A soldier writing a letter in a World War One military hospital. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
During World War One, temporary military hospitals were set-up at key locations throughout Britain with a vast number established near to coastal ports. Their strategic positioning, ensured that journey times to and from the Western Front, for injured as well as rehabilitated soldiers, were kept to a minimum. Heritage properties, civic buildings, hotels, country estates and boarding houses were requisitioned by the War Office and transformed into fully equipped medical facilities for treating wounded service personnel. Some of the larger, private residences, served as convalescent homes.
c.1915: Patients in the garden at Mr and Mrs Martin Ranger’s hospital for wounded servicemen. Unknown location but likely to be a private residence in Britain. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
When war broke-out in 1914, the tiny village of Brockenhurst in the New Forest, with its two thousand inhabitants, became an important hospital centre. This village location was chosen due to an abundance of country houses and large dwellings in the surrounding area. These properties provided suitable accommodation to be converted into medical centres. Brockenhurst railway station also offered excellent links to the Port of Southampton which, in August 1914, had been designated No.1 Military Embarkation Port. Wounded soldiers wheeled on luggage trolleys from Brockenhurst station to the local hospital(s) was a common sight throughout the war.
c.1918: Wounded troops lying in their bunks on an ambulance train. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Interior view of an ambulance train ward car with three tiers of bunk beds. Ambulance trains were used during World War One in France and Belgium to transport wounded or sick soldiers to hospital. This train was on display in several stations in Lancashire and Yorkshire before being taken to the Western Front. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
- Another interior view of the same train. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
In World War One, both Balmer Lawn and Forest Park hotels were fitted out as military hospitals. Initially, these buildings were part of The Lady Hardinge Hospital for Wounded Indian Soldiers but later became sections of the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital. When the latter was operational, Balmer Lawn was used for Officers only. In 1915, Brockenhurst was officially designated by the War Office as a key hospital centre. Both King George V (1865-1836) and Queen Mary (1867-1953) visited Brockenhurst during the war. They were the first monarchs to have visited the New Forest since George III (1738-1820).
Lady Hardinge (1868-1914) was the wife of the then Viceroy of India, Charles Hardinge (1858-1944). Lady Hardinge had died suddenly of shock in a London nursing home, July 1914, a week after an operation to remove a malignant tumour. Further tragedy struck Lord Hardinge when in December 1914 his eldest son, Edd, died of wounds received whilst fighting in France.
21st August, 1933: L to R: Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, his son Major the Hon A Hardinge and Viscount Hardinge watching a cricket match held at Penshurst Castle, Kent. (Photo by H. F. Davis/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
The Order of St. John of Jerusalem gave £10,000 to The Lady Hardinge hospital towards the cost of purchasing specialist equipment. In addition to the main hospital buildings, there were also a series of huts erected in the hotel grounds. Some of these temporary structures were used as Officers Quarters. Both Balmer Lawn and Forest Park sections combined, could accommodate two thousand five hundred Indian soldiers when it first opened.
The land on which Balmer Lawn and Forest Park stand, was donated to the war effort by Mrs Morant of Brockenhurst Park. Brockenhurst Manor Golf Club, on Sway Road, which opened in September 1915, was also created on land owned by the Morant Trustees. The Club and grounds were used in the war by military and convalescing officers. In March 1918, a large parcel of land from the golf course was donated by the Trustees for use by the Canadian Forestry Corps so that they could grow their own vegetables. A majority of this land was turned-over to soil to help the war effort and support food rationing.
Who were the Morant family? The Morants moved to Brockenhurst from Jamaica in 1759 and Edward Morant (1730-91) purchased a number of parcels of land in the village. In 1769, he brought Brockenhurst Park for the sum of £6,400. Edward continued to purchase more local land as well as property and in 1771 he brought the nearby Roydon Manor which still exists today.
Each successive generation of the Morant family acquired more and more land, by the time World War One began they owned nearly all of the parish. The family’s income came via ownership of a number of West Indian Estates including one of Jamaica’s largest sugar plantations. Port Morant, Morant Bay and Morant Lighthouse, in Jamaica, are all named after the family.
- The town of Morant, Morant Bay, Jamaica, c1880. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Brockenhurst Park and Morant Manor, the adjoining country house, were close to St. Nicholas Church and not far from Brockenhurst station. The grounds were stunning thanks to extensive landscaping which began in 1865 when ornamental lakes and topiary gardens were created. In 1898, a fish pond, fishing house, rookery, pheasantry, dairy, menagerie, dog kennels, boat and engine houses were added. In 1910, an aviary was installed. The gardens were well-known and written about in Country Life, Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) visited the estate on several occasions.
