What didn’t make it into “Duty, Debt and Picket Lines: the Queensland Railway Department during the First World War”

While researching for my paper Duty, Debt and Picket Lines: the Queensland Railway Department during the First World War for the Queensland Museum Memoir volume 11, I found a large amount of material that, due to space constraints, I was unable to include. Therefore, I thought writing a blog might be a good opportunity to publish these unused images and documents.

The paper investigates the challenges that the Railway Department experienced during the war, including staff enlisting and leaving their positions, the Queensland Government’s decision to make the railways the major producer of munitions on their behalf, the need to run recruitment trains to regional areas to boost troop enlistments and staff unionism. Other difficulties explored include running and expanding the railway network when prices for materials were significantly increasing, the public perception of the railway department giving jobs to Germans, and a Royal Commission investigation into the whole department towards the end of the war due to immense budget issues. The paper also focused on fundraising initiatives such as the Railway Patriotic Fund, the 10 Miles of Pennies public drive and the allocating of funds to help returned railway soldiers.

The Queensland State Archives, the State Library of Queensland as well as Queensland Museum’s own collection were great resources for my paper and below are some of the images and documents from these collections that I would have loved to include if I had the extra space.

  1. A list of traffic section employees with German last names. The State Government requested that the railways provide them with lists of Germans employed in the organisation. The Government also instructed the railways that “employment is not to be given to persons of German Australian birth by any department while Britishers willing to be employed are available in any part of the state.” The public perception that the railways were a hotbed of German sympathisers was an issue the department would continually face during the early years of the war. Queensland State Archives, 862612.

2. Recruitment Train poster. In my paper I chose to use an image of a Recruitment train in Emerald instead of this poster. Recruitment trains were used for a short time in 1915 to make it easier men from regional areas to enlist as the initial enthusiasm for signing up seen in 1914 began to wane. On the day the train arrived in a town, a Government Minister along with the local Mayor were expected to give rousing speeches while a recruitment officer and doctor travelled with the train to inspect and sign on volunteers. Local school children were given the day off when the train arrived to help create extra fanfare. Although successful, the trains were not used much after 1915 due to the high cost that running them incurred on the railways. Queensland State Archives, 319308.

3. Royal Commission on Railway Administration. The investigation started in August 1917 and was an exhaustive examination of the Department’s business (the report is as thick as a phonebook). The findings are a fascinating insight into the difficulties of operating a railway during war time. The Department was expected to continue to expand the railway network throughout the state to help grow the economy, all while expenses and shortages in materials were increasing (it turns out the same materials you need to run a railway are the same materials you need to fight a war). This led to severe budget issues for the Department and calls were made for a public enquiry into the administration. Queensland Rail Archive.

4. Railway Patriotic Fund pledge form. The fund was established by the Department in August 1914. Railway employees pledged an amount of their pay to be withdrawn and deposited into the fund on forms like the one above. The initial aim of the fund was to aid the men who enlisted so their dependents would be no worse off because of their service (often their new military pay was much less than their old railway pay). The fund was then able to be expanded into welfare initiatives for returned railway soldiers in the later years of the war. Queensland State Archives, 289871.

5. Railway Employees’ Patriotic Farm. One of the initiatives paid for by the fund was the Railway Employees’ Patriotic Farm; a 20-acre fruit and poultry operation at Birkdale. The farm was established so railway employees who had returned from the war, and could no longer work for the Department due to injury, would be provided with an opportunity to still make a living. The farm was to be run as a co-operative with the returned soldiers sharing the profits to supplement their pensions. The farm was not a success, as few returned employees took up the offer to work on it. The farm was sold in 1920. Queensland State Archives, 289871.

6. Ten Miles of Pennies. In 1918 the Railway Patriotic Fund Committee, aware that the fund was slowing due to relying mainly on staff pledges, came up with a public fundraising initiative called ‘Ten Miles of Pennies’. The aim was to collect enough pennies to cover ten miles of railway track with pennies laid side-by-side (518 877 give or take a few). Special excursion trains, concerts and other fundraising events hosted by the railways for the public were held between April and July 1918 with proceeds going to the pennies drive. By the end of July, it was calculated that public donations equated to the equivalent of 18 miles of pennies, well and truly exceeding expectations. Queensland Railways Weekly Notice.

7. Federated Locomotive Enginemen, Firemen and Cleaners’ Association Honour Board. We have several railway honour boards from the First World War in the collection and I was only able to include a photograph of one of them in my paper. This honour board recognises the Queensland members of this national railway union. We also have boards that recognise a certain type of role in the department, for example Station Masters. The above board is on display at The Workshops Rail Museum. Queensland Museum Collection, Photograph Peter Waddington.

8. Boilermakers, Ipswich Branch, No.5 Honour Board. This board honours members of the Ipswich Branch of the United Society of Boiler Makers and Iron and Steel Ship Builders from the Ipswich Railway Workshops who served in the First World War. The name J.H Palmer has an ‘M.M’ next to it. Sapper John Henry Palmer from the 8th Field Company, Australian Engineers was awarded the Military Medal for his role in capturing and recovering the Amiens Rail Gun. Queensland Museum Collection, Photograph Peter Waddington.

9. Chief Railway Auditors Branch Honour Board. Unlike the previous boards, this one honours men from a small section of the Railway Department. There are little ‘k’s painted next to the names of J.A Hobson and H.N Oxenham – they both died while enlisted. Queensland Museum Collection, Photograph Peter Waddington.

Duty, Debt and Picket Lines: the Queensland Railway Department during the First World War is chapter 4 of Queensland Remembers 1914-1918, Queensland Museum Memoir volume 11. You can purchase a copy at our campuses, or via the online store: https://bit.ly/3jdhvuc

Be on the look out for our next Duty, Debt and Picket Lines: the Queensland Railway Department during the First World War related blog.

Rob Shiels
Collection Manager, The Workshops Rail Museum