News Column

London 'battle bus' used as first world war troop carrier to visit France again

July 17, 2014

Maev Kennedy,

The London double-decker bus that went to war is turning heads again on London streets, gleaming in newly restored pillar-box red and cream paint, a century after it became part of a fleet of more than 1,000 buses shipped across the Channel to become troop-carriers behind the lines.

Around 600 of the buses, survived the war and went on to service the capital until the model was retired in the 1920s and sold to a regional bus company to run for many years more in the home counties.

Now fully restored by theLondon Transport Museum at a cost of 250,000 a thousand times what it cost to build in 1913 "B2737" is one of only four surviving examples of the open-top B-type bus, the world's first mass-produced motor bus built for the London General Omnibus Company.

Transport museum curator Tim Shields explained that the bus was still brand new in 1914 when it was requisitioned complete with its driver and mechanic and sent to France, where the windows and advertising signs were boarded up, the gorgeous livery covered in khaki paint, and sent into action as a troop-carrier and ambulance.

Although they often got into difficulties on narrow muddy country roads and usually had to travel by night because their height made them so visible, they were mechanically extremely reliable, with interchangeable engines and parts so that damaged vehicles could be cannibalised for repairs. Although the exteriors were camouflaged, the buses went into war with their original interiors, including elegant moquette seat cushions, which were invariably pinched as bedding, enamel signs advertising Pear's soap and Veno's cough medicine, and neat notices warning "beware of pickpockets, male and female".

When the museum found B2737, owned by a private collector whose dream of restoring it himself was never realised, a surprising amount had survived including the chassis. The engine came from another B-type that had been exported to Australia, and other parts were made or sourced from private collectors in Britain and overseas.

In a few weeks B2737 will once again lose its bright colours and be repainted in drab khaki, and will travel to France by Eurotunnel to join the centenary commemorations, visiting key sites including Ypres, Arras and Passchendaele.

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Source: Guardian Web

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