Edwin A. Pratt.

British railways and the great war ; organisation, efforts, difficulties and achievements online

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The latter was the method more generally adopted. In cases where
the patient was not obliged to keep to his cot yet had difiiculty in walking.


in getting up the side of a ship, or in mounting a ladder when this was
necessary, he might be carried on the back of another man by means
of a canvas arrangement which ensured his safety, distributed his weight
equally on the back of his bearer, and, at the same time, left the latter
with full use of both hands.

The work of removing patients from ship to hospital or from ship to
ambulance train was done at all large naval centres by bearer parties
from the Royal Naval Auxiliary Sick Berth Reserve. Elsewhere it was
undertaken by Voluntary Aid Detachments of the Order of St. John
of Jerusalem Or by members of th:e British Red Cross Society. In either
case the bearers were men who had been specially trained in the handling
and transport of naval cots.

Similar arrangements were made at the various points of arrival of
the trains.

In January, 1918, having regard to possible emergencies, it was decided
to form a special Naval Medical Transport Corps as cot-bearers and for
the performance of minor hospital duties on the North- East Coast of *
England. Membership of the Corps was limited to men belonging to
the St. John Ambulance Brigade who were over age for military service
or had been rejected as unfit. Eight Companies of fifty men each were
formed, namely, double Companies (100 men each) at North and South
Shields and at Hull, and single Companies at Newcastle, Eston, The
Hartlepools and Sunderland.

For the removal of patients from the railway station at the end of the
ambulance- train journey it was, of course, necessary to employ road-
ambulance vehicles ; and these had to be specially fitted in order to
take the standard naval cot in which the sufferer was to remain
until he reached the hospital that constituted his final destina-

One of the first measures taken, accordingly, on the institution of
the Naval Medical Transport Service, was to arrange for a supply of
road ambulances ; and, as an initial step in this direction, thirty motor-
omnibuses were obtained from the London General Omnibus Company
and provided with spring trestles on which the standard cots could rest.
Not even the latest pattern of specially-built ambulance offered, it is
said, a greater degree of comfort for the patient than these converted

Then, alsoj in the earliest days of the war, twelve ambulances were
lent by the Red Cross Society, while through this organisation came,
later on, a most acceptable gift of 56 ambu lances from the United Provinces
of India War Fund. Three more were presented by the " Silver Thimble
Fund " and eight were received from other sources. In this way the
Naval Medical Transport Service had, on the cessation of hostilities, a
total of 109 ambulances available in different districts.

Kaval Raid on Ostend : Wounded from the Viymcr/ii being lowered into Hold.

OF Hospital Ship.

{To lace p. 576.


OF India War Fl'nd.


Naval Sick and Wounded : Statistics.

Having regard to the fact that naval engagements during the course
of the war were few in number as compared with the battles fought on
land, it naight be assumed that, except on certain occasions, there could
not, after all, have been any very great demand for the ambulance trains
provided in the interests of the Navy. The limited extent of the fighting
at sea did not, however, materially affect the situation inasmuch as the
proportion of sick carried was far in excess of that of the wounded, the
former providing a steady stream of patients when there were none at
all of the latter.

Here, again, it is necessary to consider the conditions which concern
naval as distinct from military services in time of war.

Sick men are not wanted on fighting-ships at all. In practice, if any
man got ill, or even indisposed, and was not likely to get well again within
a very few days, he was sent ashore alike in his own interests — since he
would be more likely to effect a speedy recovery there — ^and in those
of the Navy itself. With the possibility of an action at any moment,
it was undesirable to retain a sick man on board, not only because he
was sick, and would require to be looked after, but because it was neces-
sary that, even although he might be only temporarily invalided, his
place should be taken at the earliest possible moment by a man in sound
condition in order that the fighting strength of the vessel might not be
impaired. So for every man taken ashore another was at once brought

This immediate provision of substitutes, not alone for the sick but
even for the ailing, became an essential part of the whole scheme, and
one, also, for which the most careful provision had to be made. It meant
constant work for all branches of the Naval Medical Transport Service,
and it meant, as well, that there was always much for the naval ambulance
trains to do whether actions were being fought at sea or not. On the
other hand the adoption of the poHcy in question led to the introduc-
tion into the Fleet of an equally constant flow of fresh life and vigour,
and in the special circumstances of the situation this was also of great

There were, again, abnormal circumstances which led to the number of
sick attaining abnormal proportions.

