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UK Railways Without the Great War?

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It needs to be remembered that the outbreak of the Great War saved Great Britain from political and social crisis on several fronts, ranging from the imminent mutiny - or at least mass resignation of army officers - over the use of troops to put down the Ulster Defence Force to the actions of, and Government response to, the Suffragettes; to say nothing of labour unrest. It certainly wasn't all Edwardian peace and prosperity.

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And would "Brexit" have happened earlier without the European War? 

The US with Teddy Roosevelt and the like setting up its own 'colonial empire' was pretty "America First". Also many a British Mech. Eng. had been persuaded of the superiority of US engineering and train running.

 

We might already be an offshore European US state !

dh

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And more importantly, would Frank Hornby have produced his O gauge Hornby train in 1920??

 

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1 hour ago, kernowtim said:

would Frank Hornby have produced his O gauge Hornby train in 1920??


Probably the most important question, when viewed in a geopolitical context, to emerge from this whole debate.

 

Well, there would definitely have still been a gap at the upper end of the market, because the best ‘German’ maker of model trains for the British market was George Carette, a Frenchman based in Nuremberg, who was dispossessed of his share, and his partner sold-up when he was conscripted. But, that wasn’t the key area of the market.

 

The toy supply would have depended on how well Germany did in the war, I think. A quick victory and back to normal: toy supply continues.

 

Long, drawn-out, all-consuming conflict: toy makers lose staff and domestic market, gradually get repurposed to the war effort: toy supply to Britain fails, Frank steps in tell fill the gap, just as happened in ordinary history.

 

From what I can make out, the German toy makers such as Bing didn’t actually take too much of a hit in WW1, and were able to bounce back very quickly, so maybe we assume a sort of “middle scenario” where supplies from Germany keep trickling through, and Frank doesn’t enter the fray, but Bassett-Lowke are able to keep up the dialogue with Bing and bring the Tabletop (00) Railway to market sooner ...... Britain is swept by clockwork 00.

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A lot of this is moot, anyway, if you ask me; sooner or later, a war between the major powers of Europe would have broken out, sparked off in the Balkans by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The main beneficiary of the collapse, Serbia, had become a regional power, due to the two victorious wars it had fought in 1912-13. it was also a bit of a rogue state. The Austro-Hungarians, after occupying Bosnia for many years, finally annexed it in 1909(?), which the Serbs, who had designs on a pan-slavic superstate, wouldn't tolerate. The Austrians couldn't tolerate the growing power of Serbia, and were looking for an opportunity to put them in their place. The assassination provided that. I suppose the thing that really sparked the war was that the Russians had no provision in their war plan for a partial mobilisation, against Germany or Austria alone. It was all or nothing. That brought the Germans, and by extension, France, into it. That meant the Schlieffen Plan, and the invasion of Belgium; which, eventually, after a lot of vaccillation and soul-searching, brought Britain in.

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19 minutes ago, 62613 said:

A lot of this is moot, anyway, if you ask me; sooner or later, a war between the major powers of Europe would have broken out, 

 

The OP's scenario envisages a European war in which Great Britain remained neutral - which would probably mean, the Entente Cordiale had not developed to such a degree - in other words, something similar to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. In that scenario, a rather rapid German victory would again have been the most likely outcome, at least in the west. Great Britain's entry on the otherwise weaker side had the historically usual consequence of greatly prolonging the war.

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There is also the possibility that Britain might have persuaded France not to stand by Russia. The government certainly tried, but failed — which is why Germany waited two days (after declaring war on Russia) before declaring war on France.

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Fascinating though it is, the whole topic IS moot simply because;

A. Britain was THE world power with its vast empire which it was determined to hold on to and,

B. Germany was developing rapidly both economically and militarily. The Prussian officer caste were spoiling for war anyway.

C. Britain and Germany had been in a "cold war" style arms race ever since the invention of the Dreadnaught battleship, each building progressively larger and larger warships - they certainly sent observers to watch, learn and advise in such as the Russo-Japanese war.

 

The major players at this time were the British, Germans, Russians and possibly, the French. Other countries like the USA were still to be properly up & coming whereas others like Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman empire, were fading stars.

