Today, on a glorious sunny morning, the Museum unveiled a restored double deck open top B-type bus No. B2737 in Covent Garden Piazza as part of its commemorations of the First World War.
Appearing in public for the first time and featuring advertisements from the pre-war era – including Camp coffee, Veno’s cough medicine and Wright’s coal tar soap, the bus was resplendent in its red and cream livery in the early summer sunshine.
Throughout the day the public were welcomed on board the bus to admire the decoration on the lower deck saloon with its wooden fretwork panels and the original cushioned moquette fabric seat covering design, recreated thanks to a fragment of material that was discovered during the restoration process.
After navigating the narrow staircase, it was hard not to imagine the challenges of travelling on board the upper deck with its exposure to the elements and signs warning passengers ‘keep your arm inside and do not lean over the side of the omnibus otherwise you may receive some hurt’.
One of only four surviving B-type London buses, B2737 was built at the AEC Works in Walthamstow in 1914 and served on route 9 out of Mortlake garage in south west London operating between Barnes and Liverpool Street. The B-types could reach a top speed of 16 mph and seated 34 passengers. With its top deck open to the elements and solid rubber tyres providing a bumpy ride, travelling on the B-type was not a comfortable experience for passengers or indeed the drivers who were also exposed to the extremities of the weather.
At the beginning of the War over 1,000 B-type buses were commandeered into military service and deployed for use on the front line along with their civilian drivers and mechanics. With their windows boarded up and painted khaki to disguise their bright red livery they were used to transport troops, and also served as ambulances and even mobile pigeon lofts enabling messages to be sent from the Front Line back to headquarters.
The public will have a limited number of opportunities to admire the restored bus before its transformation into a war time ‘Battle Bus’ in September, after which it will embark on a tour to the battlefields of France and Belgium visiting key sites including Ypres, Arras and Passchendaele to pay respects to the sacrifices made by so many during the First World War.