Wendover Remembers, December 1917

Val Moir and Mike Senior  |  Published: Dec 1st 2017

On the Eastern Front the fighting between Russia and Germany ended with an Armistice signed on 15 December at Brest-Litovsk.  Russia was effectively out of the war.  This enabled the Germans to transfer a million men to the Western Front.  At Halifax in Nova Scotia the Belgian ship Imo collided with the French ship Mont Blanc.  The Mont Blanc, which was loaded with ammunition, caught fire and exploded.  Most of Halifax was destroyed and 1,900 people lost their lives. British troops, led by General Allenby, captured Jerusalem from the Turks.

James “Jim” Johns, with the Queen’s West Surrey Regiment, was killed near Jerusalem on 27 December.  He was 23 years old.  Jim was the son of Charles and Edith Johns of 3 Nightingale Road.  Before the war Jim had served an apprenticeship with Mr Birch, a builder of Perry Street.  In his letters home Jim mentioned that he had camped twice in the Garden of Eden and was most impressed with Bethlehem.  He was looking forward to having Christmas Dinner in Jerusalem.

Gunner Sam Harding, aged 30, died of wounds while serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery.  The Bucks Herald reported: “Sam joined up in the early stages of the war.  As a boy he worked in the iron foundry and afterwards as a platelayer on the railway.  Mr Harding lost another son, Sidney, eight months ago and son Edward was a prisoner in Turkey.  His youngest son, Ewart, was serving with the forces in France”. 

The opening of the Wendover to Halton Light Railway at the end of 1917 relieved the pressure on local roads. The War Office had requisitioned vehicles owned by the Metropolitan Railway and local traders to transport supplies from Wendover station to Halton Camp and this resulted in deeply rutted and muddy roads. As early as 1915 Mr Thomas Read, the Wendover Station master, had put forward a plan for a light railway from Wendover to Halton and his idea was accepted by the directors of the Metropolitan Board at Baker Street.  Thomas Read was awarded £350 with which he bought a house in Chiltern Road. 

The railway was built in 1917 mainly by German Prisoners of War.  The 1.75 mile line, which ran from the north end of Wendover Station to the Camp workshops in Chestnut Avenue, was built in 8 weeks.  When the RAF changed from coal to oil fired generators in the late 1950’s the use of the line declined and it was officially closed on 31st March 1963. Traces of the route can still be seen in some of the Lionel Avenue gardens and the crossing gate-posts are next to Ashbrook Park. 

The School Log Book of December 1917 noted: “His Majesty’s Inspector, Miss Wier, the Physical Exercise Director, visited [the school] to see each teacher put his or her class through their evolutions and Swedish drill and games. Not quite as good as last year was her verdict.” The Wendover Magazine announced  “We much regret to say that the cost of paper and printing has increased so greatly that it will be impossible for us to sell this Magazine at 1d per copy in future. The price, commencing in January will be 2d per copy.”

View of the level crossing on the Aylesbury Road circa 1960 by the late artist Brian Payne.
View of the level crossing on the Aylesbury Road circa 1960 by the late artist Brian Payne.
Only the gate posts remain today.
Only the gate posts remain today.
Gunner Sam Harding by kind permission of Graham Pare
Gunner Sam Harding by kind permission of Graham Pare
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