Blowing up More Desert Trains and Cutting Telegraph Wires

Interesting passage on Lawrence of Arabia, desert codes, telegraph wires and railways on page 249 in Codebreakers, the highly readable book on Room 40 and WW1 Codebreaking by James Willie and Michael McKinley (published by Ebury, 2015).

Pulling down telegraph poles? This of course makes sense as often the telegraph poles followed railways, so it was easy to cut these wires or pull these poles down (by camel!) under the guise of Lawrence attacking the railway again. All part of the annoyance and disruption value of guerrilla warfare but with a higher aim, reading the enemy’s codes.

A clever way to force the Turks to rely on wireless, much easier to intercept at a safe distance and then decrypt or decode than tapping telegraph wires.

Overall Codebreakers is a very interesting book on WW1, picked up in my local branch library (childhood habits die hard!) but certainly worth buying in paperback. It covers naval and submarine warfare, Zeppelin raids, the Western Front, Ireland, German espionage and sabotage in America and its legacy, the seeds of WW2 codebreaking and breaking the Enigma codes at Bletchley Park.

More on WW1 Wireless and Telegraph and SIG INT at my post

More on Lawrence and desert train gaming scenarios – next time I need to add some Telegraph poles alongside the railtrack!

Blogposted by Mark Man of TIN, 3 February 2019.


20% Less Pound Store Plastic Warriors for your Pound

My most recent trip to Poundland confirmed what I had heard through comments on the blog late last year, that my penny dreadful figures of 100 for a £1 (a penny a figure) was now 80 figures for a pound.

It took a few extra weeks to make it to the Southwest but the 80 figure tubs have finally arrived.

Bik commented on this post here

Eventually in a few years we will just have 50 figures for £1 and they will become Tupenny Dreadful, twice the price they were last year but still reasonable conversion material.

My “penny dreadful” nickname for them came from my delight in Battle Game of The Month blogger Ross MacFarlane’s comment on the original pound store figures before I set to work with paint, pin and scalpel conversions that I have featured on previous posts. More figures on the painting table at the moment to share with you soon …

So even though they are now one “penny and a quarter dreadfuls”, still good play value for money.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN blog on my Pound Store Plastic Warriors blog, January 27th 2018.

Portable Kitchen Table Workshop

After all the interesting discussion on the Duchy of Tradgardland website about roll-top desks as the easy base for painting and modelling,

I noticed this interesting article by Euan Greer in a stock of old railway magazines. It comes from a Special Extra 1980 (delayed May 1980) Issue, Volume 31 Number 359 of Railway Modeller magazine.

Whilst the roll-top desk might be easier to close the lid and leave work in progress, this chunky portable workshop beats freezing in a loft or a shed.

If I come across the Workshop box original construction articles in Railway Modeller February and April 1979 amongst my random editions, I shall post suitable sections of these on the Sidetracked blog.

Obviously doing your own in box electrics might not be so easy now, but it’s an attractive alternative to the roll top desk.

The railway crest could easily be replaced with a military or regimental crest.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN on his occasional Sidetracked blog, 26th January 2018.

The Other Channel Tunnel to Ireland

Interesting one page article by Peter Dale from my gaming scrapbook, taken from a very old copy of Volume 10 Issue 11, November 1996 of Backtrack, a railway history magazine. I kept this page when handed a batch of old railway magazines a while back, as I thought it had interesting gaming scenario ideas for the future.

Based on engineering discussions and papers from 1886 to 1901, Peter Dale explores whether a rail tunnel could have been built linking Ireland to the rest of mainland Britain via Scotland or Wales.

The geology and the whole idea proved too difficult and expensive and was quietly forgotten long before WW1, the Easter Rising, the Irish Civil War and Irish Independence.

It may have proved yet another awkward or weak point to be guarded in the national defences. Perfect for some game scenarios of “What if?”

I’m surprised it didn’t crop up in some of the literature of invasion scares that were around in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

Blogposted by Mark Man of TIN on my occasional Sidetracked blog, 22 September 2018.

Armoured train in a tin?

Blowing up Desert Trains:My own train from a tin in action last year 
Martin Rapier’s The Games We Play blog armoured train. 

Martin Rapier on his The Games We Play blog has done a fabulous conversion job on the good old train in a tin gift set, converting it into a sinister armoured train, useful for many scenarios

Cheaper than N-Gauge, this is a very versatile cheap instant train set available in two sizes or sets.

which has already cropped up, rough black painted but unconverted,  in several of my scenarios last year.    Blog Post which leads or links to “Blowing Up Desert Trains Part 2”

The unconverted train is also perfect for the American Civil War, complete with cow catcher

I must get around to dry brushing and weathering my black train this year.

Thanks, Martin Rapier, for the reminder to unTIN my Train more often.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN, on the occasional Sidetracked blog 20 January 2018.




Territorial Terror

“You are a Territorial Terror”

This lovely little Burlesque series coloured postcard from 1911 (how that Burlesque word has changed over the years) showing a stage or music hall version of a Territorial in his scarlet coat, swagger stick (and stuck from a nearby hedge it looks) and skew whiff Home Service helmet.

A cheeky chappie who looks like he enlisted in a Light Operetta Company of the Territorial Army.

Tucked away in his jacket is what could be a hidden bottle? Hence the skew whiff helmet?

It captures the British public’s ambivalent attitude to licentious soldiery, the allure of a Redcoat to the giddy local womenfolk from Jane Austen’s Regency period onwards, the perils of a standing army bored and billeted on the civilian population and its slightly derisive approach to “weekend soldiers” three years before WW1. All in one single comic postcard.

The Territorial Force was formed in 1908, so the 1911 postcard was quite topical.