 

It is wonderful to speculate on how life may have become without the 'great war' - the impact on the railways, the lives not wasted, the possibility the Nazi's would never be more than a minor local irritation but the sad fact is, it was inevitable. Had the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand not happened, something else would have occured within the next five to ten years to trigger it.

The only way it could have been avoided is if Britain had given up her empire somehow, which is ironic given that round two caused this to happen anyway. 

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1 hour ago, Allegheny1600 said:

........................

The only way it could have been avoided is if Britain had given up her empire somehow.

.........................

 

I don't think that is true.

 

A Germany & Austria V Russia & France & Serbia war may have been reasonably inevitable given the political conditions in the Balkans, and the structure of the alliances between the countries in each block, But the main grit in the relationship between Germany and the British Empire was Germany building up its navy to a size that challenged the Royal Navy. Britain would probably have been quite happy for Germany to be all powerful on land. It was the challenge at sea that caused friction. If the Germans had settled for a fleet of a size to defend against France. Britain would probably have stayed friendly with Germany and not become closer to France. Then when WW1 came along Britain might well have said none of our business. 

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If there had been no WW1, which I think is the premise of the original question, then the issues surround three aspects - social, technological and economic progress.

 

Socially, one million plus more people would have existed in the UK, fully able to work. That would either have meant more unemployment and deprivation, leading to a possible revolution (not unlikely), or to the generation of new and more jobs, through innovation and increased demand (less likely due to the scant availability of capital for moderate return).

 

Technologically, the drivers inherent in a major war would not have existed. There would have been a longer transition to road and air transport, but also less need for railways to innovate either, other than from existing needs to boost earnings per share.

 

Economically, I would say the diversion of capital to the war effort does not allow for what would have otherwise happened. Many UK companies prospered as a result of WW1, and many others did not go under. Without a war, it is so hard to tell what would have happened. My best guess is an increasing emphasis on foreign investments, without the disruption of war, and less inward investment. It is also highly likely that the USA's economy would not have been kick-started into the leviathan it became, and that Germany's economy would have prospered.

 

So the probable outcome would have been a continuing decline in the UK's fortunes, bolstered only perhaps by a prolongation of Empire and foreign investments, leading to an increase in social dysfunction in the UK, and ultimately, at least the earlier arrival of a hot blooded Labour government (unlike the minority and dysfunctional shadows prior to 1945) or full revolution, a la Russia, and perhaps Germany. 

 

So the railways, as part of this, would probably have declined much as they were beginning to do, but just not as quickly, and would have been nationalised sooner. Quite what that would have done to the system can only be judged from what happened in France, Germany and elsewhere - probably a huge benefit, but at what cost?

 

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I guess you just can't know what the impact on history those million plus lost lives would have been, had they been lived to their fullness.

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One also needs to consider the loss of export trade as British manufacturers switched over to war production and US manufacturers took over their export markets.

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The grouping was a means of sidestepping payment of  debt to the railways, debt  accrued from govt control of railways  over the length of WW1.

The post WW1 recessionary years spiked investment in new  technology such as electrification of main lines, the railways did not have sufficient confidence in the economy to borrow money to fund electrification projects.

The post WW1 recession killed off so much traffic,  take the Newport -Shildon line, initially successful with high traffic and electric operation only to  return to steam due to economic downturn

WW1 and WW2 set back railway development  by 40 years as a minimum

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I have just found this thread.  I have enjoyed reading all the comments and clearly writers have in-depth knowledge of the Great War and the state of railway economics at the time.   

 

I recommend Niall Ferguson’s book “The Pity of War.”  He addresses it from several points of view including the rising economy of Russia threatening Germany, the command structures in the warring nations. 

 

I don’t have the book to hand, but I believe one of his counter-factual positions is if he BEF had arrived later or not been sent at that time, German armies would have swung past and encircled the French army and not been halted for those few critical days at Mons by the BEF.  That slowing down of the German Army gave the French Army time to position itself in front of Paris and force the race to the North Sea.  Ferguson suggests that the French would have been neutralized, and Germany would have concentrated on Russia and won quite speedily. He also suggests that Germany would have become the dominating power in a European Union - but many years earlier!  

