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By Claire Marston on

Discovering the First World War through our archive

Learning through our fantastic archive doesn't only happen in the museum - we've also been out and about visiting schools to talk about the First World War.

In the last month, staff from the National Railway Museum learning team have had a fantastic time working with local schools on our First World War learning programme.

We were very kindly invited into Tadcaster Grammar School, Sherburn High School, York High School and Canon Lee School to work with their Year 9 students (aged 13-14) on some of our fantastic archive materials related to the First World War ambulance trains. The students warmly welcomed us and were a credit to their schools.

Tadcaster Grammar School students working with archive materials
Tadcaster Grammar School students working with archive materials

They were enthusiastic about the documents we showed them and were eager to find out more. They completed an activity to find out how many staff worked on board an ambulance train, in comparison to patients, and studied primary documents to build their knowledge and understanding of the trains and the experiences of those on board. They engaged really well with the documents we showed them, offering insightful comments and thoughts on the stories of the men and women who served on the ambulance trains.

The pupils were especially interested in the fact that many of the trains carried men of all different nationalities, including injured German Prisoners of War. They were intrigued to hear that we have not been able to find any records of this causing conflict on the train, and were able to draw conclusions from this about the soldiers and their attitudes to the ‘enemy’. They were also fascinated by the fans which sat above each bed. An addition later in the war, they were used to disperse gas from gas attack victims, because the build-up of gas on the clothes caused the medical staff to be exposed to it too.

The inside of an Ambulance Carriage (photo from National Railway Museum archives)
The inside of an Ambulance Carriage (photo from National Railway Museum archives)

The students offered lots of wonderful insights into the sources and their feedback will be used to shape our First World War learning programme, which will sit alongside our Ambulance Train exhibition. We are developing this learning programme in partnership with York Theatre Royal, and will be creating resources which showcase our fantastic archive collection. Students from both schools will also continue to be involved in this process.

Thank you again to the Year 9 pupils from Tadcaster Grammar School and Sherburn High School for their efforts and hard work, and of course to their teachers for hosting us. Thank you as well to the Year 9 pupils and teachers from York High School and Canon Lee School, all of whom have been invaluable in their help so far. The First World War Ambulance Train project is being kindly funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, Yorventure and the friends of the National Railway Museum.


2 comments on “Discovering the First World War through our archive

  1. This is an amazing resource and so relevant at this time of remembrance. My grandfather was badly injured and left for dead at the Somme, on 15th September 1916. He was lucky enough to be spotted, just alive, by a Canadian Red Cross Volunteer and taken to a field hospital at Boulogne. From there he was transferred back to England via hospital train and taken to Leeds General for a while – the start of a year’s recovery process in various hospitals in England. It is fascinating to see what one of these mobile wards looked like, through your archives. My sisters and I are making a ‘pilgrimage’ to the Somme in September, and hope to find at least one of the hospitals our grandfather stayed in (we have his complete war record from the Canadian Expeditionary Force he served with). Now I know about the exhibition at the NRM, we will definitely add this to our itinerary. Thank you so much!

  2. Do you have other photos of train ambulances. I found one in a thrift shop in Quebec, Canada . I am looking for information about it.

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