Recently we launched a crowdfunding campaign asking you to help us get our ‘Battle Bus’ back to the Western Front. But what does this really mean, and why is it so significant?
During the First World War London’s buses were to become crucial to the war effort. Our B-type bus, B2723, was one of the 1,200 buses requisitioned by the War Office and used as troop transport, ambulances, lorries and even pigeon lofts. In September, the Museum is taking B2737 back to key sites in Northern France and Belgium to commemorate the Londoners who fought and the busmen who supported them in the early months of the war.
Back in April we reconnoitred the route and places to visit. We tried to compare postcards and photographs of buses at the Front with those places today. This sometimes possible, such as in the market square at Poperinge in Belgium. In other places, rebuilding after the devastation of the war, as at Bethune, had radically changed the view and such comparisons were not possible.
It is difficult to reconcile the small towns and rolling countryside of the Somme and the wooded Messines Ridge today with the devastation of the wartime photographs, the huge systems of trenches of the aerial photographs, the highly dangerous places like Hell Fire Corner, now a roundabout on the Menin road out of Ypres, or the evocative place names where so many men fell, at Passchendaele, High Wood, Gommecourt or the Hawthorn Redoubt. Visitors need a mental overlay, such as provided by a good guide, in our case, Andy Robertshaw, to ‘see’ the First World War once again in the landscape.