Snap Decisions at Fareham – a Train Story

Happy Armistice Day!

I thought this would be a good time to share another of my Dad’s WWII stories for anyone that might have an interest. All of his stories are either handwritten or typed on an old fashioned typewriter, then mailed to me from England or Australia, usually along with a cover letter such as this one:

“Just the anecdote about the train affair in March 1944. Not a great war-winning event, but a rather unusual experience and reflection of what one of your children’s ancestors used to be like, since they still seem interested in these things. The one thing that appears different to me on reading it myself {from the days in 1944} is that then I felt very adult, confident, experienced and mature, but now I realize that I was only 23 years and 2 months – surprise to me at this ripe old age!
Love, Dad”

Snap Decisions at Fareham: A Train Story by J.A. Shipperlee

dad2-001-2While serving at Ayr in a small two-pilot communications unit attached to the Admiral’s Staff at Largs, our variety of land and amphibious planes received the addition of a twin-engined Airspeed Oxford. This necessitated Lieutenant Gareth Windsor or myself attending an 8-day course on multi-engined aircraft … and I was given this opportunity.

Thus, late in March 1944 I traveled to Lee-on-Solent and reported to Lt.Cdr. Hawley, commanding 762 Squadron, the Fleet Air Arm multi-engined unit. He greeted me enthusiastically, not because he was looking for someone to teach at that moment, but due to the shortage of staff to carry out a wholesale move of the squadron to Dale in South Wales.

“Ah!” he said, “We’re having to transfer urgently to Pembrokeshire and I only have one pilot for each plane to be flown there, with no officer left to take the maintenance and administrative personnel by rail, so you have solved my problem!”

The rail trip would be an all-day cross-country journey stopping at numerous large and small stations along the often picturesque, but tedious  route,  via Salisbury, Bristol area, the Severn Tunnel, Cardiff and across South Wales to the Haverfordwest-Milford haven lines in far off Pembrokeshire. There we would be picked up by the squadron’s road transport, already arrived with much of the stores and equipment, and taken the final 12 miles or more to Dale.

The following day or two were spent in continuing preparations for the move,  while I enjoyed a few periods of leisure and wondered at the situation I’d become entangled in. Much later it became apparent that the likely cause of this outfit’s transfer was the build up on the South Coast of fighter squadrons in readiness for the D Day landing about 10 weeks later.

Early on the morning of departure I was given a railway warrant for the journey of the Squadron personnel, comprising a Chief Petty Officer, several Petty Officers and Leading Hands,  maintenance crews and a few WRENS {Women’s Royal Naval Service}. The airplanes had already been loaded with some essential equipment and stores and were ready for flying.

It had been arranged by some higher Naval authority that a special carriage should be attached to the rear of a regular scheduled train leaving Portsmouth for South Wales, and that our party should board this reserved coach at Fareham, 5 miles from Lee-on-Solent. On alighting from the road vehicles the personnel were checked and assembled near that end of the platform where the appropriate coach was to stop.

A short while later the train drew in to Fareham Station. However, no notices could be seen on the rear carriage and, like the others, showed members of the public spread throughout the compartments.

This required my immediate investigation, as the train was scheduled for only a short stop. To my alarm, neither the train guard nor the platform porter, had any knowledge of the reserved coach. Fifty yards or so beyond the locomotive was the signal box, and the exit signal went down indicating permission for the driver to move off whenever the guard waved his green flag … and this the guard was impatient to do. Obviously I could not delay some effective action, or departing carriages would leave the naval contingent behind, requiring some embarrassing explanation to my superiors later … either that or  the personnel had to scramble aboard hastily, ending in on es and twos scattered along the length of the train. 

Both unthinkable situations demanded to be avoided by a third alternative thought up swiftly on the spot. Therefore I sent a Petty Officer across to the Stationmaster’s office on the far platform, informing him of the nonappearance of the expected coach and requesting his presence on this platform to solve the problem. Simultaneously, I despatched a Petty Officer to the footplate to politely explain the position to the driver … and another  to the signalman in the box. The nearby guard was informed that we would cause only the minimum of hold up necessary.

