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Allied Railways of the Western Front - Narrow Gauge in the Somme Sector (Hardback)

Before, During and After the First World War

Transport > Trains & Railways WWI > Battles & Campaigns > Somme WWI > By Year > 1915 WWI > By Year > 1916 WWI > By Year > 1917 WWI > By Year > 1918

By Joan S. Farebrother, Martin J. B. Farebrother
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Pages: 256
Illustrations: 160
ISBN: 9781473887633
Published: 30th January 2019


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The Somme sector of the Western Front was held by French forces until early 1916, when the British and Dominions Third and Fourth Armies moved into the northern part, before the joint First Battle of the Somme from July to November 1916. In 1917, with the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, British responsibility moved further south. By early 1918 the British Third and Fifth Armies were responsible as far south as east of Noyon. In Spring 1918 the German attack and advance from the Hindenburg Line came west almost to Amiens. However the British and French Armies finally stopped the advance, and from August 1918 drove the German Army back eastwards until the Armistice on 11 November 1918.

In this book the metre gauge networks established before the First World War are examined. Then the build up of light (60cm gauge) railways, initially mainly French but later British, in 1915 and 1916, is considered, with an assessment of the contribution of these and the metre gauge lines to the war effort. With the major movements of the front line in this sector in 1917 and 1918, the response of the narrow gauge railways is considered chronologically as well as by area, in the context of overall railway policy and development. After the war the light railways contributed to the reconstruction of the devastated areas, and then in some places served the sugar beet industry. The metre gauge railways were rebuilt or repaired. The story is followed to the closure of the last of these railways in the 1960s.

This book is a companion volume to Narrow Gauge in the Arras Sector (Pen & Sword Transport, 2015) by the same authors. It refers also to other previous works on British and French railways in the First World War, but contains sufficient information to stand alone. It describes how to find key locations now, and where rolling stock can be seen. Some walks are included for those who wish to explore the territory.

The final section/chapter is a masterpiece. The authors have a cottage in the Pas de Calais département and so it is perhaps not surprising that the last section of the book is 'things to see and do now'; so not only is the reader given the most superb background into this aspect of railway history but a contemporary travel guide, with suggestions of what to see and walks to follow, is provided as well.

The book has a detailed bibliography and a comprehensive index and the reader will gather that your reviewer was mightily impressed!


BackTrack, October 2019

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British Railway Modelling, May 2019

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Narrow Gauge World

This book is thoroughly recommended.

Cyfnodolyn Rheilffordd Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Summer 2019

If you want to appreciated how the railway infrastructure developed to support a massive war of attrition this book is well worth reading.

Industrial Railway Society

A. comprehensive and definitive account of narrow-gauge railways which existed before World War I and those lines of a more temporary nature which were laid, moved and ripped up as the War progressed. Some of these lines were put to other uses after the end of the War and these alternative employments are also chronicled.

This is the second similar book written by Martin and Joan Fairbrother ( the first volume deals with the Arras Sector) and is of particular interest to those researching ancestors and locations during the First World War; it provides an evocative view of the use to which rail transport was put before, during and after the War years. Infinite care has been taken to keep the script factual, without it becoming too dry and the care which has been lavished on the book shows.

Austrian Railway Group

As with the previous Arras Sector title, this book is hard bound and of high quality. It has numerous tables and many detailed maps to explain the complexity of the story being told.

This book is thoroughly recommended.

Ffestiniog Railway Magazine

As well as the informative text, maps etc, there are a lot of archive photos and plenty of modern, colour pictures, showing some of what remains to this day. There are some buildings that today are falling into ruin, maybe farm storage, others left derelict and some converted into houses which make for interesting looking homes. Added to all this there are also some suggested walks, where the modern battlefield visitor can still follow some of the old lines and see some of what remains even to this day.

I found it a fascinating read and it has given me some new ideas about what to look for in our next trip to the area.

​Read the full review here

Military Model Scene, Robin Buckland

This book is copiously illustrated, many from old postcards and there is also a comprehensive series of maps, diagrams and specimen timetables. The enormity of destruction and suffering during the conflict is well recorded.

A book highly recommended to the narrow-gauge enthusiast but primarily to those studying the history of the area and the actions which comprised the battles of the Somme.

Railway Correspondence and Travel Society

A very interesting in depth study.

