Monday, 25 April 2011

V.A.D. Wisdom

From the 'Daily Sketch' 14 April, 1919

The Importance of a Length of Cretonne

They had just been demobilised, the three V.A.D.s in the railway compartment, and were congratulating one another on the approaching farewells to their regulation bundles.

"I felt all the time that we had taken out the wrong things," said the girl with the three chevrons. "Those canvas baths, for instance, what a bore they've been and how little use except when you had lots of hot water and a batman to empty them - which we had about twice. Do you remember how Jones always spilled hers over everything? And those candle-lamps we were made to get. No use, except to drop grease all over the place. In every camp I went to they were strictly barred after one trial."

"I think those white coats and skirts we had out East were the most impractical things," said the girl with the R.R.C. ribbon. "It was always too hot to wear both a blouse and a drill coat, and it was impossible to get the coats properly done up. Smith and I made ourselves coat-frocks out of sheets when we got out of red-tape reach, and they were far better in every way. The St. John's black and the Red Cross blue are both wrong, too. It's hard enough to keep black and blue costumes in good order in town with a maid. In the wind and dust on active service it's impossible. We ought to have had grey or khaki."

"I thought much more about the things we should have been told to take, rather than the things we took that were no use," said the third V.A.D. "If I were going again I'd take a dozen yards of chintz or cretonne. It wouldn't take much room, and yet would make all the difference between comfort and misery in some places. You could screen off a corner of a tent when you were quartered with girls you didn't know or care about, and you could cover up your trunk and kit-bag when you were settled anywhere.
"Other things that ought to be in regulations are a small mat to stand on while dressing, and a fancy-dress costume. Why not? Dressing-up was the only relief we had from uniform, and it was difficult to contrive anything really amusing out of the few things we had. Costumes needn't take much room, and they might have saved a few cases of Balkan top. And a tea basket would be a good idea, too, instead of the regulation kettle and cup and saucer. Every V.A.D. made tea out somewhere when she could, and a basket simplifies things so."

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Military Hospital

The Matron, red-caped, terrible,
Inspects the ward; incredible
How tall she is - six foot - how stare
Those brown, protruberant eyes - beware,
Beware lest looming by your bed
It enter into her great head -
So huge she is, so weak you are -
To order you an enema.

Louis Lawler

Monday, 18 April 2011

Hospitals and the Great War

I've just completed a database of all the UK military hospitals that were operating in 1917 - details taken from a document held at The National Archives. In total there are 2,469 on the list, and individual units varied in size from just two beds to more than three thousand. They were opened in schools and colleges, church halls and village halls, barracks, asylums and working men's clubs, private houses, manor houses, rectories, castles ... the variety is endless. Among the buildings used were some of Britain's great houses and stately homes; many no longer exist, demolished to make way for modern housing and business parks, but often their past glory remains to be seen in contemporary photographs. The fact that so many buildings were used as wartime hospitals was a unique event, and could never happen again. To wander through their past and their stories is the most enjoyable of pastimes.