Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Our History - Part three

The History of Our Hospital
Final part by Lt. Colonel Bruce Porter

In March a further expansion of the hospital was proposed and buildings in the neighbourhood suggested, but for various reasons these were not suitable. Adjoining us, however, lay a field then in preparation for a playground for the young folk of Wandsworth. The matter appeared urgent, and by a series of 'fortuitous coincidences' Sir Alfred Pearce Gould was seeing the Director-General on matters connected with the London University, and had in his pocket my copy of the plans. The Director-General saw the plans, and in a very short time sanction was obtained from the L.C.C. to use the ground - the plans were passed - and the work was put in hand. While this extension was actually in the course of erection a further extension was sanctioned, so that today we have equipped and open a total of 1,500 beds.

The first huts (the 'letter' block) were War Office pattern, but in the new extension we were allowed to submit other plans, and thus obtained sanction for wards with continuous windows of the Hopper type. The effect is to give the interior of these wards almost as much air as the open air itself, but without exposure to rain or wind. One of the most striking features is the entire absence of the smells so often met with in hospitals. Another feature of our new extension is the bath-house, where a patient may go at any time and have a hot bath; there is also a new X-ray block, a new operating theatre, kitchens, and a large dining hall which is used as a recreation room and has been turned into a very fine billiard and writing room. The nominal officers' accommodation of this hospital was 20, but this has been increased to 160 by taking over men's wards; the number of patients in a ward is greater than would be the case either in nursing homes or private hospitals, but the wards are very comfortable. The officer patients have their own kitchen and dining and recreation rooms. Concerts are held in the old recreation room in the main building. And, speaking of concerts, brings me to a point at which I would like to refer to the various entertainments which have been and are being held in this room. Always three evenings, often four a week, since the hospital opened, we have had first-class entertainments here. Only those who live in hospital can appreciate the help these concerts are to the sick and wounded. Men are brought into the room on a stretchers and on trolleys, and before we had these trolleys I have seen four men who were wounded in the arm carrying a pal on a stretcher who had been wounded in the legs.

I have seen many entertainments in one place and another, but a few stand out as things apart. One of these was a tea party given in September by Mr. Howard Williams. It was a couple of days after we had taken in a convoy of exchanged wounded, and the sight of the Receiving Hall when looked down on from the balcony was one I shall never forget. Five hundred and thirty men were seated at tables in that hall - men from every part of the Empire, of every regiment, and with all sorts of injuries received in the defence of all we hold dear. The wounded exchanged prisoners, men of the 1st Army, those who helped to check the tide of savages who were trying to over-run France and then England - men who were only taken prisoners when, because of their wounds, they could fight no more - were there seated at tables decorated with the flags of the Allies and loaded with food such as they doubtless dreamt of during the starvation period of their confinement. The ones who were helpless and blind were assisted by the less severely injured, and all were waited on by the sisters and nurses and the young ladies from Mr. Howard William's firm in the City. The noise and laughter were like that of a big school treat, and for the time all pain appeared blotted out and everyone was happy. If I were to be restricted when the war is over to keeping but one pleasant memory of my work at the 3rd London, I should without hesitation choose that room and all it held at that tea party.

There is one other concert I shall always remember. It had an element of sadness in it, but the more pleasant elements crowd out the sad. On New Year's Day thirty of the senior girls of the Royal Victoria Patriotic School came and sang to the patients. It was sad in that the girls are orphans; it was pleasant in the way in which the call of the blood shows. It goes without saying that amongst the professional singers whom we have here week by week the voices of children cannot compete for training, but no vocalists have ever had a reception to beat that given to these children. They were soldiers' orphans, singing to soldiers, and the men loved them. After this concert we had nearly 300 children to tea in their old playroom and gave them an entertainment, and as the children went away the patients lined the hall and passages to give them a good send-off. This afternoon forms another pleasant memory I shall retain amongst those of the 3rd London. I hope we shall be able to repeat this entertainment this Christmas season, and show the small folk that though we of the 3rd London may have been obliged to drive them from the school we have taken them into our hearts.

