The Night Ferry (continued)

In May 1948 The Queen, when Princess Elizabeth, accompanied by Prince Philip, travelled to  Paris on the Night Ferry on an official visit to the French capital. The Duke of Windsor visited his mother Queen Mary often and , sometimes accompanied by the Duchess, was a frequent traveller.

The Duke would usually return by the service on the same day. The visits were private and no official arrangements were made, but the French always held the Duke in high esteem and a Wagons-Lits inspector would discreetly be on the train whenever Le Prince travelled.Sir Winston Churchill also made several trips on the Night Ferry. One was a unique historic occasion 16 December 1951 when the train made a special stop at Sevenoaks so that Churchill, then Prime Minister, and staying at nearby Chartwell, could board the train for Paris., “C’est moi Churchill !” caused the whole station to be closed and patrolled before and during the time the Premier entrained. Conductor Bew was  in charge and his instructions were for a bottle of Dewar’s White Label, soda water and cracked ice to be placed in Churchill’s sleeping compartment.

At the end of July 1951 another ferry vessel entered service. This was the Danish built Saint-Germain, registered at Dunkerque and operated by the SNCF. The Hampton Ferry became relief service. Next seven more sleeping cars (nos 3983-9) were built and delivered in the first six months of 1952 which made a total of twenty now available and placed the service in a good position for expansion.


For the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday 2 June 1953 the Night Ferry service was duplicated in order to accommodate a CIWL party of 200 travelling from Paris for the occasion. The party was divided in two groups and accommodated in the six sleeping cars in each train.From 3 June 1956 the train became first class only and this cut down the potential number of passengers at a stroke but the following summer came the break-trough that had been sought for several years – a through sleeping car to Brussels, usually one but sometimes more. As with the Paris service the sleeping car was confined to first class although a concession was made for Brussels in allowing both first and second class passengers. The Night Ferry served now three European capitals. On the British side the boat train portion with the foot passengers usually ran separately from the through train.

When running a combined seats and sleeping-car train the Night Ferry was the heaviest train on the Southern Railway and later the Southern Region of British Railways. The weight varied according to the number of sleeping cars required, but was usually sufficient to require double-heading. For the period after the war from 1949 to 1954 only three or four sleepers ran in the train, owing to war time depredations, and Oliver Bulleid’s “Merchant Navy” class 4-6-2’s often headed it single handed. But like the King Arthur Class before them, they were soon declared to heavy for some ex-SE&CR tracks, so many ran only to Hampshire and Devon.
Though the lighter West Country Battle of Britain Pacifics could manage the train alone, they could easily run short of water in the process, especially on the Dover-London journey , as the SR had no water troughs. To overcome this difficulty three of the last batch of Merchant Navy 4-6-2s which had 6000 gallon tenders were transferred in October 1949 to Dover to work the service unassisted.
Double heading was usually performed by one Pacific and a Maunsell 4-4-0 or less frequently by two Pacifics. From time to time strangers put in an appearance on the train. Two Britannia 4-6-2s, nos 70004 and 700014, were stationed at Stewards Lane shed for a long period.


In France locomotive power was the exclusive realm of the Chapelon 231 until electrification when the BB 16000 series took over.

Electrification made its mark in 1959. First of all, SNCF introduced electric traction between Paris and Arras from 11 January and a stop was made at Arras to change the electric locomotive for the Chapelon 4-6-2. On the British side stage 1 of the Southern Region’s Kent electrification scheme was inaugurated and from Monday 15 June the train was hauled by an E5000 class. With electrification the three special vans were not seen again.


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