Skip to content

OpenLearn Live: 29th July 2016

Updated Friday, 29th July 2016

The buses that went to the front.

This page was published over five years ago. Please be aware that due to the passage of time, the information provided on this page may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate, and any views or opinions expressed may no longer be relevant. Some technical elements such as audio-visual and interactive media may no longer work. For more detail, see our Archive and Deletion Policy

OpenLearn Live digs through learning and research and connects it to the things that matter to you.

Normally at this point we say "this page will be updated during the day", but today we're taking a break - but wanted to round off the week of noteable buses.

Yesterday, we celebrated Potters Harry and Beatrix and caught the latest Full Steam Ahead

On this day last year, we found out what happened when councils switched off street lights and visited a park with its own planetarium

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

On the buses: The buses of World War One

This week, we've been sharing some stories of noteable buses. In case you've missed a stop or two, here's what we've looked at so far:

We're winding up travelling 100 years back in time, to discover the part that London buses played in the First World War.

First, let's meet Old Bill:

Aec B Type Bus (b43 Old Bill) Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Imperial War Museum

Old Bill is now part of the Imperial War Museum collection. Built in 1911 in Walthamstow, Bill spent the early years of its life taking passengers around London - between Willesden and Old Ford, and sometimes Victoria and Seven Kings. When war hit, though, it was requisitioned along with around 1000 other buses by the War Office.

Normally with the same drivers who had taken shoppers and workers around London, these buses were suddenly working routes between the Front Line of the war and the rear; taking troops to the trenches, and bringing back the exhausted and injured. Some were even adapted to carry the pigeons used as messengers.

After the war, those buses which were still in decent enough shape were taken back by London Transport and put back into service. Old Bill, though, came to represent the fleet of buses that had done their bit. Its nickname was borrowed from a popular character created by soldier and cartoonist Bill Bairnsfather.

In 1920, the then-king George V inspected the bus to honour the men who had driven it and others under fire. This, it's believed, is the first time that a reigning Monarch had ever set foot upon a working bus.

In 1924, Old Bill was retired from the daily commute and became a permanent memorial to the role of buses and drivers during the war effort.

You might be wondering, though, if not all the buses returned from active duty, how did the city cope? Transport For London research reports on how the gaps in service were filled:

The acute shortage of buses after the war was alleviated partially by the introduction of so-called ‘khaki’ buses, which were temporary and sub-standard vehicles provided out of material in the LGOC’s possession. Additionally, 180 ‘Traffic Emergency Vehicles’ were introduced. Licensed to carry 27 passengers and in use from June 1919 to January 1920, these very basic vehicles were converted lorries hired from the Board of Trade. Crudely fitted with garden seats and canvas hoods, some were re-bodied as conventional buses or charabancs after withdrawal.

There are some buses making their way around Milton Keynes today that don't feel all that more comfortable than those khaki buses...

More from OpenLearn on the First World War





Related content (tags)

Copyright information

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?