A Nation's Faith

The lights are quenched, or turned down low,
In London streets and marts,
But mark ye, mark ye, that great glow
Which shines from English hearts?
It shines through nights of gloom and death,
It shines through blood-red days:
A might nation's might faith -
It sets the world ablaze.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Night Arrival of Wounded

C. R. W. Nevinson - Night Arrival of Wounded

Sunday, 28 March 2010

And from the Art Editor

The Tocsin of War, which sounded on that fateful morning of August 1914, reverberated throughout the civilized world and fired martial souls with enthusiasm and love for country beyond all telling. Britons, old and young, flocked to the flag. 'Tis an old story now, but its reiteration will go on to the Crack of Doom; thousands, after besieging recruiting offices, were accepted and tens of thousands were sent empty away. It is greatly to the credit of several of the members of The Chelsea Arts Club and their friends, that they were among the first in the rush to enlist. Turned down repeatedly on account of age or medical unfitness, at the invitation of Lt. Col. H. E. Bruce Porter, the willing Rejected enrolled as orderlies in the R.A.M.C. (T.) at the 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth, S.W. Men of international reputation in the arts, zealously worked in menial capacities. Famous sculptors, noted landscape and portrait painters and brilliant black and white men eschewed not the most unsavoury jobs connected with the routine of a Military Hospital. They were out to 'do their bit' and right royally they did it. But though they sloughed their civilian skin, the palette and paintbox were irrefutably fixed in their dispositions and, during their all too infrequent moments of leisure, they struggled to find expression in the old way, like shrubs bursting into leaf on a spring morning.

Pte. Ward Muir, one of the happy fellowship and himself an artist in another medium - a talented journalist and novelist of repute in two hemispheres - seized the occasion with the C.O.'s benediction to start a Gazette. Although the journal fructified so late in the annals of the war as October, 1915, yet it was one of the earliest to start and it became the brilliant pioneer of many similar periodicals. Among the many contributors who performed pictorially and who figure in the following pages were one or two of outstanding merit. Pte. Stephen Baghot de la Bere had founded himself on Brangwyn, with a touch of the freakishness of Heath Robinson and a dash of the whimsicality of Arthur Rackham, but in the pages of our journal his own individuality asserted itself and his mordant humour, biting sarcasm and vitriolic fun allied to the brilliant execution of his draughtsmanship made to a large degree the reputation of The Gazette at the outset.

Pte. C. R. W. Nevinson - our only Futurist - carried on the tradition of Cezanne, Matisse and Van Gogh much to the joint amusement and perplexity of the reader. He served the useful purpose of not only out-Picassoing Wyndham Lewis but also of out-Heroding the Kaiser in pictorially bringing home the frightfulness of War. The celebrated portrait painter, Geo. Coates - a member of the International Society of Painters and the Beaux Arts - deftly limned for us many studies of our crippled heroes, and W. R. S. Stott and G. E. Lee rendered their impressions of hospital work in their own inimitable and respective styles. A. H. Fullwood, A. Streeton, J. A. Grant, E. Martin, J. Hodgson Lobley and R. B. Ogle - all frequent exhibitors at the Royal Academy - found a metier in black and white and frequently adorned our pages, while P. Kirk, with an eye like a camera, noted the hospital buildings from various points of view and his records are valued highly as souvenirs by the patients.

The men of the unit of the Royal Army Medical Corps were not to have it all their own way. Among the wounded - men from every calling and every clime, professional artists, talented amateurs and aspiring scribblers, who 'never published anything before,' came along with their interesting wares. The three outstanding patients in this volume are the Australian, Vernon Lorimer (who was wounded at Gallipoli and whose art reputation, made on The Sydney Bulletin, became an undoubted asset to us), and the Englishmen G. F. G. Fisher and H. E. Harman. The latter are well known to the weekly imbiber of light literature as frequent contributors to London Opinion. The ladies of the Voluntary Aid Detachment - Misses Marjorie C. Collins, V. Down, De la Touch and Ryle, - let in, most usefully, interesting sidelights from the feminine angle of our institution.

