Railway central to Somme offensive: new exhibition highlights rail’s decisive role during World War I’s deadliest battle

As the nation commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, visitors to London’s King’s Cross station can explore a new exhibition featuring the railway’s crucial role during this key battle.

Produced by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which brings together Network Rail and rail operators, the free exhibition showcases original and archival material including photographs and war memorabilia. It will be on display on the Western concourse at King’s Cross until 8 July 2016.

Visitors to the exhibition will discover:

  • How Britain’s senior railwaymen revolutionised military operations by building new rail lines on the home and Western Fronts: by 1917, over 2,000 miles of new rail track had been laid out on the Western Front. This helped ensure ammunition and troops’ supplies reached the frontline. Prior to this, military strategists depended on badly maintained roads, resulting in shortages of vital equipment.
  • How approximately 1,000 railwaymen were killed at the Somme. The exhibition features the story of two of them – Reginald and Gerald Wilkinson, brothers from Yorkshire who had worked for the North Eastern Railway. Both were killed on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Somme.

Jeremy Higgins, Customer Service Director of CrossCountry Trains and author of Great War Railwaymen: Britain's Railway Company Workers at War 1914-1918, said:

“The Somme is rightly remembered for its unprecedented loss of life. With military stalemate on the horizon, the railway stepped in to support the delivery of vital supplies to the Western Front: thanks to the leadership of senior railwaymen such as Sir Eric Geddes, new rail developments helped change Britain’s military fortunes, leading to eventual victory in 1918”.

Paul Plummer, Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said:

“As we commemorate the Somme one hundred years on, we hope visitors to the exhibition will come away inspired by the story of the railway during World War I and remember the bravery of the many railway workers who fought on the frontline and worked on the home front”.

Notes to editors

Spokespeople are available for interview on 30 June and 1 July (the start of national Somme commemorations).

The exhibition is produced by the Rail Delivery Group, which brings together Network Rail and rail operators.

The exhibition takes place as part of national commemorations to mark the centenary of the battle of the Somme.

Thanks to the National Railway Museum for supplying exhibition photography. All relevant historical images accompanying this press release should be credited to: National Railway Museum.

Following King’s Cross, the exhibition is due to tour the country. Future locations include:

  • York station (July-September 2016)
  • Swansea station (September-October 2016)
  • Birmingham New Street (October-December 2016)
  • Glasgow Central (January-February 2017)

Four train companies operate out of London King’s Cross: Grand Central, Great Northern, Hull Trains, Virgin Trains East Coast.

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