Summary

In the seven decades since the darkest moments of the Second World War it seems every tenebrous corner of the conflict has been laid bare, prodded and examined from every perspective of military and social history. But there is a story that has hitherto been largely overlooked. It is a tale of quiet heroism, a story of ordinary people who fought, with enormous self-sacrifice, not with tanks and guns, but with elbow grease and determination. It is the story of the British railways and, above all, the extraordinary men and women who kept them running from 1939 to 1945.
Churchill himself certainly did not underestimate their importance to the wartime story when, in 1943, he praised ‘the unwavering courage and constant resourcefulness of railwaymen of all ranks in contributing so largely towards the final victory.’ And what a story it is.
The railway system during the Second World War was the lifeline of the nation, replacing vulnerable road transport and merchant shipping. The railways mobilised troops, transported munitions, evacuated children from cities and kept vital food supplies moving where other forms of transport failed. Railwaymen and women performed outstanding acts of heroism. Nearly 400 workers were killed at their posts and another 2,400 injured in the line of duty. Another 3,500 railwaymen and women died in action. The trains themselves played just as vital a role. The famous Flying Scotsman train delivered its passengers to safety after being pounded by German bombers and strafed with gunfire from the air. There were astonishing feats of engineering restoring tracks within hours and bridges and viaducts within days. Trains transported millions to and from work each day and sheltered them on underground platforms at night, a refuge from the bombs above. Without the railways, there would have been no Dunkirk evacuation and no D-Day.
Michael Williams, author of the celebrated book On the Slow Train, has written an important and timely book using original research and over a hundred new personal interviews. This is their story.
©2013 Michael Williams (P)2013 Isis Publishing Ltd, Random House Audiobooks
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Critic reviews

“As gripping as a fictional thriller… It is the human tales of evacuees, locomotive cleaners, crews, porters and ticket collectors that make this such an enthralling read… Michael Williams has written this book in an easy reading graphic style bringing to life the heroics and anecdotes of those he interviewed. His journalistic style makes this a compelling read” ( Sunday Express)
"Michael Williams has written a highly readable book and one that is accessible to all." ( Britain at War magazine)
"Books about railway history seem to appear in an endless stream, so it is a real pleasure to find one that not only has something new to say, but tells its story with style and enthusiasm." ( Who Do You Think You Are? magazine)
"an interesting contribution to social as well as railway history" ( Railnews)
"hugely readable...Williams has written this book that is both informative and scholarly but also easy read and that brings to life the heroics and anecdotes of the many railways workers he interviewed in the writing of this book. His style makes this a compelling read... All in all it's an important book that fills a gap in the story not just of Britain's railways but also of the Second World War on the home front." ( My Dad Rocks)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By J on 15-06-14

Chuffed To Bits!

I was a bit unsure about this book and listened to the sample a couple of times before finally taking the plunge and having a listen to it. It far and away exceeded by expectation and did a fantastic job of keeping my interest levels high throughout the book.

The narrator did an excellent job in bringing the stories and information to life without it becoming at all boring and monotoned. I would recommend most highly to anyone with an interest in either British steam railways or military history who are looking for something a bit different that will provided an extremely rewarding!

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Jack Harrison on 02-06-18

Our Railway Heroes and Heroines.

I have also recommend this book as part of my review for 'Wounded.

Perhaps because I spent ten years as a Railway Signalman (1978-88), and the phrase - 'Once a Railwayman, always a Railwayman', it was very easy for me to identify with both audio books.

There are many examples of personal bravery in here, most of which left me completely stunned and perhaps a bit inadequate to comment, meaningfully.

The Signalmen who stayed at their Box during bombing during the Blitz; or Loco crew who were attacked en-route by enemy aircraft, never thinking of their own safety. And Drivers, attempting to move trains from populated areas and dangerous sidings - with wagons ablaze. And of course, the railway-woman showing a fine example as her Railway Ferry itself became a casualty.

Through the years of World War II, Railway men and women worked to protect their trains, passengers and loads, as their own selfless contribution to victory; only to be cast aside by later closures.

But apart from this fine audio book, their efforts and often - ultimate sacrifice is also commemorated by a plaque at the main entrance of London's Waterloo Station. As I have mentioned elsewhere - I usually pause there to think of them.

Jack D. Harrison.

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