In the heyday of its joyful career, The Gazette received a blow from which it staggered. Pte. (now Lieutenant) de la Bere withdrew the light of his countenance from us and transferred it to the Artists Rifles, but the gods ordained that The Gazette was not to languish for want of talent, and the mantle of Elijah fell with some purpose upon Elisha in the shape of J. H. Dowd of Punch and The Bystander fame. Endowed with the eye of a needle for sharpness, a hand like lightning for unerring statement, Dowd, with the gift for caricature, possesses Daumier's sense of fun with Gavarni's masterly draughtsmanship and, furthermore, delineates character as faithfully as Charles Keen. The slickness of his drawing appeals equally to the man in the street and the exotic dilettante. We flatter ourselves that, in the publishing of The Gazette, we not only benefit the wounded and relieve their hours of tedium, we lay up a store of good things for the use of the historian. Our chronicles testify, more truly than libraries of learned tomes, to the indomitable pluck and abounding good humour of our heroic Tommies, and we mean to go on shouting out this fact and crying our wares from the housetop until the Outbreak of Peace bursts upon a startled world.

Noel Irving, Sergt., R.A.M.C. (T.)

Rondeau - Captain P. B. K. Stedman

This is the poem mentioned in the previous entry, written by Captain Stedman before his death in August 1916.

A Rondeau
(Written while waiting at a point behind the trenches "Somewhere in France.")

Songbirds of France, whose voices shrill
With hopes of springtime throb and thrill,
Skywards I turn my war-worn ear
Rejoicing sounds of peace to hear
Where armed men assail the hill.
Will nothing cease your happy trill.
Nor roar of engines made to kill
O'erecloud your innocence with fear,
Songbirds of France?

Then may God soon your hopes fulfil,
And end this strife of force and will,
That through your pleasant land so dear
Peace soon shall wipe away the tear
And find you blithely singing still.
Songbirds of France.

Captain P. B. Kirk Stedman (X Ward)

Happy - though Wounded - cover

Happy - though Wounded - a foreword

There were a couple of 'spin-off' publications from the Gazette, and in one of them, 'Happy - though Wounded,' there are two explanatory introductions, one from the Literary Editor Ward Muir, and the other from the Art Editor Noel Irving. As they are so comprehensive, it's certainly worth repeating them here to add to the background of both the hospital and the Gazette. The first has been abridged, in order to prevent the reader losing the will to live.

A Foreword by the Literary Editor
Ward Muir, L.Cpl. R.A.M.C. (T.)

A word as to the personalities of the contributors to "Happy - though Wounded." The book is a compilation from the pages of that remarkable magazine The Gazette of the 3rd London General Hospital. This little monthly was started in October 1915 by Lt. Col. H. E. Bruce Porter, the actual editing and management of it being done by myself. At 4d. per month, The Gazette presently attained a notable circulation. Five thousand a month, which is what my colleague Sergt. Noel Irving sells - he has taken over the editing and management of Vol. II - is surprising when you reflect that we have never attempted to put the magazine on the bookstalls; you cannot buy it except at the hospital or from a few helpful shops in the Wandsworth neighbourhood. The success is largely to the credit of a group of a dozen or so artists who enlisted as orderlies under Col. Bruce Porter. (And by the way, not only were most of them over military age but also nominally unfit, and instead of bemoaning their inability to get into khaki they found out a way to do so; and this long before compulsory service was dreamt of). Our Commanding Officer has as far as possible employed at the 3rd London, each orderly for the job most suited to his particular talents. Private - afterwards Sergeant - afterwards Lieutenant - Derwent Wood, who came here to give himself to humble ward work like the rest of us, but who happened to be a sculptor by profession, was soon making plaster face-masks; was given, thus, the chance to organize a department of his own where facial disfigurements are built up and the most terrible unsightliness made presentable by means of the sculptor's art. So with Sergeant Irving. Author and artist, he is, also, an expert in the designing of beautiful lettering. A useless trade in hospital? Not at all. Go about the wards and the corridors and you will see scores of poster notices announcing this or that. They are Sergt. Irving's lettering. We endure no slovenly notice-boards here. The expert is in our midst, and the Powers that Be have had the wisdom to commandeer his expertise.

