More than a century after it first took to the tracks, an iconic wagon that took soldiers and munitions to the front line in the First World War has today been unveiled in Skegness.
Guests, including Skegness Ambassadors, had a slightly more comfortable ride along the Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway, with the munitions boxes soldiers would have sat on covered with comfortable cushioning.
However, in spite of the fresh paint and shiny Wilton nameplate, the rattle of the carriage and the steam from the engine provided a chilling journey through history.
The old “Class D” wagon was built by Clayton and Shuttleworth at their Abbey Works in Lincoln in 1917 for the War Department Light Railways. It has been transformed by volunteers in Skegness from a rusty hulk, thanks to a People’s Millions grant of £43,000.
There has also been some improvements to the station in Walls Lane, which has been adapted to give easier access to those boarding the carriage.
Once on board, passengers are given an impression of what it was like for the troops to travel to the fighting in the front line trenches in France.
During the First World War (1914 – 1918) War Department Light Railways laid a network of narrow gauge railways to move men, ammunition, hay and food. By 1918 they were conveying 50,000 tons a year and 200,000 passengers.
It was a significant factor in the Allied victory over Imperial Germany, as prior to the railway’s construction, quagmires of mud and inadequate roads and vehicles had made it difficult to supply trenches and to transport the troops and their supplies.
Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway’s renovated wagon is testimony to the important role Lincolnshire played in WW1.
Volunteer Chris Bates said: “In truth many of us thought it was only fit for the scrap heap but thanks to the funding today we are able to demonstrate it to the public for the first time.”
It is still possible to see shrapnel damage from its days at the front but now, after adaptations to make it accessible to people in wheelchairs, it can offer the experience of what it was like to ride to the front line trenches in an open top rail wagon, perched on ammunition boxes.
Mr Bates said: “We can show people the very real role this wagon played in the fighting.”
Towards the end of our journey, a Light Railway volunteer explained: “Stopping here we are about a mile behind enemy lines. This is where a lot of ammunition would be unloaded. If guns are here that means German ammunition can fall on you. A lot of railway men were killed. It wasn’t an easy option working on the railway - it was just as dangerous.”
Brenda Futurs, who was on the journey with her Ambassadors, said the experience would be very helpful when helping visitors to Skegness. She said: “It’s really important for us to be here and very informative.
“A lot of people know about the Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway but what we don’t know is how does it work and who are the volunteers? “With the recent anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, I think when we go back and speak to visitors we will really be able to bring it to life. We will certainly be encouraging them to see this.”