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Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd: misc_brc&wc142

The world’s purpose built first ambulance train built by the BRCWC in 1898 for use as a mobile field hospital

The world's purpose built first ambulance train was built by the BRCWC in 1898 for use as a mobile field hospital in the Boer War conflict. The train was named after Princess Christian (Queen Victoria's third daughter Helena), who through her work with the Red Cross had sponsored the train and visited the BRCWC Works at Smethwick on 22nd December 1898 to see it under construction. The seven coach train was built and then completely dismantled again, for shipping to Durban in South Africa, where it was rebuilt. This ambulance train had the honour to be the first train into the relieved town of Ladysmith. Red Cross records identified that a total of 7,548 badly injured soldiers were transported on the train during the conflict. The carriages were of wooden construction with a clerestory roof and later in the war the train was deliberately torched by the Boers, who believed it was being used for carrying arms and ammunition. At the start of the First World War, the BRCWC were commissioned to build another ambulance train for service on the Western Front. The BRCWC built an eight coach set, but this was subsequently extended to twelve coaches. The photograph shows part of this train outside the BRCWC works before it was shipped to France in April 1915. The train was officially called ‘Ambulance Train No 15’ (AT15), but like the predecessor was also known as the Princess Christian Ambulance Train. Each coach was 55 foot long (58 foot, 6 inches over buffers), 8 foot, 9 inches wide and weighed 29 tons. The coaches were painted French grey with mouldings picked out in brown and vermilion lines. A Red Cross on a white background was painted on each side.

Robert Ferris