Similarly with The Gazette. The magazine was the Colonel's idea; it had been ably supported, also, by Miss Holden, R.R.C., our Matron, and by other officers; but in pursuance of his usual policy the Colonel planned to make it not a mere dry official organ; the Tommies' wards were to give their help as well as the Orderlies' Canteen and the Officers' Mess. I myself, as editor, was sent to search through the wards for promising contributors. One of the first whom I discovered was Sergeant Treacher, of the H.A.C. He wrote for The Gazette a number of spritely skits and shrewd descriptions of the hospital - in which he was twice a sojourner. He finished one manuscript only a few minutes before being taken to the operating theatre for a most serious operation from which, as he well knew, he might not recover. Fortunately the story ends happily, for the Sergeant, after being at death's door, recovered, and wrote many more jokes for The Gazette.

Private (now Sergeant) Vernon Lorimer, an Australian who had been through the horrors of Gallipoli as a field-ambulance stretcher-bearer, was another 'find' amongst the patients. During his long stay here, though often in considerable pain, he wrote and sketched incessantly. As soon as he was able to get about on crutches he hobbled almost daily to our editorial sanctum with fresh ideas for fun and frolic. Perhaps the most brilliant contributor to Vol.I of The Gazette was Pte. Stephen Baghot de la Bere, who at that time was a 3rd London orderly but afterwards transferred to the Artists Rifles and subsequently gained a commission. His pictorial satires on hospital life, in which the ward-orderly is always represented as a downtrodden slave and the Sister as a ferocious slave-driver, are alluded to by our art editor. But de la Bere's articles and imaginary interviews were hardly less sparkling.

Of lady members of the staff our most faithful contributor on the literary side has been Miss H. M. Nightingale, a V.A.D. who has had a glimpse of nearly every department of the hospital, thanks to the peripatetic nature of her duties as one of our squad of postwomen. Another lady versifier, Miss Eardley Wilmot, the author of the famous song "Little Grey Home in the West," who was a probationer at the 3rd London, likewise promised to be an important contributor, but was unfortunately called away to work abroad. A third poet, Captain Stedman, one of our patients, who was terribly wounded in the head, made the supreme sacrifice. After a prolonged struggle for life he died in hospital, and his charming rondeau, "Songbirds of France," is the only monument which here remains of a gentle and gallant spirit of fine abilities and fastidious literary taste.

I would also like to record my thanks to Messrs. James Spicer and Sons, for their handsome help in the matter of paper supply for this book, and therefore, for the Benevolent Fund. The prosperity of the 3rd London General Hospital, and of its Benevolent Fund, is a subject every detail of which is of interest to us. Are we wrong to surmise that it may prove of interest to the world at large?

Friday, 26 March 2010

The CO continues his account...

... of the history of the hospital

The orderlies who joined on mobilisation were young men mostly enlisted from Messrs. Hitchcock and Williams, and I shall always remember the amount of work crowded into a few days by those youngsters and the nursing sisters who came at the beginning. There was no eight-hour day; it was work, work, work till the place had been emptied of all the school equipment and converted into a hospital. The chapel was used as a store-house, as it was essential that the children's things should not be mixed. The hundreds of small pairs of boots, each on its own rack in what is now the dispensary, had to be strung on string and numbered so that they could be identified. The lockers in the recreation room contained the treasures of the little ones, and those who understand children will realise what grief would have been caused by the loss of old toys. My friend Lady Gladstone worked all the first night with friends, and by the next day sent me 500 bags, each to hold a child's toys. These were numbered with the locker number, and, when the toys were packed, were tied and stored in the chapel.

Rooms admirable for children to use as dormitories were not suitable to be filled with septic cases. The windows were replaced by Hopper sashes, which allow of open air without draught. Additional lavatory accommodation was put in, and baths were installed on every floor. I thought I had a good idea of the number of nails required to fix a partition, but till I tried to sleep in my office while the carpenters were working all night fixing a partition on the floor above I little realised how securely they fix 'temporary' work - and I felt glad it was not intended to be 'permanent.' We were very fortunate in our early days in having Captain Dodson, who had for years been doctor to the Patriotic School. He knew the building and the district, and we owe much to him for the way in which he found suitable houses for the nursing staff, and gave help in many other directions. There cannot be much doubt as to the sanitary condition of this hospital, since Captain Willcox, the Home Office expert, sacrificed many hours to the superintending of the alterations, and we had the assistance at all times of Sir Shirley Murphy, whose suggestions were of very great value; also of Colonel Russell, Chief Engineer London District, who supervised the plans and general construction.

