Step Back to the 1940s

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Replica Supermarine Spitfire at Highley, June 2013

The annual Step Back to the 1940s event has been billed in the past as "A nostalgic look at Britain during World War II with period vehicle, costumes and re-enactments". Bands and singers perform 1940s music, with the event including appearances by characters ranging from Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Montgomery to a wartime 'spiv'. Other popular attractions have been fire fighting demonstrations at Kidderminster, a wartime wedding at Arley, flypasts by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and a battle re-enactment at Highley. The event returned to the calendar in 2023 after a three-year absence.


The event was first held on the last weekend of June 1994 as a "War Weekend" and was organised by then-Kidderminster Stationmaster Malcolm Broadhurst. It proved a popular addition to the events calendar, attracting around 4,600 visitors over the two days.[1]

The June 1995 event was renamed the Forties Weekend and commemorated the 50th Anniversary of V.E. Day (8 May 1945). Saturday 25 June included a fly-past by the RAF Memorial flight with a formation of Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster.[2] A later report noted that a skirmish between an American GI and a member of the Wehrmacht had resulted in the 'German Soldier' losing the end of his finger.[3][note 1] A further 'Forties Weekend' took place on the last weekend of June 1996.[4]

In 1997 the event moved to the first weekend in July and was retitled the 1940s Weekend. While the 'battle' took place at Highley, a number of members of the 'German Navy' took over the station platform and re-named the running-in board 'Berlin'.[5] 1998, 1999 and 2000 saw similar July events.[6]

2001 saw the adoption of two 1940s Weekends for the first time, in the now traditional slots of the last weekend in June and the first weekend in July. During the 2002 event the SVRSevern Valley Railway was visited by local historian and broadcaster Dr Carl Chinn who filmed an feature on 'Wartime transport' for BBC Midlands today, later screened on 25 July.[7]

Early 2003 saw the outbreak of the second Iraq war. The Board initially decided that the war aspects of that year's 1940s event should be toned down to avoid offence to those with family and friends involved in the conflict. The conclusion of fighting meant they were able to ease those restrictions, although the battle re-enactments and pyrotechnics were still omitted.[8]

The two-weekend format continued over succeeding years, although the 2007 weekends scheduled for 23-24 June and 30 June-1 July were an early casualty of the freak storm damage on 19 June.

Prior to the 2011 event, interviews were held with members of the cast of the TV series 'Allo 'Allo.[9]

2014 saw the event take on its present name of Step back to the 1940s,[10] in which form it continued annually until 2019.

Recent Step Back to the 1940s events have also been an opportunity for some of the SVRSevern Valley Railway's out of ticket locomotives to make an appearance as static exhibits at Kidderminster.

The 2020 event was scheduled as normal but did not take place as the railway was closed due to the 2020 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. By summer 2021 the railway had reopened on a limited basis but ongoing social distancing restrictions meant the event could not be held for a second year.

The event was scheduled to return to the timetable in 2022.[11]. However in March 2022 the Board announced that it would not take place, SVR(H) Chairman Mike Ball stated that "Like everyone in the country, we've been horrified and saddened at the atrocities that are taking place in Ukraine as the result of Russia’s invasion. We understand the disappointment of those who were looking forward to what, under normal circumstances, is an extremely popular and enjoyable event. We are however doing what we believe is the right thing, and feel that the wartime elements would be inappropriate at this time."[12] A similar policy was adopted by a number of other heritage railways.


After this three-year absence, Step Back to the 1940s returned to the calendar in 2023, although the planned events did not include the usual 'battle' at Highley. The attractions listed were/are as follows[13]:


  • Classic vehicles on display.
  • Bombed out building.
  • Themed roadworks display with small steam roller.
  • Valentine Tank (first weekend only).
  • Re-created 1940s shop and house.
  • Wartime Police Station.
  • Air Raid Shelter.
  • ARP Sandbag Hut.
  • Field Marshall Montgomery and the South Gloucestershire regiment.
  • Live Music from the Kalamazoo Dance Band.
  • Wartime dance lessons and tea dances on the dancefloor.


