Source and activity 2

First-hand account of work on an ambulance train, 1914

Detail from handwritten page
Extract from memoir of an ambulance
train nurse.
[NLS reference: Acc.5729, ff.1-2]
View full memoir page image

In this memoir extract, you can read about the experiences of Mary Stewart Richardson, a nurse who worked on an ambulance train during the First World War.

Read the memoir extract

Ambulance trains were used to transport wounded or sick soldiers to military hospitals.

A typical train would have 14 carriages, including:

  • Wards with beds
  • A cookhouse and dining room
  • An operating theatre
  • A medical store
  • Accommodation for the medical staff.

You can view photos of First World War ambulance trains in the National Library of Scotland's collection of First World War 'official photographs'.

Mary Stewart-Richardson / QAIMNS

Mary Stewart-Richardson began her nursing career as a probationer at Dundee Royal Infirmary in 1906. After her training she went to London where she registered as a reserve nurse for Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Service (QAIMNS).

Rules for appointment as a QA nurse were strict — candidates had to be over 25, single, and of a high social status. Most girls from this social group were already married by 25, so were dedicated to making nursing a career for life.

These rules had to be relaxed during the war however, as the demand for nurses increased. From the date of this account of the ambulance train, it seems that Mary was one of the first wave of QAIMNS reserves to go to France.

Look at these photos of ambulance trains from the First World War:

What information, if any, does the visual source add to the written account? How do the two different types of sources complement or contrast with one another? 

What is the value of this type of first-hand account as a historical source? Can you think of any problems of using this type of evidence to find out about the past? 

According to this account, what were some of the challenges that the women faced whilst working on the ambulance train? What reasons are given for the attitudes of the male personnel on the train? Why were they so reluctant to take female nurses on board?


Source and activity 3



Themes in focus — Women in the Great War


Find out more about women in the First World War in NLS collections

Search our catalogue for details of books about women's role in the First World War.


View list of material relating to Mairi Chisholm (PDF: 56 KB; 2 pages) in the military and naval papers collections at NLS.


Explore our web feature 'Experiences of War' web feature based on diaries and first-hand accounts.


View official photographs of the First World War .


Learn about the women's suffrage movement in Scotland in our online learning resource.


Visit Scotland on Screen to find film clips relating to the First World War and women at work.

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