A London Transport bus, more than 100 years old, is currently taking on a 10-day journey of remembrance across the battlefields of Belgium and Northern France. Part of the government’s programme to mark the Centenary of the First World War, London bus B2737 is recreating a journey that it – along with 1000 more just like it – made in 1914.
The converted ‘Battle Buses’ would be driven to the Western Front, often by the same men who had driven them along the streets of London only weeks before.
The buses were camouflaged by removing advertisements and signage, boarding up the windows and painting the exterior khaki. They then served as troop carriers, gun carriages, ambulances and even mobile carrier pigeon lofts.
This time, though, its purpose is more straightforward. ‘B2737’ will visit 6 sites on the Western Front, highlighting the contributions and sacrifices made by transport workers during the conflict and giving the public an opportunity to find out more about the role of London buses on the Western Front.
The bus, 1 of only 4 surviving B-type buses in the world, cost around £250,000 to restore, thanks to grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the London Transport Museum and private donations. The HLF grant also covers other activities including an apprenticeship and community outreach programme.
Minister for the First World War Centenary Helen Grant said:
The Centenary has highlighted so many remarkable and unexpected stories of courage and inventiveness. It’s great that the bravery of the London bus drivers from that time is being recognised with this tour.
Sam Mullins, Director of London Transport Museum added:
The London bus drivers’ contribution to the war effort of 1914–1918 is a little known aspect of the First World War. Our centenary commemorative tour of the Battle Bus is made all the more poignant by knowing there is a red London bus beneath the wartime khaki ‘Battle Bus.