R. A. Smith's articles
1 The Camber Railway at Stanley.
Originally published in 'The Narrow Gauge' no. 108.
Sharp-eyed railway enthusiasts were probably astonished to see a railway marked on BBC News maps of Stanley Harbour at the beginning of the recent conflict. The railway was removed from the maps within the first week! More recently, articles in Railway Magazine (Nov. 1984, March 1985) have described the present remains of the Camber Railway at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The author's recent researches, mainly in the Public Record Office, have revealed more information on the origins and uses of this line.
The first dramatic naval episode of the First World War ocurred when Admiral Graf von Spee sank two British cruisers off Coronel, Chile, on 1 November 1914. Two battle cruisers, Invincible and Inflexible, were despatched to repair the publically perceived humiliation. Although their eventual destination was the Pacific, Admiral Doveton Sturdee commanding called first at the Falkland Islands to take on coal before proceeeding round Cape Horn. By chance, von Spee had decided to capture this valuable base at the same time as Sturdee was replenishing his supplies. On detecting the battle cruisers' silhouettes on his approach to Stanley Harbour, von Spee turned tail, but was pursued and within hours the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Nurnburg and Leipzig were sunk, leaving only the Dresden to escape into the South Atlantic. Sturdee, recognising that he might easily have been caught napping in Stanley Harbour, telegraphed the Governor:
"We wish to convey our thanks for the early warning of the approach of the enemy due to the good look-out kept at Sapper Hill."
The incident clearly demonstrated the need for improved communications with the northern hemisphere and arrangements were made by the Admiralty for a powerful spark transmitter to be built at Moody Brook to the west of Stanley settlement. This type of transmitter required formidable power supplies: Two Babcock and Wilcox boilers provided steam for three dynamos, the boilers themselves needing large quantities of coal, hence the need for the light railway to convey material, equipment and fuel to the transmitter site from the navy jetty some three and a half miles away on the northern shore of the harbour opposite Stanley.
The contractors to the Admiralty were Marconi and Co., with the construction being sub-contracted to Holland, Hannen and Cubitts, a London based firm with deep roots in the railway contracting industry. About 200 labourers were employed and despatched to the Falklands, where by the end of May 1915 (the Falklands winter!), stores and materials were unloaded from the steamer Ismailia. The stores included two 2ft gauge locomotives (2388 and 2392 of 1915) built by Kerr Stuart and Co. Ltd., Stoke-on-Trent, and sent from the works on 3 March 1915. These locomotives were the earlier 'Wren' type of 0-4-0 saddle tank with 6 inch by 9 inch cylinders and 20inch diameter wheels. Work initially progressed quickly, it being reported that by the beginning of June over half the length of the railway grading and cutting had been completed and the track was laid and being worked for about a mile. The boggy Falkland terrain caused some problems in the form of a number of soft patches, for which wooden sleepers were ordered locally.
By mid-June a strike was brewing amongst the workmen, who were being required to leave their lodgings in Stanley and live on board the SS Freshfield, a vessel sent out by the Admiralty as a floating barracks. The men argued that since they were contracted to Messrs. Cubitts, they did not recognise Admiralty discipline. Some sensible negotiations were made by Mr. H. J. Hunt, Cubitts' foreman, and the somewhat high-handed attitude adopted by the Admiralty seems to have been overcome, as the men were allowed to continue to live ashore.
When HMS Glasgow called at Stanley, Captain Luce reported on 3 August that he was "given to understand that it is proposed on completion of the work to leave the railway in situ for the purpose of taking stores to the (wireless) station," but thoughts still persisted that the cost of working and maintaining the light railway (£14 per week) might, in the long run, have been better spent on making a jetty at the cost of £600 and relying on water transport.
On the 2nd September the governor was able to report that he had travelled on three out of three and a half miles of light railway, and some four months later that one of the engines and four stone crushers would shortly be available for other purposes, the major construction having been completed. During the first trials of the apparatus, in April 1915, too much power was applied and many miles of wiring were burnt out. Modifications were soon made and so powerful were the resulting signals from the giant transmitter that they were received by a ship of the US Navy on patrol in the North Sea.
The contractors' task finished, they and the navy withdrew, leaving a team of an engineer-in-charge, one artificer, two experienced stokers and eight stoker ratings to run the equipment, aided by the single remaining 'Wren' to convey the vast quantities of coal. The invention of the wireless valve soon made the transmitter obselete and the large generating capacity was no longer required. The railway fell into disuse in the second half of the 1920s, the remains of the line and locomotives having been described in the recent articles.
