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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 63 - Summer 1987

Postbag


Wartime Operations

Dear Sir,

The delightful photograph on page 3 of The Times gives me an opportunity to congratulate you on your Steam Heritage Award and also to relate an anecdote about one of the wartime operations on your railway nearly 47 years ago.

In July 1940 the evacuation of British troops from France (myself included) had just been completed and what was left of British arms was hastily being organised for the defence of Britain by GHQ Home Forces. Ammunition was in very short supply and, because there was not even enough to set up the dumps required to replenish expenditure by troops in the event of invasion, it was decided to load up several ammunition trains, each carrying one day's estimated requirement for an Army Corps and to site them in strategic locations. Each had an engine under one hour's notice standing nearby, ready to couple up and move to whatever position might be decided upon should the enemy invade.

On 2nd July 1940, 1 - then as RAOC staff sergeant - joined No 2 Mobile Ammunition Train at Oxford goods yard. It took a week before the train was complete, as one or two wagons at a time arrived, mostly with new ammunition direct from ordnance factories. I drew the necessary stores from the nearby depot at Didcot.

On completion the train consisted of thirty 10 or 12 ton closed vans, a brake van and a small flat truck for mounting a Lewis machine gun for defence purposes (none of us knew how to strip it or use it, but we found out for ourselves by getting a large coloured chart from Gale and Poulden at Aldershot).

About mid-July we finally got underway and steamed north to Verney Junction, where the train was shunted down the remaining mile or two of the second track of the old Aylesbury to Verney Junction line. There our train was broken up into about five sections, with about 100 yards between them as a safety distance, in case the train was spotted and attacked from the air.

The train also had two passenger coaches for personnel accommodation. One, a third class coach of eight compartments, provided quarters for a guard platoon from a T A battalion of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry (a sergeant and thirty men). The other coach, two first-class and six third-class compartments, provided sleeping accommodation for one officer, a WO2 and myself (in first class), one third class compartment being used as an office and the others for the small number of junior ranks, RAOC. Sadly, one of them, a young man in his early 20s and just married, was to lose his wife in the first daylight air raid on Croydon, casting a shadow over us all. We fed ourselves from a gangers cabin nearby, rations being delivered daily from Soulbury, near Leighton Buzzard. Water was a problem, overcome with the help of the railway. There was one daily goods service in the afternoon, taking traffic up to the junction. The driver (whose fireman opened and closed all level crossing gates on the journey) would stop alongside the gangers cabin and have a cup of tea. A clean galvanised dustbin was then hoisted (empty) onto the engine buffer beam. The engine then chugged leisurely up to Verney, where the crew completed their railway business, picking up any traffic waiting for Aylesbury onwards destinations. At Verney the bin was filled from the water tower and then carried back down the line to our train, where it was heaved to the ground, to keep us in drinking and cooking water for the next day. Our latrines were the usual Army thunder boxes hidden behind the nearest hedge!

Of course, not only was the engine standing by at an hour's notice (at Bletchley), but so were we - and recreation was limited. Either the WO (luckily a pre-war friend) or I had to be on the train and off duty we could only get as far as Verney Arms Hotel, whose landlord I have kindly memories of to this day. I had married in June 1939, but was not given long to be with my wife, for I went to France with the BEF on 10th September 1939. Happily, she came up to stay for a short holiday at the Verney Arms and in the following year our first child was born.

After a few weeks we moved into sidings at Buckingham station, in case we had been spotted at Verney Junction, but the citizens were unhappy at having a virtual bomb parked in their station and, as a result, we went back to Verney again - and, from there, in September, to Kingham Junction. Finally, after a total period of about three months, we were all posted, as the war office considered that three months living on a railway train was quite enough.

George Coomber
(Bridgenorth, Shropshire)

P.S. I almost forgot to mention that, while I was at Verney, the LDV (later the Home Guard) was formed and I was appointed drill instructor to the Steeple Claydon detachment!


Adventures at Amersham

Dear Sir,

Richard Hardy's Adventures at Amersham in Quainton News No. 62 was of great interest, as I just managed - as a schoolboy of a younger generation - to travel in the Dreadnought stock behind steam from Rickmansworth to Aylesbury and on the Chesham shuttle before electrification to Amersham. As to the photo of the H class on page 21 , J Graeme Bruce's Steam to Silver uses the same photo, captioned ... climbing Chorley Wood bank, but I do not know the line well enough to confirm that personally.

Another point is the interesting twelve wheeled push-pull coach shown on page 20 on a Verney Junction motor train. Is there a better view of this coach available anywhere? Was it originally a Great Central vehicle and why six wheeled bogies for a motor train?

Henry Gunston
(Wantage, Oxon)


Notes:
The text in this Quainton Railway Society publication was written in 1987 and so does not reflect events in the 27+ years since publication. The text and photographs are repeated verbatim from the original publication, with only a few minor grammar changes but some clarifying notes are added if deemed necessary. The photos from the original publication are provided as scans in this internet version of this long out of print publication.

Reference:
Postbag - Quainton News No. 63 - Summer 1987


Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
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