Women hailed in World War I rail exhibition

Women railway workers obscuring gas lamps at the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway's Horwich works, Gre

Women railway workers obscuring gas lamps at the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway's Horwich works, Greater Manchester. During the First World War many women were called to work to replace the men who were serving overseas. Women worked in many areas including on the railways, on the buses and in munitions factories. LYR offical photograph. - Credit: Archant

The important role played by women and the railway during World War I is told in an exhibition which can be seen this summer.

The railway was vital to the war effort, transporting troops, horses, military equipment and medical supplies to ports around the country.

Women were crucial to this, keeping the railway running by filling the skills shortage that emerged when 100,000 railway workers left to fight in the war.

Before the war, roughly 13,000 women worked on the railway, mainly in domestic positions where they carried out jobs like cleaning. By the end of the war, this number had increased fivefold to some 70,000 women.

The exhibition, which is free of charge, will be displayed at London Charing Cross station until August 10. It will then move to London King’s Cross station where it can be seen until August 31.


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Presented by the Rail Delivery Group, which brings together the train operators and Network Rail, the exhibition contains photos, soldiers’ letters and unique memorabilia commemorating:

The 100,000 railway workers who fought in the war and the 20,000 who gave their lives; women’s role – for the first time, women stepped in to work on the railways (previously a male preserve) and railway workers honoured for their bravery.

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Michael Roberts, Director General of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “As the nation commemorates the centenary of World War I, it’s important we remember the railway’s role sustaining the war effort, without which the nation’s troops, military and medical supplies would not have been operational.”

Phil Hufton, managing director of operations at Network Rail added: “Without the contribution of women, the railway could not have played such a significant part in the war effort. We owe a great debt to them and to the thousands of railway workers who fought. It is important for us to know their stories and ensure that they are not forgotten. This exhibition, which will be touring the country, has been created by the rail industry as a reminder to us all.”

Visitors to the exhibition can also support the Everyman Remembered campaign, created by the Royal British Legion in conjunction with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The campaign aims to commemorate every individual felled in World War I and allows visitors to research their ancestors who died in the war, via an interactive screen featured in the exhibition.

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