logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a child

The importance of train travel in 1940s wartime Britain



1940s World War Two poster encouraging people to save on train journeys.

World War Two poster encouraging people to save on train journeys. Photo taken in the Lincolnsfields Childrens Centre, Bushey.

Trains were by far the main mode of long distance transport in Britain during World War Two. Very few families had cars, and even where they did, the driver was invariably the man of the house who was away serving in the armed forces. Petrol was rationed anyway and often unavailable for anything other than essential services. So trains were the only realistic option for relatively long distance journeys - and they always seemed to be packed with army, navy and airforce personnel often with standing room only.

So long distance journeys were a matter of necessity or special treats for families - although not of course for forces personnel. Money and resources were in short supply, and everyone felt that they shouldn't travel without good reason.

Today things are quite different and some workers travel by train as part of their daily work commute. Employers and recruiters such as West Coast Careers consider workers from a large area for their open positions.

WW2 poster urging housewives to free up trains, buses and trams for the war workers

Poster urging housewives to free up trains, buses and trams for the war workers. Photographed in Brooklands Museum.

Back in the 1940s, my mother did take me with her on a 'long' journey. That was to visit her friend no further than the other side of London. Also on one occasion she took me on an even longer journey to see my father who was on leave from the army. A leave of absence from the armed forces was invariably short and often measured in hours rather than days, so my parents probably thought they would have more time together if my father didn't have to do the travelling.

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Trains in the late 1940s and into the 1950s

Dirty, sooty steam from the engine of a steam train.

Dirty, sooty steam from the engine of a steam train.

After the war and even into the 1950s, little seemed to change on the railways. Britain was still recovering from the ravishes of the war and there was hardly any spare money for investment.

Certainly I remember, in the late 1950s, my face being black with soot after travelling between London and Exeter in a train pulled by a steam engine, powered by burning coal. Of course it was my own fault for leaning out of the train window! There was always a great deal of smoke from these engines.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer
webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is Pat Cryer.