The Bus that Went to War

on Friday, 28 October 2016.

We had a recent visitor from the National Association of Road Transport Museums who was interested in our Historic Photograph Collection and wanted particularly to see the two images below of a group outing at Hilperton pictured on a ‘private bus’.

Five men, including the driver, standing in front of a 'private' motor bus carrying passengers, probably during an outing, Hilperton, Wiltshire, 1920-1940 (P53113)


The rear of a motor bus carrying passengers, probably during an outing, Hilperton, Wiltshire, 1920-1940 (P53114)

I was intrigued to learn that this bus not only had an interesting past but also an interesting present! It is reg. LH8186 and chassis no. B2737; now known as the ‘Battle Bus’. It has been part of an HLF funded project to restore one of the last surviving B-type buses back to working condition and to its first world wartime appearance.

The London General Omnibus Company B-type bus was introduced in 1910 when buses were mostly still horse-drawn but by 1913 there were 2,500 B-type buses. They had proved themselves to be mechanically reliable and became the first successfully mass-produced motor-bus.

After the outbreak of war in 1914 the buses were commandeered by the War Department along with many of their drivers and mechanics. The buses were protected with wooden boards and painted khaki for camouflage. They were each able to transport 24 soldiers along with their equipment to and from the Front Line and were also used variously as ambulances, lorries and even mobile pigeon lofts! Around 1,200 London General Omnibus vehicles were used in this way, mostly in France and Belgium.

LH8186 initially served route 9 in the Borough of Richmond, between Barnes and Liverpool Street before being commandeered by the War Department. Upon its return to London after the war it was used as a (still khaki) “Traffic Emergency Bus” before being reconditioned and sold to the National Omnibus Transport Company in February 1922. At some point after this it came to Wiltshire and we now know that the below images of a bus serving Trowbridge also show the same LH8186.

View from outside The Market Tavern towards Town Hall with Bratton bus approaching, Fore Street, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, 1923 (P49757)
The Town Hall and Market House, Market Street, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, 1923 (P49758)

The restoration of this bus by the London Transport Museum was completed in 2014, initially in its red London General Omnibus Company guise before being converted to how it would have been kitted out by the War Department. The bus has since toured key WW1 sites in Belgium and France and appeared at military related events across the country. You can find our more here ( )

It is nice to know that the LH8186 in our old photographs is having another lease of life …A bus that has truly been on its travels.

Naomi Sackett, Community History Advisor


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