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.
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.
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.
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.