Wallfields Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital staff

Photograph showing the staff of Wallfields VAD Hospital in 1914 including its quartermaster Cicely Wilson.

Before the First World War there were approximately 7,000 equipped beds in military hospitals throughout the United Kingdom. By the time of the Armistice in November 1918 that number had risen to 385,000, with more than 300,000 men and women attached to the British forces occupying a hospital bed on any individual day. To cope with this urgent need the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John stepped in to provide auxiliary hospitals, staffed with trained nurses and members of Voluntary Aid Detachments.

On Sunday 25th October 1914 a Voluntary Aid Hospital was opened with 12 beds at Wallfields, Pegs Lane, by the Red Cross. The building had previously been used to house the sisters of the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Leahoe but it was quickly converted into a hospital. By the end of October it already had 17 beds and 10 patients and by the 14th November that year, when a Mercury reporter visited the hospital, there were 24 beds with another three that could be added in an emergency.

Amongst the earliest patients were a yeoman who had been kicked by a horse, infantry men who had been hit by pick-axes whilst digging trenches as well as others suffering from tonsillitis, bronchitis, and colds.

The hospital was to be used primarily for territorials, twelve beds were also offered to the War Office for the use of wounded soldiers from the Front. The hospital had seven wards, each named after a senior officer: Kitchener, Jelico, French, Henderson, Roberts, Fox & Haigh.

Wallfields was well designed to be used as a hospital, it had several bathrooms for its inhabitants and the wards were arranged so that they faced south looking out across the grounds of the house. There were regular visiting hours in the afternoon and the soldiers being treated there were sent gifts of flowers, books and illustrated papers by local residents.

The first medical officer of the hospital was Dr Burnett Smith with Mrs Cicely Wilson as his quartermaster and a Miss Hall as matron. The nurses at Wallfields had all taken a course of instruction in first aid and home nursing and a week’s special training in the wards at the County Hospital and the Workhouse Infirmary.