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Commander of last British Ambulance train speaks at NRM Railways and Warfare conference

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This Saturday (10 September) we will be holding our Railways and Warfare conference, where Colonel (Rtd) Brian Robertson will be presenting his fascinating paper Ambulance Trains Past, Present and Future. Members of his ambulance train crew will also be visiting our Ambulance Trains exhibition and the conference as part of their staff reunion. National Railway Museum archivist Alison Kay explores Brian’s story.

Click here for more information about the event and to book tickets.

331 and 337 Ambulance Trains on Exercise FOLDING BED 90 – Photograph Brian Robertson

331 and 337 Ambulance Trains on Exercise FOLDING BED 90 – Photograph Brian Robertson

Brian Robertson was Commander of The Ambulance Train Squadron Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC (V)) (subsequently the Ambulance Train Group) from September 1985 to March 1994. His talk will describe the little known British ambulance train capability that existed throughout the Cold War and includes video footage of British Army Ambulance Trains operating in the British Army on the Rhine from the 1990s. He will also draw on his personal archive of ambulance train material to describe the development of ambulance trains from as far back as the Crimean War.

The last British ambulance trains were based in Germany and based at Munchenglabach and exercised every year on the Deutsche Bahn (DB) network. The crew was made up of a total staff of 242 and included doctors, nurses, combat medical technicians, chefs, railwaymen and an electrician, some of whom will be with us on Saturday.

The trains were never called upon operationally but could have delivered an important link in the casualty evacuation chain across Europe should hostilities have ever broken out.

Brian says:

Staff who served in the Ambulance Train Squadron and subsequently the Ambulance Train Group were the custodians of a very long heritage and tradition of service on Hospital and Ambulance Trains that go back to the South African War. We then kept that flame alive through the Cold War until the disbandment of British Army Ambulance Trains by the Ministry of Defence in 1995.

The NRM exhibition Ambulance Trains focuses on the First World War but ambulance train history is much broader than this period. Early ambulance train design was so effective that it was carried on until the 1990s. Medical staff, although in different uniforms carried out exercises in spaces similar to those that used in the First World War and before.

Ex-DB Byg rolling stock. Photograph – Brian Robertson

Ex-DB Byg rolling stock. Photograph – Brian Robertson

Home ambulance train number 16 Photograph reproduced in Ambulance Trains and courtesy of the Willis Family

Home ambulance train number 16. Photograph reproduced in Ambulance Trains and courtesy of the Willis Family

After the end of the Second World War British Army ambulance trains were comprised of German stock. The most recent part of the ambulance train fleet were a number of ex-DB coaches. As you can see, their design does not differ very much from this British Second World War ambulance train.

Second World War Ambulance train. Image National Railway Museum

Second World War Ambulance train. Image National Railway Museum

Ex-DB Bcyl rolling stock interior, Photograph Brian Robertson

Ex-DB Bcyl rolling stock interior, Photograph Brian Robertson

Ex-DB Bcyl rolling stock, image Brian Robertson

Ex-DB Bcyl rolling stock, image Brian Robertson

Ambulance Trains exhibition at the NRM. The livery of the NRM train is based on a First World War overseas ambulance train, very similar to this more recent train.

Ambulance Trains exhibition at the NRM. The livery of the NRM train is based on a First World War overseas ambulance train, very similar to this more recent train.

To hear Brian’s stories and learn more about this important part of railway history, book your conference ticket here.

Find out more about our exhibition here.

We are holding more ambulance train talks, film screenings and object handling sessions on 29 September, 30 September and 1 October.

Written by Alison Kay

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  1. Mike Hughes

    As an ex csm with the ambulance train group I feel that an exhibition of ATG rolling stock is a fabulous idea and whilst I cannot make colonel Robertsons talk as am on holiday,I will try my utmost to visit the NRM whilst the display is on.

    1. Deirdre Allen

      Hi Mike – Long time no see! Hope all is well with you, how absolutely fantastic to see this photo .. so many memories and such fun over the years. You probably wont remember me, but then, there are a lot of faces in the picture I can’t put names to. This must have been a really brilliant event. Kind regards.

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