British Railways and The Great War, by Edwin A. Pratt, Selwyn and Blount, 1921. [ebook]


British Railways and The Great War, by Edwin A. Pratt, Selwyn and Blount, 1921.

The MIDLAND Railway – a British Transport Treasures off-print.


Notes by Stuart Rankin

The original two-volume work comprises 1194 pages and 76 pp. Half tone illustrations.

This off-print of pp. 12 plus a system map, and some additional illustrations describes the Company’s general activities during the Great War, including the provision of nine complete ambulance trains for service at home and abroad, and the loan of 78 locomotives and over 6,000 ten ton wagons. The Midland did not suffer greatly from air~raids. Derby Works was bombed by an airship, causing quite considerable damage, soon repaired. However the event gave some cause for alarm nationally, as it was thought that the target had been the nearby Rolls Royce aeroplane engine factory, which it had been thought far enough inland to be fairly safe. The fear was unfounded; records after the war showed that the airship commander, hopelessly lost, was under the impression that he was bombing Nottingham!

Outside of Government, Military and Transport Circles, few people realised the extent to which the railways of Britain contributed to the eventual Allied Victory. The railways may not have won the Great War, but they went a long way to ensuring that it was not lost. Please bear in mind the fact> that unlike continental lines the railways in Britain were neither State Owned, nor subsidised, (except for a very few rural light railways) but were owned by private, corporate shareholders, and charities who relied on the dividends for their income. They had been built by private enterprise .

Legislation had long been in place for the railways to come under state control in the event of war, the mechanism of administration being by a Railway Executive Committee, chaired by a Government Minister, and comprising the General Managers of the leading railway companies. In peace time, meetings were held as required. During the War in times of crisis they were held three to five times a day, morning, afternoon and evening. Full meetings were supplemented by sub-committees which met as required, drawing in other Chief Officers of the home railways as required under the chairmanship of one of the full members.

The basic arrangement subject to some detailed adjustments, was that the railways would be guaranteed an income equal to the receipts of the last normal year of trading, all Government, Military and Naval traffic was to be dealt with free of charge. As it turned out, no Government Minister was able to attend the frequent meetings, so the Deputy Chairman, Sir Herbert Walker, the outstanding General Manager of the London & South Western Railway took the meetings.This fortunate circumstance had the result that the running of the railways was left to the professionals for the duration, with minimum Government interference

Walker’s place at the head of the table was to some extent inevitable because when in 1912, planning began for the event of a European war, it was decided that any British Expeditionary force would embark from the new facilities at the LSWR docks at Southampton, so Walker’s staff were responsible for one end of a mammoth operation. Small groups of timetable experts on each railway, were responsible for planning the entraining of the troops, horses, guns and transport from army depots on their systems in accordance with War Office requirements. There was a specified time slot in the operation for each special train to arrive shipside for speedy embarkation. Timetables were drawn up with the railways consulting between themselves to achieve the required arrival time. In the months leading up to the outbreak of war, these plans were the subject of constant checking and revision. Consequently in August 1914 the plans worked like clockwork. Not a single special train missed its 12 minute arrival slot through being delayed, not a single soldier, horse, gun or wagon was lost or injured. The BEF arrived safely in France, in good time to participate in the retreat from Mons…

Please do not scoff, but the fact is, that taken as a whole, the major railways were the best managed enterprises in the country. The managements were highly trained, and from the 1890s onwards, delegations were sent to the USA to learn about the application of the latest management techinques (statistical collection and analysis, critical path planning, cost/benefit studies, Hollerith punched card machines for records and accountancy, etc.) Leading General Managers and Chief Mechanical Engineers earned between £3,000 and £5,000 p.a. and staff trained by them were in demand from railways all over the world – even the USA. Consequently, when comparatively early in the war, senior Government officials and army officers were found incompetent the Railways were approached for help. They responded magnificently, and patriotically.

Here are just a few examples. Sir Guy Granet, GM Midland Railway, appointed Controller of Imports, subsequently Director General of Movements at the War Office. Guy Calthrop, GM LNWR, appointed Controller of Mines. Sir Sam Fay, GM Great Central Railway, served on REC, then as Deputy to Granet, before succeeding him as Director General of Movements, with the honorary rank of Major General, and a seat on the Army Council. Henry Fowler, Chief Mechanical Engineer, Midland Railway, became head of the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, later Director of Aircraft Production at the Ministry of Munitions. Vincent Raven, Chief Mechanical Engineer, North Eastern Railway was appointed Supt. of Woolwich Arsenal.

