Monday 1 April 2019

Crewe Station - the Heart of Britain’s Railways in World War I

Crewe Railway Station
(Cheshire Image Bank c10557)
Throughout the years of the Great War a vital role was played by Crewe Station in Britain’s battle to keep men and supplies moving to where they were needed, at home and abroad. The station was a scene of constant activity, bustling and busy, day and night.

Holyhead boat trains, Scottish expresses, the Irish Mail, the London, Plymouth and Dover trains, the Travelling Post Office, ambulance trains bringing the wounded to northern hospitals, all called at Crewe.  Navy men going north to the Fleet at Scapa Flow, Army men heading south towards the Front in France and Belgium, plus vast supplies of shells and armaments all went by rail. Around 300 trains a day used this vital link, being shunted, marshalled and watered, before they steamed out again.

Crewe: Soldiers' Sailors' Rest
(Cheshire Image Bank c00801)
At any one time hundreds of soldiers and sailors could be seen around the station, awaiting their connections, passing the time in ambling along the platforms, taking a nap in front of the waiting-room fires, and sometimes joining in a round of ‘Tipperary’ to an accordion accompaniment.

Book-stalls, telegraph offices and refreshment rooms were always open, and so, from spring 1915 was the famous Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Rest, next to the station, where a meal and a bed could be had anytime of the day or night. Later in the war a trolley service with urns was set up to visit the trains which were only stopping for a short time, and to provide the troops with a welcome mug of tea before they steamed off again to continue their vital journeys. The station rest and refreshment services for military personnel in transit were organised by CEMS, the Church of England Men’s Society.

Crewe: Soldiers' and; Sailors' Rest
(Cheshire Image Bank c00802)

In the photograph above, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Rest visitors’ book can be seen on a stand in the centre of the image.  Twelve visitors’ registers were signed by 130,000 men since April 1915; the final two registers, covering 1919, are lodged with us at Cheshire Record Office (reference D 4998). These are a fascinating record of a brief spell in the lives of thousands of men a hundred years ago, some being demobilised, some going on leave, and some back to their regiments, many on long journeys to far distant parts.

A sample index of over 1000 men adding their names to the visitors’ book in March-April 1919 has been compiled by our volunteers. We will be posting extracts from the book on Twitter over the coming weeks – follow us @CheshireRO to keep updated!