Every business in the country was effected by the First World War in one way or another and W Seward and Son were no exception. Various military haulage contracts were undertaken such as hauling soiled blankets from Southampton docks to a laundry in Petersfield and returning cleaned ones for dispatch to France. Vehicles were requisitioned by the government for use in the war effort and men would have been conscripted into the services.
There still exists a visible link between Seward’s and the Great War in a registration number painted onto the side of their sole surviving trailer.
Due to the chaotic nature of the road haulage system in Britain during the Great War, steps were taken to regulate it and make it more effective in the successful prosecution of the war.
Parliament drafted the Road Transport Order 1918 under the Defence of the Realm Act to introduce new regulations to provide and maintain an efficient system for transporting goods by road. This order was administered by the Board of Trade with the Ministry of Munitions and the Food Commission.
From May 1918 every road haulage vehicle had to be registered, including trailers and wagons under this new legislation. A system of letters and numbers was devised to identify each vehicle and it’s operator, location, permit number and individual number on that permit. A prefix ” S ” indicated that the vehicle was steam related.
Any registered vehicle could be placed at the disposal of the Transport Board as they required, such as a state of emergency and compensation would be paid as determined by an arbitrator.
The system continued after the war until superseded by the 1920 Roads Act which gave us our present registration regulations.
The Seward’s Tasker trailer still carries the registration number S. SMT. 17/3. This translates as” S” steam vehicle or related, ie, steam engine drawn trailer, ” SMT ” stands for Southampton, the local registration centre for Petersfield, ” 17 “, the licence holders number and” 3 ” is the holders third vehicle.
At the time, May 1918 Seward’s’ haulage fleet would have consisted of two Wallis and Steevens Oilbath steam tractors and a number of trailers. Threshing engines would not have been required to register unless they were engaged in road haulage work out of the threshing season. The Wallis and Steevens steam wagon “Victory” would have been registered in 1919.
It is strange that now, almost a hundred years later, evidence can still be found of legislation brought in to help the country win the war.