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Britain's Railways in the Second World War (Hardback)

P&S History > British History Photographic Books Transport > London Transport Transport > Trains & Railways WWII World History > UK & Ireland > England > London

By Michael Foley
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Pages: 240
Illustrations: 104 black & white historic and modern-day photographs
ISBN: 9781526772282
Published: 18th November 2020


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The outbreak of the Second World War had an enormous effect on the railway system in Britain. Keeping the trains running through times of conflict was not such a distant memory for the railway companies and their workers but in this second major war of the twentieth century, the task was to prove a very different one.

The railway system no longer consisted of the hundreds of companies of the past, but the ‘Big Four’ still needed to learn how to work together and forget their differences for the war effort. The logistics of the mass evacuation of children, and transporting thousands of troops during the evacuation of Dunkirk and the preparations for D-Day, for instance, were unprecedented. At the same time, they had to cope with the new and constant threat of aerial bombing that military advances brought to the Second World War. The railway system, and the men and women who ran it, effectively served as another branch of the military during the conflict.

At the end of the war, Winston Churchill likened London to a large animal, declaring that what kept the animal alive was its transport system. The metaphor could have been applied to the whole of Britain, and its most vital transport system was the railway.

This book is a fascinating account of the important role that the railways played in the defence of the country as well as in their support of the Allied forces in theatres of war around the world. It brings to light the often forgotten stories of the brave and hard-working men and women who went to work on the railways and put their lives on the line.

As featured in

Steam World

As featured in

Rail, January 2023

-Personal stories provide interesting insights of the war
-Interesting selection of wartime posters
-Well designed cover

Rail Advent

"Readable and wide ranging look at railways in wartime. There are plenty of lively stories, many new to your reviewer."

Roger Backhouse - The Society of Model and Experimental Engineers Journal

The book is well laid out with numerous black and white photographs supporting the text throughout. The author’s style makes it very readable and it is a fitting tribute to those who worked so hard to keep the trains moving during World War II. This book will appeal to railway enthusiasts, military historians and anyone interested in this pivotal time in Britain’s history. Highly recommended.

Tom Cole - Miniature Armoured Fighting Vehicles Association

"The author has taken a strictly chronological approach, which has the merit of enabling the story of how the railways were affected by, and coped with, the impact of war, to unfold in time order... Light is shed on a number of aspects and events I have not seen covered before... In addition there are some interesting stories from some of the railwaymen and woman involved... Many who have not read much about the railways during wartime before will no doubt find the account of much interest."

Phillip Benham, The Journal of the Friends of the National Railway Museum Spring 2021

This important book is not only a fascinating insight into a crucial period of this country's railway network but also helps us to understand its history in the first half of the Twentieth century through the prism of the Second World War.

RMT News, January 2021

Offers us in his book the role that the railroads played in times of war and the effort of the people who worked in them in the defense of their country. The visual section consists of 104 black and white images.

Read the full review here

Miniaturas JM

This is a vivid story of the contribution made to the war effort by the British railways. This book is a fascinating account to be enjoyed – Very Highly Recommended

Read the full review here


Featured in the

Journal of the Railway & Canal Historical Society

Readable and wide ranging look at railways in wartime. If not over detailed there are plenty of lively stories, many new to your reviewer. Appendices list memorials on railway buildings and to rail workers, plus details of locomotives and rolling stock commemorating the conflict. American rolling stock was assembled “somewhere in England” before D Day - it can be revealed that this was at the as yet unused Hainault Central Line depot. A decent account of the railway role in a horrific conflict.

Roger Backhouse, The Society of Model and Experimental Engineers Journal, June 2021 Issue

This book is a wonderful addition to those loving classic trains and all associated information, as well as for those interested in the history of WW2, focusing on an aspect of the war that is often forgotten, that of the millions of civilian individuals supporting the armed forces all over the world.

Read the full review here

FS Support

I found this an enjoyable book that feels more like a story than a history book to read. It tells of an important aspect of the wartime struggle and what life was like for the railway companies and their workforce. For those with even a passing interest in railways or in the impact of the second world war this is a book worth reading.

Read the full review here

Michael's Model Railways

... if you are interested in WW2 and want a reasonably in-depth description of the role the railways played in the conflict, then it is worth reading. Your reviewer certainly learnt a lot!

Ffestiniog Railway Magazine

This book is a fascinating account of the important role that UK railways played in defending the country, as well as in supporting Allied forces in war theaters around the world. It brings to light the often forgotten stories of brave and hard-working men and women who went to work on the railways and put their lives in danger. A book about World War II different from the others.

It gives to know a very interesting topic that has hardly been dealt with in other books and with some good photographs, some very curious as the one that appears on the cover. Highly recommended for both railway enthusiasts and the history of World War II.

Read the full Spanish review here

Unos Cuantos Trenes

The book is excellent and very intriguing, telling the story of the railway system and its adventures throughout the journey of the war. At first it talks very much about the military aspect of things and the demands put upon it to help out other industries. The book then takes a look year by year in each chapter filled with stories from local people and employees at the time. Having not been a great lover of transport books until recently, I have read this book and a book about the bus service through the 20th century. It has opened my eyes to another avenue of history which I find quite interesting and intriguing, it’s actually the ‘new history’ and social side of transport I find really interesting. For me I found it a well written book as a beginner and the amount of photographs very good, I also enjoyed the cover design very much as it seemed very much of the time. A really good book especially for those looking to get into transport history.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

The book contains many black and white period photographs, detailed script on each year from 1939 until 1945 as well as details on military railways and the railways before and during the war. I would say a very worthwhile publication which is an easy read.

Review by Andy Thomson
 Michael Foley

About Michael Foley

Michael Foley developed his interest in railways after training to be a guard on goods trains. He later qualified as a teacher and spent much of his teaching career in primary schools in the East End of London. After leaving teaching to become a full-time carer to his twin grandsons, who were severely disabled, he began to write seriously for the first time. Since then he has had more than thirty local and military history books published. He has contributed numerous articles to magazines such as Best of British, This England, Essex Life and Britain at War. He has also had short stories published in My Weekly magazine. In recent years, he has written a weekly football column for the Havering Post and a weekly local history column for the Dagenham Post. He lives in Romford with his wife and grandson.

Perfect Partner

Britain's Railways in the First World War (Hardback)

It is easy to believe that the only part that Britain’s railways played in the First World War was to carry the soldiers to the ships that would take them to France. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Without the help from the railways it is unlikely that the war would have been over as quickly as it was. In Britain’s Railways in the First World War Michael Foley examines how the railway system and its workers proved to be a vital part of the war effort, one contemporary writer even commenting that he thought they were as significant as the navy. The book describes how the enlistment…

By Michael Foley

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