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  • Writer's pictureGVHeritage Group

Red Cross Auxiliary Hospitals

One of the many important services that the Red Cross provided during the First World War was auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes for wounded servicemen. The Red Cross prepared for this before the conflict even began, finding some suitable properties that could be used as hospitals should war break out.

However, they did not anticipate how important this service would be in the recuperation of so many servicemen. As soon as wounded men began to arrive from abroad the Red Cross’ temporary hospitals were largely available for use, with equipment and staff in place.

In total there were over 3,000 Red Cross auxiliary hospitals, which were administered under county directors. The War Office fixed and paid grants to hospitals for every patient they looked after, and the grant amount increased annually during the war. At the highest rate, the government paid £1 4s 6d per week, or £63 14s 0d per annum, for each patient. This covered full hospital treatment, food and other costs.

There were 16 Red Cross anxilliary hospitals around Somerset but here's what we know about a few:

  • Gournay Court V.A. Hospital, West Harptree, Bristol

Now the home of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his family.  Watch this BBC video exploring the history of Gournay Court and his Great Aunt Molly who worked at Gournay Court V.A. Hopsital, initially as a volunteer nurse and later as Matron.

  • Foye House Red Cross Hospital, Leigh Woods, Bristol (and Annexe, Leigh Woods, Bristol)

  • Ashton Court Red Cross Hospital, near Bristol

Ashton Court Red Cross Hospital - © Copyright Sharon Loxton

In the late 19th century, Mr Sholto Vere HARE rented Knole Park, and on the death of his wife, decided to build the Almondsbury Memorial Institute in her memory. It was constructed of Cattybrook brick with stone dressing and had illuminated clock faces in the tower. Opened in 1892 by the Duchess of Rutland, the Memorial Institute was used as a hospital and as a meeting place and library for parishioners. During the First World War it was used as a military hospital and then continued as a cottage hospital with a new wing being opened in 1935 by Mr Hiatt BAKER of Oaklands. A maternity unit was added and in later years the hospital was used for the care of the elderly. Sold in 1996, this handsome building has now been preserved as a private house.

  • Manor hospital, Tockington

The Salmons, their servants and four nurses, ran a 20 bed military hospital at Tockington Manor. also 16 local women did the laundry for the hospital.

Tockington Manor

  • Bruce Cole Hospital, Whitehall

The Bruce Cole Institute, nowadays known as the Whitehall Pavillion, was built in 1912-13 to house social and recreational facilities for the workforce of the Packer's Chocolate Factory. It was named after Bruce Cole, who led Packer's from 1886 until his death in 1912, a period in which the company experienced its most successful growth. On the ground floor, the building provided changing rooms, bathrooms and other multi-purpose rooms. On the first floor, there was a large hall with a decorated plaster ceiling. Its stage was used for dances, theatre plays and a range of social events for the factory's employees. Moreover, the first floor also provided access to the large balcony overlooking the sports field. During the First World War, the building housed Belgian refugees and from 1916 onwards served as a Military Hospital. In the 1930s, when Packer's went through financial difficulties, the building was sold to the city council, who still owns it today. Nowadays, the building is used by the Old Georgians Social Club, but it is in desperate need of repair.

Bruce Cole Institute, Whitehall

  • Kings Weston Auxiliary Hospital, Bristol

Kings Weston Hospital

  • Beach House, Bitton, near Bristol

Bitton in South Gloucestershire was one of several "Class B" hospitals run by the Red Cross as convalescent homes, in a private house (Beach House) lent for the purpose by Mr Walker. Most of the patients were transferred there after treatment in Cleve Hill and Horton VA hospitals.

Bitton Hospital

By the middle of August 1914 Clevedon was appointed as a convalescence base and Mr  & Mrs Ernest Wills, of Ramsbury Manor, Wiltshire, offered their delightfully situated residence in Elton Road, overlooking the Green Beach, completely free of charge for use as an auxiliary hospital.

It came under the jurisdiction of the 2nd Southern General Hospital, Bristol, later being affiliated to the Beaufort War Hospital.  The members of the men and women’s sections VAD’s, Somerset 33 (Clevedon section) and Somerset 2 worked arduously in its preparation and by the time it was opened on November 9th 1914, they had furnished ten wards and a total of 45 beds, an excellent theatre and dispensary were also completed as were the offices and kitchen.  This equipment was acquired by voluntary gifts from the people of Clevedon and district, in addition to the clothing and house linen supplied by the local War Workroom. Mrs Berthon of Cleeve Court , contributed a fully equipped hospital bed, and a large amount of clothing.  A relative of hers, Lieutenant Herbert CW Berthon was killed in the Boer War and his name is recorded on the Peace Memorial at Spray Point.

