Tag Archives: Railways

Benjamin Adams: a riveting war story

The British armed forces in the Great War took in men with a vast array of skills and experience. Many men ended up in combat arms, but where they had skills that could be useful in other parts of the military machine, they were often moved into roles where those skills could be used. Benjamin Adams was one of those.

Benjamin John Adams was born in Poplar in 1893, the one of the 13 children of boilermaker Robert Adams and his wife Mary. In 1911, he was living with his parents and his surviving siblings: five brothers and three sisters; two of his brothers were boiler makers like Robert, while Benjamin was a riveter.

On 15 April 1915, Adams enlisted in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry at Poplar. In December that year, he was sent overseas. He was not sent to the Western Front, Gallipoli or another war zone, though: Private Adams was sent to Belfast to work for Harland and Wolff, the shipbuilding company responsible for building the Titanic. In the years leading up to the war, the company had successively built six ships that where – at the time of their launching – the largest vessels ever made.

Harland and Wolff riveters, working in Glasgow © IWM (Q 20003)

Harland and Wolff riveters, working in Glasgow © IWM (Q 20003)

During the war, Harland and Wolff continued to build ships, including the ‘mystery ships’ – warships designed as civilian shipping. According to Grace’s Guides, they and one other company were the main builds of the standard warship designs.

After three months in Belfast, Adams returned to the DCLI before being sent away in April 1916 to County Durham for more non-military work. In July, they found him suitable employment in the army, but not in the DCLI: Adams was transferred to the Railway Operating Division of the Royal Engineers. He soon qualified, unsurprisingly, as a riveter.

In September 1916, Adams was finally sent overseas with the RE. He served on the army’s vital railway system for three years, before returning to the UK on 8 November 1918.

Benjamin Adams may not have had an exciting war, nor a particularly dangerous one, but his work was vital. It was also an example of the army making good use of the skills of the men who ended up in its ranks.

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Posted by on 24 February 2015 in Ordinary Londoners


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Happy New Year from the Railway Companies

Following swiftly on from the Season of Good Will comes the annual Season of Rail Fare Increases. On 2 January 2013 year, ticket prices will increase by an average of 4%. In January 1917, the increase was up to 50% and it was accompanied by a decline in services.

In December 1916, the Board of Trade announced new regulations with wide-ranging impact on travellers. Railway companies announced changes to take effect in the New Year:

  • Increase in fares by up to 50%
  • Limit passengers’ luggage was limited to 100lb (this was to reduce the work of the depleted number of railway porters, many having enlisted)
  • Abolition of cheap excursion tickets (many had already disappeared in 1914)
  • Running fewer trains, and slower services (some trains to run more slowly, but also more Express services cut than stopping services)
  • Reduction in dining cars
  • No longer allowing ‘reservation of seats, and compartments, and saloons for private parties’

These changes were not aimed at commuters, though. They were intended to reduce the amount of pleasure travel to free up capacity to support the war effort. The increase in fares did not apply to season tickets, workers’ tickets (i.e. those before a certain time in the morning), traders’ tickets and ‘zone tickets’. They also did not apply to the Underground (unlike in 2013) other than where it went outside London, such as beyond Acton on the District line.

There were also numerous station closures, many of them temporary for the duration of the war.  For example, the London, Brighton and South Coast railway company announced the reduction in services between the capital and the closure of stations on that line. These included South Bermondsey, Old Kent Road, Tooting Junction, Merton Abbey, and Selsdon Road in London, and further stations in Brighton.

The London and North West Railway also announced the closure of a number of stops, including some in London:

List of stations and halts closed by London and North West Railways (Times 22/12/1916)

List of stations and halts closed by the London and North-Western Railway Company (Times 22/12/1916)

At the end of January, the Times reported that the changes had been successful in their aim of reducing non-work travel. Travel was down 20% overall and there had been a particular impact on the level of travel between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. In addition, many more people were using season tickets (which had previously not given a significant discount on travel in London). Another change that accompanied this was that people were asked to show their season tickets to the inspector, where before a declaration that one had a season ticket was enough!

The Railway Companies’ New Year’s gift of increased fares is not a modern phenomenon. The increase in 1917 – and the reduction in service – was a particularly dramatic one. Where modern fare changes seek to get people onto off-peak services, the 1917 changes were aimed at reducing unnecessary railway travel in wartime.

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Posted by on 1 January 2013 in Famous companies, Ordinary Londoners


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