Posted in Archaeology, Decorative Arts, History, Maritime History, Museum, World War One, World War Two

Gun Shells Into Vases & Rat Skins Into Wallets – The Art of Souveniring: Stories From The Great War Part 7

A silent film by British Pathe, ‘A Good Use For Zeppelins’, World War One. Published on You Tube, 13.4.2014. The remains of a zeppelin made into souvenirs, usually napkin rings, for the benefit of the War Seals Foundation. In 1916, the British War Office donated aluminium from another zeppelin to be made into souvenirs to be sold to benefit employees of the London and North-Western Railway who had been wounded in the war.

Collecting souvenirs was often a risky business. There are many contemporary accounts of soldiers taking foolhardy risks in order to acquire that unusual trophy, the danger itself probably adding to the value of the piece. So commonplace was it for a soldier to be killed or wounded while ‘souveniring, that it was often reported almost nonchalantly.

(Saunders, N. J., Trench Art: A Brief History and Guide 1914-1939, Pen & Sword Military, 2011, p.122)

The inspiration for this article came from a visit to my family at Easter. I noticed a couple of German artillery shells on the mantelpiece filled with yellow Chrysanthemums. A novel use for  ‘spent ammunition’, I thought. Naturally, the historian in me was keen to find-out more.

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Women filling shells with shrapnel at the Krupp works, Germany, c.1916.

The outer shells of both vases are decorated in relief depicting scenes from history including Hannibal crossing the Alps. My relative knew very few details about provenance and backstory of these objects which were given to her by a friend.

Detail of German shell cases, now turned into vases, belonging to one of my family members. Date-stamped on bottom, 1916. ©Come Step Back In Time.
Detail of German shell cases, now turned into vases, belonging to one of my relatives. Headstamp on bottom shows year to be 1916. ©Come Step Back In Time.

My relative told me that the shells were produced in a German munitions factory in World War One. The headstamp is inscribed: ‘Patronenfabrik Karlsruhe and Fried Krupp A.G.’.  Krupp A.G. were founded in 1811 and during World War One manufactured munitions, heavy guns (16.5 inch howitzer known as “Big Bertha”, only four of these were made), barbed wire, stainless steel and eighty-four U-boats for the German Navy. The latter were built at Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft, a shipbuilding company in the harbour at Kiel. After World War One, Krupp supplied steel teeth and jaws for wounded veterans. Krupp A.G. remained the world’s leading steelmakers and arms manufacturers until the end of World War Two. The Krupp dynasty were also plagued by a number of high-profile scandals in the twentieth century but I will leave you to Google these for yourself!

The base of one of the shell case vases. The inscription confirms that that the shell was manufactured by Fried Krupp A.G., 1916 at the Cartridge Factory Karlsruhe, Germany. The two 'flaming bomb' symbols are found on all cartridge castings made by Patronenfabrik Karlsruge for the Army and Navy in World War One.  ©Come Step Back In Time.
Base of shell casing. The inscription confirms that the shell was manufactured by Fried Krupp A.G., 1916 at the Cartridge Factory Karlsruhe, Germany. The two ‘flaming bomb’ symbols are found on all cartridge casings made by Patronenfabrik Karlsruhe for the Army and Navy during World War One. ©Come Step Back In Time.

Designs on the shell casings have been created by a technique known as ‘acid-etching’ and this example was likely to have been produced at Bezalel School of Arts in Jerusalem in the 1920s. Unfortunately, some of the detail has been lost due to years of over-polishing, which is a great shame but a common problem with these brass objects.

©Come Step Back In Time.
©Come Step Back In Time.
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October,1914. The gun-finishing workshop in the Krupp armament factory at Essen, where the great ‘coal-box’ siege-guns were made. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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The Krupp gun factory number 1, Essen, Germany, 1917. Krupp supplied the German army’s heavy artillery pieces during World War One. A photograph from Der Grosse Krieg in Bildern. (Photo by Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images).

Researching the subject of ‘souveniring’ and Trench Art, of which these shell cases are  particularly fine examples, has been fascinating. There is a lot written about this topic. Trench Art (sometimes called Soldier Art) is the collective term used to refer to war souvenirs that have been re-fashioned into everyday items or works of art. These objects represent a remembrance of war. Archaeologist, Nicholas Saunders, points-out:

Trench Art in the home was a way of linking the desolated individual with the wider community of bereaved, through shared displays of objects and also ensured that memories were always just a glance away. For the bereaved, placing a metal letter-opener, bullet-crucifix, or pair of polished shells on the mantelpiece, in the hallway or on a bedside dresser – perhaps next to a photograph of the deceased – was a constant reminder of the loved one.

