WD No.303 / Invicta

Ex-Invicta Mill, Giru


WD No.303 (formerly ’Invicta’) during the public launch of its return to steam at the Statfold Barn Railway on 8th July 2018.

This photo was taken & kindly contributed by Phil Robinson.


Hunslet Engine Company Ltd,
Leeds, England

Builder’s Number & Year

1215 of 1916

Wheel Arrangement



‘Invicta’ is one of 155 ‘War Office’ class 4-6-0T engines ordered from Hunslet Engine Company Ltd by the British Army for use by the War Department Light Railways on their network of 600mm gauge light lines supplying the front-line during World War 1. (For further information about the War Office Hunslet locomotives, refer to sister War Department No.306 which is preserved by the Australian War Memorial.)

Most War Department Light Railways’ equipment became surplus at the end of hostilities. A number of War Office Hunslets were subsequently repurchased by the Hunslet Engine Company Ltd and overhauled, and regauged where necessary, prior to being resold to various railway operators around the world. Fifteen such rebuilt locos were sold to the Engineering Supply Company of Australia (ESCO) for use on the 2’ gauge (610mm) tramways of the Queensland canefields. Among this group is Hunslet B/N 1215 which was delivered to the Bingera Sugar Mill, Bundaberg in 1924, later moving north to the Invicta Mill at Giru, south-east of Townsville, in 1957. Here it was eponymously named ‘Invicta’. I believe it also carried the War Department numberplate 314 (Hunslet B/N 1226 of 1916) as it was listed under this number by various Australian locomotive preservation authors.

‘Invicta’ was retired from service at Invicta Mill in 1967 and placed on display at the Queensland Bush Children's Health Scheme home at Rowes Bay, Townsville. In 1994 it was obtained for private preservation at transported to the Brisbane suburb of Capalaba, where photos show it was dismantled and frame overhaul in progress.

A change of direction came in late 2005 when ‘Invicta’ was sold to a UK preservation group. It was exported to the UK in a shipping container as a dismantled kit, being reassembled in September 2005 and initially placed on display during 2006 at ‘Locomotion’, the UK's National Railway Museum outpost in Shildon. Rebuilding and restoration by the War Office Locomotive Society commenced around 2009 aided by grant funding from various sources, together with much volunteer effort and donations.

I understand that during restoration it was determined that this locomotive is actually WD No.303 (B/N 1215 of 1916) but including parts from WD No.314 (B/N 1226 of 1916). Parts swaps (leading to confusion as to the locomotive’s identity) could have occurred either during War Department service, rebuilding by Hunslet, or overhauls at Bingera or Invicta Mill. The War Office Locomotive Society completed the thorough rebuilding of ‘Invicta’ and it returned to service as WD No.303 in mid-2018.

WD No.303 / Invicta is currently based at the Apedale Valley Light Railway, near Newcastle Under Lyme in Staffordshire. She has also appeared at the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway in Bedfordshire, and I understand there are plans for her to visit other UK railways in future years.

The War Office Locomotive Society website is well worth a visit and provides additional details for WD No.303, together with a restoration blog. This site also provides photos and details of various other War Office locomotives dispersed around the world to Argentina, Brazil, Nepal, India, Israel, Myanmar and Spain, together with those that remained in France and the UK.

A second view of WD No.303 during its return to steam public launch at the Statfold Barn Railway, 8 July 2018. Photo by Phil Robinson.

An earlier view of WD No.303 / ’Invicta’ displayed at Locomotion, Shildon on 11 May 2006.

The loco is wearing an undercoat of green paint prior to receiving a more appropriate matt black livery.

This photograph (a still from a video) was kindly contributed by Murray Lawrence.



Light Railway Research Society of Australia Inc. Web site
(retrieved 15 September 2018):

'Preserved Australian Sugar Cane Locomotives' list
by John Browning (www.lrrsa.org.au/LRR_SGRc.htm)


Wikipedia page for Hunslet Engine Company,

Leeds, England, retrieved 19 September 2018


'Light Railways - Australia's Magazine of Industrial & Narrow Gauge Railways',

Number 175, February 2004,

published by Light Railway Research Society of Australia Inc.

Article ‘Hunslet 306: The train now arriving…’

by Mark Whitmore, John Browning and Mike Cecil.


War Office Locomotive Society website,

retrieved 10 October 2018


Steam Railway Magazine, No.482, July 20 – August 16 2018,

News article on page 10 ‘First World War veteran Hunslet returns to steam’


Information provided by Phil Robinson via email dated 18 January 2021.

Page updated: 27 January 2021

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