Steve King had stayed in Derby for much of his life. So had Olive Nanson and Mavis Burton. But war moves people, and the three volunteered to escort British soldiers from Derby to hospitals nearer the boys’ homes. For Steve, the journey satisfied a desire to help and a search for new perspectives.
What did you do ?
“There were nine [trips in all]. I was 23 when I went to Inverness and that was my first.
All we did was report to the transport office, the patient was there, we just had to organise the patient on to the carriage. “
Any special memories?
“I don’t remember his name….I think he’d got an intestinal ulcer that had burst or something like that, he had to be sent back ‘cause he was too ill to work. That’s the only one I remember particularly because I was with him for such a long time.
You had a space in the old trains. These were compartmental ones, and you had that to yourself.
About eight o’clock at night, I went to Inverness changing at Crewe like everybody did in those days, changed at Crewe to go to Scotland.
I woke up, it was early hours of the morning and there was a moon and there was a lot of snow up on the Scottish mountains. And I’d never seen snow like that. I saw these long-horned brown cattle and I’d never seen cows like that in my life.
My overbearing remembrance of that journey was looking through the train window and seeing this remarkable scenery outside. To go 400 or 500 miles like that, and to go that high, I’d never been that high in my life….
The train was chugging away, in some places they had to put two engines on to get us up the slopes. That’s probably old hat to people who travel, but I was 23 and very unworldly I’m afraid”
What did your friends in St. John do on their escort trips?
“As we reached Wales, my patient got quite excited and kept hopping out into the corridor, leaning out of the window and taking deep breaths of his native air….I handed him over to the inevitable Red Cross escort and thought how nice if I had been able to give him back to his Mum but perhaps it was all for the best because I should, in all probability, have bawled in sympathy if she had broken down.”
Listen to Mavis Burton’s story
How did you feel about it all?
“You just had to make the best of it. And we didn’t know any better….This was before National Health came. Thoroughly enjoyed it. We went down to Eastbourne and got lost…. The patient was fine. It was a man, he was quite enjoying himself. We’d got no urinals on the vehicle but we had got milk bottles…It was alright. It was wartime and it was sad, but also it was fun as well.”
Listen to Steve King’s story
Wounded Servicemen could be sent to hospitals near to their homes, or they could be sent to Joint War Organisation auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes. Find out more about the alternative therapy they might have received there.
The Joint War Organisation offered an escort, or ‘guide’ service; people who helped wounded servicemen travel to hospitals nearer their homes. This often meant long train journeys at a time when, because of disruption from the War, such travel would have been exhausting without help. The Joint War Organisation also transported injured servicemen in its own ambulances, 681,351 from 1939-1944, with the ambulances covering six million miles Find out more about Joint War Organisation transport.
The Joint War Organisation also had Liaison officers, who, amongst other things, ran a ‘Guide Scheme’. They would meet wounded servicemen from trains and help them to their destination, which could be a convalescent home. Find out more about the work of Liaison officers. Find out more about welfare work.