The Great Western was the first of the “Big Four” to have its WWII story told, a little prematurely one would have thought in “The Un-Beaten Track” published in 1944, by Cassell and written by Collie Knox. Although there must have been some “official” input it is not clear whether the initiative came from the GWR or the publisher. With wartime censorship still in force it was inevitably an incomplete tale, and the rather silly punning title, sounding more like one of the scores of “Rambling” guides sold by the railways before the war, would not have helped sales. It is certainly now a rather scarce book and a copy will be offered by BTT later this year.
The GWR seem to have thought it inadequate, certainly so far as its’ Shipping Division was concerned. The result was, again in advance of any “war” book by Southern, LMS or LNER, “Dunkirk and the Great Western” published this time by the railway company itself, in 1945. Although not as large a ship-owner as the LMS, the GWR at the outbreak of war operated twelve passenger and cargo vessels, on services between Weymouth and the Chanel Islands and between Fishguard and Ireland. There was also a small ferry, “Mew” operating between Kingswear and Dartmouth. In September 1939, two large modern turbine steamers “St.David” and “St.Andrew” were withdrawn from Fishguard having been requisitioned for conversion to Hospital Ships, leaving the relief vessel “St.Patrick” to operate alone. This last was briefly assisted by “St. Helier” withdrawn by the GWR on the discontinuation of the Chanel Islands passenger service, but the transfer was short-lived as she too was requisitioned as a transport. Another Weymouth vessel “St.Julien” was requisitioned as a transport in September 1939 but converted to a Hospital Ship the following month. All these and the cargo steamers “Roebuck” and “Sambur” were active in the Dunkirk and associated operations, including a little known failed attempt to rescue 800 British troops trapped at St. Valery.
I have been unable to find out anything about the author Ashley Brown other than a writer of the same name is credited with three works on rail/road competition and the possibility of railway nationalisation. Rather dull subject matter. If this is the same author he writes well. conveying some of the excitement and disappointments of “Operation Dynamo” from an unusual viewpoint.
PREVIEW BELOW – MAY TAKE A WHILE TO LOAD.