When the third John Morant (1825-99) remodelled the main house in 1857, he did so to designs by Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880) which were in the French Chateau style. A few years before World War One, the 1911 Census shows a substantial number of staff were employed to look after the Morant family and their estate. It was a grand Edwardian country house of Downton Abbey proportions. During World War One soldiers were allowed into the grounds and the house was used as a convalescent home, probably for Officers only.
The house was finally demolished in 1958 and a new building erected on the same site, designed by Harry Gordon. Some of the Park’s features still remain, for example, an avenue of trees, the Italianate lake, topiary, some statuary and a very elaborate French-style gatehouse. The estate is no longer owned by the family and is now in private ownership. Old photographs of the original estate and house can be found here.
There are a number of photographs in existence showing the grounds of Morant Manor during the war. These were taken by Sir Rex de Charembac Nan Kivell (1843-1977), a New Zealand born art collector, who was on staff at the No.1. New Zealand General Hospital from 1916-1919. Kivell enlisted, under the name ‘Reginald Nankivell’, into the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 31st May, 1916 and was underage when he joined-up. He never saw action, although his collection does include many images of overseas military campaigns.
Nan Kivell’s extensive collection features many photographs of wartime Brockenhurst including portraits of local villagers as well as a snapshot of life in the military hospitals and convalescent homes there. His collection is now owned by the National Library of Australia (Nan Kivell Collection) and you can browse selected images, here. There is a rather splendid photograph of the Italianate lake at Morant gardens in Brockenhurst Park.
- c.1916: British nurses making surgical dressings, filling them with pine dust, during World War One. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
On the Lyndhurst Road, which is the main artery into the village, there once stood Morant Hall also called New Forest Hall. During the war it was transformed into yet another medical facility. Whilst the Indian soldiers were being treated in Brockenhurst, Morant Hall was known as Meerut Indian General Hospital. When the New Zealand troops arrived, in 1916, the Hall became a British Red Cross Auxiliary facility (also known as a Convalescent Depot) called Morant War Hospital.
The Hall was managed by a committee of local citizens and could provide accommodation for up to one hundred and twenty patients. Local children also got involved and were sent to collect sphagnum moss and cotton grass for wound dressings, natural materials that could be found in the forest.
In the 1920s, the grounds and tennis courts behind Morant Hall, became the site of prestigious tournaments, warm-ups for Wimbledon. Brockenhurst Tennis Week was an important fixture in society’s social calendar. There is a rather stunning set of images, taken in the 1920s, of one of these Tennis Weeks and it can be viewed here.
c.1915: Injured Indian soldiers of the British Army at the Brighton Pavilion, converted into a military hospital. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
In its early years, The Lady Hardinge Hospital in Brockenhurst treated soldiers from the Indian Army Corps (3rd Lahore and 7th Meerut). During this time, the short road that linked Balmer Lawn and Forest Park hotels, was renamed Meerut Road in honour of the Corps and is still called thus today. By November 11, 1914, the hospital had treated more than a thousand Indian Soldiers. Protocol dictated that British nurses were not normally allowed to attend Indian Soldiers in any military hospital either at home or abroad. However, because The Lady Hardinge Hospital was funded by a private charity, an exception was made.
In 1915, the hospital’s Matron was Miss Edith McCall Anderson R.R.C, she was aided by nurses Miss I. Frodsham, Miss Ryland-Smith, her assistants and seventeen Sisters who all spoke Hindustani. One Sister looked after two wards and there were twenty-four patients to a ward along with two English orderlies and native servants. The Sisters’ quarters were spacious and comfortable. Matron had her own sitting-room.
In early March of the same year, a contingent of male and female dignitaries arrived to tour and inspect The Lady Hardinge Hospital. The party included the Duchess of Bedford, Duchess of Somerset, Earl and Countess of Clarenden amongst many other philanthropic aristocrats. Everyone was met at Brockenhurst railway station by a number of motor cars provided by Dr Child, then President of the Automobile Association, to transport VIPs a short distance to the hospital complex.
A report of the visit appeared in The British Journal of Nursing (BJN), March 6th, 1915, an extract of which is printed below:
..There are twenty wards in all, of twenty-four beds, with the usual annexes, and single wards for native officers, who looked very smart as well as warm in the beautiful dressing-gowns sent by Lady Rothschild, of dark blue cloth with red facings, and one noticed a new use for the knitted scarves, which were ingeniously worn in more than one instance as turbans…beds had quilts of Turkey twill.
