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Gems of the Archive: The surprising link between the Mills Archive and WWI trains

Hello everyone! As Lucy mentioned last week I’m Chris and I am the new intern, I’m a Second Year History student from the University of Reading and thanks to the Reading Internship Scheme I will be working at the Archive for the next three months. I’ve been busy uncovering the fascinating story about two of the artefacts held at the Mills Archive, which were donated just last week!

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My previous experience within archives has given me a real passion for improving the visibility of archives, by using collections to tell stories and get new people engaged in the fantastic collections they hold. As such I jumped at the opportunity to get stuck into the gem project and build on the fantastic work by last year’s intern Lydia.

I have reached the end of my second week now. I began with a little trepidation knowing next to nothing about milling but I have already learned so much. To give you a taste of what I have been working on, I thought I’d give you a sneak peek into a brand new gem in our collection.

Last Friday we received not one but two kind donations from Stephen Cannons, from the collection of his father, John Cannons, a lifelong railway enthusiast. As you can imagine everyone was very excited – but what are they, I hear you ask? They are two intriguing plaques from the inside of a railway carriage. My curiosity peaked, for the last week I have been following their tracks (pun entirely intended). It turns out they come from a First World War Ambulance Train. These trains played a crucial role in the transportation of the wounded during the war. Two of the earliest Ambulance Trains (No. 16 and No.17) were actually donated by the United Kingdom Flour Millers.  By the end of the war close to 2.7 million wounded had travelled on an ambulance train, saving thousands of lives.

Tantalisingly whilst researching these trains Mildred has also unearthed another link. But that’s a story for another time.