The Monster, D-day and Ike


All rail vehicles constructed or used by the Great Western Railway were allocated code-names rather than numbers. One such vehicle – built to diagram P18 – was a Scenery Van used for the transport of theatre companies around the UK and was designated 'MONSTER'.

We have one of these vehicles on display at the Totnes Riverside Station on the South Devon Railway. Built at Swindon in 1918, lot number 1998 was fitted with American bogies and numbered 594.

In 1944, at the request of the US and British Governments, a train was assembled for the purpose of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, together with British and American Chiefs of Staff, travelling around the UK inspecting the preparations for D-Day. The train code-named 'ALIVE' consisted of 11 vehicles, 10 of which were of Great Western origin. The exception was a 1st Class LNER Sleeping Car code name "BAYONET" which was used personally by Eisenhower. This is a painting of the train by Gwyn B Jones when it was passing through Wales.

The two vans nearest the locomotives were GW "MONSTERS" and were used for conveying the General's Staff Car (normally a Packard) with various support vehicles such as jeeps and motor-cycles. They were numbered 483 and 485. Numerous trips around the country are listed in Eisenhower's pre-presidential papers including locally:

Feb. 3-5, 1944, “special train” to Plymouth;

April 25-28, 1944, “General Ike’s train” to Slapton Sands. Travelling on board would have included many important guests including Churchill.

Once D-day had been a success the train was transported to the continent, starting in France where it became part of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force). At this time 4 more 'MONSTERS' were added to the consist, including 594, now preserved at Totnes.

The SHAEF train then proceeded through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and on to Germany. It was repatriated in 1948.

Following its return to the UK, 594 spent time in South Wales, being used by the Steel Company of Wales and then was transferred to the Gwili Railway in Carmarthen. It was then acquired by the GWR 813 Fund who transferred it to the South Devon Railway where it was restored from its then dilapidated condition.

Since its siting at Totnes restoration and maintenance continues and it now forms our small exhibit and retail sales areas

 Eisenhower standing by the LNER coach of the train.

Thanks to National Museum of Wales, 813 Fund and Keith Joyce for information and photographs.