Conflict and compassion

Men from the railways and Eveleigh also joined the general infantry, including some of these Eveleigh Railway employees:

  • Private Cyril Montgomery (Service number 59072) was an apprentice fitter from Hurlstone Park. He joined the Australian Motor Transport Section in May 1918 and served until February 1920.
  • Charles Phillip Harrison (Service number 16297) was a boilermaker from Belmore. He was a Sapper in the 60th Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company and served from October 1916 to July 1919.
  • Lance Corporal Anthony Lenehan (Service number 1721) was a boilermaker from Hurstville. He joined the 17th Battalion in May 1915 and was killed at the Somme in March 1917.
  • Private Cyril Montgomery (Service number 59072) was an apprentice fitter from Hurlstone Park. He joined the Australian Motor Transport Section in May 1918 and served until February 1920.
  • Carl Perry (Service number 13296) was a fitter and turner from Neutral Bay. who was working as an apprentice at Eveleigh. He joined up in September 1916 and was a driver in the Australian Motor Transport Section. He served until October 1919.
  • Private Alexander Horace Pert (Service number 1387) was a fitter's apprentice from Arncliffe. He joined the Australian Imperial Force in May 1915 aged 18 and served in the 19th Battalion. He was wounded at Gallipoli and died of wounds on 31 August 1915 in Alexandria, Egypt.

The First Railway Imperial Expeditionary Force gather at the Sydney Showground prior to their departure for France

Eveleigh during the war

During the war Eveleigh became a largely self-sufficient and highly inventive workplace. Before the war many tools and materials required for the upkeep of rolling stock were imported. However, with the outbreak of war and the possibility of shortages, the in-house production of these tools and materials was encouraged. Many ways and means were found to increase productivity, including recycling equipment.

“One item worthy of special mention is Superheater Elements, the whole of which had been previously imported. After a few preliminary experiments these were satisfactorily manufactured and put into service at considerably lower cost than the imported.” 1

The War’s demand for more goods and services from fewer people raised the pressure at Eveleigh.

“Prices leapt; wages lagged behind; so that the workman found that he had bigger bills to meet, but relatively less means with which to pay them. Industrial discontent ensued”.2

Rampant inflation caused the price of basic food to rise steeply and cut working class living standards. By 1917 the war had claimed many thousands of lives and people at home were experiencing considerable economic difficulty. In fact, real incomes in Australia fell by approximately 30% between 1914 and 1919.

Cartoon decrying the rising cost of living in the Eveleigh News (No. 306), 13 November 1957 

Claims of poor productivity among railway workers were made by the Chief Railway Commissioner, James Fraser, in January 1917. In fact, railway workers increased productivity by increasing ton miles per engine, as well as engine miles per shift and increased loads per wagon.

In August 1917, 1,100 Randwick Tram and 3,000 Eveleigh Railway workers went on strike, in an industrial action that led to the General Strike. The trigger for the Eveleigh strike was the introduction of a new labour costing (Taylor card) system. The cards recorded the tasks each worker was assigned and how long the job took. Additional sub-foremen were hired to increase surveillance and supervision of the workshops.

Workers were not allowed to view or alter the card. The new card system replaced an established system at Eveleigh where workers were allowed to record this information themselves. They were concerned the system would be used to identify (and possibly dismiss) "slow" or "inefficient" workers.

Other NSW railway workers joined the strike, which also spread to coal mining, the waterfront, gas industries, sugar refineries, timber workers, meat workers and other industries. Eventually there were disputes throughout NSW, Victoria and South Australia and over 97,000 workers were involved in the strike which lasted for six weeks.

The advanced engineering and manufacturing skills required to maintain and operate locomotives were also used to produce munitions. At Eveleigh, heavy 18-pounder shells were manufactured for the horse drawn field guns widely used by the Australian Imperial Force.

9th Battery of the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade with an 18‐pounder field gun in action

The 18-pounder gun was used to cut through barbed wire and fortifications protecting enemy trenches and to fire a barrage of shells in advance of attacks by infantry on the Western Front. The early model guns (Mark 1 and Mark 11) had a maximum firing range of approximately 5,950 metres and could fire at the rate of 20 rounds per minute.

Both Eveleigh Railway Workshops and Randwick Tramway Workshops manufactured munitions, and together they produced 14,330 18-pounder shell bodies, 8,000 copper driving bands and 15 sets of gauges for 18-pounder shells. It is likely the steel used at Eveleigh to produce the shells came from the BHP Steelworks in Newcastle, which began producing munitions-grade steel in 1915.