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4.8 out of 5 stars95
4.8 out of 5 stars
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This short but superb TV documentary series explores the history of WW1 from an entirely different angle to the normal military / diplomatic / social focus. In two and a half hours, presenter Michael Portillo examines how the railways and the men who ran them were crucially important to the course of the war. The result is five excellent (if short) factual programmes which reveal many aspects of the Great War that I’d not encountered before.

If you’ve watched any of the normal ‘railway journey’ programmes then you’ll be familiar with the style of this series, although it differs in several important ways. Necessarily this is an entirely serious subject, not a frivolous adventure with scope for food and wine tasting and jolly japes. But there’s plenty of archive footage and many still period photos, neatly contrasted with current locations. Each episode includes expert analysis at each scene, where authors, academics and enthusiasts explain the fascinating background of one particular incident or situation.
Portillo takes great care to extract the key information from his experts (who are very often amateur historians, not used to speaking to camera) and puts it into overall context. Each half-hour programme considers one stage of the war and the role of the railways / railwaymen at that time. So they skip around geographically, all across the UK and to northern France. This is not one single linear journey, but instead a re-telling of a familiar story from a very different perspective.
Key moments for me included the understanding that the initial German advance could’ve been halted in Belgium, if only a series of tunnels had been successfully sabotaged. Then later came the acknowledgement of an unsung hero, Eric Geddes, who revolutionised the logistics of supplying the front, utilising narrow gauge railway and internal combustion engines to radical effect. Each episode contains a couple of treasures – and no small horrors, too; like an awful rail accident on an overcrowded network, struggling to cope with the demands of troop shipment, coal supply to ships, munitions and more.
There’s no Bradshaw’s guide to the wartime railway, but instead Portillo consults several other period publications – manuals for mobilisation, war diaries and poignant forgotten poetry.

This is probably my favourite documentary of the centenary year. Informative and accessible; extremely well-researched, and never patronising. My only complaint is that around five minutes of each programme is given over to intro and outro, repeating several snippets over and over. This series could’ve been twice as long and we didn’t need three minutes of introduction to each episode. Even so, it’s still one to watch again.

9/10
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on 10 January 2015
A fascinating and well made series that covers many lesser known aspects of the First World War. Extensive use of contemporary footage adds to our understanding of the conditions that existed both on the battlefield and the home front. I learnt about several people who had a great affect on the war effort, but who are now largely unknown. Eric Geddes, for example, masterminded the transportation system for bringing supplies and ammunition to the front lines, but is now largely unknown.
I'm sure there was a great deal more equally interesting material that could have been included, but for which there was not enough time: if only each episode had been 45 or 50 minutes long......
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on 9 October 2014
This is not full of joy and bonhomie..This is not Great British Railway Journeys with Bradshaw in hand. This is a sombre and sober look at one of the most devastating and seminal moments (several years, actually)in world history.
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on 26 August 2014
Another excellent series from Michael Portillo styled the same way as GBRJ and GCRJ but with a more serious tone rather than the lighter Railway Journeys series would recommend fans of the Railway Journeys series to watch this
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on 15 September 2014
As someone who has an interest in the railways of the First World War, I found this DVD most interesting because it contains so much valuable information (including black and white film) about the Britain's railways and those in the War Zone's as they were between 1914 and 1918.

MIchael Portillo and his team are to be congratulated on producing such a carefully researched mini-series which in my opinion makes an excellent companion to Blighty's Railways by Alexander Mullay which is also sold by Amazon.
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on 1 January 2016
I missed this Railways of the Great War when it was shown on TV I had not therefore realized just how good a series it was until seeing this DVD. Well produced with some excellent location filming both in the UK and Europe and some informative information on people and events that history has tended to forget. There is also some very good rare period film short at and near the front line which I have not previously seen. Overall this superb DVD tells the story of the importance of railways in the first world war, without which victory for the allies would just not have been possible. This DVD pays tribute to the ordinary man and woman who helped make that victory possible, I say ordinary but there was nothing ordinary about that generation. Thats why we remember them.
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on 11 September 2015
Reasonably good, however I was hoping for a more in-depth historical review, especially since I live in France occasionally drive my modified Citroen on abandoned railways that date back 125-150 years. If I like a DVD (or book) I'll watch it again and again over the years. I doubt that I'll watch this one again.
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on 20 August 2014
Excellent stuff from Portillo's, much from earlier series on European train travel in 1913. But good stuff regarding the central value of train transport for people soldier and armament transportation
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on 23 November 2014
Like all of Michael Portillo's railway series. this one was interesting and very easy to follow. The interviews Michael conducted were also interesting and added more info and a easier understanding of what is, to me, a very interesting topic
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on 7 September 2014
Thoroughly enjoyed the very interesting and informative series of 5 programmes. Portillo a very good presenter and Colette Hooper a excellet researcher. Highlighted many "unkown" heroes and facts.
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