(Saunders, N. J., Trench Art: A Brief History and Guide 1914-1939, Pen & Sword Military, 2011, p.129)

During World War One, these items were often used as ‘currency’, by soldiers and civilians, to purchase food and other sundries. It is important to note here that most Trench Art was created away from the trenches, contrary to what the name suggests. During quieter periods of non-action, it is true that some soldiers did make objects out of ballistic detritus but most items were made by POWs and convalescing soldiers (as handicraft therapy). Civilians with an artistic eye also produced Trench Art. These attractive mementos were sold to make extra cash or raise funds for war-related charitable causes.  Regimental badges were turned into ‘sweetheart jewellery’ which soldiers gave to their wives or girlfriends back home.  After the war, battlefield tourists would purchase a piece of Trench Art as a souvenir of their visit.

Prisoners of war on both sides of the conflict produced an amazing variety of artifacts made for sale to soldiers or civilians in areas near the camps in which they were interned. Some camps held artistic exhibitions in which these handicrafts were offered for sale to the public. British civilians in Ruhleben, a camp outside Berlin, produced a number of objects made by melting down silver coins. They also made inventive use of available materials such as rat skins to make leather wallets. Many of these items were sent home as souvenirs to their families in Britain. German prisoners in Britain created flower vases and napkin rings using mutton and beef bones from their rations, while Turkish prisoners made realistic snakes and other objects from beads. Russian prisoners made use of their woodworking skills to produce carved cigarette boxes and other items. Members of the Royal Naval Division interned in Holland crafted a variety of wooden boxes and picture frames. When brass and aluminum were made available to prisoners, many of them made souvenir shell vases, match box covers or letter openers to sell to their captors or to nearby civilians.

….time has obscured the provenance of many of these pieces forever. As they are dredged from basements and attics, relics of a long forgotten war, and sold or consigned to second hand or antique shops or sold at estate sales, objects are forced to speak for themselves. Some pieces, with specific names, units, battles and dates are eloquent. . .most have drifted far from their original moorings.

(Kimball, J. A., Trench Art of the Great War and Related Souvenirs, [1989] 2005, accessed on-line 13.4.14)

Lovely examples of Trench Art on display in the World War One Gallery at the Royal Marines Museum, Southsea, Hampshire. (Left) Paper knives made from .303 bullets and shell cases. (Right) Pen made by Royal Marine in 1916 from two .303 rifle bullets. Another example of Trench Art, World War One. Two shell cases on display at Corfe Museum, Dorset. ©Come Step Back In Time.
Lovely examples of Trench Art on display in the World War One Gallery at the Royal Marines Museum, Southsea, Hampshire. (Left) Paper knives made from .303 bullets and shell cases. (Right) Pen made by Royal Marine in 1916 from two .303 rifle bullets. ©Come Step Back In Time.
Another example of Trench Art, World War One. Two shell cases, commemorating the battles of Ypres and Somme, on display at Corfe Museum, Dorset. ©Come Step Back In Time.
Further examples of Trench Art, World War One. Two shell cases, commemorating the battles of Ypres and Somme, on display at Corfe Museum, Dorset. ©Come Step Back In Time.

I had no idea how widespread the practice of ‘souveniring’ was during World War One. Shrapnel, buttons, helmets, gun cartridges, bullets and shells were some of the more traditional items procured from the battlefield. Fine examples of Trench Art can be found in Museums across the world, antique stores and on-line auction sites. However, many of these objects can be found in a domestic setting, often handed down between generations or exchanged as gifts amongst friends. But sadly, as Jane Kimball points-out above, objects such as the vases belonging to my relative, have now become detached from their owners and therefore much of their original sentimental value has been lost.

One of the most famous soldiers who dabbled in the art of  ‘souveniring’ was Liverpudlian John “Barney” Hines (1873-1958). His story is extraordinary, in northern France he has become a bit of a legend amongst the region’s treasure-hunters where ploughed fields still expel ‘iron harvest’ a century later. Hines began his military career serving in the Royal Navy and then joined the King’s Liverpool Regiment. His first campaign was the Second Boer War (1899-1902) where he unfortunately contracted malaria.

