A Different Track
Hospital Trains of the Second World War
This fascinating book looks at the largely unknown history of hospital trains, which wound their way across the scarred landscapes of war-weary Europe, and the doctors and nurses who risked their lives treating patients from all sides of the conflict.
Railroads played an integral role in the Second World War. Trains brought food, munitions, and essential supplies. They transported troops. They were a means of escape for those fleeing persecution. At the same, they were used to transport innocent people to their deaths. Yet there was one kind of train that improved the chances of survival every time they rolled through the battle-worn towns and cities of the European theatre of war.
Hospital trains were not a new concept in the Second World War, but their use was instrumental in this most deadly conflict of the twentieth century. Regular passenger trains were converted into mobile emergency wards tending to the critically wounded. It was an elegant solution, as train cars could be refitted with tier beds, and supplies could be easily transported along with medical staff.
A Different Track introduces readers to the world of hospital trains of the Second World War. From the nurses who ran them to the factories that manufactured them, this book looks at how these trains quietly altered the fortunes of the world. From Canada’s contributions to the role of women who both healed the sick and built the trains, this is a fascinating look at one of the hidden nuggets of history.
“Fascinating and well researched. Alexandra Kitty presents history that must be preserved.”
—Patricia W. Sewell (Collier), editor of Healers in World War ll: Oral Histories of Medical Corps Personnel
“Nothing encapsulates the horror of war better than a hospital train standing in a siding near a battlefield waiting for the inevitable casualties of the conflict. A Different Track highlights this largely forgotten feature of warfare and shows how this service, often provided by women whose role, too, has been lost in the midst of time, saved the lives of thousands of wounded men.”
—Christian Wolmar, author of Engines of War and The Liberation Line
“Alexandra Kitty shows us with skill and empathy what the patients, nurses and doctors thought of the hospital trains they served on and the danger and camaraderie that they experienced as the trains wove through battlefields, under strafing by enemy planes. This is an exceptionally well-referenced book and an intriguing read.”
—Marion McKinnon Crook, award-winning author of Always Pack a Candle: A Nurse in the Cariboo-Chilcotin
“A fascinating look at hospital trains and the people, especially nurses, who made them work.”
—Terry Copp, author of Fields of Fire: The Canadians in Normandy
“A Different Track is a love letter to the hospital trains that wound their way across Europe and North America during the Second World War. Alexandra Kitty draws on newspaper reporting of the time to trace the ways the trains offered a narrative of hope, order, and safety that was sorely needed in the dark days of the conflict.”
—Amy Shaw, co-editor of Making the Best of It: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland during the Second World War
“The romance of trains collides with the bloodletting of war in a high-stakes game on rails, as told in the pages of this remarkable book. Historian Alexandra Kitty has written a scholarly yet accessible work inspired by her own grandmother’s role as a nurse on a hospital train despite personal tragedy. Millions of soldiers and civilians were saved on these locomotives, despite severely limited resources—thanks to the shockingly downand- dirty methods medical professionals had to resort to in the face of the terrors of world-wide conflict. Absorbing reading, a riveting and well-documented triumph.”
—Jacqueline L. Carmichael, author of Heard Amid the Guns: True Stories from the Western Front, 1914–1918