With four stations of restored platforms and fabulous steam trains, The Watercress Line’s summer event ‘War on the Line’ has been one of our favourites so far!
On a fine June Saturday morning we arrived at Alton station which, from the outside, looks like any other modern South West Trains station (in fact, one could feel rather self-conscious crossing the car park in their 1940’s finest!). However, cross the bridge and you are transported back in time to the Mid Hants Railway ‘Watercress Line’.
Constructed in 1865, this railway played an important part during World War Two due to its location between the Army centre of Aldershot and the port of Southampton. It now operates as a heritage railway and it provides the perfect setting for a 1940’s event.
Preparing for this event was great fun! We wanted to be much more like re-enactors for this visit and so our outfits were carefully chosen (my new-to-me CC41 jacket got its first outing) and we bought baskets with newly acquired basket covers from Bygone Days to hide any ‘modern’ things we might need to carry. We even made gas mask boxes (ordered from amazon) as well as wrapping our sandwiches (with wartime fillings) in paper tied with string! This really helped us feel the part and it prepared us well for the variety of wartime characters and scenarios we were to encounter…
A nice touch is that on entry to the event you are issued with a replica Identity Card to fill in, and these are regularly checked by the Military Police throughout the day!
I am afraid to admit that the both of us fell foul of the military police (for taking unauthorised photographs!) and we found ourselves handcuffed and berated on our first train journey of the day! Threatened with hard labour at the ash pit we managed to persuade them to release us by assuring them that we had learned our lesson (we may also have offered gin!) and we were genuinely apprehensive about taking anymore photos of them for the rest of the day!
There was a lovely atmosphere at this event with characters like Sam the Smart Alec spiv and the washerwoman to encounter. Each station had different displays, and one of our favourites was the Victory Store filled with wartime packaged goods (and rather too many mice!) – but sadly we had forgotten our ration books!
There were a variety of singers performing, as well as a Glenn Miller Tribute band and lots of dancers. We also met the author Mike Hollow who has written a series of detective novels set in the Blitz. We bought a book each which he kindly signed ‘To the Vintage Tourists’ and we look forward to reading them (and perhaps reviewing them in a later blog).
This event was also attended by many lovely photographers who all seemed to appreciate the effort we had gone to. It seems that quite a large number of visitors at this event don’t ‘dress up’ and so we found ourselves being photographed a lot throughout the day. One rather surreal moment involved us taking a quick seat on a platform bench to have a mid-morning tea and eccles cake literally surrounded by photographers who took the opportunity to capture two 1940’s gals having a cuppa and a chat! (most disconcerting to try eating flaky pastry in a ‘photogenic’ way!)
We had brought our own enamel mugs with us for our tea (or gin!) to give a more authentic look to our refreshment breaks!
Photos above taken by David Clarke
Everyone that we met and spoke to were so lovely – we were often complimented on the effort we had made, and we had some fascinating conversations with visitors who shared their memories and stories of the war with us.
But perhaps what was most wonderful of all was climbing aboard these beautiful train carriages, hearing the hiss of steam and the whistle of the engine. It was watching the country side roll by to the sound of the rhythmic chugging of these historic modes of transport. It was travelling in the way that people did 75 years ago in the era that we were recreating.
At the end of the day we arrived back at Alton and reluctantly crossed back over the bridge into the 21st century – our day in the 1940’s had come to an end.
Until next time…
The VT’s xxx
The next 1940’s event at the Watercress Line will be in December with their popular two day ‘Christmas Leave’ event.