This weekend our thoughts turn to remembrance of the sacrifices made by those who fought so bravely to defend our way of life. Sadly, all those who served in The Great War are no longer with us, making it all the harder to imagine the circumstances in which they found themselves. This was brought home to me when I recently visited Sanctuary Hill Museum, near the Hill 60 memorial in Belgium.
Hill 60 overlooks the town of Ypres, which was completely destroyed during the war and painstakingly rebuilt thereafter. The Hill 60 museum site is now one of the few places on the Ypres Salient battlefields where an original trench layout can be seen in some semblance of what it might have looked like all those years ago. Even though the troops and the guns have now gone, the scene provides an eerie vision of what those troops had to endure. The photos show the muddy trenches and the flooded shell-holes that characterised this form of warfare.
At the Moseley Railway Trust we also have some artefacts from “The War to End All Wars”, and it so happened on Saturday that we decided to operate one of these. This was partially because we needed to do some testing and also for the benefit of some VIP visitors who were meeting with us on site. Kerr Stuart 3014 was ordered by the French Commission for their artillery railways, and came with a good number of optional extras for the harsh environment in which it had to operate, such as spark arresting chimney, a set of four jacks for re-railing and also a set of equipment for drawing water from convenient sources such as rivers, canals and, more likely, flooded shell holes. One of the planned tests was on this “water lifter” equipment. This consists of a Gresham and Craven ejector and a long flexible hose with a filter on the end, which is normally carried coiled up on the roof of the cab.
To illustrate this the photo below, taken in September 1917, shows a Kerr Stuart locomotive having got into trouble whilst hauling some portable track sections across a stretch of unstable track near Proyart in the Somme area. The driver can be seen, presumably waiting for assistance to be sent out. The water lifter hose can also be clearly seen, as can the various lifting jacks. It is possible that excessive water in the tanks has contributed to the driver’s undoing, as full side tanks will raise the centre of gravity of the locomotive.
Not having restored the Apedale canal (yet), we chose to test the water lifter using our H class water tank wagon. You can see where the hose attaches on the final photograph: the device on top of the tank just in front of the cab is the ejector. All went very smoothly and it was remarked that the last time this particular performance was carried out on one of these engines was probably 93 years ago. After a successful test, when putting the hose back on the roof, it also became clear that whoever did this would become a sitting duck for any enemy sniper in the viscinity. Perhaps that is why some of the contemporary photos show the hose being carried behind the cab. Another reminder of the horrifying conditions that surrounded the purpose of these machines.
One of our key aims is to preserve equipment such as this, so that it can continue to tell its own story to current and future generations. If you want to help us in that mission, contact us here.