Wartime in the Cotswolds played itself out this weekend, and I decided to share in the fun by visiting the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Steam Railway that runs between Cheltenham and Toddington. I have travelled with this heritage operation twice before and they run a very professional operation. I had also encountered a very similar day on the Great Central Railway in 2015 so it would be interesting to see how this weekend played out. The weather was also very kind to us on this day, and apart from a chilly wind it was quite an enjoyable day weatherwise. I was also going to test my new camera on this trip and was very wary about running out of batteries, although I do have 3 batteries that I carry and if push comes to shove can still use my cell phone camera.
Of course being wartime you do have to be wary of surprises around every corner, so listen very carefully, I will say this only once… War is hell!
The first train to leave Cheltenham Race Course was not a steam engine much to my dismay, instead it was the Class 117 diesel railcar. I have been on it before and it is somewhat of an odd vehicle.
I managed to snag one of the front seats so was able to see the drivers controls and the view of the rails behind us, This is a composite of 3 images.
Driver sits on the left.
And then we were off, the train packed with people in period civilian outfits and military uniforms. It was amazing because they took so much effort to look the part, some of the women were truly stunning in their hats and gloves and seamed stockings, and for the first time I saw children in period clothing along for the fun too. They are the ones who will be doing this in 20 years time and it is great to see that the spirit will be carried forward with them.
Our route takes us from Cheltenham Race Course Station to Gotherington,
Through the Greet Tunnel,
Where we would wait for the next train to come past us heading towards Cheltenham Race Course. This train was headed by the immaculate 2807, a ’28xx’ class heavy freight locomotive, built in 1905. and owned by Cotswold Steam Preservation Limited and, after a 29 year restoration, is one of the GWR’s resident locomotives.
And then we were off again, heading to our final stop: Toddington. The station is really a destination on its own and in this case it was really a microcosm of Allied Servicemen and Women with a smattering of old civilian and military vehicles, although American equipment was dominant.
I bailed off the train, pausing to watch 4270 with the next train. She is a “42xx” class tank locomotive and made her debut at the 2014 Cotswold Festival of Steam and is now a regular performer on the GWSR.
I then ambled over to the exhibits, pausing to admire a really nice restored M4A4 Sherman that was formerly a “range wreck”
Behind the tank was Toddington Narrow Gauge Railway, and I had read that they would also be running trains on this day. There is a South African connection to this railway, and to Tewkesbury. But that was assuming the train was running. We had passed their loco shed and I had seen a steam loco in steam at their shed, so I was hopeful.
Until then I walked around, looking at interesting exhibits, especially the military vehicles.
Then there was movement and I headed down to the platform where the narrow gauge train was uncoupling, unfortunately it was a diesel as opposed to the steamer I had hoped for, The problem was that the train would not leave unless it had enough passengers, and so far I was the only one.
I drifted off to go look at the well armed half track that was parked nearby. Oh wow, I am so sorry they did not let off a few bursts with that quad browning.
And then there was movement at the narrow gauge railway and I headed back to it, boarding the small coaches en route for California Crossing where the steamer shed was.
The line is a short one, only 3/4 of a mile, and there is not much to see, However, the shed has 4 narrow gauge loco’s.
Chaka’s Kraal No 6 spent all its commercial working life in the South African sugar cane industry being delivered to Gledhow Chakaskraal Sugar Co. Ltd. for use on their estates in Natal. It was purchased by a group of members and returned to the UK in 1981. It had originally been built in Leeds in 1940.
My loco spotted, it was time to shake my head at the station name plate.
Meanwhile, things were afoot back at the main station with the imminent departure of 7820- Dinmore Manor.
Now which loco was at Platform 1?
Talking about Loco’s I also went to the running shed viewing area hoping to get a decent pic of 35006 P&O, but once again a decent pic evaded me. I wish they would turn her to face the other way so that I can see her from the front.
The shed lines were surprisingly empty, but there was still a lot of trains and rolling stock in place.
It was time for another round of photography, and the images below are of various vehicles on display.
Unfortunately I was starting to tire a bit and decided to see what I could see at the station. Another loco was now waiting its turn and it was 2807, a member of the ’28xx’ class heavy freight locomotive, built in 1905. I was considering heading back down the line to Winchcombe, and this train was not too far off from departure
Besides, the wartime music was driving me crazy. I still have “..it’s a long way to Tipperary….” going around inside my head some 4 hours later!
I crossed the footpath in front of the loco and headed down to the field behind the station, it was jam packed with cars and was almost a mini military camp in itself. In fact, there was even a sodding BREN there to torture me.
Fortunately I no longer have to worry about whether it is clean or not. My timetable said that the next train was about ready to leave in 10 minutes so I ambled across the footbridge.
The loco had moved to the head of the train so I decided to join this one and head back towards Winchcombe. It felt good to get a load off though. I was really pooped.
Departure was due to happen at 12.20, but nothing happened, instead the conductor came around and announced that we were delayed due to an “unexploded bomb” at Winchcombe. This delay threw my plans out because we would not budge until the train at that station was here. so we waited. It was now touch and go whether I would head fro home of bail at Winchcombe. Eventually the up train arrived and we were given the token to leave.
It is not a long ride to Winchcombe and I did not really feel up to spending an hour at the station, it was bad enough that it looked like the whole cast from Dad’s Army and ‘allo ‘allo was standing on the platform.
Then we were off again, next stop: Gotherington.
And the other train was standing at the passing loop over there, being serenaded by a very nice lady with a magnificent voice who kept on telling us the “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…“
And finally we arrived back at Cheltenham Race Course. The war was over for another day.
The loco moved to the back of the train (making it the front), and I headed for the exit. I still had a long walk to the bus stop and then once in Cheltenham I still had to catch the bus back to Tewkesbury.
It had been a long and busy day but I had enjoyed it. I am amazed at how the English go headlong into something like this, the amount of people in uniforms and costumes was amazing. I also saw a number of old men who were obviously veterans from WW2, and their numbers are dwindling too. But as long as there are those who are willing to go to the expense of acquiring a uniform then days like this will give us all a taste of what wartime Britain was like. I see a lot of evidence of it, the war is still remembered, it has not faded from the national psyche, it is still a part of the people of this country.
V for Victory, and may we never tread that path again.
© DRW 2016-2018. Created 23/04/2016