Believe it or not, it was nearly two years ago that I first showed you a few pages from this little autograph book. At the time I promised that I would publish the remaining pages at some point, and being a man of my word, here they are. Click here if you need a reminder of the pages I showed you first time round.
To bring you up to speed, the book belonged to a V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse called Jessie Morton who lived in West Byfleet in Surrey. She served from 4th January 1915 to 11th November 1918 at various hospitals in the south of England (since the first post I have uncovered more details of her service record).
She first started working as an unpaid volunteer at St. George’s Hill Auxiliary Hospital in Weybridge in Surrey, which was handy, as Weybridge is only a couple of miles from her home in West Byfleet.
She was there for just a month, however, and although her service record does not give any place of work between 2nd February and late June (perhaps she was training during this period), on 25th June she began work, still unpaid, at Tylney Hall Hospital in Hampshire, where she stayed for the next couple of months.
She left Tylney on 4th September 1915, and it would seem that much of her penultimate day at the hospital must have been spent collecting the poems in the first part of her autograph book, all the earliest entries being dated 3rd September.
October to December saw her back at St. George’s Hill,…
…which would presumably have allowed her to spend at least some of Christmas 1915 at home,…
…and in late February and early March 1916 she spent two weeks at Blytheswood Auxiliary Hospital in West Byfleet, even closer to home.
Before long, however, it was time to pack her bags and head west, and on 31st May she arrived at Bath War Hospital, eighty miles away in Somerset, where she would spend the best part of the next two years.
Some recompense may have been the fact that she was now a paid V.A.D. nurse earning £20, according to her record,…
…unlike the majority of the, by 1918, 80,000 V.A.D. workers who remained unpaid throughout the war.
Bath War Hospital was built in 1915 or 1916 in empty fields at Combe Park, to the north west of Bath, initially containing 500 beds, although I have seen later figures of up to 1,300; unfortunately the hospital records were all ‘sent as salvage’, whatever that means, during the Second World War, so figures are difficult to confirm. But the hospital was certainly one of the largest of its kind in the country, and its work continued long after the war ended, nearly 25,000 men arriving there between November 1918 and June 1919, at which time the hospital had been designated as a dispersal hospital, men from smaller hospitals in the surrounding counties being transferred there until fit for discharge. It’s interesting to note that, in a much larger hospital than Tylney Hall with far more staff, and unlike the earlier entries in her book, none of the soldiers at Bath wrote a personal note to her, although admittedly she wasn’t just about to leave, as was the case at Tylney.
The second half of the book contains entries from various dates in 1917 during her time in Bath, and while you peruse these pages, let’s go back to St. George’s Hill Auxiliary Hospital, as good an example of an auxiliary hospital as any, I would think, and take a look at it in a little more detail. Based in the magnificent building that served (and still does) as the clubhouse for St. George’s Hill Golf Club, which itself had only opened in October 1913, on the outbreak of war the club committee decided to offer the clubhouse for use as a military hospital in response to an appeal from the War Office, primarily because so many club members and staff had volunteered for the forces that the economic future of the club itself was in doubt.
Some £1500 was raised by club members to rapidly convert and equip the clubhouse as a hospital (under the auspices of the Red Cross) before the officially opening, with much ceremony, I gather, on 1st October 1914.
Three Medical Officers, a Matron, two Sisters and three trained nurses worked alongside eighteen V.A.D. volunteers, initially caring for fifty men; the lounge on the ground floor was now a ward with thirty beds, whilst the upstairs dining hall had been converted into a ward containing twenty beds.
As the war progressed the number of beds rose to seventy, staffing levels rising accordingly, x-ray apparatus was installed, and an operating theatre allowed major operations to be carried out, and by the time the hospital closed on 15th March 1919 some 3,000 wounded servicemen had passed through its doors.
If you bear in mind that St. George’s Hill was one of over 3,000 auxiliary hospitals set up across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom during the Great War, you get some idea of the massive administrative task facing the medical authorities on the Home Front from the very early days of the war.
Jessie Morton left Bath War Hospital in mid-April 1918, and although her service record is blank between then and August, her final post, starting on 31st August, was at the Homeopathic Hospital in Great Ormond Street, London, where she worked until 11th November 1918, her final day as a V.A.D. nurse.
Postcript: There’s an undated entry by a certain Sergeant W. J. Mousette of the West Yorkshire Regiment that you will have read during this post. Being an unusual name I looked him up quickly on the CWGC database, and, thankfully, he survived the war. The only Mousette listed is twenty year old Gunner James Henry Mousette, killed in France on 20th August 1944 and buried at Ranville War Cemetery north east of Caen.
James’s parents are listed as William John & Mary Elizabeth Mousette of Hull.