When World War One broke-out, Hines had only just emigrated to Australia. He volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force in August, 1915. Early 1916, he was discharged as being medically unfit. However, as the war progressed and the need for men increased, recruitment rules, particularly in relation to medical fitness, were relaxed. In August, 1916, Hines took the opportunity to re-enlist and was sent to the Western Front in May, 1917 where he remained until June, 1918. Unfortunately, his health continued to hamper his active service which eventually resulted in another medical discharge, this time due to problems with his haemorrhoids.

Apart from his ongoing health problems, Hines had a number of character traits that made him a less than ideal ‘poster-boy’ for the forces. Hines was illiterate and prone to periods of erratic behaviour, he also enjoyed a drop or two of the ‘good old amber nectar’ even trading some of his treasured souvenirs for alcohol and more seriously, a stolen horse for a bottle of whiskey. On another occasion, he supposedly ‘found’ suitcases, full of French Francs, in a bank. Another incident involved a grandfather clock which he had purloined and brought back to his trench, much to the frustrations of his colleagues. The clock didn’t remain for long, its chimes attracted enemy attention so his fellow soldiers blew it to bits. His military records show that he was court martialed no less than nine times for drunkenness and a further entry shows he went AWOL after a bout of stealing.

However, having said all of that, Hines was actually a competent soldier. On one occasion, June, 1917, he captured sixty Germans by throwing hand grenades into their pillbox at the Battle of  Messines. A heroic deed that most soldiers would receive a recommendation for military honours. However, due to his behaviour between these periods of fighting, one action certainly cancelling out the other, his brave efforts were overlooked. He was never decorated during his military career. Hines ended his days, in abject poverty, sleeping rough on the outskirts of Sydney until he eventually died in January, 1958, aged eighty-four.

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John ‘Barney’ Hines  known as ‘Wild Eye’ or ‘the Souvenir King’. This photograph, taken by Frank Hurley, propelled John Hines into the limelight when it was published. Hurley took the photograph in France on the morning of 27th September, 1917, after the Battle of  Polygon Wood. Hines is pictured surrounded by ‘souvenirs’ he collected during the fighting, including various German weapons and personal effects. This photograph is from an album called ‘Official Australian War Photographs’, produced by the Australian War Records Section which was established by the British government in 1917. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Country House, Exhibition, Film, History, History of Medicine, Maritime History, Motoring History, Museum, World War One, World War Two

Very Adaptable Dames & The Crimson Field: Stories From The Great War – Part 3

Uniforms worn by the British Red Cross Nursing VADs in both World Wars. Left-hand side is World War Two and right-hand side is World War One. On display at the Heritage Centre, Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley, Hampshire.
Indoor uniforms worn by the British Red Cross Nursing VADs in both World Wars. Left-hand side is World War Two and right-hand side is World War One. On display at the Heritage Centre, Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley, Hampshire. Photograph ©Come Step Back In Time.

Later on this Spring, a new six-part drama production The Crimson Field (previously known as The Ark) will be aired on BBC One.  Written by Sarah Phelps (Great Expectations, Eastenders) and directed by David Evans (Downton Abbey, One Night), Richard Clark (Doctor Who, Life On Mars) and Thaddeus O’Sullivan (Silent Witness, Single-Handed).

Set in a field hospital on the coast of France during The Great War, The Crimson Field, features a team of doctors, nurses and women volunteers (Voluntary Aid Detachments – VADs) battling against the odds to save the lives of men wounded in the trenches. The hospital becomes a frontier between battlefield and home front where class and gender frictions are rife amongst a group of men and women thrown together under extraordinary circumstances.

The cast includes: Oona Chaplin (The Hour, Quantum Of Solace), Hermione Norris (Spooks, Cold Feet), Suranne Jones (Scott And Bailey, The Secret Of Crickley Hall), Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey, Scott And Bailey), Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave, An Angel At My Table) and Marianne Oldham (WPC 56).

Actress Oona Chaplin, who plays VAD Kitty Trevelyan, comments:

‘The War To End All Wars’ – unfortunately that wasn’t the case. We keep fighting each other and committing horrific acts of violence. Although the technology of war may be different, the people have hardly changed, which Sarah Phelps has captured here so beautifully. In The Crimson Field we follow men and women on their journey of survival, their struggle with meaning and love, and the small victories that mean so much.

