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

Wit Humour

page 52

Wit Humour

Keeping Him Company.

“Now,” thundered the teacher on a morning of unusual density on the part of his scholars, “you are all blockheads, but there must be one among you who excels in something, even if only in crass ignorance. Let the biggest dunce in the school stand up.”

To the teacher's surprise, one stolid visaged lad rose to his feet.

“Oh,” said the master, “I am glad to see that one of you has the honesty to admit his ignorance.”

”‘Tisn't that, sir,” said the boy; “but I ‘adn't the ‘eart to see you standin’ there by yourself.”

* * *

The Policeman's Lot.

The policeman on duty was standing on the footpath with a far-away look in his eyes. Actually he was furtively listening to a loudspeaker in a near-by shop which was blaring out the broadcast of the England versus New South Wales cricket match in Sydney. Hence the distant look on his face.

Suddenly a breathless little boy charged at him and gasped, “You're wanted down our street quick an‘ lively. An’ bring a hamblance!”

“What do you want an ambulance for?” demanded the policeman.

“O-o-o-ooh!” exclaimed the excited boy, “muvver's found the lady wot pinched our door-mat!”

* * *

Conceit.

They were on a farmhouse holiday, and after the first night Smith was a bit out of sorts.

“I've had practically no sleep,” he complained to his wife. “Those beastly roosters have been crowing out there in the barn since dawn!”

“Well, darling,” murmured his wife, sweetly, “once when you got up early you crowed about it for at least a week.”

* * *

No Slump in Food.

Two young men attended a village church tea, for which the tickets were sixpence each. The profits were to go towards providing comforts for the aged poor of the village.

Brown, after accounting for eight sandwiches, three plates of bread and butter, five jam tarts, and four buns, was passing his cup for the fifth time when he turned to his companion, who was also doing well, and said:—“You know, Bert, I think everyone should encourage things of this sort—it's for such a good cause.”

Cheated I “And while you were in Rotorua, Mr. Mackintosh, did you take the baths?” “Aye—they were sae cheap; but my! they were awfu’ puir drinkin.'”

Cheated I
“And while you were in Rotorua, Mr. Mackintosh, did you take the baths?” “Aye—they were sae cheap; but my! they were awfu’ puir drinkin.'”

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.

Germany's Strategetical Railways.

Germany, to whom the railroads were what the navy is to Great Britain, was easily the first to recognise the value of the rail. And by the way, it is a most interesting point that German historians, when comparing their pre-war “defence budgets” with those of the Allies invariably omit to mention this most significant item. (In case any one is curious to learn the actual amount page 54 appropriated by the various countries prior to 1914, the following are the figures for 1913:—Germany, £59,000,000; France, £62,000,000; Russia, £88,000,000; Great Britain £88,000,000. The figures for 1911 and 1912 are in much the same ratio.)

I think I could show pretty conclusively that the Bagdad railway scheme had far more to do with the outbreak of war than, for instance, the assassination in Sarajevo. “Egypt and the Suez Canal have lost much of their importance now that the trans-Balkan railway runs straight from Berlin to Bagdad.” Again, the matter of railways crops up again as a potent causus belli in the speech of Sir Edward Grey, delivered on the 26th January, 1915: “If Bethmann-Hollweg (the German Chancellor) wishes to know why there were military conversations in 1912 between Belgian and British officers, he may find one reason in a fact well known to him—namely, that Germany was establishing an elaborate network of strategetical railways leading from the Rhine to the Belgian frontier through a barren, thinly populated district. These railways were deliberately constructed to permit of a sudden attack upon Belgium, such as was carried out in August, 1914.”

“A Marvel of Construction.”

To comprehend Germany's aims concerning their railroad systems, a good example may be found in the history of a rectangular piece of territory in the south-west corner of Prussia, supporting a population of nearly 1,000,000 souls. In 1910 this little corner of Prussia had 15 miles of railway to every 100 square miles of territory; in 1914 railway mileage in this area had increased to 28. Villages like Dumpelfeld, Ahrdorf, Hillesheim and the health resort of Gerolstein of comic opera fame, all of less than 1,300 inhabitants, were linked up by double track lines with little towns like Remagen, St. Vith and Andernach, with populations ranging from 1,500 to 9,000. Thus in four years, without any apparent industrial or commercial demand for it, traction increased to nearly twice its length—from 550 to 1,020 miles.

