On 4th August 1914, King George V declared war against the German and Austro-Hungarian empires, on the advice of the British prime minster, Mr. H. H. Asquith. During the war, efforts were quickly made to try and prevent food shortages and any labour shortfalls across Britain, and on the Continent. It soon became paramount that communications and supplies were vital and needed to continue being transported across the Channel. The War Office soon realised it would be advantageous if the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) were to have its own railway service, which would allow locomotives and rolling stock to be handled more easily, facilitating the rapid transportation of supplies to the Frontline. By January 1915, the authorisation was given to establish the Railway Operating Division (R.O.D.), with many of the locomotives and rolling stock being provided by the South Eastern & Chatham Railway.
In December 1914, the Inland Water Transport (I.W.T.) Section of the Royal Engineers was formed, and became responsible for operating and developing the transportation of supplies on the canals and waterways in northern France and Belgium. The I.W.T. had initially been operated under the Director of Railways, but with the development of the I.W.T. a Special Directorate was later formed in October 1915, and it later became known as the Inland Waterways and Docks (I.W. & D.) Directorate. Transportation services included railways, roads, inland water transport, and docks, with the personnel being provided by the remainder of men, recruited into the Royal Engineers until September 1916. A Director-General of Transportation was appointed and made responsible for controlling all these services.
The majority of the officers in the Royal Engineers were drawn from members of the Institute of Civil Engineers, Architects and Railwaymen. One man, Gerald Holland, had been Dock and Marine Superintendent for the London & North Western Railway (L. & N.W.R.) Company at Holyhead, and as a result was made responsible for establishing the I.W.T. service on the Western Front. In December 1914, he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers, and later became Assistant Director of the I.W.T in France. By 1916, Holland had become Director of the I.W.T. and was Director General in 1917. Gerald Holland’s influence on the I.W.T. and the vital role of canals in France also stretched to the development of Richborough Port in Kent. With his involvement at Richborough he would eventually become responsible for pioneering the first cross-Channel ferry services, which were established at both Richborough Port and Southampton. By November 1918, units under the Order of Battle for the I.W. & D. were being listed with a Depot Headquarters at Richborough, which consisted of camps that had workshops and shipyard companies, construction, marine, traffic, train ferries, stores, accounts, Home Depot, and tug masters.
Subscribe today to read the full article!
Simply click below to subscribe and not only read the full article instantly, but gain unparalleled access to the specialist magazine for shipping enthusiasts.