Read the full Spanish review here

Miniaturas JM

An excellent idea to put the wartime railway usage into a wider context. The result is a most interesting account, with plenty to inspire modellers.

Continental Modeller, May 2019

This book is a very good summary of the railways of the time with a great deal of information contained. It has been well researched and from my perspective it has dominated my reading over the last few days, covering a topic that I knew nothing about but that I have now been researching further. I can recommend this book to those interested in the history of railways as well as readers into military history, particularly of the 20th century. It will also interest narrow gauge model railroaders and railway modellers who have more esoteric tastes than the regular modellers. It will also find some interest among the wargaming community, especially those taking more of an interest in the First World War.

This is a book I found particularly interesting and I am happy to recommend it.

Read the full review here



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Heritage Railway (online), 9th April 2018 - reviewed by Nigel Devereux

So this is a high-quality publication, and a detailed historical record of the subject it covers... it is an interesting and informative book, and much more than a textbook. The style is factual and informative, but also warm, and respectful of the horrors of the war. The excellent maps and the selection of period and modern photographs enhance the text in portraying the geographical and social context of the reality in which the railways were built and operated. Of course those with an interest in the narrow gauge railways of the first world war will find this book of great value, but it will be of interest to railway enthusiasts generally, and also to those interested in the military aspects of the war.

Read the full review here

Michael's Model Railways

The word “Encyclopaedic” is often over used in book reviews but in the case of Narrow Gauge in the Somme Sector it is a most appropriate term. Whilst fully illustrated the book is full of facts about narrow gauge railways in this area of France. Concentrating on the importance of the railways in the Great War the book also covers before and after the conflict. The book starts with the origins of the metre gauge of the Somme and the Oise and Aisne départments from as early 1895. These established the networks but it was the 60cm gauge operated by the French and later the British that made a significant contribution in the area to the Allied war effort.

For anyone with more than a passing interest in light railways of the Great War this book is essential. Military modellers and railway modellers alike will find much here of interest. Historians of the Great War will find a detailed study of the subject not available elsewhere as will anyone interested in Continental railways. It is probably the most detailed and authoritative book on the subject available anywhere and the authors should be proud of their monumental achievement. Highly recommended


In every major conflict, from Crimea to the Second World War, railways played a vital strategic role. In the First World War, narrow-gauge light railways also took on an unprecedented tactical importance in keeping the troops and guns supplied.

For anyone with a serious interest in French narrow-gauge railways in general, and the Light Railways of the First World War in particular, this comprehensive and thoroughly researched book will amply reward the time taken to read it thoroughly and is an invaluable reference source.

Very highly recommended.

French Railway Society

Ultimately a book that helps us to better understand the Allied war effort with regard to the railways, to appreciate the human operosity even in wartime, to know better a world (the railway one) for me new and extremely interesting and Pleasant.

Read the full Italian review here

Old Barbed Wire Blog

A comprehensive description of the narrow gauge railway systems that supported the British and French Armies on the Somme. As a logistician by profession I came to this book hoping to find authoritative comment on the extent of the railway system and its role in supporting the army; in that respect the book succeeds. Indeed it offers many snippets that had passed me by when visiting the area as a battlefield guide. For example that Nab (Blighty) Valley had a light railway operating after the area was captured and with the assistance of this book I now know its location and route and can integrate it into my work. Similarly that Aveluy supported a much larger rail support system that I had previously imagined. The logistics impact on the local supply chain is well documented and supported by contemporaneous and modern photos. If I have a criticism, it is that there is no photo index. That does not detract if reading the book in sequence but it would be useful for those who want to ‘dip into’ the text ‘on demand’ for their own research.
In all an excellent reference book, well researched and presented.
Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide.

Michael McCarthy
Perfect Partner

Allied Railways of the Western Front - Narrow Gauge in the Arras Sector Before, During and After the First World War (Hardback)

The Arras sector of the Western Front in World War I (WW1) was held partly by the British and Dominions 1st Army from September 1915, and almost wholly by the 1st and 3rd Armies from March 1916. No less than in the Ypres sector to the north and the Somme sector to the south, the struggles of the French and then British troops in this sector were pivotal to the outcome of the War. The sector included countryside in the south, but in the north a major part of the industrial and coal-mining area of northern France, around Lens and Béthune. In this book the contribution of metre and 60 cm gauge railways…

By Joan S. Farebrother, Martin J. B. Farebrother

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