Today marks 75 years since Victory in Europe Day or VE Day.
VE Day is the day on which Allied forces formally announced the surrender of Germany, which brought the Second World War to a close in Europe. The military surrender was first signed on May 7, but a slightly modified document with the final terms was signed on May 8 in Berlin. Celebrations immediately erupted throughout Britain and more than one million people celebrated in the streets. In London, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth appeared on the balcony alongside Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Too late for printing in many diaries / calendars, in more normal times today was announced as being a Bank Holiday by moving the traditional May Day Bank Holiday Monday to today, although many at the moment must be wondering what is the difference?
Many celebrations and events were planned to mark the 75th Anniversary today, but the current Covid-19 lockdown (stay safe, stay at home and thank the NHS) has changed those plans.
Her Majesty the Queen will address the nation at 9pm, the exact time the Queen’s father, King George VI, made a radio announcement declaring the end of the war on the continent in May 1945, and I hope you will join the 2 minutes silence at 11 am this morning as we remember the sacrifices made by all.
By its obvious geographical nature the Southern Railway paid a vital part in the entire war effort. The dedication and efforts of the railway workers that worked tirelessly, in all too often difficult and life threatening conditions themselves, indeed many did also fall, should be remembered along with the military personnel.
In this post I provide details in numbers* of the efforts made under wartime conditions to put things into to perspective. Many will be familiar with some of the major events in which the railway played such a large part such as Operation Dynamo, the mass moving of personnel from Dunkirk 80 years ago at the end of this month, and of course Operation Overlord, the planning, logistics for the moment of men and machines to support D-Day in June 1944. For the Southern Railway it wasn’t just these two events but a continued effort for the duration.
Although the overall number of Southern Railway staff when compared between 1939 (67,680) and 1945 (67,570) didn’t change that much the number of women employed increased from 1,861 to 9,167. The company managed to maintain an operational workforce despite 10,956 men and 212 women being enlisted to active service during the same period.
The Southern Railway was to suffer severe damage, disproportionate to that of its three rivals. From July 1940 to March 1945, the LNER suffered 1737 incidents of enemy damage; the LMS experienced 1939 and the GWR fell victim to 1202. But in the same time the Southern Railway, covering a much smaller route mileage than the others, recorded 3637 incidents of damage through enemy action. This amounts to 170 incidents per 100 miles.
Between 1939 and VE Day the Southern Railway had moved 9,367,886 military personnel on 30,890 special troop trains, an additional 6,269,160 on duty service staff were carried on ordinary trains. 1,797 Ambulance trains carried 408,051 wounded. An additional 35,360 military freight trains were run.
At the outbreak of war the Southern Railway had 1,819 locomotives, 61 were built during the war comprising of: 1 Q Class 0-6-0, 40 Q1 class 0-6-0, 20 Merchant Navy Class 4-6-2 and 4 West Country Class 4-6-2. Whilst only 1 locomotive was destroyed by enemy action, 189 were damaged. A further 130 locomotives were built for other railway companies.
153 Carriages were destroyed by enemy action (Steam 49, Electric 93 and 11 NPCS), whilst 4,040 were damaged (Steam 1,806, Electric 1,784 and 450 NPCS).
An amazing 13,820 wagons were constructed: 7,500 for SR, 1,755 for LMS, 2,230 for LNER, 650 for GWR and 1,885 for Government WD of which 1,600 went overseas. 169 wagons were destroyed by enemy action, along with 69 Private Owner wagons, those damaged amounted to 1,355 along with 800 PO wagons.
At 11am this morning we should remember the 387 Southern Railway staff killed whilst on active service and 170 killed whilst on railway duty. A further 687 men and 59 women were injured by enemy action on duty.
I hope this post allows a pause for thought and reflection on the immense efforts and sacrifices made at the time.
*Source: War on the line: The Southern Railway in wartime, Bernard Darwin, published 1946