The wards had wooden floors, perhaps not the most hygienic. Upon arrival at a military hospital, all patients would have their clothes removed and disinfected, many soldiers were riddled with lice and other parasites. The patients’ clothing was then stored in the Pack Stores until, and if, the patient was discharged.
Medical facilities at The Lady Hardinge Hospital complex included a theatre block, two operating theatres, sterilizing room, preparation room, anaesthetic room and an x-ray room. Convalescing patients could relax in the recreation room which was carpeted and had divans with bright green velvet bolsters and low tables which the men could prepare their tobacco, play cards or chess on.
Following an escalation in hostilities, overcrowding soon became a problem at The Lady Hardinge with many patients forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor. Conditions were uncomfortable, many soldiers reported that there was a lack of food and inadequate heating. The Indian soldiers also found it difficult to adjust to the cold, damp British climate. Patient Sepoy Ranga Singh, wrote a letter from the hospital complaining about conditions there:
There is no fireplace. We are not given milk…It is very cold. We have to call the nurses “mother” and the European soldiers “Orderly Sahib” – if we do not we are reported. The five Brighton hospitals are good. The others are not good. We are not given soup. We get nothing.
(Reprinted in Mark Harrison, Disease, Discipline and Dissent: The Indian Army in France and England, 1914-1915. in: Roger Cooter, Harrison Mark, Sturdy Steve, eds Medicine and Modern Warfare (Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam, 1999) p. 192)
Despite patient Sepoy Singh’s unhappy experience at the Lady Hardinge, clearly efforts were made to cater for the various dietary requirements of both Hindu, Sikh and Muslim patients. According to the BJN‘s 1915 report, beside every bed there was a locker. Muslim patients were given a ‘lotah’ (drinking vessel) made out of aluminium and Hindus a ‘lotah’ in brass.
Muslim patients were served their meals on white china with a dark blue surround and Hindu patients had white china with a blue border. There were two kitchens one catering for Sikhs and Muslims, the other for Hindus. Their complex dietary requirements meant that a system of coloured discs were hung over each bed to help the servers at mealtimes. The numbered system operated as follows:
- Dahl soup;
- Chicken soup/mutton soup and milk;
- Non-meat, sugar instead of meat;
- Rice diet and meat;
- Chapatis, unleavened cakes, made of unadulterated wheat flour, with meat.
It is likely that some housekeeping standards did slip from time-to-time. The overstretched staff would have struggled to keep-up with increased numbers of wounded soldiers being admitted. In 1915, in an attempt to alleviate the problem of overcrowding, a combination of tented and galvanised accommodation units were erected to the south of Brockenhurst, at Tile Barn, a ridge overlooking both village and forest, a short distance from the station. Tile Barn’s complex of temporary, metal structures was nicknamed “Tin Town” by locals and provided five hundred extra beds. The site at Tile Barn is now an outdoor adventure centre for adults and children. The Indian Army Corps finally left Brockenhurst, for Egypt, in November, 1915.
A wounded soldier in a London hospital reads a magazine with a Red Cross nurse by his bedside. 20th July 1918. (Photo by A. R. Coster/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
In 1916, the New Zealand authorities took over administration of The Lady Hardinge Hospital from the War Office. The site at Brockenhurst became the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital incorporating a specialist centre for orthopaedic injuries. Tin Town remained but expanded with the addition of further huts for staff and stores. Balmer Lawn and Forest Park became minor medical sections.
By August 1917, the site also had a specialist neurological section under the supervision of Captain Marshall MacDonald. This department treated patients with neurasthenia (a non-somatic illness) and shell shock. Below is a letter written in May, 1917, by a New Zealand serviceman at No.1 New Zealand General Hospital:
You will have read in the papers that the New Zealanders were in the thick of the fighting on the Somme in the middle of September, and since that time we have been exceedingly busy. Prior to that thirty-six of our orderlies had been sent over to France; one has since been killed and several wounded. Our admissions have been heavier even than they were in Cairo, and a very large number of the cases were serious. The operating theatre at each section deals with as many as half a dozen —and even more— cases each day. We are badly understaffed in nearly all departments, and patients -when well enough – are occasionally attached temporarily. Just now the orderlies we have, seem to be quite a good lot of men, and include a few parsons and men who held good positions in civilian life.
The hospital here is divided into three sections. The first is headquarters, which used to be occupied by the Lady Hardinge Hospital for wounded Indians. Here over six hundred patients are accommodated. It is built of hutments, and it is possible to reach all parts without going out-of-doors. There is additional accommodation for the staff and for stores. This section is known as “Tin Town,” and its occupants as “Tin Hats.”
