The Un-Beaten Track by Collie Knox, with Message from the Prime Minister, Cassell and Company, 1944[ebook]


The Un-Beaten Track by Collie Knox, with Message from the Prime Minister, Cassell and Company, 1944.

Hard back book in wartime economy blue coth binding, 5”x 7.5”, pp. 199, 9 B&W half tone illustrations. This book has a rather silly title, which makes it sound like another of S.P.B. Mais “rambling from the railway” booklets. It is not. It is in fact an account of the railways of Britain during the war years up to 1944, written another of that coterie of freelance journalists clustered round “Punch” magazine, who could turn their pen to any subject, even if , as Knox admits he was largely ignorant about railways. It is written in a rather flippant style, ( he apparently had a humourus programme on the “wireless” on Friday evenings)which I have to admit I found irritating after a while, but reading between the lines there was a serious purpose behind it.


After four years of unrelenting, toil and often danger, transport workers, including dockers and railwaymen were becoming increasingly discontented by early 1944. Politicians and the Press, praised the efforts of the armed forces and the home emergency serviced, but somehow managed to overlook the often nightly efforts made to ensure commuter trains ran the following morning, or that a trainload of tanks from Tyneside, made it to Southampton through the air raids, in time for the ship which was to carry them to catch the only tide which would enable it to join its convoy on time. The problem was taken seriously and the Government deployed one of the biggest guns at its disposal. General Bernard Law Montgomery, the victor of El Alemain, and probably the only British General, instantly recognisable by the man in the street, was sent to address mass meetings of railwaymen and dockers. They were thanked for their efforts so far, and praised for the part which they had played in his victory, by ensuring that his vital supplies, gathered from all over Britain, were shipped out to the middle east. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the time to slow down, he was asking them for one more great effort, to ensure the path to victory. These meetings did a great deal to raise morale, and almost certainly justified taking Montgomery away from “Overlord” planning, only weeks ahead of “D-Day. (Or was it really not Monty at all, but M.E. Clifton James? Look him up!)

Knox claims that the origin of the book was a chance meeting on Paddington Station with a very eminent GWR official, who had been at the same public school (so it could not have been Milne, who was educated in Befast). There followed an invitation to lunch, when at the coffee stage, he was invited to write this book. Not too surprising, Kox already had a well-received work describing his experience of being in an Atlantic convoy behind him, and another about the fire and rescue services.

I suspect that the inspiration for “The Un-Beaten Track” came from quite a high level, possibly Sir James Mine himself as Chairman of the Railway Executive Committee, who would be in a position to secure the backing of Lord Leathers, Minister of War Transport, and Winston Churchill. In wartime conditions, it made sense for Knox to confine his research to one railway,

Milne’s own Great Western, but the dedication, makes it clear that it is for

The Men and Women of Our British Railways who have,

in the World Conflict, so unflinchingly upheld

their unconquerable Tradition

of Service”

This is a much more people orientated work than the Official War histories of the other “Big Three,” with many descriptions of acts of courage. There is comparatively little in praise of the GWR itself, but one can see why this independently produced work pre-empted the Company from producing its own war history, limiting itself to an account of the GWR ships at Dunkirk

Because of wartime restrtictions on production, it is quite scarce.



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