Ten extra beds were added in July 1915 and again in November of the same year, by the erection of two huts, these being a gift to the hospital by Mr Browning.  The tennis pavilion was converted to an open air ward, which proved very beneficial for the outdoor treatment of patients,  whose numbers very soon  increased to over eighty.  During 1916 the garage and coach house were converted into a billiard room, gymnasium and reading room, known to the patients as the ‘Dugout’.  Inside the building during the same year amazingly for the time electric & whirlpool baths were installed at great expense and were in constant use, and in conjunction with the hospitals fully trained masseuses produced some excellent results in the treatment of trench foot and shell shock.  By 1917 a large Marquee had been erected in the gardens to improve dining facilities and enabled  the number of beds to be  increased from 80 to 120.  This  still proved insufficient so ‘The Grange’, on the corner of Hallam Road & Victoria Road, was rented from Mr Hancock of The Salthouse, on very favourable terms, and was known as the annexe, being at the time proudly linked together by telephone.  Six wards, with forty beds, dispensary, kitchen, dining room and recreation room were appointed.  The problem of equipping the wards was handled in a very clever way,  a number of  parishes and associations offered help and these were organised and managed so that when the task had been completed the wards were named after them as follows : Yatton Parish, Weston-in-Gordano Parish, Long Ashton Farmers Union, Wrington Farmers Union, Clevedon Floral Committee, and Jacko Wards.  The VAD nurses and medical services members were accommodated at ‘Margency’, Victoria Road, which became known as ‘The Red Cross Nurses Hostel’, the house was kindly lent fully furnished by Miss Lury.   Medical Officers for the Grange were Major Moxey and Captain R. Handfield Jones both from the Royal Army Medical Corps Territorial Force.

In 1915 the kitchen garden of Oaklands was handed over to Lady Bellairs, it had been neglected for some considerable time, so fifteen ladies volunteered to get the ground in order. When this was completed, two ladies carried on the responsibility for the upkeep and cultivation of it,  ably assisted on three days a week by Mr Harry Williams.  Their combined efforts resulted in produce to the value of £109-7-3 being supplied to the hospital by the end of 1918.  In addition Lady Bellairs organised a very successful egg collection in Clevedon, keeping the hospital in eggs and any surpluses were sold and luxuries bought for the patients.  Special Egg Days were held, similar events being organised by Major F J Winter for Walton.  One Egg Day in 1916 resulted in £50 being sent to the Red Cross in London to provide eggs for the sick and wounded in hospitals overseas.  In 1916 Miss Edwards came to assist Lady Bellairs with the accounts and secretarial work, a job she obviously did very well as there are records in the Red Cross Museum showing that between 1916 and 1918 they raised moneys to the value of £159-3-6 and collected 10,715 eggs.

Major Alfred Bond Trestrail VD, a retired industrial chemist, was Commandant of Somerset/2 VAD.  This was a women’s detachment in Clevedon and provided many of the general staff for Oaklands and the Grange.  He was engaged as Commandant of Oaklands on 9th November 1914 and worked continuously without pay until May 1919.  Of the sixty five women’s detachments in Somerset, only five were not commanded by a woman. Of these, four were headed by Doctors so his appointment would seem slightly unusual.  He lived  at Southdale, Albert Road.  In 1891 he took over command of No9 Battery Gloucester Artillery Volunteers from Captain Sir Edmund Harry Elton.  As well as his business & military duties Major Trestrail was a very active man in the public life of Clevedon, being Hon Secretary of the RSPCA, member of the District Council, Vice President of WSM Liberal Association and a JP.  He was 65 on his appointment to Oaklands. For his services to Oaklands and his VAD unit he was awarded the MBE in the New Years Honours List of 1919.  He was ably assisted by Lady Blanche St John Bellairs, wife of Major General Sir William Bellairs who had seen distinguished service during the Crimean War,  they lived at Mowbray, Elton Road.  She also worked unpaid, carrying out the secretarial work in addition to her many other commitments.  The lady Superintendents were Mrs Furlonger, Sister Wilmot and Matron Catherine Waddell.  The Quartermaster was Miss Millicent E. Vernon, assisted by Mrs Pope.  The Wardmaster was Mr John J. Manley.  Transport Officer, Mr John  Brewer.  Cooks, Miss M. King, Miss S. Long, Miss C. Luscombe and Miss E. Luscombe.  The two Luscombe girls were later mentioned officially for their services to nursing during the period of the war, along with Miss Rose Norton Harper of Seavale Road.  The Medical Officers who provided their valuable services to the hospital were Dr’s Walter J. Hill, Charles Visger, H. Brougham Pope, R.K.G. Graves, L.E.V. Every Clayton and W.G. Hubert.  Dr L.E.V. Every Clayton served in France for two years as a Captain in the RAMC during the early part of the war and in the later part Captain Visger and Captain Graves were also at the front with the RAMC.  In March 1920 Captain Charles Visger was awarded the OBE for his services as a Medical Officer at Oaklands. 

