100 Days Centenary Countdown: Case study- Hospitals
At the outbreak of the First World War Britain was unprepared for the large numbers of casualties that would soon arise.
Military hospitals had been prepared to accept an expected 50,000 wounded when war broke out. However, by the end of 1914 73,000 wounded soldiers had been brought back from the front for treatment in the UK. The War Department desperately needed to find more hospital beds for the large numbers of wounded soldiers.
Soldiers recuperating in hospitals throughout the UK wore a distinctive uniform known as a ‘Hospital Blue’ uniform. This was so that they could be easily identified if they decided to go AWOL. The images below show this distinctive uniform.
By the end of the war the number of beds had increased to 364,133. This was a huge increase and it wouldn’t have been possible without a combined effort by the War Office and various civilian organisations; such as the Red Cross and Order of St. John.
By the end of the war an effective treatment network had been established to treat the wounded and many lives were saved by the hospitals of the Home Front.
The army already had a network on Military Hospitals, many of which had been established during the second Boer War. These hospitals had been well equipped and more than capable to treat the wounded of a small but professional army fighting a colonial war. However, military hospitals were quickly inundated when the war with the central powers reached stalemate in late 1914.
The introduction of industrialised warfare created such large numbers of causalities that the War Department had to act fast to find additional space for the wounded. Throughout the war the vast majority of the casualties were caused by artillery (not machine guns as is commonly believed), which wreaked havoc especially in the wide open countryside of Belgium and France. This quickly led to the adoption of trenches as a form of protection from the incessant shrapnel and shell splinters.
War Hospitals & Territorial Force ‘General Hospitals’
As early as 1908, through Haldane’s Territorial Force reforms, shadow hospitals were established to support the Territorial Force’s own General Hospitals. These shadow hospitals were to provide additional space in the event of war, such as Birmingham University.
In 1915 War Hospitals were established to stem the flow of casualties and introduce an effective casualty treatment network. War Hospitals were often civilian hospitals, asylums and large buildings requisitioned by the War Office. These were converted into basic hospitals where the wounded could be housed, stabilised and treated.
However, these additional hospitals struggled to stem the flow of wounded coming from the Western front.
Notable War Hospitals & General Hospitals-
Joyce Green Hospital
Wharncliffe War Hospital
Auxiliary Hospitals and the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD)
Auxiliary hospitals were established to support the Military and War hospitals and help treat the additional wounded. Many auxiliary hospitals were established in stately homes, large town houses, town halls and schools. These hospitals were often coordinated by the Red Cross.
These hospitals were staffed by nurses of the Voluntary Aid Detachment and often supported by civilian volunteers. The Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) was established as early as 1909 by the Red Cross and Order of St. John. The organisation provided trained nurses and other medical staff to work within the new hospitals established during the First World War.
3,000 auxiliary hospitals were established throughout the country. A list of these hospitals can be found HERE
Notable Auxiliary Hospitals-
Dunham Massey, Wrest Park
Holmfirth Auxiliary Hospital
Cramond House Auxiliary Hospital.
Notable VAD hospitals-
Cornwall Hall VAD hospital
Suffolk Hall VAD
Stoneleigh VAD Hospital
Convalescent Homes and Camps
Convalescent homes and camps were established to further treat recuperating soldiers who were on the road to recovery. This helped to free up beds in the hospitals and ensured that the wounded were fully recovered before being returned to their units or invalided out of the armed forces.
War Hospital Supply Depots
Civilians established war hospital supply depots to provide and store much needed material and supplies for nearby hospitals. These organisations sourced fabric to produce bandages, sometimes made from sphagnum moss which is a natural antiseptic.
Notable War Hospital Supply Depots-
Godolphin and Latymer School
Over To You
There are still plenty of First World War hospitals that remain to be recorded. You can record further hospitals through your local Historic Environment Record. Contact details can be found on the Heritage Gateway website.