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Bedford's War Machines

Bedford's War Machines exhibition at The Higgins Bedford

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Bedford's War Machines

2016 marks the centenary year of both the Battle of the Somme and the year that Simplex petrol locomotives, which were integral to the allied effort on the Western Front began to be made in Bedford. The devastating losses at the Somme led the British Forces to find a new solution to improve supply lines to the front. This new exhibition at The Higgins Bedford takes a close-up look at the Simplex engines and explores Bedford’s home-front contribution to the Great War.


823 Simplex Motor Rail petrol locomotives were exported to the Front from Bedford. The engines were part of a new infrastructure for getting troops, supplies and ammunition to the front lines. Simplex petrol engines were safer than steam engines, which could be targeted by the enemy and were too heavy for the mud-ridden trenches. Other engineering firms in Bedford, including W. H. Allen’s, were also involved in manufacturing war machinery and ammunition for the Front. In 1916,  W. H. Allen’s expanded, building a new factory at Biddenham, employing a predominantly female workforce and producing Le Rhone Rotary aircraft engines. The men and women making these machines in Bedford had an essential role in the eventual allied victory in the First World War. 


The exhibition, in partnership with Leighton Buzzard Railway, includes a rare surviving Simplex locomotive and wagon, which will be installed in The Higgins Bedford courtyard.


Related Events 

The Letters Home of Walter Croft read by Mark Steinhardt

Friday 1st July 2016


£5.30 (Concessions £4.20) Booking Essential


Earlier in 2015 Mark Steinhardt was commissioned by the Fusilier Museum London to create a performance from the unpublished correspondence of Corporal Walter Croft. This archive of some 70 letters from the trenches has only recently been deciphered and transcribed. Follow the journey of one young signaller through the steady physical and mental erosion of the Somme.



Model Train Day

Saturday 10th September 2016 – Part of Heritage Open Days

10am – 5pm

Free Entry

Looking at the Simplex locomotives made in Bedford got us all excited about trains. Join us for this celebration of model trains. If you have an interest in model trains and would like to be involved give us a call on 01234 718618.

Image credit: Simplexes in use on forward lines, 1917

© Imperial War Museum ref: CO 001259