In the first place the enormous expansion of the Fleet must be borne
in mind. What this expansion amounted to is shown by the following
figures, giving the number of officers and men in the British Navy at the
periods stated : —

Date. Number.

June, igi3 141,084

June, 1914 146,142

June, 1915 276,958

Date. Number.

June, 1916 332,078

June, 19171 .... 381,592

June, 1918 » 398,139

September, 1918 .... 408,997

» Between June, 1917, and June, 1918, about 53,000 Royal Naval Air Service men
were transferred to the Royal Air Force.


To these figures must be added the 80,700 officers and men of the
American Navy who were associated with our own and whose sick were,
by arrangement, also conveyed in the ambulance trains provided for
the British Navy.

Then the conditions of life on the North Sea during war-time were
such as to predispose to a good deal of sickness. The vessels were fully
manned, and they might, for this reason, be regarded as somewhat over-
crowded, while the cooping- up of officers and men in a confined space
for four years ; the darkness of the long winter nights ; the effect of
trying weather conditions ; the monotony of the daily routine ; the
waiting for an enemy who showed himself on such very rare occasions —
these and other trying experiences had the effect of imposing a real strain
upon all concerned. Men were sent ashore in batches, whenever possible,
for a little relaxation. Even the one long street at Invergordon was a
pleasant change for a few hours. They also had their periods of leave ;
though it happened from time to time that a man who had been away
on leave might return with measles or some other contagious disease
which would lead to much trouble on board his ship.

The worst experience of all in respect to sickness was due to the
epidemic of influenza rampant in the Grand Fleet during the spring and
early summer of 1918. It started with a few sporadic cases on the " King
Orry " at Scapa Flow early in April, assumed epidemic form by the 19th of
the same month, and reached a climax on May loth, when the number
of fresh cases reported was 744. From that time the daily retiurn steadily
decreased in gravity, the figures being reduced to a negligible quantity
by the end of May. Within this period the sum total of officers and
men who had been attacked, out of a total of 90,000 then forming the
Grand Fleet, was no fewer than 10,313. In such numbers, too, had the
sufferers been sent ashore that before long they filled up every naval
hospital in the country — ^including those taken over by the Americans,
who are declared to have rendered " yeoman service " to the British in
this emergency — while 500 more, for whom accommodation could not
otherwise be provided, were sent to the military hospitals at Glasgow.
The distribution of so large a number of patients became, in fact, a matter
of great perplexity. Cases of influenza continued to occur during June,
July and August, and in September the disease again assumed epidemic
form, the number of patients who then had to be dealt with being


These various considerations will help the reader to imderstand
better than he might otherwise do the reasons why, although conditions
were against the display of great activity on the part of the allied
British and American Fleets as a Fighting Force, the working of the naval
ambulance trains from the outset of the war until the end of 1918 showed
the following considerable totals : —


OfvicUrs : ^

Cot cases ....... 1.44°

Non-cot cases ...... 2,936

Total officers 4,376

Men :

Cot cases 25,708

Non-cot cases ...... 47,697

Total men . .... 73. 405

Total Officers and Men ..... 77.781

Total Cot Cases 27,148

Total Non-cot Cases 50.633

These figures are, of coiirse, independent of the patients who were
brought direct to Plymouth, Portsmouth or Chatham by hospital ship
and were removed to hospital without any need for conveyance by train.

Jutland and Zeebrugge.

The interval which elapsed between the time when naval men received
their wounds and the time when they found themselves in a base hospital
at home naturally varied according to circumstances. In the naval
action off Heligoland on August 28th, 1914, British wounded were received
at the Chatham Naval Hospital within twenty-four hours. Wounded
from the Naval Brigade which took part in the defence of Antwerp were
six or eight days before they reached the same destination. Conveyed
first to the Antwerp hospitals, they were, on the approaching fall of that
city (October 9th, 1914), removed successively to Ghent, Bruges and
Ostend, where they finally embarked for England.

