The Friends’ recent involvement with replica flags for North Walsham’s Red Cross Hospitals from the First World War has prompted a lot of interest.
Many people did not know about the vital wartime role played by those temporary hospitals – and has sent some folk delving back into history to find out what those
They include Friends supporter Mary Seward whose ancestry research has given us a few brief snapshots into the people who worked there.
There were 3000 Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals – temporary units set up in locations varying from town halls and schools to private houses.
North Walsham had two on the Mundesley Road at Wellingtonia (still a residence) and Lower House (now redeveloped as Greenway Close).
The government paid £1 4 shillings and sixpence a week, or £63 a year, to cover hospital treatment, food and other costs.
The auxiliary hospitals were manned by a mix of volunteers and paid staff headed by a commandant (a kind of chief executive), a matron directing nursing staff, quartermaster dealing with provision and local VAD members trained in first aid and home nursing.
Local members of the medical profession did a large amount of voluntary work in these hospitals. In 1917 the War Office decided that some payment should be given to doctors providing help.
Local women from the neighbourhood volunteered part-time, although it was often necessary to supplement voluntary work with some paid roles, such as cooks.
Auxiliary hospitals also drew on members who were too old or young for work in a military hospital. Many were unable to leave home for six months due to family commitments, but were willing to sign a three-month hospital contract.
They also attracted members who found work in a military hospital too strenuous and others who ‘preferred to be head cook in a small auxiliary hospital to assistant cook in a large military hospital’.
Famous volunteers included superstar singer Clara Butt and author Agatha Christie – who has other links with North Walsham, staying at what is now the Beechwood Hotel. Agatha helped at the VAD Hospital in Torquay.
Among those listed as working at North Walsham were:
Edith Wilkinson Carter – Acting commandant at Wellingtonia in January 1915. A note says it had 15 beds and handled 475 patients before it closed on January 21 1919. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross in 1918, which was presented by the King. Edith was born in May 1865, and died aged 90 in 1996. Husband Cecil was a doctor.
Christiane Maud Davies – a cook at the hospital in 1915-16 as a Red Cross Volunteer. Born March 1883 in Wakefield and died 1963 in North Walsham. Her sister Madeline was also in general service at the hospital.
Constance Empson – born in North Walsham in 1872, the daughter of local solicitor William Empson. Records show she clocked up 2360 hours of service. She was a member of the well- known Walker family who co-ran Ebridge Mill with the Cubitts. Constance died in December 1928 aged 57. Her granddaughter Celia Scott recently made a donation to the hospital friends in recognition of her connections – and the family still has the treasured heirloom of an engraved topaz brooch thanking her for her hospital work.
Ellen May Howes – who worked in a “general surgical, eyes and mess” and earned £20 a year for her labours. Born 1891 and died 1983. She lived in Dublin, France and The Rookery at North Walsham.
Mary Wiles – a head teacher an elementary school who did general nursing duties between April and September 1917. She lived in Lime Tree Road.
Mildred Emmeline Wool – a Lancashire lass, who was a nurse at the hospital from 1918-19 and died in the town’s cottage hospital in July 1950.
Other Red Cross volunteers lived in town but worked elsewhere. They included:
Florence Wilkinson – who lived at The Oaks and is listed as quartermaster at the Palace in Peterborough, and Institute in Lyghe in Kent. Her duties included “nursing, secretarial and quartermaster” tasks including meeting ambulance trains at Peterborough station.
- If you have any stories and photographs about family members who worked at the Red Cross hospitals – or the War Memorial “Cottage” unit – please contact the Friends as we would love to have them for our archive, to share with others interested in the town’s nursing heritage.
- But remember the Friends main role is all about the present and future – funding improvements for the benefit of patients, families and staff to make their stay at our wonderful hospital as comfortable as possible.
- To support our work see the contacts pages on our website.