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North Eastern Railway sends fifty locomotives to France

Mineral engines transported,1917

In 1916, the call went out to Britain’s railway companies to send as many locomotives as they could spare (despite the strain the railway companies were already experiencing and struggling to find enough locomotives for themselves) for service with the Railway Operating Division [ROD], Royal Engineers, on the Western Front

All 50 of the North Eastern Railway’s T1 Class of 0-8-0 mineral locomotives were sent to France in early 1917 as part of the North Eastern Railway’s contribution to the ROD. The Ministry of Munitions had selected a heavy goods locomotive to be produced for ROD service; the Great Central Railway’s 8K Class 2-8-0. These trains were to be built in large numbers with the first order placed in February 1917 (over five hundred were built for the ROD) but the first of these would not be completed and shipped to France until September 1917 so there was still an immediate need for engines.

The T1 Class was a development of the T Class, developed by Wilson Worsdell who was Chief Mechanical Engineer from 1890-1910 (although from 1890-1902 the role was known as ‘Locomotive Superintendent’) who realised towards the end of the 19th century that a larger type of locomotive was needed to haul the ever-increasing number and size of goods and mineral trains on the railway. The new design had to be strong and reliable, but also had to have a light axle loading for use on poor quality colliery lines and also to minimise the chance of ground subsidence over tracks which ran over mine workings.

The loss of the entire T1 Class of 50 engines for the war effort was no small undertaking, although the company was allocated materials to build locomotives to replace these, the loss was still felt and would certainly not have made it any easier on the operation and maintenance of the mineral engines already hard at work. One small consolation was that the 22 P Class locomotives which had been prepared for overseas service and which had been stored at Borough Gardens Shed at Gateshead since October 1916 were ultimately not sent for ROD service, and returned to service with the North Eastern Railway by March 1917. There does not seem to be an officially recorded reason as to why the 22P engines were not used, as they were similar to other 0-6-0 types which were used in large numbers by the ROD from other companies, however it is possible that either the NER could not afford to lose them as well as the 50 T1 Class locomotives, or that the ROD felt they either had enough locomotives or could do without so as to not overly strip the NER of locomotives. The only other locomotives prepared and not sent for ROD service was a batch of 12 0-8-0s from the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway.

The 50 T1s were sent to France in early 1917, the locomotives being sent via Portsmouth as there were cranes available at the Royal Navy dockyard large enough to lift them. They arrived at Le Havre where, again, there were suitable cranes to offload them. Percy Rosewarne, quoted above, was one of those who took the T1s down to Portsmouth. What follows is his account of the trip:

“On duty 12 noon ‘waiting orders’. My mate was Jack Leeming and I had not been booked for the turn but while I was in bed I was sent a ‘ticket’ saying ‘Book on 12.0 noon: spare’. On duty I learned that seven engines were on the road to Portsmouth, en-route for France.

The first two came at 4.0 pm and we went first engine. Food at that time was very hard to get and I had only two shillings in my pocket. As far as we knew we had to work them to Mexborough. Both engines were new from overhaul at the Works and they were a picture to behold. My mate and I checked over the list of engine equipment – ninety-eight articles in all – and everything brand new. I had never seen so much equipment before or since. All new mahogany seats in the cab and all side cab window frames. Three new headlamps, two handlamps and a gauge lamp.

Our orders were to run at a speed of 25 mph. At Mexborough there was no relief but another pilotman, and so the day became far spent until we came to Woodford. A guide took us to our lodgings and we booked off for eight hours. There was no food available and we went up to bed only to find that two men were in. As they got out we moved in and I slept until we were knocked up. A wash and then out on to the streets to look for food. I was lucky and got one pork pie, the only food I had had for about fourteen hours.

We prepared the engine and off we went again; pilotman after pilotman came on, all were amazed at the engine, the cab and its fittings. The comfortable seats, steam reverse, and brake all to the driver’s hand. Dewrance’s boiler gauge fittings and Gresham’s Combination Injectors. The tender coalway, with its good shovelling plate and removable boards giving access to all the coal, was something to be proud of. Still no food available and so for the rest of that day we went hungry.

We arrived in Portsmouth in fine style because at some point during the night we had to wait and all seven engines were coupled together. Seven ‘Geordies’ all in a line. What a photograph it would have made!