The receiving ward was not suitable for a ward for patients to sleep in, but ideal for reception purposes, and so the number of beds expected to be housed in the building was reduced by forty; another forty to be housed in the chapel, and forty more in the recreation room; these places not being suitable as wards diminished the available space. Mr. Pain Clark drew up the plans for the hut wards, and these were duly put in hand; the operating theatre was built, the infirmary made into an officers' hospital to provide twenty beds; and by the end of eight weeks, the huts being finished, the 520 beds were ready and in use.

In September, the equipment having been provided and the staff working smoothly, I considered the moment to offer the hospital for service abroad. The suggestion was put to the staff, and practically the whole of the officers, nurses and men volunteered for general service, but the War Office decided that these hospitals were not to go abroad. Though the disappointment was great to many, the reason is now fairly obvious. The hospitals being staffed as they are by the teaching hospitals, they have to remain in England so that the officers from them can continue their lectures and help with the civil hospitals. Besides this, the more serious cases are brought to England, and we have often had cases in these wards within thirty-six hours of being wounded. Once it was decided that the hospital was to remain in England, I allowed those orderlies physically fit to exchange, and they have now gone to various units abroad. Today the whole of the detachment, with the exception of some N.C.O.'s, is made up of men over 38 and young ones under 19, and those who have been rejected for service abroad.

During my busiest days I was often interviewed by a very nervous young man of a local paper in search of news. Once when he called I was very, very preoccupied and tired, and, having answered his questions, he kindly informed me that he would call again next week. The prospect of another visit from this nervous youngster was not inspiring, and I suggested that by that time I expected he would find me sitting in a room then in course of preparation - a room which would be padded all round. He evidently meant to be very polite, and so replied that he sincerely hoped so! Some day he may find me there, who knows?

(Final part to come)

The Commanding Officer

Lt. Colonel Bruce Porter

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Royal Victoria Patriotic Building

The building which housed the hospital still stands today though it has now been converted for a variety of different uses. The history of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, with a great gallery of images, can be followed on their official website here:

Royal Victoria Patriotic Building

The History of our Hospital

The C.O. Tells How the Hospital Came into Being - Part One
Lt.Colonel Bruce Bruce-Porter

The medical arrangements of the Army were excellent for the peace establishment and for a small campaign, but to cope with possible mobilisation of the Territorial Force Sir Alfred Keogh planned T.F. medical organisation. The branch with which we are most concerned is that of the General Hospitals, which were to be the Base Hospitals of the Force. These hospitals existed, till mobilisation, mostly on paper, their only permanent staff being the C.O., the Registrar, the Quartermaster, and forty-one N.C.O.'s and men, the remaining officers and the nursing staff being only available for duty after mobilisation. In London there were to be four General Hospitals, 1 and 2 City, and 3 and 4 County. The 3rd London General Hospital is naturally the one in which we are interested. The Medical and Surgical Staff of the Middlesex, St. Mary's, and University College Hospitals provided practically the whole of the officers available on mobilisation. The N.C.O.'s and men who kept our Unit alive during the most depressing period of the T.F. (at a time when the enthusiast in favour of universal service felt he was best serving his country by helping in the early death of the Territorial Force, and so would not join, and the slacker who had no intention of giving up his amusement made the plea for universal service his excuse, and so did not join) came from the City firm of Messrs. Hitchcock and Williams.

During the early days of August, 1914, we were hourly expecting the word "mobilise," but we had to carry on as though war were a thing remote. The Unit accordingly went to Aldershot for the Annual Camp on the Saturday night of August 1st, and, having pitched tents and made the camp as comfortable as possible on the first day, we went to bed tired out. At 11 p.m. on Sunday a telegram was handed to me ordering our immediate return to London. On Tuesday night, at 11 o'clock, another telegram arrived at Headquarters: "Mobilise, act accordingly." The first difficulty was that there was nothing to say what the word "accordingly" meant. There had never been a rehearsal, and nothing positive was known as to the source of supply of equipment. Who was to give the order to take over the building and how it was to be done were equally indefinite problems. The only safe course appeared to be to act first and to get authority afterwards.