How the Naval Medical Transport Service, with its organisation of
ambulance trains, worked in practice can, perhaps, best be illustrated by
referring to what was done in regard to the Battle of Jutland and the
operations at Zeebrugge.

The number of wounded in the Battle of Jutland, fought on Wednes-
day, May 31st, 1916, was 674. They were mostly taken to Invergordon,
Port Edgar or Rosyth, and were there either transferred to the hospital
ships or removed direct to hospitals on shore. Nearly aU were severe
cases, the patients being badly burned. Owing to the unsuitabihty of
hospital ships for prolonged treatment those received on them were sent
ashore as soon as possible, mainly to the ambulance trains waiting to
convey them elsewhere. In this way the vessels were invariably cleared
within two days.

At Invergordon a naval ambulance train with wounded from the
Jutland Battle was dispatched at 9.24 p.m. on Saturday, June 3rd.
Another followed at 8.12 p.m. next day. All the patients conveyed on
the two trains came direct from the hospital ships. These were brought
close to the harbour and the patients were taken from pier to railway
station in ambulance cars.


The hospital ships certainly rendered good service on this occasion ;
but the range of their usefulness was limited by conditions which could
not be controlled, while the ambulance trains were able to ensure a speedy
avoidance of any congestion of wounded at the ports where they had
been landed.

The operations of Zeebrugge on April 23rd, 1 91 8, took place in the
early hours of the morning. It had been arranged that the wounded
should be landed at Dover, and No. 3 naval ambtilance traiil, then at
Chatham, was sent to Dover in order to convey them to the Chatham
Naval Hospital. On the arrival at the qua^of H.M.S. Vindictive
the entraining of cases brought by that vessel began at 9.50 a.m. It was
completed at 11.15 a.m., by which time all the wounded on board had
been removed. The number taken on to Chatham was 150, this being
exclusive of two serious cases sent to the military hospital at Dover and
some slightly-wounded cases sent to Deal. During the loading and also
during the journey all the cases put on the train were examined and
received such immediate attention as was necessary. The train reached
Chatham at 1.38 p.m., and the patients were at once removed to the

More wounded were brought to Dover in the afternoon of the
same day, and they, also, found a naval ambulance train waiting for
them. No. 5 train had left Edinburgh the previous night for Dover,
where it arrived at 12.30 p.m. on the 23rd, just as H.M.S. Daffodil
came alongside the jetty with one cot and three sitting cases. Two
other cases were landed by the Arrogant. At 2.45 p.m. the Iris
arrived with eighty-four, and all of these were entrained by 4.25 p.m.,
when the train started for Chatham. One of the ninety patients, who
was suffering from shrapnel wounds in the throat, died in the train just
before it left Dover. Chatham was reached by 5.42 p.m., so that, allow-
ing for the patient who did not survive the journey, 220 officers and
seamen, wounded in an engagement off the coast of Belgium in the early
hours of the morning, were all brought across the Channel, landed at
Dover, taken on by naval ambulance train to Chatham, and received
in hospital there by the evening of the same day.

This probably unique event in the history of naval warfare may be
regarded as typical of the complete success with which, notwithstanding
the state of unpreparedness at the outset of the war, the elaborate
organisation brought into being by the Admiralty under the con-
ditions here narrated was carried into effect.



Within a very short time of the outbreak of hostiUties it was found
that many things wanted for the use of the Expeditionary Force were
then unobtainable from ordinary manufacturers owing, in part, to the
magnitude of the orders to be given and, in part, to the extreme urgency
with which the articles in question were needed. Asked by the Govern-
ment to assist them in surmounting the difficulty, the railway companies
agreed so to do, and thereupon they began a production of " munitions
of war " which eventually assumed prodigious dimensions.