Postings for the trained nurses varied from a few weeks to about a year, although some stayed longer including  Sister Catherine Waddell, the matron, from Tullibody in Scotland.  She trained at the General Hospital in Birmingham 1888-1891.  She served at Oaklands from May 1915 to July 1919.  Miss Ellman and Miss D. Nichols also served for over four years.  The following trained nurses are known to have served at Oaklands or The Grange : F.M. Morley, Mrs Evelyn Mason, Mrs Constance Bell, Gladys M. Westrop, Charlotte Burges, Mrs Rosa Mahoney, Harriette Blackburne, Edith S. Elbro, Elizabeth C. Maclaren, Eileen Cordner, Emma Wingfield, Alice German, Marguerite Mitchell, Fanny Harris, Florence Foyster, E.E.L. Jenkins, D.E.B. Briscoe, Wanda Petersen, Mary Lane, Mrs A. Conalty, Emily M. Bragg, F.E. McCormick, Gertrude Knight, Edith Marsh, Kate A. Skinner, Emily Blair, Kathleen O’Neill, Alice Elizabeth Crook, Ruth Ralph, Miss Winch and Mrs A. Malcolm.  Dame Emily Blair later became Matron-in-Chief of the Trained Nurse Department of the Joint War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society, she finally retired in 1953 having been awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1947.

A number of local people offered their services to the hospital,  until they were transferred, volunteered for service abroad or were ‘called up’.  These included the following people: Miss Wilson and Miss A. Wilson from November 1914 until June 1917 when they moved to Southmead Hospital, Miss Rose Norton-Harper from November 1914 until November 1917 when she joined the Motor Ambulance Unit, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, in France,  Miss Ethel Davey until she moved to the Birmingham General Hospital and Miss Sturges who also went to the front.  Private F. Pritchard, Somerset Light Infantry having been wounded and honourably discharged gave his services as a Hospital Orderly along with  H. Kibble, J. Bishop, F. Vowles.  Other men who acted as orderlies until they were called to the colours were: B. Anslow, W.H. Dyer, G. Summerell, C.F. Burges, G. Clements.   Mr F. Purse of Old Street, volunteered to cut hair at Oaklands twice a week, this offer was gratefully accepted by the then Quartermaster  M.S. Porcher.

In the very early days of the hospital,  Mr John Brewer, “ JACKO”, corn merchant of 17 Old Church Road, volunteered his services as transport officer and arranged for patients to be driven from the railway station or Beaufort Hospital to Oaklands in vehicles lent by the people of the town, some supplying  the car and their driver. A “Jacko” car disc was supplied in recognition.  This worked very well but he very soon realised that a vehicle was needed to convey stretcher cases, and being a master at the art of recycling he immediately set up a fund, which gained official charity status in 1916, to purchase ‘The Jacko Clevedon Ambulance’.  Within a month of its commencement four tons of waste paper and cardboard and over one thousand bottles had been collected.  He had the reputation of being able to sell or dispose of anything  from old boots to dentures, money to mattresses.  On one occasion when over ½ ton of jam jars and bottles were collected he had trouble finding packing cases to transport them, in his indomitable manner he advertised to the local traders for help,  saying that knowing the scarcity of such items he was prepared to pay 3p each, but added should the patriotism of the traders actuate any to refuse payment he would be more than pleased. 

Christmas 1916 was a very busy time with extra events being held to provide the patient with as much Christmas cheer as possible.  The Plum Pudding Competition was a great success, and after much deliberation the prizes were awarded as follows: 1st prize, Mrs Hill, The Brow, Albert Road; 2nd prize, Mrs H Canter, Tickenham Road; 3rd prize, Mrs Pritchard, Norton’s Wood.   Jacko’s charity work became so time consuming that by the summer of 1918 he resigned as transport officer.  During his time 1,130 wounded had been conveyed to Oaklands from the railway station,  286 from the Beaufort Hospital in the Jacko Ambulance and 2330 in other vehicles at not a penny cost to the Red Cross. 

