16mm Projects

Alan Poxon : The Spirit of Improvisation

Prior to the development of the War Department Light Railway (WDLR) in 1916, a number of improvised trench tramways had been established on the Western Front using material that had been scavenged from the locality. These temporary railways were man or mule powered but had the advantage over any form of road transport in the muddy conditions that often prevailed.

Much of the tramway equipment that was liberated from agricultural use had been built by Decauville. From 1875, Decauville had been producing a range of narrow gauge portable track and wagons for use on farms, quarries and engineering works. The original gauge was 40 cm, but as sales increased the range of railway products available was extended to include 50cm and 60 cm gauge track to allow heavier loads and steam working.

A variety of rolling stock on the trench tramways was contrived from whatever could be cobbled together from available materials. Rough and ready flat wagons proliferated to carry all manner of material to and from the trenches. The artillery made particular use of these home-made wagons to move the heavy shells from the rail head stockpile to each gun. Many of these improvised wagons continued in use until the end of hostilities on the Western Front.

French 60 cm gauge railways had rolling stock built specifically to move artillery. However, the WDLR had no wagons in their fleet for this purpose.  Consequently, conversions of the F Class wagon had to be undertaken to carry the ubiquitous 18 pounder field gun. The Canadian railway troops built a dedicated field gun carrier on standard WDLR bogies to move the same type of artillery. However, more ad hoc arrangements were made whenever expedient.

Australian troops with improvised gun carriage in 1917.

One example was by the Australian troops of 1 ANZAC Corp who used make-shift wagons on narrow gauge track to move their 18 pounder field guns. Inspiration for a 16mm model of one such gun carriage came from a photograph dating from 1917 taken in Picardie on the Western Front. This shows the track covered with liberal amounts of mud that the Somme was known for and the entire platoon man-handling the gun; apart for the NCO, of course, who naturally stands aloft on one

wagon to supervise.

Gun carriage with 18 pounder field gun.

The starting point for the project was a 16mm 18 pounder field gun, designed and 3d printed by Roy Plum, that gave me the dimensions I needed for the two wagons. Version one of these wooden wagons had the bearings below the sole bars as on the prototype but these were not very robust, so version two had deeper sole bars into which I recessed the bearings. On the original, the weight of the gun holds it into position but I fixed the model wagons to the body of the gun to create a bogie wagon arrangement.

Version two of the gun carriage wagons.

Running trials behind a 20 hp Simplex proved that the combination worked well, so the model was disassembled for painting. I decide to experiment with Humbrol enamel washes that had lain unused in my paint box for some considerable time. Dark brown for the wooden body, rust brown for the metal corner strapping and liberal amounts of oil stain wash around the axle bearings. This simple model was thus completed in the spirit of improvisation of the prototype using offcuts of wood, plastic and brass, plus wagon parts that I had liberated from my spares box.

20hp Simplex motive power rather than troop power.








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