Effect of war at home
Back home, the NSW Railways played a vital role carrying men to and from training camps with their equipment and horses.
Special recruitment trains also travelled across the state taking recruits to Sydney for training before embarking overseas. Hospital cars were fitted out to provide sleeping accommodation for returned servicemen.
The largest internment camp in Australia was established at Holsworthy and was serviced by the main western railway line. Over the course of the war, Holsworthy Camp grew from a collection of tents to a small town of almost 7000 people, complete with theatres, restaurants, small businesses, and recreational activities. It remained open until 5 May 1920 when the last internees and prisoners of war were repatriated.
An attempt was made during the war to manufacture field gun shells using the machinery at the Eveleigh Railway Workshops, but the process was deemed unsatisfactory and too costly. In addition, the war had not reduced the demand for locomotive repairs and it was difficult to accommodate the additional work required to produce ammunition for the army.
During the war, comforts funds provided packages of small goods to those on active service. Packages included letter writing material, tobacco, extra clothing and ‘luxury’ food items. The ‘Railway Unit Comforts Fund’ raised money by seeking regular subscriptions.
Railwaymen enlisted for military service in large numbers which meant that those who remained were called on to work long hours. Growing anti-war and anti-conscription sentiment among government workers in the railway and transport industries fuelled the industrial unrest that culminated in the 1917 general strike.
In addition to effects on the workforce, the war also stalled railway development activities too. By 1915, Dr J.J.C.Bradfield had developed his visionary plan to provide Sydney with a world-class public transport system, including the electrification of the suburban railways, a city underground railway and construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Shortage of funds during the war led to the postponement of the project in June 1917 and work did not recommence until 1922.
As the wounded and permanently disabled men began returning from the battlefields, the railways were there to serve their needs. Twenty-five suburban carriages were refitted as ambulance trains to transport the wounded from ship to hospital or to their home towns. The railways provided a means of reconnecting soldiers with their families and loved ones after a long separation and many stations were decorated with flags and banners to welcome home troops. As soldiers returned home, the train drivers helped make their presence known with special train whistles.
As opened in 1906, the main building of Central Station was only constructed to platform level. Work on stage two of the design to include two additional floors and the clock tower commenced in 1915 but the outbreak of war slowed construction considerably. The clock finally came into operation on 10.22am on 3 March 1921.