The Far North Line During World War 2
A 27 page foolscap document has recently come to light entitled "History of the LMS during the war (Inverness District)" It seems to have been written post May 1943 and the only clue on authorship is the typist's mark ER/JC. Normally that would suggest an author with the initials ER and a typist JC. It has been suggested that the District Traffic Superintendent at this time was Alan Yeaman and that he had a Secretary called Elizabeth Reid. Can anyone shed any more light on this?
From 1 April 1940, the area north and west of Inverness was declared a Protected Area with strict controls on movement introduced. Government works on various aerodromes and port facilities at Invergordon and Scapa Flow had greatly increased activity on the Highland lines. Stores and personnel for the fleet, coal supplies, timber despatch and the working of mines for the Admiralty through Kyle added to this. Great congestion was caused until new marshalling yards and sidings, particularly the yard at Millburn were brought in to use. New telecommunications installed at the end of 1942 permitted the Control Office in Inverness to talk direct to every station for the first time. Appendix A covers passenger traffic and receipts at 8 stations (3 of them unnamed)
I hope I am right in identifying the fourth station as Thurso. It seems likely with all the traffic on the Jellicoe specials with personnel for Scapa Flow. The table gives a good idea of how passenger numbers mushroomed due to the movements of services personnel. In one month at Thurso, the weight of travel warrants exchanged for tickets weighed one hundredweight. That is an awful lot of paper!
The enlargement of Evanton aerodrome started in March 1937, and Wick in February 1938. New sidings were put in at Beauly for timber traffic from the Canadians who were felling the forests in the glens. At lnvershin there was even a light railway bringing the timber to the station. Lairg had a WD supply depot and storage for scrap rubber. Loth had accommodation huts for HM Forces and ground at Watten was used to store defence poles. The POW camp is not mentioned in this report. A major WD food supply depot was built at Muir of Ord with a bakery which, from July 1942, supplied bread throughout the northern counties. In May 1943 this depot sent 214 consignments by goods train and 377 by passenger train giving total receipts for the month of £1519.
Coal tonnages received for the five years (ending 31 March) in 1939 to 1943 were 200,015; 240,077; 301,845; 330,810 and 267,648 respectively. The 1942/3 decrease is due to some of the tonnage reverting to shipping in to Inverness, lnvergordon and Wick. In the four months September to December 1939 the switch to rail had added some 14,545 tons, approximately 2,000 wagon loads. Timber might have been a back load as these four months saw an increase of 12,973 tons. Annual tonnages of timber despatched from the Highlands increased from 16,938 in 1933 to 162,650 in 1940, to 327,843 in 1942.
Tonnages of whitefish and herring increased during the early years of the war despite the danger. From 1939 to 1943 Wick despatched 1,884; 1,615; 2,307 and 2,729 tons and Helmsdale 523; 678; 1,098 and 745 tons respectively. Agricultural goods showed various fluctuations with the hill sheep forwardings in 1941/42 considerably reduced because of the appalling spring of 1941. A new flow of shell sand from John O'Groats was put aboard trains at Wick amounting to 1,087 tons in March and 1,708 tons in April 1943 to be used as a land dressing because of its high lime sulphate content.
It is obvious that during the war, the area and its railway was totally different to what we know today. Being a restricted area, there are few photographs available and we are left to use our imaginations. The sights and sounds of long trains of munitions or materials toiling up to the summits, or the two steam engines pounding along at the head of the Jellicoe "expresses" must have been memorable sights witnessed by only a privileged few.