During that same summer the Ambulance itself was “wounded” but thanks to Mr R. Stephens, of ‘The Triangle’ a well known car manufacturer and the Studebaker Company for supplying the parts free of charge,  it was repaired and continued ferrying “the boys in blue” for the rest of the war. Mr Stephen’s  observed that the transferring of stretcher cases was  causing great difficulty, with four able bodied bearers required to lift the stretchers in and out of the Ambulance.  He put his inventive mind to work and came up with “Ambulance Stretcher Carriers” which he had patented.  They were lightweight, reliable and easily operated, four stretchers could be loaded by two men or women and were a great deal more comfortable for the patients.  Unfortunately Messrs Stephens and Sons were unable to produce them on a large scale owing to the depletion of their staff, but many a compliment was made of them by RAMC Officers and Doctors in the district. 

Jacko received many letters of acknowledgement for his efforts including one from The Controller of Paper for The Board of Trade as follows:

Dear Sir
I have received  such a splendid report from our organiser in Somerset, Mr J.S. Pickering, that I feel it impossible to do other than write you a personal letter of the highest commendation.  You seem to have mastered the whole of the difficulties in connection with the collection of waste paper, and your record is one which you may be justly proud of.  I would ask you to accept the sincere thanks of this Department for all that you have done, and hope your example will be one which is followed by other towns.  Mr Pickering will visit, and where I have no doubt your scheme will be commended to other patriot persons who like yourself are doing work of such national importance in these strenuous times
Signed W. Lindley Jones  Chief Organiser.

A further item of interest relating to The Jacko Ambulance was that on Whit Monday 1918, two hundred and fifty postcards of the ambulance printed by the Mercury were sold and raised £2-12-7 1/2 . 

On March 25th 1917 in the early hours of the morning a serious fire broke out in the rear wing, but owing to the courage and coolness displayed by the Staff no casualties occurred, and although serious damage was done to the building this was rectified within a few weeks.  For their courage on that occasion Sister Catherine Waddell and Sister Gladys Westrop were awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd class, which was presented to them by His Majesty George V on his visit to Bristol November 8th 1917. They were also awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire in 1919.  It is interesting to note that the recently installed telephone belonging to Captain E. Dawes, of the Clevedon Fire Brigade, allowed the brigade to arrive at the hospital within sixteen minutes of the alarm.  Because of the construction of the hospital most of the work of controlling the fire had to be carried out from the roof, the water freezing on  the coping stones.  There were some twenty patients in the doomed wing, but luckily the work on The Grange was so far advanced that they were given temporary sleeping accommodation there.  Mrs Oram, of the Norfolk Hotel, neighbours to the hospital, kindly provided breakfast for the  firemen and helpers.

Soldiers from around the world stayed at Oaklands Hospital, the first being the wounded from the retreat from Mons including members of the Belgian Forces and by May 1919 over 3500 in total had been treated.  Not only were there soldiers from the various war fronts receiving treatment at the hospital, but also soldiers that were billeted in the town, received treatment for various fevers and fractures.  Amongst them was a recipient of the Victoria Cross, Sergeant Harry Cator, of the East Surrey Regiment, who was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery during the Battle of the Somme 1916, and the Victoria Cross for his services on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917 during the Arras Battle.  He was badly wounded three days later by high-explosive shrapnel, which broke both his upper and lower jaws.  He was first admitted to Beaufort Hospital and then to Oaklands.

The hospital was renowned for its entertainment both by visiting performers, local artists and the patients themselves.  The Oaklands Concert Parties proved a very great success and greatly lessened the monotony of hospital life, producing beneficial mental and physical results, as well as financial support.  Messrs J.N. and V.Cox very generously granted free admission to all the Picture House (now the Curzon Cinema) Matinees as well  as screening announcements of various activities to raise funds, this they  did free of charge.  They also supplied the electrical equipment required to re-charge the various batteries used at the hospital.  

