The Railway : An Adventure in Construction • EP Thompson (1948) • Rab Rab Press • 2020

We build the railway, the railway builds us…railway volunteer’s song

One of the great achievements of post ww2 reconstruction, in Yugoslavia, was the building of the railway between Šamac and Sarajevo. The railway was built by large numbers of youthful volunteers, including a group from Britain.

The historian E P Thompson was part of this idealistic effort and wrote an eye-witness account of this great adventure, in the tradition of George Orwell. In addition, a number of artist illustrators made drawings to record this heroic human effort.

The new edition of Thompson’s text is augmented by other accounts and by drawing from Paul Hogarth, Ronald Searle, Laurence Scarfe, Ern Brooks and FE Baines.

Looking at this new book, I was reminded of how the arrival of the railway is often described as an example of human progress, and of how it changes those who come into contact with its transformative connectedness to the rest of the world.

Of course, it isn’t always like that – there are some terrible and tragic railways too. But in the main, the railways build better people.

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