(From Press Release issued by BBC for The Crimson Field, 4.2.2014)

Actress Hermione Norris, who plays the field hospital’s Matron, Grace Carter, adds:

The emotional and psychological impact World War One had on a generation and beyond has always held a deep fascination for me. Sarah Phelps has crafted a compelling script with rich and complex characters who really explore the depth and impact of love and loss in this heroic, yet tragic period in British history. It’s a privilege to be involved in this BBC production 100 years on, bringing the drama of World War One into the hearts and minds of this generation. ‘Lest we forget.’

(From Press Release issued by BBC for The Crimson Field, 4.2.2014)

In the firm belief that prevention of distress is better than its relief, and that employment is better than charity, I have inaugurated the Queen’s “Work for Women Fund”. Its object is to provide employment for as many as possible of the women in this country who have been thrown out of work by the war. Mary R.

(Queen Mary’s Message to the Women of Great Britain, August 1914)

World War One was a time of unprecedented change in the roles of women in society. Before the outbreak of war, opportunities for women to obtain paid work were limited, apart from obvious roles in domestic service. Approximately four hundred thousand domestic servants left their jobs in order to take-up roles as part of the war effort. Once war had been declared, in August 1914, wider employment opportunities slowly materialised, attracting thousands of women to volunteer their services.

Trade unions agreed that, for the duration of the war, women could be employed in roles previously occupied by men. This agreement was known as ‘Dilution’ but came with the strict understanding that once war was over, women would leave their jobs thus creating re-employment for returning servicemen. However, many firms went on to retain their female workers after 1918. A shortage of able-bodied men returning from war necessitated this course of action.

Women in the factory of Taskers metal works and engineering company, Andover, Hampshire.
Women working in the factory of Taskers metal works and engineering company, Andover, Hampshire during World War One.  Image from the collection at Milestones Hampshire’s Living History Museum, Basingstoke.

Production at Hampshire-based metal works Taskers, thrived during World War One and many of its employees served in the armed forces. Women were recruited to Taskers in large numbers to fill the workforce gap and some were retained after war had ended. A number of men, who had previously worked at Taskers, died or were seriously injured in the conflict. The Managing Director’s son, Henry, was shot dead. A former apprentice who worked at Taskers during this turbulent time, recalls:

Some who returned to work suffered or were handicapped as a result of being gassed or injured in some other way. ‘Sab’ Hallett was invalided out and came here to work as a turner in the erecting shop. He had been gassed. Our Managing Director had lost his oldest son Henry shot, but his second son Cyril returned from the Navy to the firm here at the end of 1919.

Girls and women workers were brought into the firm and apart from Shell work were employed working shaping machines, painting and in the saw mill and carpenter’s shop. I well remember the fun getting the two in the carpenter’s shop to know how to handle the woodwork tools….It was generally felt that our cause was a righteous one, and that our mates on the front-lines in France would expect us to be really behind them. After the Armistice many of our girl and women war workers remained working at Tasker’s works and were called ‘The Hangers On’.

(Unknown oral history interviewee, recorded 1964. Transcript on display at Milestones Hampshire’s Living History Museum, Basingstoke).

Below are statistics showing the number of women employed, across a variety of different roles:

  • 113,000 women joined the Land Army;
  • Around 950,000 women worked in the munitions industry;
  • 38,000 Voluntary Aid Detachment (VADs) staff were women and girls;
  • Over 57,000 women served in the Women’s Auxilliary Army Corps;
  • First Aid Nursing Yeomanry won 17 Military Medals, 1 Legion d’Honneur and 27 Croix de Guerre;
  • 9,000 women were recruited into the Women’s Royal Air Force;
  • Over 5,000 women served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service;
  • Nearly 200,000 women were employed in government departments.

(From, The First World War, 2014, p.21, published by Hampshire Record Office: Archive Education Service)

According to historians, Neil Storey and Molly Housego:

Many ladies had taken over the vacancies to carry out simple clerking and shop work in local businesses, factory work (such as boot making or tinned foods) and light agricultural work (such as fruit picking or helping with the grain harvest) since August 1914…On 17 March 1915 the Board of Trade issued an appeal to women to register for ‘war service’ work at their local Labour Exchange…After the first week of the announcement over twenty-thousand registrations were received the take-up by employers was slow…

(Storey N. R., and Housego M., 2011, p. 31, Women in The First World War, Shire Publications)

Following the introduction of the Military Service Act and conscription in 1916, the window of opportunity for women seeking employment changed dramatically. Initially, the Act specified that all single men aged eighteen to forty-one years old were liable for military service unless they were widowed with children or ministers of a religion. By the Summer of 1916, conscription was extended to married men and eventually the age bracket extended to fifty-one. This meant that by 1918, more than a million women were employed in previously male-orientated occupations:

Far more women were taken onto the national workforce in 1916 after the introduction of conscription saw thousands more men leave their places of work to serve in the forces. More women were becoming drivers of horse-drawn delivery carts as well as motorised vehicles and vans. Many upper-class women could already drive, and a number of them owned their own cars drove for the Royal Automobile Club Owner-Drivers’ War Service Corps.

