A plaque has been unveiled at Crewe station in Cheshire to recognise the vital role played by a Royal Navy train in two world wars.
The Jellicoe Express ran between London Euston and Thurso in Scotland, linking the South of England with its three great Naval ports and the Fleet’s anchorage in Scapa Flow in Orkney.
Members of Crewe branch of the RNA attended the ceremony to watch as the plaque was unveiled by Virgin Trains on Platform 12 at Crewe station, one of the few scheduled stops on the 717-mile 21h 30m journey.
Although the unveiling marked the start of such journeys over 100 years ago, the train also ran during World War 2, and is estimated to have transported some half a million Service personnel during the two wars.
The train was named after Admiral John Jellicoe, who commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
Unveiled by Cllr Pam Minshall on behalf of Crewe Town Council, the plaque provides a permanent memorial to the train, which served as a welcome refreshment stop, where over 300 women volunteers worked around the clock to provide refreshments in a canteen on Platform 6.
Michael Willmot, Chair of North Staffordshire Community Rail Partnership, said: “The naval train, the Jellicoe Express, ran from London to Thurso for Scapa Flow from 1917 in World War One and again in World War Two.
“It was steeped in the intense emotions of the thousands who used it: fear and apprehension of those about to start a tour of duty; relief and joy, of those returning for leave.
“It was the longest scheduled rail service ever to run in the UK. Many of those travelling out were sadly never to return. It is right that a permanent memorial should be established at Crewe, a major refreshment stop en route, to commemorate all those who used the train and all those who provided sustenance and support at stations along the route.”
Although seen as a crucial piece of Naval infrastructure, the train also carried thousands of soldiers and airmen over the years.
Travelling on it was usually a nightmare – invariably overcrowded, most passengers were unlikely to get a seat, and only the shortest of them could hope to get any sleep (if they could find an empty wire luggage-rack).
In the Great War it left London at 6pm, arriving at Thurso at 3.30pm the following day. The southbound service took an hour longer, and the Express also served as a convenient link to Rosyth Dockyard on the Forth.
Pictured is the scene at London Euston in 1944 as families say goodbye to their loved ones before a train departs. The image is from the Imperial War Museum collection © IWM (D 18904)