Sunday, 12 February 2012

Devonshire House

Devonshire House in London's Piccadilly was the London home of the Dukes of Devonshire, and in 1914 part of the house was taken over by the British Red Cross Society and used as its Headquarters throughout the war. During the first year of the war it was still used by the family, but after 1919 it remained empty and was demolished in 1924. It was a busy place in wartime. Its palatial rooms became a myriad of offices that dealt with recruiting, training and managing the staff of hundreds of auxiliary hospitals at home, and sending staff to hospitals overseas. Many new recruits to the service would have trodden the corridors there, to be interviewed, measured and kitted out ready to be added to the ever-growing ranks. I recently came across this painting by Clare Atwood of the inside of Devonshire House while in use as VAD Headquarters. The chandeliers have been safely tucked away and more practical lighting installed - it certainly looks to be a hive of industry. On the desks are the card indexes which were a fundamental part of keeping track of more than 1,800 hospitals and 100,000 VADs who served in wartime - all the surviving cards are now kept at the British Red Cross Society Archives in Moorfields, London. If only they could have looked into the future and seen this magical thing called a computer!

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