Happily the leading companies already had at their disposal more or
less extensive locomotive, carriage and wagon works equipped on a scale
equal to the supply of most of their own requirements in respect to
lines, locomotives, rolling-stock and miscellaneous essentials, and these
workshops gave emplosonent to large staffs of skilled artisans and other
workers, as may be judged from the foUo^ving examples, illustrating the
position two years before the outbreak of the war : Great Central (Gorton
and Dukinfield), 4,253 ; Great Eastern (Stratford, E^, and Temple Mills,
E.), 5,196 ; Great Northern (Doncaster), 6,000 ; Great Western (Swindon),
11,700 ; Lancashire and Yorkshire (Horwich and Newton Heath),
5,810 ; London and North Western (Crewe, Wolverton and Earlstown),
14,800 ; London and South Western (Eastleigh), 3,600 ; Londbn, Brigh-
ton and South Coast (Brighton and Lancing), 2,164 '> Midland (Derliy),
8,288 ; North Eastern (Gateshead, Darlington, York, etc.), 8,046 ; South
Eastern and Chatham (Ashford), 1,944 ; Caledonian (St. Rollox, Glasgow),
2,695 ; Glasgow and South Western (Kilmarnock and Barassie), 1,255 ;
and North British (Cowlairs, Glasgow), 2,297.

The first suggestion that the railway workshops should be utilised
for the production qf military necessaries came as early as September
2nd, 1914, when the War Office asked the Railway Executive Committee
if the companies could supply 12,250 ambulance stretchers of standard
War Office pattern. The stretchers, it was stated, were urgently required.
A meeting of Carriage and Wagon Superintendents was called to consider
the ret[uest, and on September 5th it wals reported that eleven coimpanies
had agreed to divide the work between them, that the first deliveries
would be made on September 12th, and that thenceforward each company
would furnish a stipulated number per week — ^ranging from 100 to 500
until the whole 12,000 had been supplied. Each was to send its account
to the Executive Committee, who would obtain a settlement for the

583 R R



whole from the War Office. The distribution of this initial order among
the companies taking it up was as follows : —

Railway Company. Total Number

Number to be


BE Made.

Made per Week.

Great Western ....



Midland .....

1,500 . 200

(increased to


third week).

London and North Western .



South Eastern and Chatham



Lancashire and Yorkshire



North Eastern ....



Great Northern ....



Great Eastern ....



London and South Western



London, Brighton and South Coast



Great Central ....



A fortnight or so later, the companies agreed to make 5,000 general
service wagons for the ArtiUery Section of the War Office. The wagons
were supplied at the rate of at least 400 per week, beginning the first
week in December, 1914, and delivery was completed by the end of
January, 1915.

On this occasion the making of the wagons was divided between no
fewer than twenty-two companies in England, Scotland and Ireland.
Payment for the work was to be on the basis of actual cost, plus the usual
factory charges for supervision and general charges. Another 1,000
wagons were asked for early in October by the Artillery Section, and
1,000 more were wanted by the Transport Department. A little later
there was a request for a further 2,300, increasing the total order to 9,300.
The companies also arranged to convert 500 railway vans for use in
Government service, and they eventually raised their supply of ambulance
stretchers to 25,195.

About the middle of October the officials at Woolwich Arsenal became
desirous of enlisting the help of the railway companies in respect more
especially to forgings and machinings for guns, rifles, gun carriages,
limbers, etc., and Mr. Runciman, then President of the Board of Trade,
consulted with Mr. (afterwards Sir Guy) Calthrop and Mr. C. J. Bowen
Cooke, General Manager and Chief Mechanical -Engineer respectively
of the London and North Western Railway, as to what would be the best
course to adopt. Following thereon, Mr. Cooke obtained from Woolwich
a collection of drawings of the articles required and went through them,
first, with Mr. (now Sir Henry) Fowler, Chief Mechanical Engineer of
the Midland Railwa^y, and afterwards with technical representativer of
the Great Western, North Eastern, Great Northern and Lancashire and
Yorkshire Railways and of Woolwich Arsenal, the result being that the
railway companies agreed to manufacture for the Arsenal certain parts
for gun carriages and limbers.

A week or two later the War Office inquired if the railway companies
could- also assist certain armament firms, pressed with Government orderg.


It was replied that they were quite prepared to do the work, but an
intimation was given by the Executive Committee that, whilst the railway
companies were willing to produce military necessaries for the Govern-
ment on pajmient to them of bare cost, without seeking to mak6 any profit
thereon, they could not do work on the same terms for private firms
who, as contractors for the Goveniment, would naturally seek to make
a profit for themselves.

