Free event: Coming Home From the Front Line – wartime ambulance train travel

The National Railway Museum archive and library collections reveal what it would have been like for patients, doctors and nurses to travel on ambulance trains during wartime.

Nurses by an ambulance train (ref: 1997-7059_HOR_F_1746) (1916)

Nurses by an ambulance train (ref: 1997-7059_HOR_F_1746) (1916)

The below image shows a basic ambulance train; sometimes these were nothing more than converted wagons.  A nurse describes her experiences in ‘an anonymous diary of nursing sister on the western front’ (general books.net ISBN 978-1-153-60053-8, available to view in Search Engine ref B4-7/242):

‘A train of cattle trucks came in from Rouen with all the wounded as they were picked up without a spot of dressing on any of their wounds, which were septic and full of straw and dirt. The matron, a medical officer, and some of them got hold of some dressings and went round doing what they could in the time, and others fed them. Then the (censored) – got their Amiens wounded into cattle trucks on mattresses, with Convent pillows, and has a twenty hours’ journey with them in frightful smells and dirt … they’d been travelling already for two days’

Ambulance train converted wagon, York. Showing beds (Ref: NRM_1265_90)

Ambulance train converted wagon, York. Showing beds (Ref: NRM_1265_90)

Throughout wartime railway companies quickly converted existing stock into sophisticated travelling hospitals.  Facilities are described in a  booklet published by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company which is illustrated below.  It describes the carriages as ‘finished throughout with white enamel’, and as having ‘fixed and portable fans’ and a ‘supply of  156 gallons of water.’

In the same diary mentioned above the nurse describes her experience of working in a fully converted train:

‘The twelve sitting up cases on each carriage are a joy after the tragedy of the rest. They sit up talking and smoking till late, because they are so surprised and pleased to be alive, and it is too comfortable to sleep’

‘Ward Cars’ Page describing ward cars and photograph of ward cars for lying down cases, shows flowers on table

Booklet, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, Exhibition of Ambulance Train. Pg 3/4 (ref:1995-7793) (1914-1918)

Men travelled on bunks. Robert Graves in his book ‘Goodbye to all that’ (Penguin, 1929 ISBN 0-14-018098) describes his experience of travelling in this way:

‘That evening, the R.A.M.C. orderlies dared not lift me from the stretcher to a hospital train bunk, for fear of it starting hemorrhage in the lung. So they laid the stretcher above it, with the handles resting on the head-rail and foot-rail. I had now been on the same stretcher for five days. I remember the journey as a nightmare. My back was sagging, and I could not raise my knees to relieve the cramp, the bunk above me only a few inches away.’

Southern Railway ward car (ref: 1994-8512) (September 1939)

Southern Railway ward car (ref: 1994-8512) (September 1939)

The archive contains drawings of fittings, fixtures and layouts providing an insight into what it would be like for those who lived on the train day-in, day-out.

Drawing No.5. L.N.W. Rly. Abbulance train for France. Army Range

Drawing No.5. L.N.W. Rly. Ambulance train for France. Army Range (ref: WOLV 5/212) (1914-1918)

This drawing shows lettering and numbering on the rear of an ambulance train; the number 13 was not used on ambulance train stock in World War One.

Continental ambulance train lettering etc on end of train midland railway carriage and wagon department, Derby (ref: LMS 4650) (1916)

Continental ambulance train lettering etc on end of train midland railway carriage and wagon department, Derby (ref: LMS 4650) (1916)

Come to the museum on 23 November 2013 and listen to a set of free talks on the history and experience of travelling on board ambulance trains. The event also includes a chance to see original items from our archive.

The event is delivered in partnership with The National Archive’s Explore your Archive campaign. For more information on speakers and how to book see our event page

 
 
About these ads
This entry was posted in Image collections, Library and archive collections, Research and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Free event: Coming Home From the Front Line – wartime ambulance train travel

  1. Miss M says:

    thank you, I really found this post interesting

  2. Rob says:

    Great post, really wish I could make this as my book ‘The North Eastern Railway in the First World War’ due out next month covers the subject of the NER Ambulance Trains, i’d be happy to send over the information I have on them if it is of use? You may already have it though

  3. Pingback: Recreating a First World War Ambulance Carriage | National Railway Museum blog

  4. Pingback: Work and Play on a First World War Ambulance Train | National Railway Museum blog

  5. Alison Kay, Assistant Archivist says:

    Hi Rob – glad you found the post interesting. It’s a shame you can’t make the event. It would be really useful if you could send us some information – I will email you separately

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s