Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 13, 2022
Webpage updated: March 13, 2022




In his book "British Railways and The Great War, Part X", published in 1921, Mr Edwin A Pratt stated that during the Great War the Great Western Railway Company constructed four ambulance trains for home service, each of eleven gangwayed vehicles, and eight for British troops and four for American troops on the Continent.  The foreign trains consisted of between fifteen and twenty gangwayed vehicles.  Mr Pratt also stated that North Road Plymouth Station had received no fewer than 239 ambulance trains carrying wounded soldiers.  This compared very favourably with Paddington Station, which received 351 ambulance trains, and Bristol Temple Meads Station with 395 trains, the highest on the Great Western Railway.

The first of these Continental ambulance trains to be constructed by the Great Western Railway Company at their Swindon works was exhibited at the Plymouth Great Western Docks on Monday May 1st 1916, where at Midday it was inspected by the Mayor and Mayoress of Plymouth, Alderman and Mrs T Baker, the Deputy Mayor, Mr E Blackall, and Major -General A P Penton.  They were accompanied by Mr William Rowed (1850-1927), the divisional superintendent, who told them that the whole train was built and equipped in six weeks.  They were all very impressed by the design and quality of workmanship.

Accompanied by a photograph, the Western Morning News published the following description: 'The train consists of sixteen coaches, is 960 feet in length, and weighs 442 tons.  Accommodation is provided for 592 patients -- 102 lying down, 472 sitting, and 18 infectious cases -- and for a staff of 45.  The brake and steam-heating apparatus are of the Westinghouse type, with hosepipe connections.  In each of the staff and personnel cars hot-water apparatus has been installed to heat the coaches when the train is in the siding.  There is also an arrangement whereby the temperature can be regulated in different sections of the train.  Gangways wide enough to enable stretchers to be carried from the ward cars to the treatment-room provide communication from end to end of the train.  All beds can be used as stretchers and can be fixed in any position in any of the ward cars.  Electric light is installed, each coach being well lit, while candle bracket lamps are fixed throughout for use in the event of the electric light failing.  Ventilation is afforded by ventilators in the roof, five drop lights and 30 fixed and 32 portable fans.  The water tanks on the train have a capacity of 2,500 gallons.  Flexible electric torches are provided for the use of the sisters and orderlies, and shower baths are also provided for on the train.  As a matter of fact, the facilities provided are those of a hospital, there being an operating-room, and a pharmacy.  Ample storage is provided, and the cooking arrangements are such that 300 meals can be served.  Living accommodation is provided for the surgeons and staff.  The whole design of the train reveals commendable care and foresight, everything that experience has taught and science can suggest having been incorporated.  The cost is about 30,000.'

Mr Rowed told the official party that the Great Western Railway Company had 86,673 employees at the time, of whom 16,126 had voluntarily enlisted.  As at March 1916 the Company had suffered 450 men killed, 65 men missing and 741 men wounded.

Once the official party had departed the general public were given the opportunity to inspect the train for a small admission charge in aid of war charities.  Several hundreds were said to have passed through the carriages and many more were expected the following day.