A locomotive for all seasons

One of the strangest events of the Second World War was that Oliver Bulleid, then Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Southern Railway (SR), obtained approval in 1940 to build a fleet of totally novel Pacific locomotives to provide the backbone of the SR’s heavy passenger and freight workings. Nominally “mixed traffic” locomotives, these were out and out passenger locomotives in all but name. The thirty examples were known as the Merchant Navy class because they were named after the shipping lines serving the SR ports. One of them, 35029 Ellerman Lines, is in the Museum at York but she will never run again as she has been sectioned lengthwise to show the workings of a steam locomotive.

When the war was over Bulleid wanted to improve the railway’s efficiency by building a locomotive that really could “go anywhere, do anything” so he designed a slightly smaller version of the “Merchant Navy” class: those destined for the east of the region were named after RAF Squadrons, fighter stations and personnel involved in the Battle of Britain. Those for the west were named after West Country holiday resorts. There is no difference between them and all were built at Brighton.

Eventually, 110 of these “light Pacifics” were built - far more than was really necessary – and they could often be found doing very humdrum work.

Unfortunately, Bulleid’s ideas did not find favour with the operating staff and all the Merchant Navies and many light Pacifics were rebuilt along conventional lines in the 1950s. They are now among the most popular of our preserved locomotives.