Having regard to the fact that the imdertaking by the companies of
what had already become a considerable volume of m'unitions work would
be prejudicial to ordinary railway maintenance, it was decided by the
Railway Executive Committee that a letter to the following effect,
signed by their Acting-Chairman, should be addressed to the President
of the Board of Trade :— -

October zjth, 1914.

Manufacturing Work performed by the Railway Companies for the


You will no doubt be aware that the railway companies have to some extent
placed their locomotive, carriage and wagon works at the disposal of the Govern-
ment, and have promised to undertake the manufacture of any articles which are
urgently required by the War Oifice or Admiralty.

Arrangements have already been carried out to construct 12,250 stretchers
and 7,000 general service wagons, and other matters are at the present time in
course of negotiation.

The companies have no wish to make a profit out of such work, and they are
willing to receive nothing more than bare cost — that is to say, the amounts actually
expended in wages and materials, with the usual percentage to cover supervision
and general charges.

The Executive Committee think that you should be advised of this fact inasmuch
as the undertaking of such work necessarily involves the postponement of the usual
renewal and repair work which would otherwise have been carried out to the various
railway companies' plant, the cost of which would, under the agreement come to
with the Government, have been included in the expenses incurred during the period
of Government control.

All the work so postponed will have to be made good as soon as the manufacture
of articles undertaken on behalf of the Government is completed, but as this latter
work may occupy some months, and even extend as long as the Government control
of railways continues, we think it should be made clear that the railway companies
may, sooner or later, have to include in their claim against the Government a sum
to cover the cost of the work which is deferred and will have to be undertaken.

I am, etc.,
(Signed) H. A. Walker.

The President,

Board of Trade, S.W.

Such, also, was the prospective expansion of the demands already
being made upon the railway companies that it was thought expedient
to adopt speciy measures for dealing with them. Hitherto the State
departments concerned had, in certain cases, applied direct to the railway
companies. On October 22nd the Railway Executive Committee sent
to the coxdrolled companies a communication asking that, in order to


avoid any difficulty or confusion which might arise owiiig to lack of con-
centration, all further requests made to them in respect to war manu-
factures should be referred to that committee, through whom alone any
such work should be undertaken.

Railway War Manufactures Sub-Committee.

Following on this instruction, the Executive Committee arranged with
the War Office, at the end of October, 1914, that a Railway War Manu-
factures Sub-Committee should be aippointed " to consider, co-ordinate
and report on various requests made by or through the War Office to the
railway comipanies to assist in the mamifactiire of war-like stores and
equipment." This sub-committee was coristitnted, in the first instance,
of Mr. C. H. Dent, General Manager of the Great Northern Railway
(chairma^n), and Mr. (afterwards Sir) Guy Calthrpp', representing the
Railway Executive; Brigadier-General H. Guthrie Smith, C.B., and
Captain (afterwards Brigadier-General) H. O. Mance, D.S.O., repre-
senting the War Office, the Chief Mechanical Engineer's of the L. & N.W.
(Mr. C. J. Bowen Cooke), Midland (Mr., afterwards Sir Henry Fowler),
Great Northern (Mr. H. N. Gresley), Great Western (Mr. G. J.
Churchward), and the Lancashire and Yorkshire (Mr. G. Hughes),
and the Carriage and Wagon Superintendent of the Midland (Mr, D.

All applications for work to be done in railway workshops either for
the War Department or for War Department contractors were to be sub-
mitted to the sub-committee through one of the representatives thereon
of the War Office. The railway members were to say whether the work
was such as could be undertaken by the railway companies, and, in the
event of their agreeing that this wais so, they were to report to the Railway
Executive Committee accordingly, and ascertain which of the companies
could undertake the work, the extent of the assistance that could be
given by them, and the approximate dates for deliyefy. The War
Office members were to decide as to the priority of the various demands

Online LibraryEdwin A. PrattBritish railways and the great war ; organisation, efforts, difficulties and achievements → online text (page 8 of 82)