Duty on No 2 ambulance train during 1914

Memoir extract for activity and source 2

An extract from nurse Mary Stewart-Richardson's account of work on a First World War ambulance train in 1914:

After being on night duty for the inside of a week at No 3 C C S at Villeneuve Triage, I received orders on 26th Sept to proceed as Sister in Charge of No 2 Ambulance Train.

Need of sisters on ambulance trains

My experience of the conditions one received casualties in from the trains during the time I was Night Sister at the Station Workshops at Villeneuve shewed one the urgent need for women nurses on the trains. No doubt the personnel then in charge had done what they could for the sufferers, but the conditions were pitiable in the extreme, of those matters which the woman nurse knows is not only comfort, but also the means of restoring vitality in giving repose to mind & body of patients suffering as those men were, who usually came straight from the battlefield to the train.

Sisters on no 2. train

I started with the Sisters detailed for my staff to find the train somewhere amongst the interminable lines at that huge railway station. My staff consisted of Sister Bulloch Q A R, S/N Susan McIntosh, C H R  and S/N. Eva Schofield C H R. Miss McCarthy saw us before starting; & told me she could give no definite outline of the work before us, but trusted to our common sense to do all possible for the patients, & to use the necessary tact in dealing with trying or difficult problems.

Opposition to sisters on trains

This last piece of advice I soon realized the value of, as, in finding the train on that hot Sept morning, (trailing down the rows of lines dragging our hand luggage,) I also found a very decided spirit of opposition to our boarding the train at all. For the O C (whom later, I held in the highest respect & esteem, for his many excellent qualities, & able management as O C) was to say the least of it, not encouraging, & vowed there was no accommodation for us, no means of feeding us, & altogether not only would we be greatly in the way, but he considered we were wholly unnecessary as a portion of the train staff. I told him firmly that my orders were to proceed on the train with the other three Sisters, & those orders I intended to carry out.

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Further that we were there to be of as much use, & to give as little trouble as possible, & that those were also our firm intentions. He looked at me speechless! and then climbed into a first class compartment into which I quickly followed him, with the other Sisters, making up my mind that once I had set foot in that train, not to leave it again.

Sisters' quarters on train

He showed me an end compartment (next to the lavatory) and asked if that would accommodate all four of us. I quickly assented, inwardly feeling aghast at the prospect of four women with their hand luggage living, & sleeping in such close quarters; but the only way I felt to prove our intentions, was to accept anything offered to begin with. After a few minutes, I was told we might, during the journey up for patients, occupy another 1st Class compartment next door; this I gratefully agreed to, privately intending it should always be Sisters' Quarters. A batman was detailed for our use, & various household requisites, brushes, basins, etc sent to us from the Stores. We were told we would be on rations, & that no cooking could be done for us except by our own batman in our own quarters.


The rations were chiefly bully beef, biscuits, jam, cheese, & cocoa which personally I did not enjoy, as in the first week I swallowed two of my own teeth with those biscuits, but bread was procurable after a week or two.

Train record

The train, improvized for ambulance use from odds & ends of French rolling stock would have been looked on with horror, even six months later, but it already had the record of having been nearer the line to fetch wounded, and brought more down the line, than any of the other ambulance trains, then alas! only numbering six in all. After hearing of its' record, I understood somewhat the spirit of opposition to Sisters coming on the train. Very naturally the O C and personnel generally, thought that with women on board, they could not risk making the desperate sallies to rescue wounded which had been their ambition & glory; and I am convinced it was, the dislike to the idea of letting women in any way enter the danger zone, that had called forth such a surly welcome to us by the O C. He thought his already heavy responsibilities were being enormously increased by our presence.


Source and activity 2

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