Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture 11

War Department Light Railways of the First World War

Mewes, D.

Published online: June 2020


Mewes, D.


Mewes, D. 2020. War Department Light Railways of the First World War. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture 11, p. 25–38.

Date published

June 2020



War Department, light railways, trench warfare, British, German, Hunslet, Simplex, Decauville


This paper recounts some experiences on the Western Front of two men who had worked at the Ipswich Railway Workshops before the First World War. Lt. Colonel A. C. Fewtrell , who trained as a cadet engineer at Ipswich Railway Workshops, and was involved in the operations of a light railway unit on the Western Front presented a paper about his experiences to some graziers in New South Wales in 1920. Major S. H. Hancox had been in charge of the powerhouse at Ipswich Railway Workshops before enlisting and being sent to France where he worked on the construction of a section of the 60 cm gauge light railways during 1917. Hancox relates some of the horrific conditions he encountered through letters to his mother in Brisbane.

In 1916, the British adopted the 60 cm gauge light railway system which was already being successfully used by both the Germans and the French. The British introduced the Hunslet 4-6-0T locomotives, many hundreds of other steam and early internal combustion locomotives as well as thousands of wagons providing a solution to maintaining the necessary supplies to the front lines.

Following the end of the War, fifteen Hunslet locomotives built for use in France came to Queensland for use in the sugar industry. Hunslet Engine Company Works Number 1239, delivered to France in late 1916, was one of those Hunslet locomotives. We briefly follow the history of No.1239 after its delivery to Australia in 1920 and donation to the Queensland Museum in 2005.

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