Built to commemorate a century since the end of hostilities of WWI, Callum Willcox talks us through this compact layout and how it captures a key point during a sobering time for Europe.
Layout name: Amiens 1918
Size: 4ft x 2ft
Era/region: Western Front 1918
Location: Northern France, Amiens
Layout type: Continuous loop
The Battle of Amiens marked one of the final major battles of the First World War, with the opening phase of the Allied Offensive beginning August 8, 1918. The battle, later known as the Hundred Days Offensive, ultimately led to the end of the First World War.
With over 75,000 troops, 2000 aircrafts and 500 tanks, the Allies advanced over eight miles on the first day alone, re-capturing German-held fortifications and equipment.
Set during the battle, this scene depicts a re-captured artillery battery, now an Allied field headquarters and supply depot, where troops and tanks are prepared for the next offensive, served by a narrow gauge field railway.
Supply trains hauled by a mixture of British, US and French locomotives, as well as captured German rolling stock, stream through the battery with tons of equipment and materials that will ultimately lead to victory on the Western Front.
The layout came about through an interest in railways and military history. I wanted to design a display that incorporated both interests seamlessly into one, and with the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War just around the corner, it seemed like the perfect time to do so.
Construction started back in the spring of 2017, with the aim to get the layout finished for the start of 2018, ready for the commemorations.
The baseboard for the layout is a pre-cut 4ft x 2ft MDF Sheet, braced with plywood battens around the edges. A separate MDF sheet, again braced with ply, provides support for the scenic backdrop and lighting rig, which is just back from centre of the main board. Legs for the layout are provided by two adjustable trestle stands, purchased from a local DIY Store. The legs are perfect for the layout, due to them folding flat for transportation, plus allowing me to adjust the overall height of the display.
All of this has to fit in the back of my small Volkswagen Fox, so making sure the layout and all its equipment fitted was key to the build.
Creating the scenery has always been the favourite part of modelling for me, and creating the scene for Amiens 1918 was no exception. This was the first time I’d ever tried my hand at creating a war-torn landscape, and I wanted to do the scene justice, based on real pictures, taken during the battle.
I experimented with many different and new techniques to achieve a number of these effects, the most noticeable being the use of brown wood filler, mixed with PVA, to create the dry mud effect that covers the majority of the layout. As you can imagine, this was a very messy job.
I also like to use re-claimed materials, such as every day household items, to create certain items of scenery. The trench walls demonstrate this best, being constructed from an old cereal box, backing piece, coffee stirrers (planking), an aluminium Chinese takeaway tray (corrugated iron kick board), and wicker garden board (up-rights).
Vehicles play a huge role on the layout. One of the main aspects of the build I really enjoyed was researching which ones would be suitable and tracking the right kit or model down. They consist of a mixture of plastic kits and off-the-shelf models, such as an Airfix Mk1 Male Tank, which has been modified to look like a later variant, and a Corgi 'Old Bill bus' from their recent Great War Collection, which just happens to be the right size! All of which have been weathered to suit.
Figures also play a key role, and help bring many of the scenes to life, both on and off the trains. The majority of them are resin kits, produced by W^D Models, all of which I have painstakingly assembled and painted by hand. I can’t thank Barry of W^D Models enough for taking the time to research and produce these kits. Without his items, the layout most certainly would have been sparser.
Researching locomotives used on the WDLR network was another very enjoyable experience of the build. One of the most surprising finds was evidence of captured German locomotives being used, alongside British and Allied stock. Most of the rolling stock is currently off-the-shelf RTR, made up of a mixture of MiniTrains, Bachmann and Peco models, which have been detailed, weathered and had figures added. I’ve also recently completed my first 009 kit, which is of an iconic Protect Simplex petrol locomotive.
My core fleet of locomotives include;
- Bachmann Baldwins 10-12-D (fitted with Digitrains digital sound)
- Minitrains USA Baldwin 2-6-2T
- Minitrains Decauville Progres 0-6-0T (W^D Transfers added to side tanks)
- Minitrains Schneider shunter
- Minitrains Brigadelok 0-8-0T (Captured German locomotive)
- Mosquito kit-built Protect Simplex petrol locomotive
The trackplan consists of an oval run with fiddle yard, a passing loop on the scenic side, plus two sidings, which serve the artillery battery. All the points are manual, operated by dowel rods, which run under the baseboards.
Current control for the layout is both DC and DCC, provided by a Gaugemaster DCC75 Controller, which allows me to operate the best of both worlds. The majority of the fleet runs on analogue. However, one of my Bachmann Baldwins has been fitted with a digital sound decoder, which adds a whole other level of running to the layout.
From documenting the creation of the layout on my YouTube channel, to taking it on the road around the country, I’ve been overwhelmed by the interest and support for Amiens 1918, especially during this poignant year of remembrance.
From the start I always knew that recreating a scene, set in such an iconic, yet awful point in history, was going to be a challenge, but after seeing and hearing people’s reactions, young and old, I’m really glad that it’s touched the hearts of many, including a new generation (like myself), and brings back memories of those who served in the war.
By far this has been my favourite project to date, and I’m certain it won’t be the last military-inspired build I do. I’m currently backdating a number of my OO gauge fleet into Railway Operating Division (ROD) disguise. I’ve also constructed a WW1 armoured train, based on a Russian design, which will need a fitting layout to run on at some point.