During the Second World War, Whitehead Railway Station was the property of the Northern Counties Committee Railway. It fulfilled several roles in wartime, among them a Military Hospital Train and a base for Armoured Rail Trollies.
In wartime, the railway station became a Headquarters of 8th Railway Construction Company, Royal Engineers. This company operated an Armoured Rail Trolley that bore markings to disguise it as a cement wagon. Propelled by a Leyland engine, the train had no windows. The driver operated a periscope to see forward and fighting slots allowed soldiers to fire from the carriages. Sliding sections in the roof also permitted troops to fire upwards in an anti-aircraft role.
The weight of weaponry, ammunition, and troops was too much for a commercial train chassis and so the military used freight wagons. An armoured box situated on the axles allowed the mounting of a Lewis Light Machine Gun. Each weapon required 1,000 rounds of .303 ammunition.
Authorities ordered a total of 9 Armoured Rail Trollies but only 6 came into use. Of these, 3 operated from Whitehead, Co. Antrim. The remaining 3 may have operated in the Portadown, Co. Armagh area. In 1944, the dismantling of all 6 units took place leaving no trace of these unusual wartime vehicles.
No. 14 Hospital Train
From October 1940, No. 14 Hospital Train was a Whitehead, Co. Antrim. Records suggest its only use was in 1941 to transport German sailors wounded in action on the Bismarck. They landed in Derry/Londonderry and the Hospital Train transported them to Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast.
A Hospital Train consisted of 10 carriages or wards, capable of holding 40 patients undergoing treatment. A separate carriage saw use as a Treatment Coach with an Operating Theatre, Pharmacy, and a Utility Room. This could also see use as an Isolation Unit or a padded cell if required. Other carriages operated as a kitchen, a dining car, and a recreation room.
The staff of British No. 4 Hospital Train numbered around 45 orderlies with 3 Medical Officers, and 3 Nursing Sisters. From 22nd November 1943 to 17th May 1944, the Hospital Train came under the command of the United States Army 44th Hospital Train. The photographs from the Imperial War Museum are from a training exercise in Whitehead, Co. Antrim in September 1941.