The other two sections are hotels, one at either end of the village of Brockenhurst, and on the edge of the New Forest. Each accommodates between two hundred and three hundred patients. Both are very fine buildings, and are as well equipped in every way as the central section. Besides these three, there are five auxiliary hospitals, each taking from twenty to sixty patients. They are sent there as soon as they are well enough to require light dressings. The names of these five are: Morant War Hospital, at Brockenhurst; ‘Home Mead,’ at Lymington; ‘Hill House,’ at Lyndhurst; ‘Thorney Hill,’ at Bransgore; and Lady Normanton’s, at Ringwood. “There has recently been added a convalescent home for officers at “Avon Tyrrell,” Lady Manners’ House. At all of these places New Zealanders receive the best of attention, and all those mentioned are within a radius of fifteen miles, from Brockenhurst.
- New Zealand soldiers aiding the war effort during their convalescence in Britain World War One. (Press Illustrating Service/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
One Australian nurse that worked at the Hospital was Staff Nurse Blanche (Alice) Atkinson. Blanche had trained in Adelaide and was a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNSR). She arrived in London on 22nd July, 1915 and soon found herself stationed at Brockenhurst. The following year, she was so overworked that she caught double-pneumonia and had a breakdown. Unfortunately, this led to her being invalided out of QAIMNSR and sent back to Adelaide to convalesce. She also caught Tuberculosis and died on the 9th December, 1916, aged thirty-eight. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal for her ‘devotion to service’ by King George V.
Below is an extract from a letter written in November, 1916, by a New Zealand serviceman, Corporal Oswald de Witt Vaughan, who served in the Wellington Infantry, 3rd Regiment Battalion and was injured at the Somme. He is writing to his father, Reverend Charles Vaughan in Kingston, Tasmania. Corporal Vaughan’s words provide a first-hand account of a wounded soldier’s journey from the battlefield to Brockenhurst. Corporal Vaughan did recover from his initial injuries and returned to the Western Front only to be tragically killed in action less than a year later, on 4th October, 1917, at Ypres, Belgium.
Short (silent) film clip of ‘trench cooking’ in World Ward One, British Pathé .
The cooks had orders to have breakfast ready early, and turning out betimes myself on account of the cold. I found a good fire going and tea and porridge on the boil. A few of us were standing round the fire, which they had built on the side of the trench, when, without warning, the whole business blew-up and the dixies [cooking pots] and their valuable contents were scattered far and wide. The cook got a bad hit in the leg, and I felt a heavy smack in the left side, about the lower ribs, which threw me to the ground for a time.
I picked myself up, and found I was smothered in porridge, a gruesome spectacle. I thought at first it was only a severe blow from something blunt, but as I began to turn a bit faint, and found difficulty in breathing, some of my mates turned their attention to me, and found a small wound just above the lower midribs.
They had me up, and helped me down to the first-aid station, and from there I progressed to the advanced dressing station…I finally reached the [36th] Casualty Clearing Station at Heilly, about ten miles back from Albert…I stayed there till Sunday morning, the 17th….they put us on an ambulance train….we travelled all day, very slowly for a good part of the journey on account of the heavy traffic, finally reaching the coast, early in the morning of the 18th. Leaving here again on the 20th we motored to Havre, about eighteen miles, and embarked on a hospital ship, leaving that night, about 10.3opm.
Reached Southampton early next morning after a good trip, and went by train to Brockenhurst, only about thirty minutes’ run on the L.P.S.W railway. The No. 1 New Zealand General Hospital is established here, and staffed entirely by New Zealand doctors and nurses, with a few Australian nurses attached. There are three sections, Forest Park, Balmer Lawn and Tin Town. I was in the first named, which is just outside the village; it was very comfortable and the food excellent. They shifted me from that place to this place [Thorney Hill Auxiliary Hospital, Bransgore] on the 26th to make room for cases coming in.
- April 1915: Playing a record on the gramophone to while away the time whilst recuperating in hospital. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Short (silent) film clip showing Australian and New Zealand soldiers return back home country in 1919, British Pathé.
(The Mercury, 21.11.1916)
Between 1914 and the end of January 1919, when the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital closed, three thousand Indian soldiers and twenty-one thousand and four New Zealand soldiers had been treated at the various medical facilities across the village. Any Indian soldiers that died whilst at Brockenhurst were of course cremated in-line with their religious beliefs. However, cremation was a relatively new practice in Britain at that time and had only been legal since 1902. A suitable site to perform the cremations was found nearby, Perry Wood.
