Picture Postcards from the Great War

The story behind a Great War postcard - Tony Allen
(26) London Buses at the Front

The sepia coloured drawing on this postcard, appeared first in The Illustrated London News on 21st November 1914. It was originally sketched by “Frederic Villiers, one of our special war artists” and produced as a drawing by A.C. Michael. When Villiers sent his sketch to the paper he said, "The strenuous fighting of the last week on the Armentieres-Ypres battle-front has necessitated the quick transportation of men from the base. A fleet of motor-omnibuses has assisted this work.”

When the pictured appeared in The Illustrated London News, it carried this caption “Bus-loads of British infantry hurrying to the trenches to fill the gaps in the Armentieres-Ypres line.” Another caption was “British omnibus bringing infantry to the trenches.”

The card was posted at 'ARMY POST OFFICE 3' on 22nd March 1915.

 The use of motor-buses to transport troops had been tried and tested some years earlier. In March l908, the Secretary of the Mechanical Transport Committee, Captain R.K. Bagnall-Wild, organised an exercise to test the practibility of using civilian motor-buses during a national emergency.

The exercise took place on 2lst December 1908, when supposed enemy troops landed near Shoeburyness. Twenty four buses were sent by the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) and driven to Warley in Essex to collect 500 Territorials. The force set off in two columns each taking a different route. A machine-gun was mounted on the top deck of the leading vehicles, motor cycle scouts rode at the head of each column and army observers followed in motor-cars.

The mobile force sighted the ’enemy’ in Hadleigh in Essex. The Territorials deployed from the buses and succeeded in rounding up the 'invasion force’. The exercise was considered a great success.

Motor buses were first used in the Great War after the battle of Mons in August l9l4, when the Channel ports of Boulogne, Ostend and Dunkirk came under threat from the advancing German Army.

The British Army wanted to send units of Royal Marines and the Royal Naval Air Service to counter the German threat. The Army had l,200 motor vehicles in France, but all were needed to support the BEF in its desperate struggle back from Belgium.

In a bid to secure motor transport for the marines, the First Lord of the Admiralty Mr Winston Churchill, asked the LGOC for help and the company immediately agreed.  It did so by calling for volunteer drivers and conductors and within days they were at the Front.

Churchhill later praised “the London motor-bus [which] has had much to do with the stemming of the German onslaught.”

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