In the seven decades since the darkest moments of the Second World War it seems every tenebrous corner of the conflict has been laid bare, prodded and examined from every perspective of military and social history. But there is a story that has hitherto been largely overlooked. It is a tale of quiet heroism, a story of ordinary people who fought, with enormous self-sacrifice, not with tanks and guns, but with elbow grease and determination. It is the story of the British railways and, above all, the extraordinary men and women who kept them running from 1939 to 1945.
Churchill himself certainly did not underestimate their importance to the wartime story when, in 1943, he praised ‘the unwavering courage and constant resourcefulness of railwaymen of all ranks in contributing so largely towards the final victory.’ And what a story it is.
The railway system during the Second World War was the lifeline of the nation, replacing vulnerable road transport and merchant shipping. The railways mobilised troops, transported munitions, evacuated children from cities and kept vital food supplies moving where other forms of transport failed. Railwaymen and women performed outstanding acts of heroism. Nearly 400 workers were killed at their posts and another 2,400 injured in the line of duty. Another 3,500 railwaymen and women died in action. The trains themselves played just as vital a role. The famous Flying Scotsman train delivered its passengers to safety after being pounded by German bombers and strafed with gunfire from the air. There were astonishing feats of engineering restoring tracks within hours and bridges and viaducts within days. Trains transported millions to and from work each day and sheltered them on underground platforms at night, a refuge from the bombs above. Without the railways, there would have been no Dunkirk evacuation and no D-Day.
Michael Williams, author of the celebrated book On the Slow Train, has written an important and timely book using original research and over a hundred new personal interviews. This is their story.
I was a bit unsure about this book and listened to the sample a couple of times before finally taking the plunge and having a listen to it. It far and away exceeded by expectation and did a fantastic job of keeping my interest levels high throughout the book.
The narrator did an excellent job in bringing the stories and information to life without it becoming at all boring and monotoned. I would recommend most highly to anyone with an interest in either British steam railways or military history who are looking for something a bit different that will provided an extremely rewarding!
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I found this book very easy to listen to. very interesting feel like I expanded my knowledge.
If you could sum up Steaming to Victory in three words, what would they be?
Days of purpose
What was one of the most memorable moments of Steaming to Victory?
The stories of courage of many rail staff some who paid the ultimate price
Which character – as performed by Nick McArdle – was your favourite?
I liked it all
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Two sittings .You had to think about what was being said and of a time when people pulled together in the face of danger.
Any additional comments?
I am trying to make my first model railway from this period and this book as well as the courage it recounts was such an inspiration . How many could uncouple a burning carriage of bombs to try and get it away from houses A mixture of enjoyment and inspiration.
Quite a good account but still gave the impression of stretching the content to make it long enough.