Ninety-three New Zealand soldiers died whilst receiving treatment in Brockenhurst. The cause of death of a majority of these New Zealand soldiers was either battle wounds or sickness. The soldiers are buried in the cemetery adjacent to St. Nicholas Church, close to the former site of Tin Town at Tile Barn. Every head-stone tells its own story.
Short film about Private Potene Tuhuro, one of the New Zealand soldiers buried at St. Nicholas Church cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest. Video published by Hampshire Museums 30.10.13
The plot in the cemetery where the New Zealand graves are located is now maintained by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The uniformed head-stones were erected in 1924 to replace the white wooden crosses that had been there previously. In the Nan Kivell Collection, there are several photographs of the original graves as they would have looked during the war.
The imposing memorial cross, at the back of the plot, was erected in 1927. Every year, on the nearest Sunday to Anzac Day, representatives of the New Zealand High Commission and members of the New Zealand Forces attend a service at the cemetery.
There are additional head-stones of servicemen from other countries in the Commonwealth including South Africa. During World War One, South Africa was still part of the Commonwealth until apartheid came into force in 1948. The country did not re-enter the Union until 1994. Here is a summary of, both military and civilian, burials at the cemetery, all from World War One:
93 New Zealand soldiers;
- 1 Australian soldier (Australian Infantry, 22nd Battalion);
- 1 Canadian soldier (Canadian Forestry Corps);
- 3 unknown Belgian civilians (who worked nearby at Sopley Forestry camp);
- 3 members of the Indian Expeditionary Forces;
- 3 British soldiers;
- 1 South African (Royal Flying Corps).
When war broke-out in 1914, Brockenhurst was a tiny village of two thousand inhabitants. In 1918, the village had lost seventy-eight of its own men. Private Leonard Baden House, whose parents lived at Carey’s Cottages in the village, died on 24th November, 1918, aged eighteen. He had been a member of the Hampshire Regiment.
Another well-established local family, the Bowden-Smiths, who lived at Careys Manor in the village (now a luxury hotel), lost their youngest son, Lieutenant Commander Victor James Bowden-Smith RN (1887-1918). Victor was killed by an accidental explosion whilst recovering a German Torpedo which had gone adrift in the North Sea near Runswick on 22nd August, 1918, he was aged thirty-one.
The Bowden-Smiths had lived in the village since the eighteenth century. Victor’s father was Reverend Frederick Hermann Bowden-Smith and died less than a year after his son on 7th February, 1919. Reverend Bowden-Smith had been the Rector of Weston Patrick near Basingstoke, Hampshire.
The nearby town of Lyndhurst lost sixty-eight men and the hamlet of East Boldre lost seventeen. No village in the New Forest escaped without tragedy.
*********NEWS UPDATE (April 2015)*********
In April 2015, I was contacted by Peter Ireland, Exhibitions Manager at The National Library of New Zealand. In 2014, he curated ‘World War One: A Contemporary Conversation’, which opened on 16th October. The exhibition examines the effects of World War One, a hundred years on as it continues to be felt in large parts of the world:
A Contemporary Conversation looks at the period 1914 to 1918 and also considers the urgent subject of war today. World War One inflicted suffering on all sides, and while our account of this is non-partisan, the focus is on New Zealanders’ experience of the war. This is told through diaries, letters, and other documents drawn from the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library and Archives New Zealand. These often poignant first-hand accounts provide a sense of what it was like to endure the vicissitudes of war.
Peter wrote to say that he was working on a case content refresh for the exhibition. One of the items on display is a register belonging to Archives New Zealand that records the deaths of New Zealand servicemen in England, some of whom are buried at The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Cemetery, St. Nicholas Church, Brockenhurst.
Peter came across this article and contacted me asking whether I would grant permission to the Library for them to include a selection of my photographs, featured here, alongside the register. I am delighted to confirm that I have now sent the photographs to Peter and these will indeed be on display in the exhibition very soon.
In the meantime, Peter has kindly provided me with a selection of images featuring this exhibition which I am thrilled to share with you here.
- More information about ‘World War One: A Contemporary Conversation’ can be found here.
- More information about the National Library of New Zealand can be found here.
- The National Library of New Zealand have also produced a series of guides for anyone wishing to research aspects of World War One using their Library as well as The Alexander Turnbull Library. Both institutions have significant collections relating to all aspects of New Zealand and New Zealanders during World War One. For more information on this click here.
************* NEWS UPDATE ENDS **************
For The Fallen
By Laurence Binyon (1917)
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.