Thursday, July 14, 2016

Somme centenary: WWI ambulance trains exhibition opens

Thanks to Jeff Long for alerting me to this -- 

Hospital train carriage
Ambulance trains were mostly filled with bunk beds for injured soldiers
An exhibition on World War One ambulance trains which whisked soldiers away from battlefields has opened.
The purpose-built trains bearing a red cross carried 2.7m passengers in the United Kingdom during the conflict.
Some carriages were filled with rows of bunk beds to hold recovering soldiers, while others served as treatment rooms.
The opening of the exhibition at the National Railway Museum in York marks 100 years since the busiest day of ambulance train traffic during the war.

Soldiers and hospital trainImage copyrightWILLIS FAMILY COLLECTION
Image captionGeorge Owen Willis, an orderly on ambulance train number 18, served for the entire duration of the conflict and documented his experiences with photographs

The trains also carried people in the Western Front, the Mediterranean and Egypt, with medical staff living on-board.
Rest rooms were established at railway stations across the UK to deal with wounded troops coming back from the front lines.

Injured men and hospital trainImage copyrightWILLIS FAMILY COLLECTION
Image captionThe trains carried injured soldiers away from the battlefields

Several of the most renowned poets of the war, including Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, travelled on ambulance trains.

Exterior of hospital trainImage copyrightNRM

Excerpt from Good-Bye to All That, an autobiography by Robert Graves
"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 haemorrhage 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."

Despite carrying a red cross, some trains were still shelled and hid in tunnels for protection.

Soldiers and hospital trainImage copyrightWILLIS FAMILY COLLECTION
Image captionPictured is ambulance train number 7 being loaded with injured soldiers
Hospital train and workersImage copyrightNRM
Image captionMedical staff lived on the trains, some for the entirety of the war
Soldiers and hospital trainImage copyrightNRM
Image captionAmbulance trains often had an extra coach carrying non-injured military personnel
Train and craneImage copyrightNRM
Image captionA carriage of an ambulance train is pictured being hoisted in Blackpool in February 1916
Hospital train carriageImage copyrightHORWICH WORKS
Image captionThe pharmacy carriages were stocked with medicines to help the injured

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