We had a few hours sleep and were given a little food, and with one permit to cover all the men we boarded a train for London. There we walked all the way to King’s Cross, buying any food we saw. Jack Cook, No 1, a well-known Yorkshire bred lad, with big basket and leather strap over his shoulder, led the way. The sun was shining and we caused some comment. At one point we came to a halt, not sure of the way to go. Jack looked around at the fine buildings and said, in broad Yorkshire ‘Tha nivver naws where yan gets to when yan gets away from yam’. London stopped and all eyes were turned on us…. We arrived back in York shed at 11.30pm on Saturday after the longest shift I ever worked”

The exact arrival dates of the T1s into France are not known, however, by summer at least four are known to have been in service and are recorded at Bergues in July and August (10 miles south east of Dunkirk on the Nord line to Hazebrouck then onwards to the junction of the military line to Proven and then onwards to the Ypres Salient, the focus of July-November 1917). On arrival it was found that the quickly laid and generally poor quality military railway lines were not suitable for the T1s to run on as they were too heavy, and so were replaced as soon as possible by lighter locomotives (however did still appear on these lines as necessity brought about). Instead, the T1s would be found further behind the lines used for the heavy haulage of goods and mineral traffic; exactly the work they had been designed for at the start of the century.

The locomotives were painted in grey, with white lettering and numbering. At first they kept their original numbers, but with the large numbers of locomotives coming into ROD service from British railway companies there was bound to be conflicting numbers. The first locomotives to be renumbered were 643-661, whose numbers were increased by 5000 to avoid confliction with North British Railway locomotives. Later, to standardise the numbering, the ROD locomotives were numbered in series, and the new build Baldwin 0-6-0T locomotives from the USA became numbered 651-700, which meant that all T1 locomotives numbered in that series also had their numbers increased by 5000, if they hadn’t been already by the confliction with NBR locomotives.

The T1s quickly won the respect of the ROD crews. They became known as the most popular of the ROD locomotives to work on owing to the same features which caused praise to be lavished on them by the pilotmen described by Percy Rosewarne on the transportation of the T1s to Portsmouth. The neat steam reverser was one feature often particularly mentioned, but perhaps the main positive feature of the T1s was the particularly comfortable cab, especially compared to other cabs which tended to have more limited vision and were much more open. The large front and side windows gave superb visibility, and the large cab as a whole was a pleasant aspect for the crew, where space was at a premium.

It is not believed that the T1s were involved in any serious accidents or suffered as a result of enemy action during their ROD service, although it is recorded that 1002 was derailed at Mendinghem on 7th August 1917, and 774 was repaired at St Etienne-Du-Rouvray in July 1918. Apart from these incidents however their service record is mostly unblemished and they did their work just as they did before the war; reliably and dependably.

The return of the T1s after the war was remarked upon by JW Sinton of the Goods Department at South Shields, writing;

“I saw them pass as I stood gazing out of the window, and wondered how long it would be before I followed them. They were worth looking at, those war-scarred engines. Anyone who was worked amongst locomotives will know how I felt. There is a sort of human emotion in their bowels, and I have heard enginemen speak of particular locomotives in terms of endearment such as one finds in the stable and kennels.

There was a whole train-load, and, travelling as they were without steam, they looked tired to the point of weariness. It seemed, as I watched them pass, they moved proudly, yet not unwilling to accept aid from one of their own species which had borne the strain of extra work at home.
Running my eye quickly along the train for one I knew, I easily picked out the famous Worsdell cab, which gives the symmetrical touch to what is perhaps the finest model in the world. On the side of each tender were the letters “R.O.D.” and a number.”

When the T1s returned to the North Eastern Railway between February and July 1919, the railway was justifiably proud of the locomotive’s service just as they had been of their men who served. To commemorate the T1s service, the locomotives were fitted with a brass replica of the insignia of the Royal Engineers, the flaming grenade with nine flames. Below the Royal Engineers insignia, there were three brass chevrons. These chevrons mimicked the overseas service stripes introduced in 1918 as part of the uniform of British soldiers; each stripe represented one year’s overseas service, and so the T1’s (although possibly not all of them, as the dates they were sent to France are not confirmed) had earned three stripes for their service from 1917 to 1919. The Royal Engineers’ badge and three years overseas service stripes were affixed to the cab sides, below the windows and above the Works plate detailing the locomotive’s place of manufacture, year of manufacture and locomotive number.

When the London & North Eastern Railway repainted the T1 Class locomotives in the 1920s and the locomotive number was painted on the cab side, the insignia was moved to the front wheel splasher.

Source – ‘The North Eastern Railway in the First World War’, Fonthill Media 2013

Contributed by roblangham, Seaham Harbour