 

“The Pity of War” is really worth the time to read.  I was surprised by some chapters, such as: censorship; the enjoyment of brutality by some people; and the economics in 1914 as a rising tension among nations.

 

Also an eye-opener was “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914” by Christopher Clark.  See this link for a review.  https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/sleepwalkers-how-europe-went-war-1914

 

A shorter read is Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August.”

 

I’d like to think that if the war had not happened or been contained as a Balkan problem, Lenin would have become a lonely voice carrying his soapbox around Europe.   Hitler - a second rate artist?  Russia might not have fallen to Bolshevism;  and how about German colonial islands in the Pacific Ocean not being given to Japan, giving them stepping stones across the Pacific Ocean later on.

 

Railways with British neutrality or a limited war – The WCML could have become one company and unprofitable bits spun off, and didn’t the GNR want to take over the GCR?   Would government interference have been neutralized, allowing the railways a fair deal with road transport?  Would unions have become very powerful and disruptive?   What would railways have done without the financial losses incurred by the railways fighting the war?  

 

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3 hours ago, 4901 said:

...

I’d like to think that if the war had not happened or been contained as a Balkan problem, Lenin would have become a lonely voice carrying his soapbox around Europe.   

...

 


Isn’t the opposite more likely? With no war there’d be no external enemy, so all the focus would be on the (massive) internal problems in each country. Nationalism would not be so easily available to distract the population from their own (mostly) miserable circumstances in countries with massive inequalities. Surely revolution was more likely in those circumstances, not less? 

 

Paul

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On the other hand without the baleful influence of Lenin and the agitprop from the Soviet Union there might have been less excuse for business owners to ignore social justice. The more enlightened business owners realised that the quality of life of their staff was important and did justify some of the company's money. Without the evils of marxism/leninism proclaiming that only violent revolution leads to social justice, perhaps society might have developed a bit more positively. In GWR loco committee minutes there are frequent authorisations of spending that had nothing to do with the business.  I doubt the same is true of the current GWR. But we're getting a long way...

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9 hours ago, JimC said:

........................ In GWR loco committee minutes there are frequent authorisations of spending that had nothing to do with the business.  I doubt the same is true of the current GWR. But we're getting a long way...

 

Please say more

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Hmm what-if...  half-full glass...

 

The LBSCR pushed overhead electrification to the south coast.

 

The Metropolitan, SECR and GCR merged, pushed a tunnel under The enlarged Marylebone International connecting to the Met line and through access to Farringdon Blackfriars into kent and built a Channel Tunnel as the GCR suggested. From that success they pushed electrification overhead at 1500v from Kent to Manchester and pushed a new route to Newcastle and Edinburgh from Manchester.

 

The LNWR became an airline, with direct services replacing higher speed rail services between London and Liverpool, Manchester, Carlilse, Glasgow, Isle of Man, Belfast and Inverness. Many branchlines closed with LNWR bus services from Mainline stations running slower services. Much more focus on freight, with its LYR merger given the GCR competition.

 

The NER and GNR merged and also became an o/h electrified line.

GWR took over railways in Southern Ireland using older GWR steam fleets and stock. Increased use of diesels using advanced General Motors diesel designs from the 1930’s taking advantage of its “wider” space and flat routes more diesel ships for transatlantic services.


MR still stuck with small engines, a fleet of paget locomotives.

 

LSWR 3rd rail electrification throughout, connected Bank to Moorgate via a tunnel that became surface outside Waterloo and connected to GNR.

 

 

Edited by adb968008
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On 20/01/2020 at 19:57, johnofwessex said:

 

Please say more

For example 28th Feb 1924

imgp1493.JPG.2c4b6189205db807398fca33f2b56073.JPG

Now don't get me wrong, the sum is utterly trivial compared to many thousands being authorised to spend on machinery at the same meeting, not to mention whatever the directors received for turning up to the meetings, but at least there's a small acceptance of the principle...

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11 hours ago, adb968008 said:

Hmm what-if...  half-full glass...

 

The LBSCR pushed overhead electrification to the south coast.

 

The Metropolitan, SECR and GCR merged, pushed a tunnel under The enlarged Marylebone International connecting to the Met line and through access to Farringdon Blackfriars into kent and built a Channel Tunnel as the GCR suggested. From that success they pushed electrification overhead at 1500v from Kent to Manchester and pushed a new route to Newcastle and Edinburgh from Manchester.

