Military Hospitals 1914

 WWI: Yateley at War.

The Home Front – Auxiliary Hospitals


Following the Boer War the War Office was concerned that the medical and nursing services would not be able to cope in the event of another war.   The peacetime needs of a standing army, in relation to medical care, were very small and specific.   The problem would be how to supply thousands of trained and experienced personnel, at short notice, without having the expense of maintaining them in peacetime.   The Secretary of State for War, Rt. Hon. R. B. Haldane, introduced a new Territorial scheme in 1907, which solved part of the problem.   This also opened up new possibilities for co-operation between voluntary agencies and the Army.

On the 16th August 1909 the War Office issued its ‘Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid in England and Wales’, under which the British Red Cross was given the role of filling certain gaps in the Territorial Forces Medical Service.   The CountyBranches of the British Red Cross were asked to organise both male and female Voluntary Aid Detachments to provide trained personnel who were prepared to help in case of war.

Locally, the British Red Cross called a meeting in 1909, at Glaston Hill House, Eversley, the home of Mr Robert Jubb and, more particularly, his daughter, Miss Harriet Jubb, who was then 42 and Secretary of the Hartley Wintney District Division of the British Red Cross.   It was agreed to set up a women’s Voluntary Aid Detachment for the villages of Yateley and Eversley, which became known as Hants 94.   The original members of Hants 94 are not all known, but a typical female detachment consisted of:

  • a Commandant, who was in charge of the organisation;
  • a Quartermaster, who was responsible for the receipt, custody and issue of stores and provisions;
  • a Matron or Medical Officer, who directed the work of the nursing staff;
  • two Sisters, who were qualified nurses, aged 21 to 48, eligible for £20 to £30 per year; and,
  • about twenty other volunteers, aged 19 to 50, who would be trained in home nursing and first aid.

One of the hardest jobs was that of the Quartermaster, who needed to collect pledges from everybody able to offer goods or services, in time of war.   Miss Beatrice Stilwell accepted the office in 1909 and had to maintain a rolling register of promises for everything required to set up and run a hospital.   These ranged from buildings, beds and bedding, chair and tables, cutlery and crockery, preserved and fresh foods and everything else required for a household of some 30 people with the comforts necessary for weary, wounded men.   She also had to do all this in preparation for an event that nobody thought, in their hearts, would ever happen.

Nationally, within twelve months of the scheme’s launch, there were well over 6,000 volunteers, who themselves came to be known, simply, as ‘VADs’.   Some detachments didn’t take their responsibilities too seriously, while others were intent on being well-prepared for a role that they might never be called upon to fulfil.   The detachments were intended for home service only – to staff auxiliary hospitals and rest stations.   None of the volunteers received any payment or salary for these duties, so all the women would have been in a position, at least initially, to give their services free.   Most were from the “moneyed classes”.

Detachments had to meet at least once a month, with many meeting more frequently, and the women had to work towards gaining certificates in Home Nursing and First Aid within twelve months of joining.   They learned to bandage, to do simple dressings, and the basics of invalid cookery and hygiene.   In some areas it was arranged for them to go into local hospitals for a few hours each week to gain an insight into ward work, and due to the low number of men being recruited in certain places, women could also gain experience in outdoor activities, stretcher duties, the transport of sick and wounded and improvisation with whatever came to hand.   The VADs of Hants 94, also, attended an annual camp held to coincide with the Aldershot Army Manoeuvres.

By early 1914, 1,757 female and 519 male Voluntary Aid Detachments had been registered with the War Office, involving some 45,000 women and 12,500 men.   The male Voluntary Aid Detachments were to be, almost entirely, in charge of transporting sick and wounded soldiers from ambulance trains or ships to local hospitals and ferrying patients between hospitals.   In the event, male volunteers were frequently sent to France to work as ambulance drivers, often coming under fire as they transported the wounded away from the front.   Comparatively few female volunteers went abroad.   By the end of the war, between 70,000 and 100,000 women had served as VADs.   Some only served for a very short period, but many had been involved for more than five years, if not from 1909.

August 1914

At the outbreak of war, the British Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem combined to form the Joint War Committee (JWC) to administer their wartime relief work, with the greatest possible efficiency and economy, under the protection of the Red Cross emblem and name.   It was run from Devonshire House in Piccadilly, loaned for the duration of the war by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.   Many of the senior administrators were educated women who had been involved in the movement since its beginning and had a proven record of good organisational skills.