Marvin over at the Suburban Militarism blog has been focussing his research and excellent painting skills on the Territorial Force predecessors, the British Volunteer Regiments of the 19th and 20th Century.

What is even more interesting is the back of the German printed postcard of Watkins and Kracke Ltd. (Don’t read too much into this as subtle German propaganda – many British postcards were printed in Germany).

A short witty note from a loving sister, postmarked Stoke on Trent, 24 JY (January? July?) 1911

Dear Willie,

Just a line to let you know I got as far as Stoke on Sunday and I must say you would look better in these clothes than with a fishing rod and basket.

From your loving sister Annie

Addressed to Master W. Harrop, 76 Westminster Street, Crewe, Cheshire.

I thought 1911 being a Census Year, that there may be a chance with the names and addresses on the postcard of finding out more about Annie and her Brother Willie.

I searched the 1911 census for this Crewe address and found the family of William Charles Harrop and his sister Annie. William was serving an interesting apprenticeship, when not out with his fishing rod.

Using Ancestry I quickly found William Harrop’s Military WW1 Service Record – and thankfully he survived WW1.

This was partly due to his special trade as a Locomotive Engine Fitter for The LNWR . The Harrops were a railway family in the railway town of Crewe, his Crewe born-and-bred father Thomas being a Locomotive Engine Painter, also for the LNWR. Eventually several more sons, Walter Baden Harrop (Baden Powell or BP being a Boer War name?) and Lewis Harrop became LNWR apprentices.

William Harrop’s address by 1916 seems to have moved next door to 74 Westminster Street and he Attested to Enlist and serve from 1916 with the Royal Engineers, ROD Railway Operating Division at Longmoor.

It is clear from his Attestation papers that William had not served as a Territorial, so the postcard choice was no in-joke from his sister that Willie was one such “Territorial Terror”.

Medical Certificate for William with his varicose veins (unusual in a man of 26?) and requires dental treatment,

Interesting unit to work on as a Sapper (equivalent to Private) in the Royal Engineers Railway and Canal Troops Department. It also identifies his employment as Loco Fitter, his previous employer as the LNWR (London & North Western Railway) in his lifelong railway town of Crewe. It seems there was a strong link between the LNWR and the Railway Operating Division.

Longmoor was the Royal Engineers training camp and base in Hampshire for these Railway units with a Railway Signalling School etc.

According to the excellent 1914-18 invasion zone website:

The first of the railway operating companies were raised in April of 1915 and deployed to France in June of that year. They performed three basic functions:

1. The management of traffic.

2. The provision of crews for locomotives.

3. The repair of rolling stock and other items needed to keep a railway in operation. This is where William Harrop as a Loco Fitter would have worked.

The railway operating companies were exclusively concerned with operation of full-size (‘standard gauge’) trains.

The operation of light railways was the responsibility of the light railway companies. This is the type of 26 LRW Company that William served with.

The construction of railway lines, as well as their repair, was the work of railway construction units.

A good description of the genesis of railway units in the BEF can be found in the History of the Corps of Royal Engineers, Volume V, The Home Front, France, Flanders and Italy in the First World War, (Chatham: The Institution of Royal Engineers, 1952), pp. 594-595.

William was demobilised in November 1919 as Sapper, W.R. 275073 Royal Engineers, formerly 290053.

Decoding William’s Service records

It has been suggested on the 1914-18 Invision Zone webpage on ROD units by some that W.R. on his regimental or service number is Waterways and Railways (rather than War Reserve?)

He enlisted 21.2.16 and was mobilised 10.7.17, then posted 11.7.17. He left England with 26 LWR Co RE on 14.9.17.

His service in the 26 LWR CO is the Light Railway Workshop Company, based at Longmoor. This unit embarked for France and Flanders 12 March 1917. The RE Museum website of War Diaries lists dates for this Company as March 1917 to August 1917, although William’s faded service records suggest that he transferred to the 18th ROC RE on 8 June 1918 .

William survived the war and received the standard two war service medals, the British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service with 118th Railway Company, Royal Engineers (formed 13 November 1915) and at first with the 26th LRW Co Royal Engineers.

After the war he returned to and remained in Crewe in railway service. He was listed as a locomotive stores issuer (from 1927) in the 1939 Register, living in 58 Meredith Street, Crewe with his wife Emily L. Harrop (nee Judson, b. 1899). They had married four years before.

Hopefully he still had a relaxing time with his fishing rod and basket up until his death aged 75 in 1966.

What became of his ‘loving sister Annie’ during and after WW1 is harder to trace but she may have married a John J. Prince in 1921.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN blog, happily Sidetracked again in January 2018.

Fogman and Brazier


Not a detective series or a firm of solicitors but one of my favourite Railway figures – fogman, hut and brazier.


I have bought several of these attractive PECO packs for my Railway civilians. lovely figure and great little fire effect using red and silver sweet wrapper type paper.

Reading through my stash of old railway magazine clippings in my scrapbook, I found this imaginative small tale or short story by B. Willcocks. Sadly   I cannot remember which magazine it came from c. 1970s/80s.


I often wonder about the conversations, thoughts and back stories of the figures glimpsed on railway layouts.

What is a fogman?

A “fogman” was a person in charge of fog signals on a railway track or system. Uup to the 1950s, the fogman would stand offside the rail tracks with a lantern to signal “go slow” to the train driver.

A railway detonator (torpedo in North America) is a coin-sized device that is used to make a loud sound as a warning signal to train drivers. It is placed on the top of the rail, usually secured with two lead straps, one on each side. When the wheel of the train passes over, it explodes emitting a loud bang. It was invented in 1841 by English inventor Edward Alfred Cowper.

A different type of explosives for trains than usually featured on Sidetracked.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN on Sidetracked blog, December 2017.