A First World War V.A.D. Mascot : A Very Adaptable Dame. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

A First World War V.A.D. Mascot : A Very Adaptable Dame.
Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

Temporary Home Auxiliary Hospitals were set up when the First World War began, in readiness for wounded men arriving from “the Front”.  The buildings were offered free of charge and included such places as schools; town halls; village halls; hotels; convalescence homes; all manner of private residences; and wards set aside in civilian hospitals.

Some financial subsistence filtered down to each establishment e.g. in early 1916, for the Essex Convalescent Home in Clacton-on-Sea, “The Red Cross Society were paying 3s. per night per head; this paid the cost of provisions, but did not, of course, pay for salaries and upkeep of buildings and garden”.  However, that said, many owners of the properties actually funded their hospital 100% e.g. Ipswich’s ‘Broadwater Auxiliary Hospital’ was one such example of this generosity.

Auxiliary hospitals were affiliated to Central Military Hospitals – in the case of the hospitals researched here, it is the General Military Hospital in Colchester.

At the beginning of the War, the British Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem joined forces to form the ‘Joint War Committee’ – under the control of the War Office and Admiralty.

The following letter was received by The Royal Victoria Hospital in Sunderland, from the War Office. No doubt, all hospitals around the British Isles received such letters:

“Madam,  I shall be gratefully obliged if in the event of your having a surplus of nurses belonging to your present nursing staff who would be available for service, you would kindly inform me of the fact, as I am desirous of knowing where I can procure reliable nurses at short notice.  This supply would be additional to the nurses already guaranteed by your hospital to the War Office, and should not include any army nurses who are not actually with you at present, as I am already in correspondence with many who were formerly in your training school.  E.H. Betcher, Matron-in-Chief QAIMNS [Queen Alexandria’s Imperial Medical Nursing Service]”  Extract taken from ‘Sunderland in the Great War’ By Clive Dunn, Gillian Dunn (page 18).

Where civilian/general hospitals set aside wards for wounded soldiers (e.g. the Essex County Hospital in Colchester), soldiers would be cared for by ‘Civilian Hospital Certificated Trained Nurses’.   In 1914, there were no official standards for nurse training in Great Britain – but the majority of women spent two or three years training in a general hospital.

Friday, 14 August 1914, Essex County Chronicle [sic]:

THE CRY FOR HELP.  The County Organising.   Numerous Patriotic Offers.  Care of the Wounded. “A Willing Helper Does Not Wait To Be Called.”

Essex is always to the fore to answer the cry for help, and she is at one with the nation in the intention to do everything that is necessary for the suffering and distress which the war must unfortunately incur. … … …


The voluntary Aid (Red Cross) Detachments in Essex have responded nobly to the call of their country, and the Essex Branch of the British Red Cross Society now consists of 73 Voluntary Aid Detachments with a personnel of about 2,000 of whom some three-fourths are women.   Three of the detachments are formed from the St. John Ambulance Brigade.  For organising purposes the county is divided into divisions corresponding generally with the police divisions of the county.  The Countess of Warwick is president of the branch, and Col. R. B. Colvin, C.B., is the county director.  Each division is controlled by a vice-president and assistant managing director.  The offices of the Branch are now at 74 Duke Street, Chelmsford, with Col. G. H. Coleman, V.D., as hon. Secretary, it being felt that Chelmsford is a more convenient centre than Colchester.

The Voluntary Aid Detachments are officially inspected annually by an officer from the R.A.M.C., who reports to the War Office.  Most of the inspections for this year have taken place, and the reports in all cases have been very good, testifying to the zeal and energy which have been so conspicuous in all ranks of the organisation.

Since the commencement of the war many generous offers of private houses, institutions, and other buildings for use either as hospitals or convalescent homes have been made, and in many instances steps have been take to equip some of these buildings at short notice.  Among the private houses that have been offered are the following:-

Easton Lodge, Dunmow (Earl and Countess of Warwick).

Terling (Lord and Lady Rayleigh)

Hylands (Sir Daniel and Lady Gooch)

Thorpe Hall

Birch Hall, Theydon Bois, accommodation unlimited.

Sewardstone Lodge, Waltham Abbey.

In and near Huskards, Ingatestone (Major and Mrs. Hilder), 55 beds.

The following have also been placed at the disposal of the branch:-

Severalls Asylum, Colchester, accommodation from 270.

Middlesex Hospital, Clacton, 90.

Messrs. Cooper, Tabor, and Co., a large building at Witham, with three floors, to hold 200 beds.

The hall of the Essex and Suffolk Fire Office at Colchester.

Riggs’ Retreat, Theydon.

West Ham Hospital, 50 beds.

Great Bardfield Council School, 40 to 50.

Isolation Hospital, Grays, 40 to 50.

Southend St. Saviour’s Popular Retreat, hospital or convalescent, about 50.

Great Bentley Council School, 50.

Copford Church and Schoolrooms, 50.

It is safe to say that already accommodation can be found for 2,000 patients in the county, and offers continue to come in.  The Council Schools will not be used except where absolutely necessary, with a view to continuing unrestricted the education of the children.

As already mentioned, the G.E.R. Hotel at Harwich has been requisitioned as a hospital, and the Essex No, 33 Detachment (men), under Mr. Etherden, late of the Essex Yeomanry, and the Essex 84 (women), under Mrs. Brooks, are now employed, 120 beds having been prepared.

At Wivenhoe a 12-bedded rest-station has been prepared, and the local detachment, under Miss Dewhurst, has been mobilised.

During the concentration of the East Anglian Division a  temporary hospital, containing 20 beds, has been formed at Brentwood Grammar School, with the local detachment, under Mrs. Ravenhill, in charge, and several cases, some of a serious nature, have been treated.