It is interesting to consider how history repeats itself; Falklands threatened - send ships (including Invincible) - sink opposition - improve communications - trouble with imported workers: It remains to be seen how long it will be before the modern technology represented by the new airport is outdated!
Originally published in 'The Narrow Gauge' no. 97.
In 1904 Grytviken became the first whaling station to be established in South Georgia, by the Compañia Argentina de Pesca, headed by C. A. Larsen, a Norwegian. Other stations followed so rapidly that by 1912 seven were in operation. In these early days the whales were brought to the shore base for cutting up and processing. Huge quantities of coal were needed to drive the steam saws and boilers used in these operations, so to move this coal and other materials narrow-gauge railways or tramways were laid at most of these stations.
The remains of a steam locomotive can still be found at Ocean Harbour (formerly called New Fortune Bay) which was operated by Ocean A/S of Larvik, Norway, between 1909 and 1920. The engine is lying on its side and has been extensively cannibalised. Unfortunately no manufacturer's plate is visible. At Husvik, which closed in 1961, extensive track still remains, together with a building looking much like an engine shed. At other stations the lines were mostly handworked.
"On returning to King Edward Cove (the administrative settlement near Grytviken) we had to transfer our personal effects, stores and food supplies, plus a considerable quantity of anthracite. Our task was made somewhat easier by a miniature railway track running from the jetty to serve each of the buildings on the settlement, the rolling stock consisting of two bogies propelled by manpower or, as in this case, womanpower. Though both old and new coal sheds lay close to the line, it still proved hard work, as each bag had to be manhandled from the shed onto the bogey and the bogey pushed the length of the settlement - part of the way up an incline. George and I shifted four tons in two afternoons." (Antarctic Housewife, by Nan Brown, Hutchinson, 1951).
These railways were important because of the poor state of the polar ground - the hard frost of the winter season giving way to a summer morass:
"There is a narrow gauge railway, such as one finds in coal-mines, leading up from the jetty in amongst the huddled jumble of factory buildings, oil tanks and tin sheds of which this permanent British settlement seems to consist. There is no road, footpath or other track for the passage of men, so I step gingerly from sleeper to sleeper on this rackety railtrack which must have carried many millions of pounds worth of material over the years, and must have carried as much food and other necessaries with (for?) the hungry post-war British housewife's shopping basket as any track of its size in the world. But I am careful not to miss my step on the sleepers, for if I do so I shall not land on the solid earth my ship-weary legs are craving, but more probably into a knee-deep pool of grey sludge, the composition of which I would not dare to describe to my reader in case his lunch or supper should be imminent... The friendly bogie-line I am following suddenly grovels into a rusty shed, and I can only proceed by wading through a morass of grey sludge, noticing as I do so that strings of bubbles come up where my sea-boots disturb it. Being of a scientific disposition, I stir up one puddle with one of the many odd bits of iron lying around, and set a match to the huge glug of bubbles that emerges. It ignites, and burns with a ghostly blue flame." (Of Whales and Men, R. B. Robertson, Macmillan, 1956).
At the time this description of the squalor of Leith Harbour was written in 1951, the celebrated 'Groundnuts' scheme had failed and Christian Salvesen's operations in South Georgia were reckoned to be the single greatest source of edible oils in the empire. The pattern of whaling changed shortly afterwards from shore-based to pelagic, in which a fleet of catchers, corvettes and buoyboats operated from a mother factory ship, onto which the captured whales could be dragged through the stern to be processed. The stations were used for shelter and maintenance of the ships by various British, Norwegian and, latterly, Japanese, companies until dwindling returns and conservation measures led to the final closure in 1966. Christian Salvesen now hold the lease of the sites and remains at Grytviken, Stromness, Husvik and Leith.
It is now history that the landing of Argentinian scrapmen in March 1982 led to Argentina invading South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, of which South Georgia is a dependency. During the battle to invade Grytviken, the civilian scientific population of the British Antarctic Survey took refuge in the church. Eventually they were taken prisoner and held in trying circumstances for fifteen days before being taken to Uruguay and repatriated to Britain. My principal informant for these notes, and the provider of the locomotive photograph, R. K. Headland, was one of these prisoners. Happily, I am able to report he is now back in the area, to survey the unfortunate damage caused to shore bases and scientific records by the invaders.
Islands in the South Atlantic