It was sometime at the beginning of the second world war, I can’t remember the actual year. But I do remember the excitement caused by the news that a hospital train would be passing through our mining village on it journey from Wolverhampton to Dudley and beyond.
Coventry, not many miles away, had already been devastated by enemy bombing, and the mood of community togetherness had an intensity that is not easily comprehended in a time of relative peace.
As the time for the train’s arrival approached crowds gathered. They lined the footbridge linking the platforms. They leaned over the wall of the small road bridge. Others pressed against the pailings bordering the station garden and platform. Every vantage point was taken.
Two hoots announced that the train was here and the steam engine, pulling four or five coaches, appeared under the road bridge and, belching smoke, chugged proudly on. The corridor of the train was lined by soldiers, all dressed in their hospital blue uniforms – a loose-fitting royal blue suit-type outfit with red tie and white shirt. Those who could waved enthusiastically – some were in slings or on crutches and found waving difficult. They were all young men.
The crowd of spectators and well-wishers cheered and cheered and waved Union Jacks.
And then, in less than a minute, it was all over. Or was it?
For me that experience was so potent, so deeply etched, that it remains with me to this day.
See also A school trip to Arnhem, Walking the plank