So where did the patriotism come in? All these men, and dozens of others of equal or lesser rank were loaned to the Government, their parent railway paying their salaries and keeping their jobs open for them to return. (There were one or two exceptions, like Eric Geddes, Deputy GM North Eastern Railway whose meteoric career after “ loaned”, soon took him out of the NER’s orbit. He became First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the Cabinet). It will have been noted that apart from the “movements” jobs at the War Office non of the appointees had special knowledge of the fields to which they were appointed It was usually “specialists” who had been found wanting and had to be replaced. What the country needed in key posts like these was absolutely first rate managers and organisers. The railway companies made them available. In the case of the North Eastern for example, no less than 50 Chief Officers, Senior Managers and “Special Class” Clerks were loaned.

And do not think that these jobs were sinecures. Sir Sam Fay, in his early 60’s worked late at he War Office, or at the REC five days a week, sleeping at his club in case an emergency arose during the night so he could reach the War Office in minutes. On Saturdays he invariably worked until lunchtime, the war and weather permitting, he then had a round of golf and spent the night at home with wife and family. Sundays at home, but closeted with his deputy from the GCR, dealing with railway matters, before returning to central London.

Patriotism. In August 1914, railwaymen in their thousands volunteered – so many in fact that resrictions had to be placed on how many could go, or the railways would have ground to a halt. Eric Geddes, the dynanic deputy GM of the NER, sought the permission of the War Office to raise a battalion composed entirely of NER men. This was granted, the Company made a new transit shed at Hull Docks, available as barracks during training, provided uniforms and equipment and paid the difference between railway pay and army pay to the soldiers dependents.

The Admiralty, always short of auxiliary vessels, requisitioned the best of the turbine and triple expansion steamers owned by the railways for use as hospital ships, transports and even seaplane carriers. Almost to a man, the railway captains, officers and crews volunteered to go with them. Where a route had lost all its ships, a vessel was loaned by one of the other railways to cover at least part of the service. The war office “borrowed” hundreds of locomotives for service abroad, but

always at the discretion of the RECon the basis of what could be spared without damage to the war effort, even if ordinary passenger sevices would have to be reduced. At one point there was a desperate need for rails in France to repair damaged track and lay much needed extra sidings. As usual our “gallant allies” had promised all aid short of actual help. Within hours, every spare rail stocked by the railways of Britain had been earmarked and was on its way to France. On another occasion track materials were urgently required and several miles of secondary line were reduced from double to single track.

Amongst others, the Midland loaned two outstanding men to the Government for the Great War. They were (Sir William) Guy Granet, GBE ( 1867 – 1943) and (Sir) Henry Fowler, KBE (1870 – 1938).

(Cecil Paget, General Superintendent Midland Railway, came from an army family, and joined up on his own initiative, serving in the Railway Operating Division, Royal Engineers. Despite his job being kept open for him, he did not return to railway service after the war).

Guy Granet was the second son of William Augustus Granet and his wife Adelaide Julia Granet, née Le Mesurier. He was born inItaly, in 1867, where his father was a banker. He was educated at Rugby and Balliol College, (Modern History, 1889) and was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1893. There is a bit of a mystery surrounding Granet’s early years. He was socially well connected by marriage in 1892 – the year before he was called to the Bar – to the daughter of the Speaker of the House of Commons, (Viscount Selby from Nov. 1895). Granet followed his father-in-law by practicing as a barrister on the not very lucrative Northern Circuit, during which time there seems to be no record of his having taken any particular interest in railways, or gaining any experience in industrial management. In some respects, Granet resembled his near contemporary Eric Geddes, having a similar energetic and forceful personality, but where Geddes was a railwayman through and through, with experience of railways on three continents, so far as I have been able to establish, Granet had no particular interest in, or knowledge of railwaysprior to 1900.

His practice at the bar seems not to have flourished, because in 1900, aged 33, Granet, after the fashion´of many not very successful barristers sought employment elsewhere. Standing for Parliament was often a popular choice, but as Granet’s father-in-law had contrived to alienate both the Conservatives and the Liberals this was not an option, so he settled for a snug billet with a contemporary QUANGO as secretary to the Railway Companies’ Association from 1900 to 1905.