(Storey N. R., and Housego M., 2011, p. 33, Women in The First World War, Shire Publications)

Mary Sangster, a Hampshire VAD.
Mary Sangster, a Hampshire VAD. On display at the Heritage Centre, Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley, Hampshire.

The VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments) played a significant part in the war effort. Formed in 1909, in every country, with the aim of providing assistance during time of war. Both men and women could join a detachment to undertake a variety of roles such as cooks, kitchen-maids, clerks, house-maids, ward-maids, laundresses, motor-drivers and of course nurses. When war broke-out, the British Red Cross and the Order of St. John formed the Joint War Committee in order to pool both monetary and human resources. Members of both were organised into Voluntary Aid Detachments. The term ‘VAD’ later come to be used when referring to both an individual member as well as an entire detachment:

There is not, and never has been, any reasonable doubt as to what constitutes a fully trained nurse…In every large hospital there is a matron, and there are sisters, staff nurses and probationers. The matron and sisters are addressed by their titles, but staff nurses and probationers are alike addressed as ‘Nurse’. A probationer of only one day’s standing would consequently be called, for example, ‘Nurse Jones’…It was, therefore, in accordance with the usual practice that a VAD member engaged in the nursing department of any hospital should be called ‘Nurse’.

(Notice issued by the Joint War Committee, reprinted in Storey N. R., and Housego M., 2011, p. 22, Women in The First World War, Shire Publications)

All VADs were trained in basic first-aid and others would then go on to specialise and receive further training in nursing, cookery or hygiene and sanitation. All VADs had to pay for their own training, food, sleeping accommodation and uniform, which for a nurse cost £1  19s  2 1/2d.  It was not surprising then that many VADs came from middle and upper-class families who had plenty of free time on their hands, financial resources and could work for free.

1915 VAD recruitment poster. It was so successful no other design was needed.
1915 VAD recruitment poster. It was so successful no other design was needed. On display at the Heritage Centre, Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley, Hampshire.

The iconic 1915 VADs recruitment poster was so successful that it was the only one ever needed and by 1918 there were twenty-three thousand nurses and eighteen thousand nursing orderlies that had joined a detachment. At end of the war, ninety thousand people had joined the VADs. When peace returned the British Red Cross and the Order of St. John became two separate voluntary aid societies once again but the VAD scheme continued until the 1930s.

There’s no Xmas leave for us scullions,

We’ve got to keep on with the grind:

Just cooking for Britain’s heroes,

But, bless you! We don’t really mind …

We’re baking, and frying, and boiling,

From morning until night’

But we’ve got to keep on a bit longer,

Till Victory comes in sight…

Yes we’ve got to hold on a while longer,

Till we’ve beaten the Hun to his knees:

And then ‘Goodbye’ to the kitchen;

The treacle, the jam and the cheese.

(From: Christmas 1916 ‘Thoughts in a VAD Hospital Kitchen’, featured on an exhibition panel in Heritage Visitor Centre, Royal Victoria Country Park)

VADs could and would turn their hand to almost anything, earning the female contingent the nickname, ‘very adaptable dames’. However, according to historian and former nurse, Yvonne McEwen, (speaking on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, 17th February, 2014), there are a number of myths surrounding the role of VADs in World War One. The nursing VADs did not replace the professional nursing corps (Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service – QAIMNS) but assisted them in their daily duties both on the front-line and in military hospitals across Britain. The QA nurses were highly trained, unmarried women over the age of thirty who had chosen the nursing profession as a career for life. However, as the war progressed demand for trained nursing staff grew and recruitment restrictions, such as age limits, were relaxed. Even these changes did not attract the numbers of professional trainees required and VADs became even more vital to the war effort, taking-on increased duties. All nurses faced harsh working and living conditions in the various theatres of war:

By 1915, the role of the VAD had actually moved in to military hospitals both at home and on the fighting front. Having said that, VADs never, ever worked in Casualty Clearing Stations which is another mythology…Base hospitals were relatively comfortable but as the war escalated the bombing raids became more and more frequent. It is interesting that 1917-18 is when the highest rates of death [amongst nurses] occurred because of the shelling and bombing of hospitals and clearing hospitals.

