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Axe dedication ceremony announced

The following press release appears in today's online North Devon Gazette:

Bishop will dedicate rebuilt wartime locomotive

 Axe 18 October 2008
At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 the Armistice finally silenced the guns after four terrible years of fighting in the First World War.

Exactly ninety years later, at the eleventh hour on Tuesday, November 11, 2008, a newly restored steam locomotive built for service on the Western Front will be dedicated to all those who served on the military railways in France during World War One.

No railway engine has ever been dedicated in this way before. Beginning at 10.50am, the dedication will be performed by the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Rev Michael Langrish, and Rear Admiral Ric Cheadle, the Devon County President of the Royal British Legion, at Woody Bay Station on the revived Lynton & Barnstaple Railway.

All the local children from the West Exmoor Federation of Lynton, Parracombe and Kentisbury Primary Schools will be taking part in the ceremony, which will be the principal commemoration of Remembrance Day itself in the whole of Devon.

The children will be invited to plant small wooden crosses in a special garden of remembrance on the platform at the station, each cross dedicated to a local man who fell in battle.

The event is being organised jointly by the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Trust and the Royal British Legion, and appropriate music will be played by the Barnstaple Youth Band.

All the original locomotives on the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway - Lyn, Yeo, Exe and Taw - were named after three-letter Devon rivers, and in continuation of this tradition the restored loco has been christened Axe.

A 60cm-gauge 0-6-0 tank engine, it was built by Kerr Stuart of Stoke-on-Trent in February, 1915. It was one of a batch of 30 ordered by the French government at a time when their own locomotive manufacturers were already at full stretch and was based on a French design. Kerr Stuart called these engines the "Joffre" Class after the French commander-in-chief.

When the French were forced by the incessant German bombardment in February, 1916 to concentrate on the defence of Verdun, the British took over the front-line section north of the Somme, the scene of the devastating battle that began when the British army went "over the top" on July 1 that year.

To supply their troops with food and munitions the French laid narrow-gauge light railways across the ground which had been churned up by the shellfire, while the horses and the solid-tyred lorries of the day slithered and sank in the mud. The British forces inherited three of these railways in the Somme basin and with them, wagons and locos such as Axe.

After the War Axe was employed for a few years in reconstruction work repairing the wartime damage in north-eastern France and then entered industrial service.

It ended its working life in a large stone quarry near Calais, where it was discovered abandoned by a party of visiting British enthusiasts in 1956 and eventually repatriated to Britain.

Axe has been rebuilt at the Gartell Light Railway at Templecombe in Somerset and is now about to return to action -this time happily in the service of peace not war. My photo shows the nearly complete loco at Gartells on October 18. The dedication of Axe on the 90th anniversary of the Armistice will be a truly significant and memorable occasion.

Tony Nicholson

Lynton & Barnstaple

Railway Press Officer.

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