The first troop trains were those that carried soldiers to the Northwest Rebellion in 1885. Soldiers were transported east in the First and Second World Wars to be shipped overseas. Enormous amounts of supplies also had to be transported because food and ammunition from Canada was sent not only for its own troops, but for those from other countries.
With so many men enlisting, trainmen became scarce during the First World War. Many train employees served in the Canadian Railway unit. As the injured began to return home, special hospital trains were designed and constructed. Each car contained a kitchen, toilet facilities, heaters, electric fans and hospital beds.
Soldiers lifting steel from a Canadian National Railway line in Yellowhead, British Columbia, during the First World War. The rails were later laid in France to transport supplies
The people of Edmonton gather in front of the Canadian Pacific station to welcome home First World War soldiers of the 49th Battalion
The Canadian railway troops were "... building railways at a rate which made the European engineers gasp with astonishment. A network of tracks was being laid, leading up almost to the battlefront, as everything depended on keeping up supplies of food and ammunition for the millions of troops lining the western front.... And the call came to Canada. This country responded by rushing all that could be obtained; even by tearing up tracks and thereby limiting her own lines of transportation."
Canada's National Railways: Their Part in the War, by Osborne Scott. Toronto: Canadian National Railways, 1921, p. 76, 77
The job of bringing back all the troops to Canada at the end of the war was a huge one. In a tremendous effort, the task took ten months instead of the estimated two years.
Returning troops were given the best of care, good food and comfortable accommodation on the trains. Occasionally, American soldiers were carried on the Canadian trains. In one case, 500 troops were put aboard one of the Canadian military trains. "Until ... this point, they had been depending for food on box lunches, or such food as could be handed to them from the Red Cross along the route. They were simply astounded at the Canadian way of looking after the soldiers. When they left the table cars, after a bountiful meal amid refined surroundings, one big sergeant declared: 'Boys, we joined the wrong army!'"
Canada's National Railways: Their Part in the War, by Osborne Scott. Toronto: Canadian National Railways, 1921, p. 99
To provide such service, the number of staff needed to move around 8 200 troops was: 19 dining car stewards, 19 chefs, 57 cooks, 91 waiters, 4 pantrymen, 4 sleeping car conductors and 159 porters, a total of 353 people.
Canada's National Railways: Their Part in the War by Osborne Scott. Toronto: Canadian National Railways, 1921, p. 113
I Was There
"The most demanding part of my work in wartime was keeping vital materials moving to the new bases under construction .... There were never sufficient engines available ... so I had to be constantly compromising, juggling schedules and rearranging priorities ... troop movements would have to take priority, so whatever plans had been thrashed out to that point would have to be tossed in the garbage."
I've been Working on the Railroad: Memoirs of a Railwayman, 1911-1962, by W. J. Chafe. St. John's: Henry Cuff Pub., 1987, p. 82-83
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