The Red Cross was able, rapidly, to set up a number of temporary hospitals, because the organisation had already earmarked buildings, equipment and staff.   Red Cross and AuxiliaryHospitals, accommodating anything from ten patients to more than a hundred, sprung up across the country, as soon as wounded men began to arrive from abroad.   The proportion of qualified nurses in the units was small so much of the basic work was the responsibility of VADs.   They cleaned, scrubbed and dusted, set trays, cooked breakfasts, lit fires and boiled up coppers full of washing.   They, also, helped to dress, undress and wash the men, which was a big step for young women who may never have been alone and unchaperoned with a member of the opposite sex, other than their brothers.

The buildings that were offered varied widely, ranging from town & church halls to schools to large & small private houses, both in the country and in cities.   The most suitable ones were established as auxiliary hospitals attached to central military hospitals and tended patients who remained under military control.   The patients at these hospitals were generally less seriously wounded than at other hospitals and needed convalescence.   The servicemen preferred the auxiliary to the main military hospitals, because they were not so strict.   Also, auxiliary hospitals were less crowded and the surroundings more homely.

In all, there were over 3,000 auxiliary hospitals administered by Red Cross county directors.   In many cases, women in the neighbourhood volunteered on a part-time basis, for instance as cooks, because they needed to fit their voluntary work around their paid labour.   Much of the food was also grown or given by volunteers.

MinleyAuxiliaryHospital The first AuxiliaryHospital to open, locally, appears to have been at Minley Lodge, Minley, which was opened on 21st September 1914.   The house no longer exists, because it was demolished in 1941 to facilitate the construction of RAFHartfordBridge, now known as BlackbusheAirport.  It was a substantial house, set on high ground on the edge of Yateley Heath, south of the A30.   It commanded a glorious view, looking south towards Fleet, down a valley planted with trees and shrubs.

Minley Lodge was part of the wider Minley Estate and had been leased, in 1904, by Sir Arthur Godley KCB.   He had been assistant private secretary to the Prime Minister, W E Gladstone.   From 1883 he was Permanent Under-Secretary of State for India and was created 1st Lord Kilbracken, when he retired, in 1909.   At the outbreak of war, Sir Godley surrendered the lease and Mrs Laurence Currie, of Minley Manor, made the whole of Minley Lodge available to the Red Cross together with a promise to fund much of the running costs.

MinleyAuxiliaryHospital was just yards over the parish boundary in Hawley, so was administered by a Hants 16, the Hartley Wintney Voluntary Aid Detachment.   However, as it was so close and Yateley residents were used to working on the Minley estate, a number of local people helped there.   Unlike most Auxiliary Hospitals, Minley had full theatre facilities.   The assigned doctors were Drs Balgarnie and Chubb who were “top” London surgeons.   They operated on patients referred by Aldershot Command from the Connaught and CambridgeMilitaryHospitals.   Some patients also underwent experimental electrical treatments to help speed their recovery.   Later in the war, MinleyAuxiliaryHospital was expanded from its original capacity of 36 beds to 72 beds.   It closed at the end of December 1918.

There is a picture of MinleyAuxiliaryHospital, which shows the nursing staff, VADs and patients standing and sitting on the slope to the south of the house.

Yateley Auxiliary Hospital 

At the outbreak of hostilities, the Vicar of Yateley, the Rev John Beardall, immediately offered the Vicarage for war use.   He and his family were able to move into Simla, now known as Gayton House, a smaller property closer to the Church.   The Vicarage was, unsurprisingly, on Vicarage Road and is now known as Glebe House.   It became an AuxiliaryHospital and opened on 5th October 1914.   Although there were later 30 beds, it started with the capacity to take 20 patients, which was small.   However, it was supplemented by a subsidiary ward of a further 10 beds at Fir Grove House, Eversley, now known as Firgrove Manor.   There was, also, an assigned doctor, another surgeon called Dr Petrie, who lived close-by at Barclay House.   When he died, in 1917, he was followed by Dr Clayton-Cox.   As with Minley, all the patients came under the Aldershot Command.