The post had previously been occupied on an Honorary basis by Sir Henry Oakley, General Manager of the Great Northern Railway, so the duties can hardly have been arduous to begin with, although they increased considerably during the first years of the new century. As Secretary, he came into contact with the Chairmen and General Managers of all the leading Railways, and gained a considerable reputation as an expert witness before Parliamentary Select Committees. He also seems to have formulated some strong views on, in his opinion, the outdated way the railways were run, and on “prima donna” Locomotive Superintendents and Chief Mechanical Engineers, who earned what Granet thought were grossly inflated salaries, and operated in a high handed and independent manner. It is probably also at this time that his own management style, which he described as “benevolent despotism” evolved.

Also in 1900. Henry Fowler, then aged 30, Gas Engineer and Head of Materials Testing at the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway works at Horwich, moved to a similar post on the Midland at Derby. After two years study at Mason’s College,Birmingham, Fowler emegeed with a keen interest in metallurgy and an Engineering Diploma. He then went as an apprentice under John Aspinall at Horwich. His abilities being recognised, Aspinall took him on as a personal pupil, a decision justified when as a result of part time study at the Horwich Mechanics Institute, Fowler became the first student there to be awarded a Whitworth Scholarship. Out of his articles, He was appointed Chief Inspector of Materials in 1894, then had the additional duties of Gas Manager added. Unusually, while passing through all the departments, unlike otherapprentices or pupils, Fowler does not appear to have spent time in the loco drawing office,, or gained footplate experience through posting to a loco running shed. In later years, he was able to cheerfully admit “I never designed a locomotive in my life.” Granet´s “ideal” Chief Mechanical Engineer was on a converging course to be available when needed!

Probably “head hunted” by Midland Railway Chairman, Sir George Paget, Granet was appointed assistant general managerto John Mathieson in 1905. Although only 60, Mathieson seems to have been in poor health, because he resigned the following year, dying soon after. He was succeeded by Granet. This was very unusual at that time, when managers almost always rose through the ranks of railway operators, or through the railway’s own legal departments. Granet arrived at a time when the upper echelons of the Midland were seething with intrigue and rivalry, which would carry over into the first years of the LMS. At the epicentre was Cecil Paget, son of the Company Chairman. Well educated (Harrow and Cambridge)he had a keen analytical mind and was a skilled engineer, having been a pupil of S. W. Johnson, the Midland Locomotive Superintendent. Aged 72 in 1903, and on the verge of retiring Johnson unfortunately let it be known that his successor would be the 29 year old Paget who was now Deputy Works Manager, not Richard Deeley, aged 48, Johnson’s Deputy as Loco Supt. As can be imagined, there there was a kind ofof quiet uproar amongst he Chief Officers and some directors, at this blatant nepotism. It is possible that Johnson suspected that something might be in the wind, and started the rumour as a last gesture to help his deputy and ensure the succession, but the upshot was that Deeley was eventually appointed in 1904, with the new title, Chief Mechanical Engineer,(although as we shall see, this turned out to be something of a “Hollow Crown”) and Paget became Works Manager. Henry Fowler, who throughout his railway career, exhibited “Vicar of Bray” like characteristics, became Deputy WM. A further bone of contention, again raising charges of nepotism, was anexperimental locomotive designed by Paget, and built in the works from 1906, on the basis that he paid all costs involved.One can imagine the whisperings about inappropriate use of workmen and materials did little to improve relations between Deeley and Paget, particularly when Paget’s money ran out and his father persuaded the Board to Fund further work to the tune of £1500. It was all to no avail. Some trial trips were run, it was rumoured that 82mph had been reached on one occasion, but then the machinery totally seized up rendering the locomotive immoveable, blocking the main line for several hours. No further work was done after 1908, and Paget’s loco was left sheeted up in a quiet part of the works until scrapped during the Great War while Paget was away. His father ceased being chairman in 1911.

Granet was much impressed by Cecil Paget’s intelect and energy, and apart from differing on the subject of locomotive sizes (Paget was for small) shared similar views about the outdated nature of current railway operating methods. Granetappointed Paget as General Superintendent – a much expanded role from that of Superintendent of the Line, which it replaced. An obstacle to their plans was Richard Deeley, who kept approacing the Board for permission to begin building larger locomotives, as he was finding it increasingly difficult to work the heavier trains now coming into use In the summer of1909 Deeley was summoned to meet Directors, and was told that his job was to be cut in half, Chief Mechanical Engineer, and Chief Motive Power Superintendent who would be responsible for operating locomotives and day to day maintenance. The Chief Motive Power Supt. Would report to the General Supt. – Paget.