 

The LNWR became an airline, with direct services replacing higher speed rail services between London and Liverpool, Manchester, Carlilse, Glasgow, Isle of Man, Belfast and Inverness. Many branchlines closed with LNWR bus services from Mainline stations running slower services. Much more focus on freight, with its LYR merger given the GCR competition.

 

The NER and GNR merged and also became an o/h electrified line.

GWR took over railways in Southern Ireland using older GWR steam fleets and stock. Increased use of diesels using advanced General Motors diesel designs from the 1930’s taking advantage of its “wider” space and flat routes more diesel ships for transatlantic services.


MR still stuck with small engines, a fleet of paget locomotives.

 

LSWR 3rd rail electrification throughout, connected Bank to Moorgate via a tunnel that became surface outside Waterloo and connected to GNR.

 

 

Now an LSWR-GNR connection is an interesting idea, obviously there is the loading gauge of the W&C tunnels to be considered, but that's not insurmountable. That opens up the prospect of through trains from Yorks and the NE to the South Coast & West Country via London.

Also, given a connection via the District into Liverpool Street, via the connection from the Met, the prospect of through trains from East Anglia to the South Coast & West Country.

Edited by rodent279

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1 hour ago, JimC said:

For example 28th Feb 1924

imgp1493.JPG.2c4b6189205db807398fca33f2b56073.JPG

Now don't get me wrong, the sum is utterly trivial compared to many thousands being authorised to spend on machinery at the same meeting, not to mention whatever the directors received for turning up to the meetings, but at least there's a small acceptance of the principle...


Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, was giving a public lecture at the Royal Albert Hall, explaining how caring his company was to lowly-paid baristas (they even pay for health insurance for their US staff).

 

He was followed by Adrian Cadbury, who talked about how a century earlier his company had built houses for their workers, then schools, then hospitals, then mechanics institutes...

 

Even so, British railway companies of a century or more ago weren’t well-known for their generosity to staff. There were (some) pensions and travel privileges, some housing with facilities (Melton Constable is a nice example of what even an impoverished railway company did), but low wages were endemic along with hugely long hours (mostly worked to try to make up for the low wages). 


Pre-WW1 there was revolution in the air in much of Europe: at times even Victoria’s reign was considered under threat; anarchists were talked of as the terrorists of their day. Politically, society was much less stable than we might assume. And the philanthropy of companies like Cadbury is still quoted today precisely because they were exceptional.

 

Paul

 

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7 minutes ago, Fenman said:

 

 

Even so, British railway companies of a century or more ago weren’t well-known for their generosity to staff. There were (some) pensions and travel privileges, some housing with facilities (Melton Constable is a nice example of what even an impoverished railway company did), but low wages were endemic along with hugely long hours (mostly worked to try to make up for the low wages). 


 

 

Paul

 

But of course they weren't slaves, had there been better wages elsewhere they could leave...

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1 hour ago, JimC said:

For example 28th Feb 1924

imgp1493.JPG.2c4b6189205db807398fca33f2b56073.JPG

Now don't get me wrong, the sum is utterly trivial compared to many thousands being authorised to spend on machinery at the same meeting, not to mention whatever the directors received for turning up to the meetings, but at least there's a small acceptance of the principle...

 

One is not told what the circumstances were. That's the frustrating thing about minutes: they record decisions but not the backstory or discussion. I'm willing to bet the committee spent longer discussing this item than they did the purchase of machinery costing several thousands - that's how committees are!

 

I'm afraid I can't recall which company or when - certainly 19th century - but directors got £1 and dinner for board meeting attendance. The real incentive was the influence one's decisions would have on the dividend paid on one's shareholding.

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2 hours ago, TheQ said:

But of course they weren't slaves, had there been better wages elsewhere they could leave...


To add to that: had society been more fairly organised... if there had been social security... if medical treatment was affordable...

 

Well, quite. But none of those things were true. Which is why that society was a breeding ground for revolutionaries, not, as earlier posters implied, a stable society at risk of infection by that evil foreigner Lenin. 
 

Paul

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