At the war's outbreak the Government invoked the Regulation of Forces Act of 1871 and effectively nationalized the 120 railways companies, and managed them as a single system under a Railways Executive Committee. The railways were commandeered for troop transport, evacuation and the shipping of war materials. The constructon of new locomotive, carriages and wagons was reduced to a bare minimum and the spare capacity was used to  manufacture munitions and machinery.

In Wolverton's case the war production was itemised:
368 vehicles for ambulance trains
one train of 17 vehicles for Military HQ
400 20 ton goods wagons and 40 35-ton trolleys were built for war purposes
1350 general service road vehicles were built
50 packing cases for aeroplanes (I wonder what purpose these served?)
2550 ambulance stretchers
4,000,000 munitions parts
676,000 18 pounder catrridge cases were repaired
48,000 18 pounder shells were painted

This also changed the workforce in significant ways. Older men came out of retirement to replace the younger men who went to war and women were allowed to enter  work areas hitherto populated only by men.

I have a photograph of the accounts staff from about 1910 with not a woman in sight. 

The railways were also a casualty of war. The four years spent supporting the war effort meant that little heed was paid to replenishing locomotives and rolling stock and after the war they were all confronted with a huge demand for capital investment. Unfortunately the government chose to be stingy about compensation and the railway companies were really hurting in the 1920s. The solution they came up with was to "group" the railway companies into four reginal companies. Thus the London Midland and Scottish Railway was born in 1924 and Wolverton found itself part of this. Unfortunately, by 1939, when the companies were just beginning to recover there was another war and the railways were expected to respond in the same manner as the first and were treated just as abysmally after 1945. Nationalisation in 1948 was almost a relief, although it was not a solution.

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