Major Miller accordingly arrived at Wandsworth at 6 o'clock on Wednesday morning with twenty N.C.O.'s and men with orders to empty the "Patriotic School" building, taking over on charge anything of use. I myself went to the T.F. Association at the Duke of York's Headquarters to find what was to be done about equipment. Here I met with the first series of shocks. The list of equipment was that of a Field Hospital, and was quite unsuitable for a hospital in a building such as this. Next, even the furnishing firms of repute, who had in June written that, being in touch with all the bedstead makers, they could at a moment's notice supply us with unlimited bedsteads, when asked for 1,000 bedsteads were incapable of supplying one. Fortunately I found from a friend that an order for 300 beds had been placed with the Hospital Contracts Co., to send to France, and these I was able to secure, and by means of promises of further orders, the delivery began the next day. The fact was that there were many bedsteads in the country at the time, but private houses were being converted by their owners into hospitals (without the least prospect of their being used), and so the big hospitals were handicapped. Sir Alfred Pearce Gould, our senior surgeon, with Sir Victor Horsley, next took over the task of selecting the surgical instruments. Captain Humphris meanwhile secured the only X-ray installation at the time on the market in London, for, the German sources being cut off, the shortage was acute until America could supply. This X-ray installation was complete, and a trial photograph was actually taken, five days after mobilisation was ordered.

The general difficulties were increased, as I have said, by an extraordinary error on the part of those responsible for the carrying out of Sir Alfred Keogh's scheme. The equipment was to be ordered from a Field General Hospital list, and intended to be carried in carts. Naturally, this was quite useless for a fixed hospital. For example, oil lamps and entrenching tools in quantities were sent here. Moreover, one of the committee responsible for the equipment, with the best of intentions and a supreme desire to relieve our anxiety as to bedsteads, told us of a supply of which he had control, and from which we might have hundreds. By this time I was very suspicious, and so, fortunately, decided to run no risks by letting go of what I knew was good on the chance of better - till I actually saw the better. I told Colonel Thorne, through whom the offer had been made, that I would take 150 of these beds. Major Miller 'phoned me later in the day that the first load of these bedsteads had arrived. Behold, they were racks, one tier above another, meant for bunks for men sleeping at their work in time of strike. Mr. Howard Williams, however, was a good friend, and made purchases of bedding for us in the City, and he helped in many other ways. Lady Gladstone, too, who had just returned from South Africa, collected from her own friends, and, with the assistance of the wives of our officers, had by the end of the first week handed over 1,000 night-shirts, 500 bed-jackets, and innumerable other things.

Ten days after mobilisation we were ordered to prepare for 500 in case of need, and that night, by 9.30, 520 beds were made up, not all, it is true, on bedsteads; to be exact 350 were on bedsteads and the rest were on mattresses on the floor. Two operating tables were ready, and the sterilisers were going all night. The surgical staff were in part here, and the others were at the end of the telephone. It may be added that the whole of the alterations necessary in the sanitary and ventilation arrangements were carried out in such a manner that at the end of each day the wards were put ready for patients.
(to be continued)

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Happy Hospital

Once upon a time I started this blog in another place, but it faltered, and somehow got buried under many other things.  The content has been saved, and is now due to be re-cycled here, with new bits added along the way.  All these items are taken from issues of 'The Gazette of the 3rd London General Hospital Wandsworth,' a Territorial Force military hospital which existed between 1914 and 1920 to care for wounded and sick soldiers of the Great War. I shall go slowly, for fear of running out of material, and to make the joy last as long as possible ...

How do I even start to explain how wonderful the 3rd London Gazette is?  Soon after war broke out in August 1914, No.3 London General Hospital was mobilised at the Royal Patriotic School, Wandsworth Common.  To augment his rather meagre staff, the Commanding Officer, Colonel Bruce Porter, agreed to take on a group of men as Royal Army Medical Corps orderlies, who were all members of the Chelsea Arts Club.  These men were either too old or unfit for other military service, but had talent beyond the price of rubies, and he accumulated a wonderful collection of artists, sculptors, writers and poets.  Thus, he laid the foundations for a wartime hospital journal which became a prince among all others. It contains wonderful artwork, poetry both serious and humorous, cartoons, and anecdotes of daily life - hard to describe such a treasure trove.  One impression that comes through all the writing is that it was a happy hospital - well run, and where discipline was at a minimum for most of the time.  Through these pages I hope the story of that happy hospital will be told.