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How green is my turtle?

Phil Parker


Grey Turtle.jpg


In November's BRM, I built the armoured Simplex kit for Owen's Bridge and commented that I wasn't really sure of the colour it should be finished in.


The problem is that there aren't any colour pictures of the real things running around during WW1. A quick chat with Andy Roden, who was writing his latest book “Trains to the Trenches” at the time established that even someone who was carrying out original research couldn't find any.


All the black and white pictures seem to show relatively light colours, hardly the dark green that most of the preserved engines seem to be painted.


So, I made a guess. The wagons were delivered in grey as were many tanks, so is it unrealistic that the loco would be shipped this way too? Grey is a popular colour in the forces and it would blend in with the background and leaden sky's. A note with the article asked readers to let me know if they had any evidence for the correct colour, but this garnered no responses.


At Warley the loco was running around and suddenly people were full of suggestions. Most couldn't provide anything other than a gut feeling but a couple mentioned the Channel 4 TV programme from 2003, Salvage Squad, where they restored a protected WW1 Simplex. Apparently the team discovered some original paint under the petrol tank, which everyone assures me must be the correct colour.


Digging up a copy of the show on YouTube, I could see their point. However the colour on the tank looked very dark and it certainly wasn't the colour the loco eventually ended up (Stickily speaking, neither colour as early shots show the inside painted with a blue-green paint) and even this isn't ideal as the colour changes in the light. Some screen grabs sampled for colour gave me the chart below:




See my problem? In the light, the green looks very different than in the shade. Could this account for the light photos? Film emulsion wasn't great back then so many pictures will have had to be taken on bright days. Add in heavy weathering from all the mud flying around, some locos are really caked in the stuff, and you see how difficult it is.


Worse, the loco restored on TV was a very late model. Too late to actually run in France as the war ended before it was shipped. Did the colour change over the production run? After all, those early tanks arrived in the field painted grey but later ones were green.


Anyway, I think I'm convinced that green is more likely than grey so before the next show I'll re-spray the loco with some khaki drab and then chuck some miniature mud at it. After which, someone will turn up conclusive proof that they were really painted pink.

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  • RMweb Gold

Let me say at the outset that I really have no idea about WW1 trains but are you saying you intend to have a green loco hauling grey wagons?


If so, that strikes me as odd.  Although camouflage was in its infancy, surely a train would be most likely NOT to attract attention from the opposition if it were uniformly coloured, ie all dull grey or all olive etc. A train with a different coloured loco on point would surely stick out from its surroundings more?

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  • RMweb Premium

The steam locos were painted black, so no reason for them to be the same colour as the wagons. It's possible the green paint was mixed and applied at the front, so could be quite variable in appearance.

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If I could also add - I believe the correct colour is grey for these, with green being adopted later by those in industry?


Paul A. 

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I may be reading this wrongly but I think Phil is like a lot of modellers, in that we will never know for sure the exact colours used on WW1 locos, as we do know it depends on the undercoat /primer used in the first place and as paint at the time was not to the standards we have to day, you can only get close to the colours used at the time, I certainly wouldn't beat myself up about it.


Thinking about it, it would have made sense if the then WD issued a colour specification.


Colin Rainsbury

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Old paints, local workmanship, weathering and the effects of the Germans will all play a part in the final look of the prototype. It's all part of the fun when doing the research!

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