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Navy runs on steam again as wartime express returns for centenary run

15 May 2017
The most famous train in Royal Navy history took to the rails for the first time in 70 years to mark the unique service's centenary.

Through the final 18 months of the Great War and through most of WW2 the 'Jellicoe Express' was the vital lifeline for sailors serving at the Fleet's principal wartime base, Scapa Flow.

Upwards of 600 sailors a day, plus their luggage, supplies and mail for the Fleet, were carried by the railway service which ran from Euston in London to Thurso - a distance of 717 miles covered in 21½ hours.

As the First Sea Lord was Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, the service - the longest ever run in the UK - earned the title The Jellicoe Express.

Upwards of 600 sailors a day, plus their luggage, supplies and mail for the Fleet, were carried by the railway service

Despite the demands on the wartime rail network, the service was rarely late and often early.

From Thurso, boats took the men across the Pentland to Scapa where a myriad of battleships and other vessels anchored when not on patrol.

To mark the centenary, for one day only, a steam train travelled on the stunning Highlands section of the route between Inverness and Perth, while plaques commemorating the express' vital role in both world wars were unveiled at five stations.

There were few stops along the express' route - such as Crewe to allow sailors coming from the West Country to join the train, or Rosyth and Invergordon so they could alight at other key RN bases.

Given the exigencies of wartime, facilities on the train were rudimentary - there was no catering, apparently no toilets and frequently no room as the service was overcrowded… prompting sailors to dub it The Misery Express.

Volunteers or the Red Cross set up stalls at stops to provide sustenance to the travelling sailors and marines: the Patriot Barrow in Perth operated around the clock, while further up the line in Dingwall, the Red Cross brewed more than 130,000 cups of tea for thirsty travellers.

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