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Rails to the Front: The Role of Railways in Wartime - Augustus Veenendaal and Roger Grant

This book has caused me more trouble than little. First, after it arrived I left it on the coffee table whilst I finished another book I was reading and the good lady tidied it away. With me it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind so I promptly forgot all about it. Something suddenly jolted me a week or so later and I retrieved it and started to read. However, my problems weren’t over. The book is an awkward size: larger than A4 and printed in landscape mode, hence it was difficult to hold and read in my favourite armchair and nigh on impossible to hold properly for bedtime reading. The only way I could comfortably read this book was sat at a table with it laid out in front of me: this didn’t exactly engender me to the book.

That all said, the book is an absolute mine of information, covering in a necessary broad-brush style, periods from the Crimean war right up to 1991. It’s a high quality publication and heavily illustrated with excellent plates. Originally written in Dutch by a couple of academics, I can’t say that I found any serious issues with the translation, unlike some of the Dutch fiction I’ve read; nor did I find the text ‘academic’ or stuffy. If you have an interest in how railways have been used by various regimes in their war efforts this book will be of interest to you.

I don’t claim to be a historian, nor do I claim to be particularly interested in railways, but this book, once I’d gotten over the awkward size, generally held my attention quite well: some of the plates caused me to do a little extra online research to follow up what was being presented.

A few facts that I’ve learned from the pages...

The Potomac Creek Bridge (500 feet long and 100 feet high) was assembled in only 9 days and nights in1862 after being destroyed by the retreating Confederate army.

After D-Day the US forces adapted many Jeeps with flanged wheels to run on European railway lines.

The Dutch had used a similar idea in Asia during the early 1900s, creating pedal powered vehicles.

Narrow gauge railways were used by both sides to ferry troops and supplies to the (mainly, but not exclusively, Western) front during WW1, because full size railways were much too conspicuous and liable to attack.​

There is a reasonably comprehensive bibliography for those that wish to follow things further.

Not a book I would ever have treated myself to, so thanks for the read AG.

All in all an engaging book that many would enjoy, especially the modelling fraternity, but I feel it’s a little pricey at £25, even though the plates are good quality and plentiful.

Happy to run to the positive side of mid-scale, 3 1/2 anchors from me.
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