By Cliff Thomas

World War 1 locomotives revisit Somme battlefield lines 100 years after the War

Published: 25th May 2016

UK based locomotives support French World War centenary event

Enough locomotives to fill a reasonable sized engine shed crossed the Channel, or Le Manche depending on which side of the water you look at it, in May to help mark significant anniversaries at a French railway.

British-based narrow gauge steam visiting the major gala at the Froissy-Cappy-Dompiere line over May 5-8 comprised Greensand Railway Museum Trust’s freshly-overhauled Baldwin 4-6-0T WDLR No. 778 (BLW44656/1917) from Leighton Buzzard Railway and West Lancashire Railway’s Kerr Stuart ‘Joffre’ 0-6-0T+WT Joffre (2405/1915).

Nations helping their allies

The Baldwin 10-12-D 4-6-0T locomotives of which No. 778 is the only example in operational condition, were constructed in the United States to support the British war effort at a time UK locomotive manufacturers could not produce sufficient steam locomotives to meet the needs of the British army in France.

The Kerr Stuart ‘Joffre’ 0-6-0T+Ts originated from a not dissimilar background, in this instance a British manufacturer building locomotives for the French Artillery Railways where French building of Decauville 0-6-0Ts could not meet demand.

The ‘Joffre’ design was not a typical Kerr Stuart product but was based on the Decauville specification. In fact, their appearance was so similar to the French product that it seems possible the French Government may have supplied detailed specifications or even working drawings to Kerr Stuart when placing the orders.

Makeover for Ffestiniog WW1 locos

In addition, WW1-era internal combustion motive power visited the gala from North Wales in the form of Ffestiniog Railway’s 4wDM 40hp Protected Simplex MR507/1917 WDLR No. 2228, Baldwin 2-4-0DM BLW49604 and Fairbanks-Morse ‘speeder’ (inspection vehicle) Busta.

The former pair, familiar at the Ffestiniog in ‘civilian’ form as Mary Ann and Moelwyn respectively, arrived having been quietly ‘militarised’ just prior to the trip. Mary Ann’s makeover included the addition of an original-style canopy roof, fitting (for the first time in preservation) of WDLR No. 2228 plates, replacement bodywork at one end and a new coat of army green paint. Moelwyn appeared in a military grey livery carrying No. 7011 French military identification.

Baldwin preservation ‘first’

A piece of preservation history was made when the American-built Baldwin’s No. 778 and Moelwyn /No. 7011 ran in company (Moelwyn piloting No. 778) during a post-public services trip to the plateaux on May 7 and were posed alongside each other at Froissy shed on the Sunday. It is believed this was the first occasion when two fully operational locomotives built by Baldwin Locomotive Works had been together in the preservation era.

In addition to the UK contingent, a 1920-built Autorail Crochat (a railcar with the appearance of a tram) visited from Musee des Transports de Pithiviers plus a self-propelled set of three decidedly unusual wooden vehicles.

WW1 locos on WW1 railway

Todays preserved Froissy-Cappy-Dompiere line is the last surviving section of the once extensive light railway network supporting the British and French armies built in preparation for the July 1 1916 opening of the Battle of the Somme offensive.

The 600mm (2ft) gauge line was further used between 1919-1924 to assist reconstruction of the devastated area of the battlefield with the section from Froissy alongside the canal to Cappy, into a tunnel then up a Darjeeling Himalayan-style zig-zag to reach the plateaux saw further use as an industrial line serving a factory near Dompierre until eventually becoming a preserved line.

The gala marked the centenary of the railway’s construction, the 45th anniversary of it being saved for preservation by APPEVA (which operates P'tit train de la Haute Somme over the historic route) and, effectively, commemorated the start of the Battle of the Somme.

APPEVA’s base at Froissy centres on a magnificent museum building housing a terrific collection of preserved equipment. Home-based steam in operation during the gala comprised Froissy’s 1916 Decauville 0-6-0T CFCD No. 5 (demonstrating how similar this design is to the Kerr Stuart ‘Joffre’), 1925 German-built Vulcan 0-8-0 CFCD No. 9, 1945 0-8-0 Franco Belge Type KDL11 CFCD No. 10 and 0-8-0T+T Borsig CFCD No. 7 – a locomotive built in 1918 as a German ‘Feldbahn’ type which was subsequently rebuilt into tender locomotive form and employed on a Polish forestry line until entering preservation.

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