The Ambulance Train

Photos, newspaper article and poem supplied by The Living Archive.

The 19th century new town of Wolverton was built to accommodate a major railway works which was in 1914-18, and until relatively recently, the biggest employer in the area that is now Milton Keynes.

So when the men at the railway works applied their skills to the building of an ambulance train – an exciting new idea to alleviate soldiers’ distress in wartime – its completion was a special event for the whole community.

But, as the poem below shows, the celebrations were marred, for at least one participant, by class rivalries which had not been suspended for the duration!

Article from
24th March 1916


A new Ambulance Train for use in France will be on view to the Public in the Carriage Works at Wolverton from 2 pm to 5.30 pm on Saturday the 25th March at a charge of 6d. per person.

The money collected from this source will be added to the Works Relief Fund.

The entrance to the Works to view the train will be at the gates on the Stratford Road opposite the Workmen’s Social Club and the exit after viewing the train, the gates near to Messrs McCorquodale and Co’s Printing Works.

Tickets will be issued to persons viewing the train at the entrance gates and collected on entering the train.

They will have the opportunity of seeing the interior of the whole of the coaches and exactly how they are fitted up. The detailed description of this, which we append, scarcely does justice to the admirable manner in which these trains are fitted up and the opportunity of viewing it is really one which Wolverton and the neighbourhood should not miss.


The train consists of 16 vehicles and the total length is well over 900 feet; it has accommodation for 362 patients, together with the medical and other staff. These 16 vehicles comprise:

8 ward cars for lying-down cases
1 ward car for lying-down infection cases
1 ward car for sitting-up infection cases
1 kitchen and mess room car
1 kitchen and stores car
Pharmacy car
Personnel car
Staff car
Brake and Stores car

The whole train is painted khaki colour outside and this has given rise to the popular name in the Works of the “Khaki train”. A large red cross on the outside of each vehicle indicates beyond any possibility of mistaking the purpose of the train when it is in use.

The interiors of the open coaches, corridors, cooking and store compartments, mess rooms etc. are all painted with white enamel and designed so that there are no corners where dirt may accumulate on the floor. The train throughout is steam heated and electrically lighted. Special candle brackets are also fitted, in the event of the electric light not being available from any cause. Electric fans are provided for the comfort not only of the patients but also of the doctors, nurses and staff.

In the ward cars for lying down cases, cots are arranged in 3 tiers. Above each tier is a plate indicating the number of cots. Eight of the cars have 36 beds each and the other has 18 beds. At the end of the latter car are also the guard’s compartment and living room. The beds are of the folding type attached to the side of the coaches. Double doors are provided to all lying-down patients’ cars in order that stretcher cases can easily be dealt with and there are plenty of windows and ventilators.

Thoughtful provision is made for the needs of the patients in the shape of portable electric fans, paper racks, ash trays, spittoon holders and other details. Each ward has its own drinking water tanks, cupboard and dresser and lavatory. The ward car for the sitting up infectious cases has no upholstery; the seats and backs are of three ply wood which can be very easily washed down and kept free from germs.

The kitchen and mess room is mainly for the use of the staff, and includes accommodation for the field officers’ kit, a mess room, cooks’ room with three beds, and a large kitchen, fitted with Army Service range, refrigerator, crockery racks, etc. The kitchen and stores car is practically the same as this, except that the steward has his storeroom in this vehicle.

The brake and stores car carries the guard who has his living room in an adjacent compartment. The remaining space is utilised for stores.

The staff car is reserved for the doctors and nurses. The doctors’ compartment being at one end of the coach and the nurses’ at the other. Dining and sleeping accommodation is set apart for both.

The pharmacy car will perhaps attract as much attention as any on the train. It includes a medical comforts’ stores, an office for the Officer Commanding with safe, writing desk and other fittings, a treatment room (zinc lined) with operating table, appliances etc., a fully equipped dispensary and a linen store.

The personnel car for the use of the crew of the train will seat 56 men with the upper berths dropped to form back of seat and will sleep 28 when the upper berths are in position.

All the cars used by the staff and personnel are fitted with a special self–heating equipment so that they are independent of the ordinary steam heating system.

The Wolverton Works War Relief Fund got £73.9.10d. in three and a half hours.

POEM written in 1916
by “Watcher”

‘Twas Saturday, March the twenty-fifth,
The time was one p.m,
And gathering round the entrance gate
Was quite a crowd of men.
Who had brought their wives and daughters
To view the Ambulance Train.

The object was a worthy one,
The charge was sixpence each.
And people were eager to pay their share,
To help the “Soldiers Relief”.
And so they waited, standing there,
Patient, orderly, neat.

When down the street came a batch of men,
Each in his bib and tucker,
With haughty looks, and swanky tread,
And all kept clear of the gutter.
So they and their ladies should not be smeared
By touching the common worker.

They were some of the “Foremen of Wolverton Works”
Who would not mix with the crowd,
So they came to the gates an hour before
The rabble was allowed.
And viewed the train in their stately way,
Glorious! Grand! and “Proud”.

Oh! pity that such a noble cause
Should be smirched by these men’s pride,
That a foreman cannot view the train,
Till he’s kicked the worker aside
And struck him a blow that’s left behind
A sting that’s going to abide.

There is still some lessons for them to learn
Some levelling up to be done,
Till its hammered into their pompous heads
That they and the workers are one.
That all the brain is not owned by them
These foremen of “Wolverton”.

That their foremanship ceases once outside the gate
And they become one of the crowd.
That they live on the same common earth as the rest
And not above the clouds.
That more work will be done for the man you respect
Than the one who looks down on you “Proud”.