When World War 1 broke out, having learnt from previous military campaigns how important railways were in waging warfare, the UK railways were brought under Government control being run by an executive committee instructed to by the Board of Trade to co-ordinate the requirements of the military and ordinary trains.
In some areas, especially around London, short connecting lines were built to allow the railway system to function more efficiently. Railways were crucial for conveying troops and their equipment and many camps were provided with new branch lines and sidings as were new munitions factories.
A huge part of railway works’ production was turned over to augmenting the military effort and as a large proportion of railwaymen went to France and Belgium, women were ‘allowed’ to fulfil the vacant jobs in railway works.
Their output was diverted to constructing new military trains or converting existing trains to help the war effort including many long ambulance trains. These were used to convey the thousands of wounded servicemen back to the UK and direct to towns with hospital capacity.
Specially designed wagons were built to convey army and navy equipment and fuel. The largest Works was at Wolverton which employed over 5000 people in 1914. Wolverton’s men joined up, as did tens of thousands of other railway staff and were replaced by a large contingent of women who manufactured munitions.
Ambulance and hospital trains were built there, many by public subscription and then before entering service were inspected by the public.
Each coach of the train was designated as a 'ward' and contained thirty-six beds in tiers of three. The middle bed folded back to enable sitting patients to use the lower bunk. The trains could accommodate about 400 lying and sitting patients, in addition to the medical personnel and train crew.
Railways in Kent were crucial in ferrying troops to and from France.