  • Timber Corp display in the Orchard (Worcestershire at War).
  • Bombed out shopkeeper in waiting room.
  • George Formby tribute.
  • Laurel and Hardy meet and greet.
  • Vintage stalls.
  • Classic vehicles.
  • Bewdley Station Fund Shop and Beer Tent.


  • Join the congregation of a Wartime Wedding at 2.45pm.
  • Advanced field hospital and weapons display.
  • Classic vehicles, including caravans.
  • See the evacuees disembark in search of safety in the countryside.
  • Anderson Shelter.
  • 1940s crooner Kevin Mac.

Highley and The Engine House:

  • RAF ground crew display (first weekend only)
  • Wartime fun fair (first weekend only)
  • Replica Spitfire and operational Merlin Engine (second weekend only)
  • Vintage marketplace with traders
  • Entertainment from Kitten Von Mew and The Lancashire Belles
  • Beer Tent and BBQ outside the Engine House

Hampton Loade:

  • Home Guard Unit protecting the station and performing drill for passengers, as the trains wait to cross.


  • Traders selling vintage items
  • Classic vehicles including one jeep and an RAF tractor
  • NAAFI van selling refreshments
  • Entertainment from the ever-popular Brandyn Shaw and The Ronnies

On train and along the line:

  • Costumed reenactors
  • Winston Churchill greeting crowds at stations
  • 1940s themed catering
  • Spivs on the train, trying to sell you their illicit goods
  • Military Police checking your ID cards
  • Battle of Britain Memorial Flight featuring a Hurricane (June 25th) and Spitfire (July 2nd). Subject to availability.

Notable events

  • 1994 First 'War Weekend'
  • 1995 Renamed 'Forties Weekend'.
  • 1997 Renamed '1940s Weekend'
  • 2001 First held over two weekends
  • 2008 Not held due to the 2007 Storm Damage.
  • 2014 Renamed 'Step Back to the 1940s.
  • 2018 An Anderson shelter was erected at Arley. In the same year the Postcode Lottery awarded a grant for the construction of a shelter at The Engine House to enhance the facilities for children to learn about air raids and experience.
  • 2020 Not held due to Covid restrictions.
  • 2021 Not held due to Covid restrictions.
  • 2022 Not held in recognition of the war in Ukraine.

Passenger numbers

From time-to-time the SVRSevern Valley Railway publishes the number of Gala passengers, according to the method of counting these which has varied over time (for example, since 2010 documents sent to shareholders became valid as a ticket which did not need to be exchanged for travel).[14]

The following is an incomplete record.

Year Number of passengers Reference Notes
2015 7,168 [15] For comparison, Autumn Steam Gala 7,324
2016 6,479 [15] No equivalent ASG
2017 6,937 [15] Autumn Steam Gala 5,357
2018 6,664 [15] Autumn Steam Gala 6,334
2019 5,562 NBINotice Board Issue. The SVR's on-line method of circulating information to working members., 5 March 2020 Autumn Steam Gala 5,850

SVRSevern Valley Railway Education Services

Although not part of the event, SVR Education Services developed complementary programmes to meet the needs of the national curriculum. By 2016 these included World War related activities Dig for Victory, an evacuation train journey, life on the Home Front activities such as rag rugging, the wartime kitchen and 'make-do-and-mend', classroom at War and the blitz, all with costumed re-enactors.

See also


  1. Health and Safety was a high priority at the time following the introduction of the Railway (Safety Critical Operations) Exemption Order 1994. Philip Jones was appointed Safety Officer in 1995 and produced regular "Safety Matters on the SVRSevern Valley Railway" reports in SVRSevern Valley Railway News for many years thereafter.


  1. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 111
  2. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 115
  3. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 118
  4. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 117
  5. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 124
  6. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 125 128 131
  7. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 141
  8. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 144
  9. Youtube, 24 June 2011 (Retrieved 28 June 2019)
  10. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 185
  11. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 217, Spring 2022, Coming Events
  12. Branch Lines, April 2022
  13. SVR Website
  14. SVR Forum shareholders' Passes thread
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 SVRSevern Valley Railway Shareholder AGM information