A trio of UK-based narrow gauge steam locomotives crossed the channel to star in a major gala in Picardy over June 2-5.
The visitors were joining celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Froissy-Cappy-Dompierre line entering preservation.
This line incorporates the last working part of track laid to support military operations across France during WW1. Post-war it was used to link a sugar factory at Dompierre with Cappy, which enabled its survival. When industrial use finished it was taken over by an organisation named APPEVA and developed to become a major collection of nominal 2ft gauge equipment complete with a fabulous museum building at its Froissy terminus.
The section to Cappy runs alongside a canal. A sharp climb follows, through a tunnel, with further height gained via a zig-zag reversal (a notable feature of the world famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in India) until emerging on to the Plateau du Santerre.
Its origins in the support of military operations across France during WW1, location on the area of the Somme battlefields and zig-zag feature, led to the highly logical invitations extended to The Greensand Railway Museum Trust’s Baldwin 4-6-0T WDLR No. 778 and Adrian Shooter’s Darjeeling Himalayan Railway B-Class 0-4-0ST No. 19 (SS 3518/1888) to visit.
Baldwin No. 778 was built in 1917 to work on the WW1 trench system supply lines and was returning to the battlefields for the first time in over 90 years. It was built in the USA for war service and went to India following the armistice until being brought to Britain in the early 1980s for preservation. It returned to steam in 2007 and is based at Bedfordshire’s Leighton Buzzard Railway (itself a centre of WW1 equipment) which was twinned with APPEVA a decade ago – a double gala celebration!
The Darjeeling B-Class worked in India until 1960 when it went to the USA for preservation until repatriation to Britain in 2002. Following overhaul it has run on the Ffestiniog, Leighton Buzzard and Statfold Barn railways in addition to the private Beeches Light Railway where it appears at periodic open days.
The third British visitor was Ffestiniog Railway-based 0-4-0VBT Leary, a new-build locomotive inspired by a De Winton ‘Coffee Pot’. Completed around a year ago it was making its first trip away from British shores.
APPEVA’s anniversary gala also featured two French-based visitors, Décauville 0-6-0T 1770/1920 and Décauville 0-4-0T 8069/1911 from C.F. des Chanteraines, France. Locomotives from the F-C-D fleet were also in action.
The event attracted around 2,900 visitors, with a significant proportion of these being British enthusiasts.