Articles of Interest
This article celebrates the ninetieth anniversary of the end of the Great War by recounting the history of the Abbey as a Hospital. The welfare of wounded soldiers is often neglected by historians (and sometimes politicians), so the article tries to at least partially redress the balance.
Wykeham Abbey was a Red Cross Military Hospital from October 1914 to April 1919 and during these 4 ½ years 1,520 NCOs and men passed through its doors. The first nine soldiers arrived on 28 October 1914 and included three men from the Middlesex Regiment and two from the Royal Irish. From this date soldiers arrived on almost a weekly basis for the next four years; the “Visitors Book” records them all. They came from all over the British Isles, many from Ireland and some from further afield such as Canada and South Africa.
The Hospital was solely for “other ranks”; the exclusion of officers doubtless made for a slightly more relaxing convalescence for the recovering men. There is the possibility a few civilians were also accepted, as in the “Visitors Book” there is a photograph of Reverend H Simpson who was saved from the Lusitania when the ship was torpedoed in May 1915. It is not entirely clear if he was resident or was perhaps giving a lecture on his eventful trip from New York.
The photographs and drawings accompanying this article show soldiers recovering from some awful wounds, but being determined to show a “brave face” whenever the camera was pointed in their direction. The sheer number of patriotic drawings must indicate that morale was maintained at a reasonably high level, but who knows what their real feelings were? I wonder if a cartoon showing a recovering soldier, with the inevitably pretty nurse, which says “I’ve done my bit for a bit and this bit’s a bit better” sums up some of their feelings?
The photographs show how the country mobilised its resources with some of the men looking barely sixteen and others in their late forties or even older. At times there seem to have been almost seventy wounded soldiers convalescing at the Abbey, so understandably the hospital pretty well took over the whole house, the Brown Drawing Room being renamed “Number 1 Ward” for the duration!
Wykeham was also used as a rest home for nurses, Faith Dawnay was on the staff after returning (probably wounded) from serving as a nurse and ambulance driver in the French Army (where she earned the Croix de Guerre); so she probably shared some of the relief of her charges.
Lastly the photograph below, shows my Great Aunt Ruth, aged eight, taking Bandsman W.E. Harvey of the Gloucester Regiment out for a drive. One wonders what he may have made of this!
The Viscount Downe