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Railway Vehicle Preservations


Ambulance Coach 2704

In 1936 there emerged from the York works of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) a Gangwayed Brake van adapted to carry Pigeon baskets (BGP). Numbered 4149 and built to diagram number 198 on works order number 656 it was allocated to the Great Northern section of the LNER. It was a little unusual in that it was clad in steel plates and painted rather than the more normal varnished wood finish.

Following the declaration of war against Germany in 1939 and after just three years of normal service vehicle 4149 was selected for conversion for use in a Casualty Evacuation Train. Its use can be imagined with troop evacuations from mainland Europe notably Norway and France, many with wounds and sickness.

With the arrival of American troops and the planned invasion of mainland Europe vehicle 4149 was again selected for use by the Allied Forces command. On 7th August 1943 York works commenced converting 4149 to a Ward Car for overseas use. Allocated the number 2704 (A3) in April 1944 vehicle 4149 was placed into US Army Hospital Train number 27.

Whilst still in the UK train 27 was based in Bournemouth from 25th April 1944 to 12th August 1944 coupled to LNER B12/3 locomotive number 8509 it ran 7 operational trips including one on 23rd July 1944 from Swindon to Kidderminster with 316 patients on board.

Train 27 was shipped to France on the 14th August 1944. It was the first Hospital Train on the continent. Initially stabled at Cherbourg it moved to Paris Gare St Lazare on the 2nd September and then to Paris Gare De Est on the 27th October.

Train 27, still with 2704 (4149) in the consist, became the first Hospital Train to enter Germany at Aachen on the 15th February 1945. In all the train had 75 operational trips during its time on the continent and carried in excess of 22,000 patients.

After the war ended Train 27 was withdrawn and the vehicles returned to the owning railway. Vehicle 2704 (4149) was renumbered by the LNER to 70361 and returned to general traffic in its former guise, a BGP.

Following withdrawal from British Railways (BR) service it was sold to the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway Company in 1970. Re numbered to LHR71 it spent the most of the next 38 years parked in Haverthwaite yard becoming a staff accommodation vehicle.

During 2009 the vehicle, by now shorn of any identification, was offered for disposal. The Severn Valley Railway Company purchased it with the intent on breaking it down for spare parts for the LNER Teak rake and current restoration projects.

In the years leading up to 2009 it was thought within RVP that vehicle 70442 in the collection was the sole surviving steel clad BGP. It too had been taken on with the intent of stripping for spare parts, but this was stopped when it was thought to be the only surviving steel clad BGP. It was in poor condition and attempts to keep the weather out were not successful. It had been agreed by the Trustees that the re-cladding of 70442 be undertaken and a quotation from J. Robinson sought to speed the process of restoration and weather proofing.

The news that a second, older, identical BGP with an interesting history existed started a sequence of events that is still ongoing. An approach to the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway confirmed the sale of 4149 to the Severn Valley Railway for breaking. An approach to the LNER coach group at Bewdley and the Severn Valley Railway was made suggesting that as 4149 was generally in a better condition than 70442 would it be possible to exchange vehicles. The reply was positive and with RVP, GCR, LHR and SVR approval vehicle 4149 was moved from Haverthwaite to Quorn. Joint SVR and RVP meetings resulted in agreement for the exchange and the formal document was signed on the 1st May 2010. 70442 left the GCR for the Severn Valley Railway in 2011 and its place in the stock book was taken by 4149, or 2704 as it is now known as.

At a trustee meeting held in February 2010 it was agreed that in view of its military history 4149 will be restored to its 1943 Hospital Train livery and a cosmetic restoration has been ongoing to this effect.

During this restoration the exterior cladding has been replaced along with numerous sections of the wooden roof and canvas that covers the roof. Internally, some of the flooring and sides have had to be replaced with new timbers. The exterior has recently (October 2018) been repainted in its wartime livery of drab olive green, with historically correct sign-writing and symbols applied.

While sections of the internal roof were removed for renovation a large quantity of American gum wrappers were found to be stuffed into the roof space, presumably by the American soldiers that were being looked after during one of the carriage's operations.

WIth thanks to Adrian and Neil Turley from the Severn Valley Railway for detailed information of the vehicle's wartime activities.