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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 8 (February 1, 1933)

Railways and the Great War — “Mightier than the Sword.”

page 53

Railways and the Great War
“Mightier than the Sword.”

In this article Mr. Nestor draws attention to the heavy, essential work done by Railways in wartime. In the Great War their service was used in carrying between factory or depot and port, and between port and established base. Motor vehicles effected radial distribution from railheads or bases. This revealed, under the sternest conditions, the true relative functions of these two types of transport agencies. The lessons of the war have valuable implications in the economics of peace-time transport, and for this reason the following article has an interest which is more than merely historical.

One of our better-known writers, either Will Shakespeare or Ken Alexander, has aptly remarked that a railway jigger is a rowing boat without the boat; similarly we might observe that warfare is war without the fairness, in that the credit for success is not invariably bestowed upon the deserving.

The mightiest weapon of war at the present time is the railroad, without which no modern army can hope to make a successful stand, as Hindenburg found to his cost when he left behind him the railroads of Vilna, Grodno and Brest Litovsk to advance over the two hundred miles of Russian dirt roads in the direction of Petrograd. The railroad is the mightiest of all weapons; but where do we find mention of its work? Tucked away in official dispatches, wholly if not entirely ignored by historians. On the other hand, what publicity is accorded to the small fry! To submarines; yet in the last war, out of 80,000 sailings only a few hundred vessels were sunk, while one in every two of submarines which left port was destroyed. To zeppelins; yet they did no damage worth mentioning, and were in the end a complete failure. To aeroplanes; and what good did they do, other than “spotting” for the artillery and dropping a few bombs on points of little military significance. To poison gas; but after the initial attack on the Canadians at Ypres poison gas rapidly ceased to be of any real importance. The prosaic fact is that the war was won by heavy artillery, machine guns, rifles and bayonets; and each and every one of these agents of destruction were wholly dependent for full efficiency on the railways, without whose assistance ammunition and supplies could not be transported in sufficient quantities nor at sufficient speed to the seat of action, nor could the men themselves or the heavy guns be brought up in sufficient numbers at the right time.

Unhappily, too, we must remember that twice as many troops died of meningitis and pneumonia as were actually slain on the battlefield; only by means of the railroad, carrying the wounded swiftly and comfortably to the hospitals, was the number of fatalities kept down to its actual figures.