The railways have always played a vital role during conflict.
Not only did they keep Britain running during wartime, they were crucial in transporting the wounded home, where they could be dealt with in relative peace.
With this year’s 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, the National Railway Museum in York has been combing through its archives.
Assistant archivist Alison Kay says: “We have been delving even deeper into the story of the First World War ambulance train to reveal what it would have really been like for patients, doctors and nurses to travel this way during wartime.”
Thirty trains were built by the various British railway companies to War Office specifications and sent to the military forces overseas, mostly in France and Flanders.
They evacuated the wounded or sick from casualty clearing stations to stationary or base hospitals or to a port of embarkation from where they were conveyed by ambulance ship to the UK.
They also toured British towns and cities to raise awareness and funding for this side of the war effort and today we share some of the museum’s fascinating photographs which show a visit in 1916 to Blackpool Central Station of an ambulance train, built by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.
Surrounded by patriotic flags in the station hall and along the platform, the public flocked for a glimpse inside the train.
Notices on the carriage doors said: “In order that the largest number of people may see these cars, visitors are earnestly requested to walk in the direction shown by the arrows and not to obstruct the passages”
The carriages for those in the ranks had 36 beds – on three levels, on either side – while those carrying injured officers were not as crowded. The contrast in accommodation is marked, showing that class divisions survived even in death and serious injury.
The ‘standard’ ambulance train consisted of 16 cars, including a pharmacy car, two kitchens, a personnel car and a brake and stores van. It accommodated about 400 lying and sitting cases in addition to the RAMC personnel and the train crew.
Apart from feeding casualties and staff, the kitchens could supply 50 gallons of hot water at any time. The train generated its own electricity for lighting and driving overhead fans and all cars were steam heated.
Visit nrm.org.uk/worldwarone for more information on the museum’s First World War archives and events to mark the centenary.
The photographs are used courtesy of the National Railway Museum