Within moments there appeared a stocky middle-aged man wearing the uniform top-coat and cap of the Stationmaster. Unfortunately, instead of the pleasant co-operation hoped for, it was clear immediately this railway official was taking an indignant and aggressive posture. He pitched straight in with a demand to know why the train was not already out of the station and why we had any right to delay it.

I tried explaining that the naval group were supposed to be provided with a separate carriage, in order to remain as a unit, and the best thing would be for us all to solve the problem amiably. For instance we could wait while a spare coach from one of those in his siding was connected. This response drew an ill-humoured response to the effect that none of those coaches was spare, it being Portsmouth’s job to provide one and since this had not been forthcoming we would have to find places among the passengers wherever we could. Such an idea was unsuitable, for as I explained to the Stationmaster, on the long trip to Pembrokeshire there would be repeated temptations at the many stops for one or more of the personnel to alight from the train and perhaps end up missing, and we could not risk that.

This drew only another unhelpful remark from this officious person, who was obviously not used to tolerating suggestions from his staff and treated them in a domineering fashion. A last attempt was made to persuade him to solve the difficulty by asking passengers in the rear coach to move to vacant seats further forward. At this he flared into a temper shouting that this would take too much time and the train was already late, so we must put up with whatever seating we could find and quick about it or he would order the railway staff to move the train on its way. I remember his last explanation well and, for me, it was the last straw …

“You people must put up with the inconvenience like everyone else … don’t you know there’s a war on?!!” I responded … “Indeed we do more than many people like yourself, but right now you are about to discover that war has reached this station!” 

“Chief!” I said, turning to the petty Officer, “take a Leading Wren and together work your way along the rear carriage politely asking all the passengers to relocate in empty seats further forward; explain we regret the necessity but we have no alternative since the railway has not provided the coach arranged by the navy; and a sailor will help anyone with a heavy case.”

Two men with rifles were sent to join the Petty Officer  at the locomotive with orders not to allow it to commence motion, in case the Stationmaster had ideas at ranting at the crew.

By now the remaining Navy men and women still in lines were thoroughly enjoying the altercation which was providing momentary entertainment in an otherwise tiring day for them. 

I’d not been expecting a problem such as the one that had arisen but felt obliged to solve it quickly and decisively. Having realized that we now mean business, the Stationmaster lapsed into threats such as:  “I’ll report this to railway authorities.”

I tried to reply calmly, “I hope you do, then they can explain to the Admiralty why the carriage was not supplied , and the local Stationmaster was obstructive and abusive to Naval personnel trying to carry out wartime duties!”

No unpleasantness would have arisen if we’d had a more congenial approach from the station bully. 

Within minutes the carriage was empty and kit was pleasing to hear that the passengers involved had been understanding and helpful. The Wrens were sent together to one compartment and the men seated in suitable groups under the care of Petty Officers or Leading Hands. I walked to the driver and expressed regrets at the hold up. He and his fireman were enjoying a leisurely smoke and mildly amused by the events.

We puffed away from the platform. At length late in the day, we reached our destination in the far west of Wales, after hours of big town stops, small country halts and much attractive scenery, with all the company present and everything in order. 

No further word was ever heard of this incident.



  1. An awesome story from WWII… What an honor to have read this story shared from your dad. So very cool you kept all his handwritten letters…. Those are priceless… Your dad sounds like an amazing man, and I wish I could hear all the incredible stories he has to share from his WWII experiences…. What a cool way to start my Friday as I head to Nellis Air Force Base to work on yet another publication for our nation… Much love and aloha… Lisa ?❤️

    1. So happy you enjoyed it Lisa. I will tell my Dad what you said. Appreciate you taking time to comment! I will be writing more of his “war” stories as time goes by.

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