Not surprisingly Deeley was furious at this demotion of responsibility if not of title, and one assumes cut in salary. There are various versions of what happened next. One is that Deeley amicably agreed to resign and was awarded a generous pension for life. And then there was the event as recalled by Lawrie Reeves, a Derby Apprentice shortly after. The tale went round the works that Deeley returned from lunch one day, to find a workman unscrewing his nameplate from his office door. On his desk was an envelope containing a very large cheque. That seems very like “Benevolent Despotism” to me! It would be four months before an appointment was made to replace Deeley. Was Granet lobbying his directors to make sure he did not get a “Prima Donna”, who would interfere with his and Paget’s plans? If so he was successful, for the Derby Works Manager, 39 year old Henry Fowler, highly competent production engineer, but not an innovator who would cause waves. Henceforth, the CME’s dept .danced to the tune of the Chief Motive Power Supt. This unsatisfactory situation, which carried forward for over a decade into the early years of the LMS, saw the Midland continue to build obsolete compound 4-4-0s while other railways were building “Atlantic” 4-4-2s, 4-6-0s, and even drawing up plans for “Pacific” 4-6-2s.

When his father ceased to be Chairman in 1911, Paget’s influence began to wane, but the rifts had still not been properly healed when war broke out, One might speculate that given the problems over locomotive policy, the Midland could ill-afford to loan two top men, and lose a third one to enlistment. The ascendancy of Motive Power running over loco design and building grew even faster, as The Works turned over to munitions manufacture. The Pagets were an army family, and Cecil signed up in the usual manner, rising to become Lt.Col. Railway Operating Division, Royal Engineers. Granet wasloaned to the Government as Controller of Imports, then Director General of Movements at the War Office. Also in 1915.Fowler was appointed Supt. Of the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough. Here he revolutionised production methods using a system of careful statistical monitoring of every stage, he raised output from dozens to thousands, and ended the war as Controller of Aircraft Production for the Ministry of Munition until1919, when he returned to sis job as Midland Railway CME.

Granet returned to the Midland as General Manager in 1918, when he resigned, becoming a director, then Chairman in 1922. Hugely influential behind the scenes, much that was wrong wth the 1923 “Grouping” scheme for the railways was Granet’s fault, due to his intense lobbying, and possible collusion with the new Minister of Transport, Sir Eric Geddes. While it was generally acknowledged that the giant LNWR was too big for efficient management (it probably was, but worked quite well by according a kind of “Dominion” status, with considerable devolved powers to districts or divisions, often coinciding with the territory of absorbed and amalgamated companies). Granet favoured a highly centralised management structure, of the largest possible undertaking to achieve significant economies of scale, based on American methods, under a President and Vice-presidents. Hence the unwieldy, and as the last President Sir William Wood, would admit, virtually unmanageable London Midland and Scottish Railway. In 1924, Granet became the last Chairman of the LMS, setting the coping stone on this achievement by appointing Sir Josiah Stamp, a penny pinching economist, who attempted to run the railway by micro-managing everything from the contents of the stationery cupboards upwards, as President in 1927. Having done his worst Granet abolished his own post the following year, and left the railway industry to become “Something in the City”.

Exacerbated by the Directors twice appointing the wrong man as CME, (George Hughes of the L&Y/LNWR, who refused to move his HQ from Horwich, and Fowler (!) again, the LMS found itself with the prospect of being unable to operate the following year’s Summer Timetable. Without consulting Fowler, whose devout Christianity seems to have made him content to be something of a doormat, the Directors tried to buy 40 “Castle” class locomotives from the Great Western. This would in fact have been illegal, and eventually a set of “Lord Nelson” class drawings was borrowed from the Southern, and sent to the North British Locomotive Company with an order for a three cylinder version, incorporating as many standard LMS components as possible. Thus, the “Royal Scots”.

Eventually enough was enough, and Fowler was moved sideways? downwards? to be a deputy Vice-President in the Byzantine management structure foisted on the LMS by Granet, in a vain attempt to make the behemoth controllable.

E.J.H. Lemon became interim CME, pending the poaching of William Stanier from Swindon.



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