A depot will shortly be formed at Chelmsford, where voluntary contributions, in the shape of stores and clothes will be collected.  Contributions should be addressed to the Secretary, Essex Branch, B.R.C.S., 74 Duke Street, Chelmsford.”

Home/Auxiliary Hospitals usually had the following staff:  

Commandant: A Commandant was in charge of everything apart from the medical and nursing services.

Quartermaster: A Quartermaster was responsible for the provision store (receiving; storing; and distribution of all items)

Matron: A Matron supervised all members of the nursing staff.

Trained Nurses:  Many trained nurses (some with the full three years’ training which met War Office standards), chose to work for the British Red Cross Society or the Order of St. John/St. John’s Cross.  Nurses under St. John’s Cross were recognised by “JC” against their name on a British Red Cross card.

Members of local voluntary aid detachments: Detachments were already in existence before the war, having been set up in 1909 to provide voluntary nursing services “in the field”.  The members were two thirds women, who had to study for certificates in Home Nursing and First Aid during their first year as a pre-war V.A.D. member.    A VAD member became affectionately known as a “VAD” – they had to be between 21 & 48 yrs of age for Home Service.

Many local women volunteered either on full or part-time basis.  There were, of course, non-nursing roles to fill too e.g. cooks; ward maids; cleaners; etc.  The majority of volunteers gave their services free but, occasionally, a fee was given.  Medical service at a hospital was provided by local doctors who generously gave their time.

The patients who were admitted to these hospitals were, on the whole, either not badly wounded or came from the military hospital for convalescence. The www.redcross.org.uk  states “servicemen preferred the auxiliary hospitals to military hospitals because they were not so strict”.   The homely environment at the Auxiliary Hospitals would be a welcome contrast to the regimental regime of a military hospital.

Caring for soldiers did not cease when the Armistice was declared on 11 November 1918.  The First World War did not officially end until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919. Thus, some volunteer cards show the person “still working” into 1919.

Wherever possible (where an identification is 100% positive) a short profile will be written on the person – in the hope of giving an insight into the people who were caring and the people who were being cared for – these will be continually added.

N.B. Many women came via the British Red Cross Lexden & Winstree Division – Miss Sibyl Mary Round was Vice-President and Commandant.  The British Red Cross has the name “Raund” in their documentation – it appears spelled this way on many BRC volunteer cards but, in the interest of accuracy, the name “Round” will/should replace it on this site.

Working parties and work depots:

When the First War One began, the Red Cross set up local working parties all around Great Britain. Local women became members.  The Working Parties organised supplies of hospital clothing, which included blankets; belts; socks; shirts; etc for the soldiers.  Additionally, the women made essential hospital equipment such as clothing; bandages, splints and swabs.

Work depots were established in major towns/cities to gather up and dispatch clothing etc from the working parties.  All the articles were sent to Red Cross headquarters or direct to soldiers in the auxiliary hospitals – both at home and abroad.  One such Depot was at St. Martin’s House in West Stockwell Street, Colchester – it was also a Home Dressing Station.



Silver “Hospital Blues” spoon. Courtesy/© Heather Anne Johnson.

Silver “Hospital Blues” spoon. Courtesy/© Heather Anne Johnson.

This is a scarce World War One fundraising spoon: its handle’s enamelled top depicts a wounded and/or sick First World War soldier in his “Hospital Blues” uniform – he is holding a stick and wearing a Silver War Badge.  The Silver War Badge was issued to service men (in Great Britain and the British Empire) who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness from military service in the World War One.

The reverse of the spoon is impressed with silver hallmarks for Sheffield and 1917; maker’s details “CB&S” (Cooper Brothers & Sons, Sheffield); and “Rd 651069” (Registered design number, which has the patent date of 1915.  The length of spoon is 127mm.

Images of another identical spoon have been seen but this bears Birmingham hallmarks for 1915-16 (date letter q), with the mark for Liberty & Company (L&Co).  Liberty & Co. was founded by Arthur Lasemby Liberty in 1875.  In 1894 the firm became Liberty & Co Ltd.  It was Arthur L. Liberty who, in 1875, founded the retail shop ‘Liberty & Co’ in Regent Street, London.

It has been found reported that the spoons were made to raise funds for the ‘Injured Veterans Fund’ or ‘National Veterans’ Fund’ – this may have been The Prince of Wales National Relief Fund – which was inaugurated on 7 August 1914.

Mayors and Councils played an important part in this National Relief Fund, by creating their own local committees to raise funds, which ‘fed’ the National Fund.  By the end of May 1915, the total amount raised for the Fund had reached £5,150,000.


Our sister site, based on a 1918 Colchester Military Hospital photograph has additional information on nurses:  https://militaryhospitalcolchester1918.wordpress.com/

Every conceivable thing relating to this nursing subject can be discovered here: http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/     Help from the late Sue Light acknowledged.

All military queries can be made at: http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php  Help from the Great War Forum members acknowledged.

More information about the British Red Cross, in this regard, can be discovered here:  http://www.redcross.org.uk/About-us/Who-we-are/Museum-and-archives

Surviving British Red Cross cards for volunteers can be searched here:  http://www.redcross.org.uk/en/About-us/Who-we-are/History-and-origin/First-World-War/Volunteers-during-WW1

The British Newspaper Archive (in partnership with the British Library):  https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

N.B. In most chapters, links will be found to British Red Cross volunteers’ cards – but please note that the BRC search facility recently underwent an upgrade. If a warning, such as this, appears at the top of a chapter these links will not work.  Old links will be replaced with new links slowly but surely.   As each chapter is renewed, the warning will be deleted.  In the meantime, the Home Page for the BRC search facility is here:   https://vad.redcross.org.uk/Volunteers-during-WW1 

NEXT: Home Hospitals covered