A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of going to The Watercress Line Railway for their War on the Line event. This annual event, based down near Alresford, Hampshire, UK, explores what it was like on the railways during WWII.
It’s an event like no other, with everything focused around the amazingly restored steam trains and beautiful 1940’s platform buildings. And with plenty of reenactors walking about in period costume and educational demonstrations, you almost feel as if you’ve actually been transported back in time to the Blitz.
The Watercress Line railway was built in 1865 and played an important part during World War Two due to its location between the Army centre of Aldershot and the sea port of Southampton. It now operates as one of the most successful heritage railways in the country and, with four individual platform stops, it provides the perfect setting for such an event.
Our day started at Ropley station where they had a variety of 1940s vehicles on display, from personal cars right up to a huge fire engine. This cute Austin 7, used by an ARP warden, was my favourite. It reminded me of Bugsy Malone and I almost expected Dandy Dan’s hoodlums to come running up with splurge guns!
Moving on to the station buildings we came across this sign asking for donations to help pay for the restoration of the Canadian Pacific 35005, which was originally built by a mostly female workforce. The CanPac, as it was nicknamed, was used for troop and freight movements during the Second World War, which is why it’s such an amazing project for The Watercress Line. You can read more about it here.
Inside the main building was a mock up of a typical station masters parlour, complete with the most amazing wallpaper. I would’ve happily have moved in straight way!
After tasting the weird and wonderful cakes that had been made using genuine rationing recipes, we went into the waiting room and sat patiently until our train arrived. You can see the two colours of buttermilk yellow and emerald green on the wall behind me, which were used throughout the railway. They’re so typical of this period and were popular as a combination in the 1930s and 40s.
I’m wearing my late 1930s tulip dress that I made last year. It’s teamed with my late 1930s hat that I blocked, an original 1940s Cordé handbag and yellow shoes by Hotter. Although you don’t see it here, I was also wearing my original 1930s black wool coat, as it was really quite cold that day. The weather had brutally changed that weekend and it rained on and off throughout the day.
Finally, our train arrived and we hopped on it, heading down the line to Alresford. Once there, we hopped off and had a look around the station buildings. We watched and enjoyed the dancers showing off their jive moves and had a quick chat with the lady who was running the only stall we came across all day (I’ll come back to that in a minute!). Then we walked into the small town centre. Unfortunately being a Sunday, everything, apart from the pubs, was closed, so after a quick wander around the tiniest antiques fair, we headed back to the train.
The carriage we chose to head back up the line in was actually used in the Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hallows part 1. (I think I got that right, but shock horror, I’m not a Harry Potter fan, so don’t quote me on it!) Anyway, it was a gorgeous carriage with lovely plush seats and tables, something that was rather important at this juncture, as we had decided to eat our picnic on the train and ride all the way up to the Alton station.
These two MPs, who looked more like they should be in Dad’s Army than Military Police (sorry guys!), tried to confiscate our prosecco through the train’s window, but thankfully the train pulled away in time for us to keep hold of it.
Arriving at Alton station we were treated to the gorgeous singing of Becki Short, a 1940s performer who specialises in 1930s, 40s and 50s songs. Her voice is just perfect for this period, with such clarity and softness, and she reminded me of Judy Garland. It was a joy to listen to.
Apart from enjoying Becki’s performance, there wasn’t really anything much else to do at Alton station, which was a shame as there was quite a wait for the train to go back down the line. However, it did give us the chance to talk to this incredible woman. Alma, at the age of 96, was there with her son, who you can see in the photo above her in the naval uniform, his wife, their daughter and her husband and two boys, but it was her we wanted to talk to.
You see, Alma was in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and she transported bombs to the aircraft used by the Dam Busters by truck, driving them all on her own. I had to shake her hand. Seriously, what a woman to stumble across. We had a truly wonderful chat and she told us that even now, at her amazing age, still drives her self about and won’t give up her independance. Honestly, she is my absolute hero.
Oh, and when she took her hat off, she had the most beautiful finger waves across the top of her hair. I was in absolute awe!
Dragging ourselves away from Alma we headed back to the last station to visit, Medstead & Four Marks. Here we came across the Victory Stores, a temporary shop set up on the platform after their original one was bombed. Inside it had the most amazing display of 1940s goods that would’ve been purchased with your ration stamps. I was particularly intrigued by the chocolate, something that was very rarely purchased during the war as those stamps had to be stretched a long way. But look, blue KitKat wrappers!
Then it was back on the train to head home. Very annoyingly, the next day, when looking at everyone else’s photos on Instagram, I realised that we had missed a whole area of event. It was strange, because during the day, we were saying that it was weird that we’d only seen one stall selling any vintage items. This was the perfect event for vintage sellers and we thought it was something that had perhaps been overlooked.
But no, somehow, we’d missed the section where there was stalls, we’d also missed the Glenn Miller Tribute Band, the radio display and the bomb disposal. I blame a combination of the fact that I was focusing on filming and taking photos, so had given the map to my parents and the fact that it was so cold. My mind just wasn’t concentrating on what was going on as much as it normally would have.
Oh well, it was a great day out nonetheless and I’ll just have to go back next year to make sure I don’t miss those bits again or, perhaps, head down to their Christmas Leave event during the holidays. No matter what, I’m sure I’ll be heading that way again some time, it really is such a beautiful place to experience and I’d highly recommend it.
And if you’re interested in seeing a whistle stop tour of the whole War on the Line event (minus the bits we missed!) have a watch of my video. It’s only a couple of minutes long and shows you more than what I’ve featured here. I hope you enjoy it, it’s the first one I’ve done like this, so I know there’s a few things I can improve on.
Disclaimer: I’d just like to say a huge thank you The Watercress Line for gifting me tickets to the War on the Line event. All views expressed are my own honest opinions and reflect my own personal experience.