There is a postcard of the VADs of Yateley Auxiliary Hospital, which is helpfully annotated with the names of those pictured.   This shows that the Commandant was Miss Jubb; the Quartermaster was B E Stilwell; the two qualified nurses were Sister Findlay and Sister K Murray; and the other VADs were V Campbell, H M Davenport, A R Gibson, Mrs Macrae, H Le Mesurier, M S Mills, Mrs Norris, M M Smurthwaite, A Stilwell, E M Stilwell and I V Sullivan.   It is likely that there were a number of other Hants 94 VADs who were working elsewhere or otherwise unavailable at the time of the photograph.   [The photographer/publisher, E C Webley, produced several pictures in a few series.]

The three Stilwells were members of a large family that had moved from Dorking to Yateley, in 1863, when the wife of John Packenham Stilwell inherited Hilfield from her father, William Stevens.   J P Stilwell owned the London bank of Stilwell and Sons, which was later absorbed into the National Westminster conglomerate.   He served as a Justice of the Peace and Colonel of the Hampshires, a Territorial regiment.   His three sons, also, served as officers in the 4th Battalion of the Hants Regiment and his four daughters, Norah, Alice, Ethel and Beatrice, served on the “home front”.

Later in the war, there was a change of Vicar and the Vicarage was required again.   So, from 25th January 1917, the YateleyAuxiliaryHospital moved into Yateley Lodge, at the bottom of Cricket Hill, where it stayed for almost a year, before closing in December 1917.

Fir Grove Ward 

Miss Anne Tindal, who had inherited the tenancy of Fir Grove, Eversley, on the death of her father, Charles Tindal, earlier in 1914, was quick to offer the use of the property for up to 10 patients.   She also offered to pay for a fully trained nurse and to staff the kitchens and laundry.   Whilst the Government, initially, seemed hesitant or perhaps overwhelmed by the number of properties offered under the Red Cross scheme, an inspection was carried out by the Surgeon-General of Aldershot in September.   Following works required to bring it up to standard, Fir Grove was opened as a subsidiary Ward of Yateley Auxiliary Hospital early in October 1914.

The Tindals had owned Fir Grove, now known as Firgrove Manor, since about 1867.   The family had business interests in Australia, where Charles Tindal had established a number of cattle stations, set up a meat cannery and ran a very successful horse racing stables and stud.   His two sons and five daughters were born variously in Australia, Canada or England, whilst the family “commuted” back and forth.   [ Many of his grandsons volunteered in Australia or England and fought in WWI.   Three were killed and are commemorated at St Mary’s, Eversley.   Other family members worked in munitions, hospitals or on the land to release men, who could join up. ]   Miss Anne Tindal’s sister, Elizabeth, had married the eldest Stilwell son, Geoffrey Holt Stilwell, so Anne Tindal was closely related to Beatrice Stilwell, the Quartermaster of the Hants 94 Voluntary Aid Detachment.

As the Rector of Eversley wrote in the Parish Magazine in September 1914 “The War Office allowance towards the expenses of the Hospital is 2/- per man per day. [Two shillings is 10p, but would be the equivalent of about £5, today.  Later in the war the allowance was raised to three shillings (15p). ]  Although the War Office has thus undertaken to meet a certain proportion of the cost of food and other supplies and the Red Cross Society is also assisting with some of the surgical requirements, still very considerable additional expense must be connected with the carrying on of the Ward from week to week.”

In her letter seeking help from villagers, Miss Tindal said that though she counts it “but a small thing to have only ten men at a time to help back to health and strength, when we think of the thousands who have laid down their lives, still it is something, and I hope that many tens may pass through our hands and live to bless the day when they had the restorative peace and quiet of an English village – a contrast to the stormy times they have been through, the pain of sleeplessness and hunger, the hardships of heat and cold.”

In 1915, the Fir Grove Ward was increased to 21 beds.   Then, in 1917, the building was extended to incorporate facilities for a further 20 beds and it became an Auxiliary Hospital in its own right, probably at the same time that Yateley Auxiliary Hospital moved to Yateley Lodge.   The FirGroveAuxiliaryHospital was the last of the three to close, on 31st January 1919.

