1 Churchill thanks the engine crews Phil Marsh collection

How The Southern Railway celebrated VE Day 70 years ago

Published: 5th May 2015

The Southern Railway’s wartime role revealed in May 1945 after European warfare had ended

It is an undeniable fact that the railways played a major part in the war effort in World War Two (WW2). It transported troops and military equipment from bombs to tanks and landing craft and anything else required to help the military effort. It also swung into action moving evacuees from Dunquerque in June 1940.

While every railway company did their utmost, arguably it fell to the Southern Railway to bear the brunt of activities in 1944 and 1945 to support D Day and the subsequent supply chain to help sustain the military effort on mainland Europe.

Once the war was declared over, the official end date was May 8 1945 and this prompted a special victory edition of the Southern Railway staff magazine. This unusually used much colour and contained letters of thanks from the Chairman Col. Eric Gore Brown and General Manager Sir Eustace Missenden.

Symbolism on the cover…

The cover comprised of a drawing showing the newest electric train alongside a new Merchant Navy Class steam locomotive with the flags of the United States, The UK and Russia flying from a ‘Victory’ legend above a ship symbolising the joint effort of the three countries, the Merchant Navy and the railways.

Winston Churchill was pictured thanking a locomotive crew but the message was that while hostilities were over in Europe, the far east war had still to be won.

Field Marshall Montgomery was quoted as saying This is ‘The Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes’. The editorial said that at long last London and the south coast ports can breathe easily and no longer look towards the European coast and wonder what might be coming next – a reference to bombers, long range coastal guns and flying bombs.

A pair of Thanksgiving and Re-dedication services were held on May 10, one at the Southern Railway’s Control office at Deepdene near Dorking and one at Waterloo. The latter was also attended by American and UK forces’ representatives.

Troops and locomotives to Europe via Southampton Docks

The Southern had moved two million American troops to Southampton and to mark this, ‘Merchant Navy No. 21C12 (35012) was named ‘United States Lines’ at Waterloo a month earlier on April 10. The magazine also said that over 20,000 American military vehicles had been transported over eight months in 1944.

To help the war effort, a new station was built at Hilsea, just outside Havant where a large workforce was employed in war factories. Another aspect of the wartime railways was that on April 9 1945, the 1000th War Department steam locomotive was shipped to France on the ‘Hampton Ferry’.

Retirements and anniversaries

This special publication also recorded the retirement of Mr. G. Dutnall, the Special Traffic Chief who oversaw the Dunquerque evacuation trains. Another retirement was that of Tom Groves at Lewes who had worked at that station for 55 years retiring aged 70.

The magazine also recorded what was a rare event 70 years ago, The Golden Wedding anniversary of Mr & Mrs Holmes who married in 1895. Mr Holmes started his railway career at Southampton in 1885 and retired in 1923, his duties included arranging Coronation trains in conjunction with King

Edward VII and King George V ascent to the Throne.

But even rarer, Mr & Mrs Dunning celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary having married at Yeovil 60 years earlier in 1885. Amongst the congratulations was a letter from the King & Queen. Mr Dunning joined the railway in 1872 and retired in 1927 after 55 years service.

Prisoners come and go through the Southern Railway’s port at Southampton

Southampton was the entry point for Prisoners of War. Some were ecstatic and others not so. Many allied prisoners had been held in Germany while the others were Germans being brought to England after capture. The Southern Railway was delighted to receive 36 of their staff who had been captured and held as prisoners in Germany.

Finally the Victory magazine carried a page of cartoons entitled their finest hour’ which today gives a good insight to 1945 humour!

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