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Apedale Light Railway, Staffordshire - Walk with a Vicar

Explore History

Apedale Light Railway, Staffordshire – Walk with a Vicar

Explore Apedale Light Railway in Staffordshire alongside a Vicar, Rev Peter Barham – Take a Walk with a Vicar at Tracks to the Trenches.

The Apedale Light Railway – website – is based in Newcastle-under-Lyme, grid reference SJ 823484. They are next to the Country Park, and the Apedale Heritage Centre looks worth a visit too – website. The system is run by the Moseley Railway Trust – website.

This is the third ‘Tracks to the Trenches’ gala, and it was superb. I know a little about the role of railways on the Western Front, and have some dvds of  railways at the trenches – there is also fascinating film on youtube (search “World War 1 Railways”). They had produced an excellent book, a 56 page guide to the event – they had obviously worked incredibly hard on getting finance from the HLF and elsewhere, locos and exhibits from across the country, and bringing together the railway fraternity and the military fraternity.

We started and ended our day on the railway – they have about a mile of line, with a good selection of steam locos. Just two examples to show the range of exhibits they were running this weekend. 1091 was built by Henschel & Sohn, at the Kessel works in Germany, and served on German military light railways on all fronts of the war. 778 is a Baldwin, built in the States and supplied to the British War Department from 1917. Hudswell Clarke built 104 in Leeds.

The First World War saw the development of narrow gauge railways – lots of tracks, easily laid, easily moved – and the internal combustion loco. MM 3 is a Ministry of Munitions loco, built by Brush at Loughborough in 1917. It worked at the Explosive Factory in Queensferry, North Wales. I’m not going to write the history of them all – just enjoy them. You can almost smell the fumes!

They had a wonderful selection of other vehicles on site. The Replica Landship, known as “Tommy the Tank”, is a replica – 4/5 the original size (five feet shorter and 18 inches narrower). It weighs a lot less than the original, but is incredibly impressive.

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The Ambulance is also a replica – in September 1915 Lord Baden Powell borrowed several cars from his rich friends, and had them (no one is quite sure how many) converted. They were driven by Scoutmasters, men too old to serve in the army. St John Ambulance or Red Cross men attended to the sick and wounded in the back. The Battle Bus is original, and is run by the LT Museum – website – and their is a fascinating blog.

We walked through the military camp, and into the trenches. This is a blazing hot summer, so there was no sense of the mud and hell holes that they must have been. The troops manning them were Russians and, as I talked to them, I realised how little I know about the war on the Eastern Front.

There were various military and cavalry displays at various points throughout the day. None of my photos of them are worth posting, but the dedication and attention to detail of all those taking part was quite incredible.

In the main shed, there were some wonderful models. I apologise to the model makers for not writing down which photo was which. I stand in awe of their talents.

One chap said he wasn’t quite sure what to do with his WW1 model now. It has been well-exhibited during the last four years, but now we will move on from WW1 Commemorations.

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It is interesting how we, as a nation and (with my Vicar hat on) as a Church, will continue the story. Will we remember those who cleared up the mess – how many people died dismantling the railway network, removing the shells, clearing the minefields? Will we commemorate the centenary of the unveiling of our War Memorials? Will we remember those who came home mentally and physically scarred for life? I am a parent who has lost two of my children. I was with them when they died, I know where they are buried. How did you cope as a mother or father when you had lost several children somewhere in the hell of Flanders, when all you had was a letter or card, and probably no grave you could visit.

For us, Tracks to the Trenches was a fascinating day – with interesting conversations, photo opportunities, and lots of tea and ice cream. “Oh! What a lovely War.”

The blog ends with memories of another great model maker – the Reverend Teddy Boston of blessed memory. I didn’t know that material from the Cadeby Light Railway had ended up here. Have a look at my Cadeby blog.

Walk with a Vicar – Apedale Light Rail contributed by Rev. Peter Barham, All Rights Reserved – Originally Published on in July 2018.

Written By

Now retired, Rev Peter Barham is the Northern Vicar, a lover of exploring the UK and it's cultural heritage, we share his exploration diaries.

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