Medical Facilities      

Yateley had had a Cottage Hospital, on Cricket Hill Lane, since 1899, although at the start of the war it only had six beds in three rooms.   Eversley had a 12-bed private sanatorium at Moorcote, Lower Common, where Dr Garson and Dr Mander-Smith had been trialling new open air treatments to cure pulmonary tuberculosis (consumption).   Since both Minley and YateleyAuxiliaryHospitals had assigned doctors, there was little impact on health provision for the wider community.   In many other areas medical attendance was provided locally and voluntarily, despite the extra strain that the medical profession was already under at that time.   However, there were a number of retired military doctors, surgeons, general practitioners and nurses living in Yateley and Eversley,who may have volunteered their services.   It was not until 1917, that the War Office decided that some payment should be given to volunteer medical staff for their efforts.

WarHospital Supply Depots       Whilst the VAD Quartermaster might be able to source most stores, furniture, food, etc. locally, each AuxiliaryHospital also required a constant source of “uniform” nightshirts, gowns and jackets, together with other essentials, such as underwear and bandages, for all patients.   Many of these were also made by volunteers, working to standard patterns with materials that they purchased themselves.   Nationally, there were more than 2,700 Work Parties to which individuals, mostly women, contributed their time and skills.   Completed items were distributed through War Hospital Supply Depots to military hospitals at home and abroad.   Locally, there were two such Depots, which may also have been the centres for local Work Parties.  The first was at Yateley Manor, run by Lady Blanche Stewart-Wilson, and the second at Blackwater House, Blackwater, run by Mrs E. Carrington.

Sir Charles and Lady Stewart-Wilson had returned from India and leased Yateley Manor, from Richard Geaves, in March 1914.   Sir Charles was a barrister and an official in the Indian Civil Service, but retired as Director General of Posts and Telegraphs, at the age of 50, and returned to England.   By 1915, Sir Charles was an Assistant Secretary in the newly created Department of Munitions and Lady Blanche was organising supplies for local hospitals.

The only thing, so far, discovered about Mrs E Carrington was that, in 1908, the King’s Bench Division awarded her £150 as damages against Sir William A Shipley, an ex-Mayor of Windsor.   These damages were for the loss of her mare, which was run down and killed by the defendant’s motor car on Hartford Bridge Flats on November 15th 1907.  (Was this the first recorded automobile accident in the parish ?)

Other Support Facilities  

The running and support of Auxiliary Hospitals depended on a “giving community”.  At the start of the war the gifts and benefactors were acknowledged in local papers.   For instance, an article about the Fir Grove Ward, in the ‘Hants and Berks Gazette’ of 7th November 1914, reported “The War Office grant does not nearly meet the expenses, and Miss Tindal has received numerous gifts from the following :-  Mr and Mrs Mosley, Miss Locke, Lady Glass, Miss Stapleton, Mrs Delme-Radcliffe, Mrs Manders, Mrs William Stilwell, Mrs Holt Stilwell, Mrs Verini, Mrs Stephens (Bramshill), Mrs Vass, Mrs Boyd and Mrs F Yeomans.”   Another article in the same paper a month later simply said “The list of donors is too long for insertion.”… An editorial in an issue of the Parish Magazine notes that “Mr Hills, Yateley’s butcher, is being most generous.”   A Mrs Lacy, who had been receiving materials and distributing it to be worked for the Red Cross passed on the organisation’s thanks to the numerous helpers in the message: “Miss Marx, the Acting Commandant of the local Red Cross Detachment, wishes to thank all workers who have kindly helped to equip the Yateley Red Cross Hospital with needlework, knitting and gifts of various kinds.   Continued efforts will be much appreciated.”

Similar Hospitals   

Across the nation, more than 5,000 properties were offered to the Red Cross, and over 3,000 of those offers were taken up.   In the vicinity, there were similar facilities at Finchampstead, Crowthorne, Farnborough, Fleet, Odiham and Hook.

About this hand-out      

This document can only be described as “thought to be accurate at the time of going to press”.   Almost every day, new documents are being found or being made public for the first time.   Records that have been closed for a hundred years reveal new information or demand a new interpretation of “facts” that had been accepted until challenged.   The writer, Philip Todd, and primary researcher, Peter Tipton, would welcome any new information that adds to or modifies Yateley Society’s current understanding of this complex topic.        1st July 2014.