In June, 1914, a British “traveller” (this information was taken from a book printed in 1915, and such euphuisms were still used at that time) in Prussia commented as follows: “The knot of lines leading to the Belgian frontier is a marvel of construction for heavy, rapid transit, for no congestion could possibly arise in a case of a heavy flood of traffic going in various directions; and yet, to secure still more freedom, the line from Gerolstein to Pronsfeld has recently been doubled. Few of these lines cross the frontier; three of them lead to blind terminals within less than a day's march from it— the double line from Cologne via Stolberg to Weiwertz, the double line from Cologne via Jungerath and Weiwertz to St. Vith, and the double line from Remagen via Hillesheim and Pelm to Pronsfelt. The cost of the whole system, with its numerous bridges and multiple sidings, averages £22,000 to the mile. Another noticeable point is that provision exists everywhere at these new junctions and extensions for avoiding an up-line crossing a down-line on the level; the up-line is carried over the down-line by a bridge, involving long embankments on both sides and great expense.” The sequel to all this preparation came in 1914 when the Germans speedily invested Liege and Namur. It is plain that Germany had no intention of repeating the mistake of Russia, who lost the Russo-Japanese War through her inadequate railway system; though Russia had an overwhelming preponderance of “cannon fodder,” she was defeated for the sole reason that they could only be transported by the wholly inefficient Siberian railway, which was at that time approaching completion, and in which there was still a great gap about Lake Baikal.

Apart from the matter of saving the remnants of the Serbian Army, the main reason why Sarrail was dispatched to Salonica was to prevent Germany from establishing a 3-day railway connection with Constantinople, which would have opened to her the granary of Asia Minor, and enabled train loads of shells to reach the Turkish capital without breaking bulk between an Essen factory-yard and the Sirkedji railway station by the Golden Horn. Perhaps it was this latter fact that prompted the inimitable “Punch” to cartoon depicting Kaiser Wilhelm ordering Tirpitz to “rail the fleet to page 55 Constantinople!” Certainly that was the only way by which the High Seas Fleet could have got there!

It was in Salonica that Sarrail spoke the words that marked the end of the old-fashioned methods of military transport, “An attacking army must have a railway behind it.” Before one criticises the efforts of the Allies in Salonica one must remember that in that cheerless region railways are conspicuous by their absence.

Sir Douglas Haig's Tribute to British Railway Organisation in France.

Tucked away in an inconspicuous part of Sir Douglas Haig's final dispatch, dated 21st March, 1919, are some illuminating remarks concerning railroads in France: “Under the Directorate of Railway Traffic, the Directorate of Construction and the Directorate of Light Railways, railway troops of every description, operating companies, construction companies, survey and reconnaissance companies, engine crew companies, workshop companies, and light railway forward com
A German Mountain Railway. A picturesque section on the Zugspitz Electric Railway in Bavaria.

A German Mountain Railway.
A picturesque section on the Zugspitz Electric Railway in Bavaria.

panies, built or reconstructed during 1918 some 2,340 miles of broad guage and 1,348 miles of narrow guage railway. In the six months, May to October, 1918, a weekly average of 1,800 trains were run for British Army traffic, carrying a weekly average load of approximately 400,000 tons, while a further 130,000 tons was carried weekly by our light railways. The number of locomotives imported to deal with this traffic rose from 64 in 1916 to over 1,200 by the end of 1918, while the number of trucks rose from 3,840 to 52,600. Thus it was possible to effect great concentration of troops with a speed which, having regard to the numbers of men and bulk of material moved, has never before been equalled. On the two days, September 20 and 21, about 42,000 tons of artillery ammunition were expended by us. From the commencement of our offensive in August 1918 to the date of the Armistice some 700,000 tons of artillery ammunition were transported by rail and expended by the British Army on the western front.”

Truly the rail is mightier than the sword!