The Long Ashton group of Auxiliary hospitals which included Oaklands, Ashton Court, Foye House Leigh Woods and Wood Lane Portishead also had their own magazine “The Safety Pin”.  The articles, drawings, poems etc. were written by the patients and staff, all proceeds going to the Red Cross.  An interesting poem, written by Private A. Broadley, 1st Cameron Highlanders, a patient of Oaklands, appeared in the November 1917 edition, it was called simply:


Often I’ve thought when the meadows were green,

And the sun on the hills made a beautiful scene,

That the village of Clevedon  so quiet and quaint

Was as tempting a sight as an artist could paint.

For the good of my health I was sent there to stay,

And as long as I live I’ll forget not the day

That I first set foot in that dear little place,

And felt the fresh winds bring a glow to my face.

Tis the “Brainworkers Paradise” someone had said,

And no other name can I give it instead;

For naught but a paradise could be so fair

Or boast of the sights that one meets with while there.

If by Salt House fields you should happen to stray,

And look to the West at close of the day,

You will never forget, tis a sight that will hold,

That glorious sunset of scarlet and gold!

And then in the mourn when the mist’s heavy veils

Have lifted, you see the green hills of South Wales.

Above Cardiff and Newport you see the smoke cloud

From the factories hanging all o’er like a shroud.

Dial Hill, also, commands a fine view

Of woodland and meadows all sparkling with dew,

And the Castle at Walton, tho’ now in decay,

Stands out with the pride of old Norman decay.

Many artists and poets in days that is gone

Have brought Clevedon to notice in picture and song.

But naught can describe all the beauty that’s there,

Tis so quiet, o homely, so peaceful and fair.

For art it is famous, the great Elton ware

Is designed by the Lord of the Manor down there.

He’s a master in pottery, also in paints,

And he made the bronze crucifix at All Saints.

“All Saints” is the parish out East of the town,

Tis a beautiful  spot where the woods sloping down

Have formed the Swiss Valley, and there the church stands;

It looks like the work of some great artist’s hands.

And when all my toils on this wide world are o’er,

And my spirit sets forth for yon beautiful shore,

This is my last wish if to me be given,

To be buried in Clevedon—the brainworker’s heaven.

The hospital was subject to regular visits and inspections by Royal Army Medical Corps officers , as well as British Red Cross officials.  All spoke very highly of their satisfaction with every department, and stated that Clevedon could well feel proud of its history during the war in the care of those who suffered.

The Armistice was declared on November 11th 1918 and to celebrate, the next day the patients assembled in full force to be the guests of Mr & Mrs F. House of The Towers Restaurant for tea and an evening’s entertainment.  It was reported that the sumptuous repast was given full justice and that the entertainment was full with frequent encores.  Mr House gave a speech thanking the boys for their great efforts and by special request the evening concluded with “ Keep the home fires burning” followed by the National Anthem. 

Just after Christmas 1918 a very bizarre event happened culminating into the only fatality the hospital was to endure during its entire history.  Major AEY Trestrial, son of the Commandant was home on extended leave to fight the Torquay Parliamentary seat on behalf of the Labour Party. He had been wounded and gassed on the Somme and in late 1916 was casavacked home suffering from Trench Fever; he was 39 when he joined the Cheshire Regiment in 1915, so not a young man.  He had returned to the front in 1918 and was awarded the DSO with a fighting citation.  Whilst on sick leave some of his kit was returned to his fathers home and it was on the 26th December 1918 that during unpacking this surplus kit that he found a Minnenwerfer fuse, realising that it was live he went down to the hospital to request the services of a qualified man to defuse it, Bombardier J Hickey, Royal Field Artillery, came forward.  Hickey accompanied the Trestrails to the grounds of their house where he attempted the job under their supervision, he was unsuccessful and the thing went off, injuring both Trestrails but sadly killing Hickey.  A board of enquiry was set up locally and proved no blame to Major Trestrail, on returning to his unit in France in January 1919 a military enquiry there proved the same.  Private Hickey’s wife was provided with a pension by the Trestrail family.

In early 1919 the hospital was offered for sale by auction but failed to reach the reserve of £2600-00.  However the contents,  a total of 1000 lots raised £900-00, the proceeds of which were used to set up a fund to build cottage homes for disabled  servicemen, the two cottages  are still used for that purpose today, and act as a permanent memorial to the people of Clevedon who gave their lives for King and Country.

Military Hospitals in Somerset

  • 2nd Southern General (A TF General Hospital in Bristol. 200 officers and 1350 other ranks)

  • Beaufort War Hospital (Formerly Bristol County and City Asylum at Fishponds)

  • VAD Hospital, Chard (a 46 bed limbless unit for men domiciled in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset)

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