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Volunteer Voices6th June 2024

Volunteers’ Week: Preserving the Dockyard’s D-Day Legacy

Volunteers’ Week: Preserving the Dockyard’s D-Day Legacy

In today’s Volunteers’ Week post, we honour the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings by focusing on the Railway Volunteers and their role in preserving ‘Overlord’. She is an Andrew Barclay diesel mechanical shunter that was ordered in two batches by the MOD, and the Dockyard’s locomotive being in the second batch, assigned the works number 357 of 1941.

‘Overlord’ Volunteers

“Operating any locomotive on our line brings back the nostalgia of what the site would have been like in its heyday, but ‘Overlord’ holds something special over the volunteers.

When Dockyard visitors spot the nameplate, and realize that yes, she is named after Operation Overlord (commonly known as D-Day), we explain that she was part of that operation, and is dedicated to those railwaymen lost in the conflict, a sad, but proud emotion waves over us.

Initially numbered WD 42, ‘she’Overlord’ was sent to Longmoor in Hampshire to prepare for the invasion of Europe following D-Day. She was shipped to Cherbourg, France from Southampton for use in the war effort. Arriving in September 1944, she and her two sister locomotives were put into service with the 102nd Transportation Stores Depot at Bayeux. After a year she was moved to Ghent and renumbered to WD 70042.

After the War

After returning to the UK in 1947, she was then sent to Suez in 1950s along with 7 of her sisters. All unofficially named after the 7 dwarfs from Snow White. Sadly, there is no record of which name number 32 was known by.

Returning to the UK, she served in various MOD sites around the country, before being acquired by the Royal Engineers Museum, where she stood as gate guardian for several years.

In 1994 number 42 returned to France, to take part in the D-Day 50th Anniversary commemorations. At this time she was named ‘Overlord’ and received a brass bell, dedicating the locomotive to the memory of all railwaymen lost in the conflict.

In the 2000s, Overlord was moved from her pedestal at the RE museum and moved to the Royal Engineer’s display in No 3 Slip at the Historic Dockyard.

In time for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, ‘Overlord’ was returned to operational service, and joined the fleet of locomotives on the railway at The Historic Dockyard Chatham.

For the 80th Anniversary of D-Day, ‘Overlord’ was repainted into her wartime livery.

In September 2023, ‘Overlord’ visited the Avon Valley Railway, and was reunited with her sister, WD43 ‘Grumpy’ for the first time since being in service together in Suez.

As volunteers, we have the opportunity to run the locomotive and keep it in working order; just as people have been doing for the last 80 years. However, it is humbling to do it in the comfort of a workshop rather than in the conflict of war.

During recent repair works on ‘Overlord’, we uncovered evidence of a ‘hasty’ repair that may have happened during the war. Thoughts turn to those brave men who carried out that repair under possibly arduous conditions, it makes us proud of their sacrifice and glad that we can continue honouring those by keeping ‘Overlord’ in operation for future visitors to experience that feeling of being in her presence as she trundles through the Dockyard.”

Volunteers’ Week celebrates volunteers’ amazing contributions to communities across the UK.

The celebration starts on the first Monday in June every year. It’s a chance to recognise, celebrate and thank the UK’s incredible volunteers for all they contribute to our local communities, the voluntary sector, and society as a whole.

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