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Wartime train The Jellicoe Express set to be honoured


By Staff Reporter


THE Flow Country is preparing to commemorate the role of the Royal Naval Train commonly known as The Jellicoe Express which transported 500,000 military personnel during World War I and II.

On April 30, The Flows to the Future project team and RSPB Scotland will be honouring the centenary of what became known as Britain’s longest-ever train journey with a day of celebrations and workshops, which will reveal how Forsinard railway station played a part in the war efforts.

At the RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows Visitor Centre visitors will enjoy workshops, talks, old fashioned cakes and discover how the mosses that are so characteristic of the Flow Country helped the war effort.

Hilary Wilson, learning development officer for Flows to the Future, has underlined the importance of the event, not just to the war effort, but also those looking to learn more about local history.

“It’s wonderful to be able to remember this vitally important wartime train and the contributions military personnel provided,” she said.

“This is an opportunity for people to share their family stories and come together to mark this special anniversary.”

The event takes place exactly 100 years after the final World War I Jellicoe Express train journey at the RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows Visitor Centre, which is located at Forsinard railway station, one of the scheduled stops along the Jellicoe Express route.

Named after Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, who was commander of the Grand Fleet and who led the Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, the 717 mile, 22-hour train journey ran daily between London and Thurso during World War I.

It transported military personnel to and from the Scapa Flow naval base, across the Pentland Firth in Orkney. It was revived during World War II and it is said to have transported more than 500,000 military personnel during the two wars.

The epic journey was dreaded by many troops as the overcrowded carriages made for a gruelling experience.

The trains left Euston at 6pm on the 717-mile journey, and did not arrive at Thurso until 3.30pm the next day.

The southbound journey took even longer with the trains checking into Euston an extra hour after the outward. The longest train journey in Britain today is CrossCountry’s 785-mile service between Aberdeen and Penzance, which takes less than 13-and-a-half hours despite stopping at 43 stations.

On April 30, the day will be split into two parts. The morning will be dedicated to local schools, while the afternoon will feature a public event.

During the morning session, children from four local schools will travel on the iconic route before arriving at RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows Visitor Centre.

They will perform songs from the period on the platform at Forsinard railway station.

The pupils will also take part in workshops led by Flows to the Future project educators and funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

They will learn about the history of the Jellicoe Express, the importance of the Flow Country, and will learn hands on how sphagnum moss, which is very common in the Flow Country, was used for wound dressings in both wars and they will also have a go at making some themselves.

Dried sphagnum can absorb up to 20 times its own volume of liquids, and has antiseptic properties, which made it a far superior option to cotton dressings.

The moss is the main peat forming plant of the Flow Country’s blanket bog. It has been forming there for 10,000 years and it is up to 10 metres deep in some areas.

The area is an important defence against climate change as the Flow Country’s blanket bogs alone store more than three times the amount of carbon found in all of Britain’s woodlands.

Members of the public are invited to join the celebrations and workshops in the afternoon when a plaque will be unveiled to serve as a permanent memorial to the Jellicoe Express.

The plaque is sponsored by HITRANS and was designed by Peter Needham from Westray for Another Orkney Production (AOP).

Since May 2017, the centenary of the first Jellicoe Express service, AOP have been unveiling plaques at all of the other stations where the Royal Navy train stopped between London and Thurso.

The April 30 event marks the unveiling of the final plaque along the historic route.

Together these memorials make up a unique heritage trail for all to enjoy.

The free event is open to the public from 2pm on April 30 at RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows Visitor Centre.

Booking is recommended.

Email beki.pope@rspb.org.uk or call 01641 571225 to book.

Arrival by train is recommended and the event is timed to fit in with train times.

The Flow Country covers much of Caithness, and has done so since the end of the last ice age. It is an ancient and almost unique environment. It is a 4000 square kilometre peat bog, and is classified by ecologists as the largest area of blanket bog in Europe and one of the largest in the world.

Dating from the end of the last ice age, the bog has developed due to the damp, acid conditions that have encouraged the growth of sphagnum. As the moss rots it slowly forms peat.

The same conditions that cause peat to form have made the Flow Country unsuitable for farming and the area has thus been largely preserved from human development.



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