War Department No.306

Ex-Gin Gin Central Mill, Wallaville


The recently restored WD306 displayed at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra on 16 May 2004.

This photo was kindly contributed by David Bromage.


Hunslet Engine Company Ltd,
Leeds, England

Builder’s Number & Year

1218 of 1916

Wheel Arrangement



The British Army’s supply strategy leading in to World War 1 relied on road transport to supply mobile troop movements. With the stalemate and muddy quagmire of trench warfare that developed early in the conflict, this strategy proved incapable of delivering the vast quantities of ammunition and supplies required by artillery and troops in largely static positions, leading to a hasty change of policy in 1916. Instead, a light railway approach was adopted (as already in use by French and German forces), relying on 600mm gauge railways to ferry supplies from standard gauge / main-line sidings to the front lines. Against this background, the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds received orders from the British War Department for 155 4-6-0T locomotives; these came to be known by Hunslet as the ‘War Office’ class. Australian involvement in light railways and the War Office Hunslets includes operations of the 1 ANZAC Light Railway and later 17th (ANZAC) Light Railway Operating Company.

The Hunslet ‘War Office’ 4-6-0T design is an evolution of an earlier Hunslet 0-6-0T type, with extended frames and an added 4-wheel bogie to provide a low axle-load suitable for quickly-laid light railway. An interesting design feature is the broad rail-guard positioned just above rail height at front & rear, which assisted to clear debris & obstructions, while also providing a low drop-height in the event of derailment so the engine was more likely to stay upright and could be quickly re-railed. A measure of the success of the Hunslet War-Office design is that a further 9 were built by Hunslet to various orders after the war, including one for an Australian sugar cane business.

This preserved Hunslet War Office loco was built in 1916 and became No.306 in War Department service. At the end of hostilities it remained stored in France until 1924 when repurchased by Hunslet via the War Stores Disposal Board and rebuilt, including conversion from 600mm gauge to 2’ gauge (610mm). Later in 1924 it was sold into the Australian sugar-cane industry as one of 15 War Office Hunslets acquired via the Engineering Supply Company of Australia (ESCA) in two batches in 1920 & 1924. It was delivered to Gin Gin Central Mill, Wallaville where it retained the number 306 and received various modifications over the years such as extended smokebox, removal of the cab back-sheet, slide-bar covers and the addition of electric lighting and generator.

No.306 was retired at Gin Gin Central Mill by the end of 1966 and sold for scrap metal later in 1967. Fortunately it was rescued from a Brisbane scrapyard by a Victorian enthusiast and transported to his property in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston, where it operated on a short length of track. In 1994 it was sold to a collector in Wee Waa in the cotton-growing areas of North-West NSW and stored undercover there. The Australian War Memorial had been looking for several years for a War Office Hunslet to represent Australia’s involvement in light railways during World War 1, and arranged purchased of No.306 in 2001. The locomotive was meticulously restored to original condition in Canberra before being placed on display at the Australian War Memorial on 23 February 2004. (The webmaster happened to be there at the time of arrival, alas sans camera!) As restored No.306 now displays its original War Department configuration, with short smokebox, enclosed cab, riveted side tanks and matt black livery.

Mark Whitmore, John Browning and Mike Cecil have written an excellent & well illustrated history of War Department No.306, together with Hunslet War Office class 4-6-0T locomotives and the World War 1 trench supply railways, in Light Railways magazine of February 2004 (Number 175) in their article ‘Hunslet 306: The train now arriving…’

Here is a link to the Australian War Memorial page for this exhibit: https://www.awm.gov.au/suicollection/REL29508/



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.


Australian War Memorial website (WD306 exhibit),

retrieved 7 October 2018

Page updated: 7 October 2018

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