Difficult Years 1916 to 1924
The final years of the GER and delivery of orders for GER designed stock were fraught with difficulties arising principally from the effects of the Great War and its aftermath.
The wagon stock increased minimally, from 29975 in 1915 to 30104 at the end of 1922, an increase of just 110. Wagon production was at an all time low, 1360 wagons were built or acquired but the average of 194 per annum disguises the fact than none were delivered in 1917 and only 13 in the following year. Resort had to be made to contractors for nearly half the stock, resulting in the acquisition of non standard types. Wagon building by the GER was greatly constrained by the massive arrears in wagon repairs
The limited construction during the remaining war years was restricted to stock which was either necessary to the war effort or the completion of long delayed orders.
Hence 25 loco coal wagons, ordered early in 1914 were completed in 1916, some compensation for the War Department requisitioning 20 earlier in the war. Cattle wagons, probably used for military horse traffic, machine trucks and single bolster wagons were built, all having a particular value in transporting military equipment.
Contractors - Again
The GER was quite unable to cope with these massive arrears of maintenance or to build new stock. For the first time for 30 years it was forced to tender for new stock but this process was hazardous. Although the railway contractors were anxious to bid for new construction and firms had entered the railway market for the first time the GER was in competition with the many other railway companies in a similar plight. In the end contracts were placed only with those firms who were also willing to undertake wagon repairs.
The scale of the problem can be gauged by the report of Alfred Hill in November 1919 which showed that 3,500 wagons were under repair, three times more than normal. Three months earlier it had been 5,100 and 500 wagons were in the hands of private firms who charged nearly twice as much as the GER could have done the work given the capacity. The desperate plight the GER found itself in is highlighted by the fact that it had 200 lorries on loan from the Government to help out.
The wagon stock provided by private builders was a mixed bag. Thirty brake vans and 300 covered vans to GER designs and specifications were obtained in 1920 and 1921. A further 100 covered vans, basically to GER dimensions but of all wood construction, had to be accepted from the Gloucester Carriage & Wagon Co.
For the supply of locomotive coal wagons a backward step was taken as the GER was forced to purchase 175 wagons of 10 and 12 ton capacity to Railway Clearing House specifications. They were of all wood construction and provided a sad contrast to the splendid 20 ton all steel design introduced 17 years earlier. It also provides a rare example of the GER having to do with what it could get.
Tenders were also invited for high sided wagons but the prices quoted were so far above those for which the GER could have built then that they were all declined.
Among the few wagons completed at Temple Mills were another 36 low floored ballast wagons and a Pooley weighbridge maintenance van, a spacious vehicle based on a redundant 6 a side suburban carriage underframe.
A few final orders for GER designed stock remained to be completed following Grouping. These comprised 30 goods brake vans, 250 high sided wagons, 100 covered and 100 banana vans.
The last purchase of stock was concluded in 1924 of 155 goods brakes, built by contractors in 1917 and 1918 for the War Department to London & South Western Railway designs. These were secured from the George Cohen & Armstrong Disposal Group and were urgently needed to displace the last pre 1900 10 ton brakes.
Thus the era of the Great Eastern wagon ended on a note of anti-climax, the preceding years seeing difficulties quite unimagined in pre war days.