This is an incredibly popular event (and growing in popularity each year) organised primarily by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NMYR) and takes place in Pickering and the villages (Levisham, Goathland, and Grosmont) on the rail line to Whitby. Although originally based on the railway stations, it has, over the years, spread out across the towns and villages and involves a large proportion of the local population, as well as thousands of visitors (many in period costume) who come along to join in the many and varied events that take part over the weekend.
The basis of the Railway in Wartime Weekend is that Britain’s railways and the staff that ran them played a vital part in the Allied victory in World War 2. To celebrate this contribution to the war effort and to commemorate those staff who died in service the North Yorkshire Moors Railway set aside one weekend a year in which they turn the clock back to those days when fair Albion had its back again the wall. The NMYR decorates it stations in WW2 style, station names are covered up (spies are everywhere!) station windows are taped-up (to minimise flying glass), sandbags line entrances and exits (to absorb shrapnel), and propaganda posters adorn the walls (to boost morale and encourage everyone to do their duty). To complete the picture the Railway’s staff wear appropriate uniform for the duration.
Many of the local populace join in and also dress in period civvies or in the uniforms of our valiant armed forces, and there are dances (organised by ENSA*, naturally), parades and marches. Participants also have to be aware that air-raids can occur at any time and must be prepared to take precautions – so always wear your gas-mask!
If you visit any of the participating towns and villages, you’ll find lots of men and women in military uniforms – and you’ll need to be aware that you might be challenged by a German paratrooper (they have been known to invade Pickering before now). There are always displays of military equipment – from hand guns to tanks – flags, and insignia, etc.
And, of course, you can really get a feel for it all by boarding one of the steam trains that journey back and forth on the line that day.
The weekend serves many functions – it’s an excuse to dress up, it’s a chance to relive recent history (a time for grandparents to share their or their parents’ experiences of wartime Britain), it’s a commemoration (a wreath is laid in tribute to railway workers who died during wartime service, but it’s also huge fun and a treat for all the family.
*Not really, as ENSA – Entertainments National Service Association – no longer exists, but they are in the style of ENSA concerts and dances.