For those who worked on the front-line and of course it was not just on the Western Front, we had nurses working in Mesopotamia, Germany and East Africa. It was a global war and nurses were deployed in a global war. In the Gallipoli campaign, the nurses slept on rocks on blankets because there was no accommodation to put them in. In fact there was no proper accommodation for anybody when they first arrived, no tents erected for the sick and wounded, everyone was sleeping on blankets or mattresses on rocks and gradually over the months on the island, tented hospitals were constructed.

(Historian and former nurse Yvonne McEwen speaking on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, 17th February, 2014)

Yvonne is also keen to point-out, that nurses from Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and America all worked alongside British nurses. Her research has also revealed that in both World Wars, a total of one thousand seven hundred nurses were killed on active duty. The first nurse died in November 1914. However, this total is expected to rise as further fatalities, from both wars, come to light. For the purposes of these statistics, there is no distinction being made between professional and volunteer nurses both are equal upon death. Yvonne is campaigning for a nurses war memorial to be erected in their honour. You can read more about this appeal on The New Cavendish Club website.

I got a very septic hand, because the VADs didn’t wear rubber gloves…and if you got the slightest prick it always went septic.

(Gladys Stanford, VAD, Highfield Hospital Southampton. From an exhibition panel in Heritage Visitor Centre, Royal Victoria Country Park)

I was called for during the Battle of the Somme. At Southampton the men were in a terrible state, straight from off the ships. There was no question of VADs not helping because everyone just had to.

(A Hampshire VAD, from an exhibition panel in Heritage Visitor Centre, Royal Victoria Country Park)

During World War One, auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes were created right across Britain to treat sick and injured military personnel from the front-lines. Large private estates and houses were also transformed into hospitals. By 1918, in Hampshire alone there were fifty-nine such facilities and VADs were the lifeblood of these establishments. One of the most important military hospitals on the mainland was the former Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Hampshire.

Postcard showing the Royal Victoria Military Hospital, Netley.
Postcard showing the Royal Victoria Military Hospital, Netley. On display at the Heritage Centre, Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley, Hampshire.

Built in 1856 and opened in March, 1863, this once imposing red brick complex provided the very best medical care to wounded service personnel throughout World War One. In addition to the impressive medical facilities, there was a theatre, extensive gardens, comprehensive range of outdoor activities and endless craft activities for servicemen undergoing rehabilitation.  In 1966, the army demolished all the buildings save for The Royal Chapel which still survives and houses a heritage centre, gift shop and exhibition about the history of the former military hospital.

  • Silent film, from a series of five made in 1917. Each one features a range of ‘War Neuroses’, including the horrific effects of shell shock. Filmed mainly at The Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley. Warning, this film contains images that some viewers may find upsetting. (Uploaded by the Wellcome Library to You Tube, 2.11.2009. For more information about their educational catalogue, click here.)

The Royal Victoria Hospital was located by the shores of Southampton Water. There was once a steel and wood pier connecting the hospital to Southampton Water. Troop ships and hospital ships could unload their wounded before docking in Southampton. However, the water levels by the pier were too shallow to accommodate some of the bigger ships and as the war progressed these vessels only came into Southampton Docks, where the wounded would be transferred to either ambulances or trains for their onward journey.

Bandages, cotton wool and gauze used in World War One.
Bandages, cotton wool and gauze used at the Royal Victoria Hospital during World War One. On display at the Heritage Centre, Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley, Hampshire.

The hospital was serviced by a railway which in World War One brought a succession of ambulance trains directly there from Southampton Docks. It was said that a soldier could be injured in France on a Friday and be on a ward at the hospital by Monday. Following the Battle of the Somme (1.7.1916), one hundred and fifty-one ambulance trains transported thirty thousand casualties from Southampton Docks to mainland hospitals. A majority of the casualties ended-up at the Royal Victoria. In total one thousand two hundred and twenty ambulance trains arrived at the hospital throughout the duration of the war.

A short while after war broke-out, the War Office requested that a further five hundred bed, Hutted Hospital, be erected on a terrace behind the main building. Netley’s Hutted Hospital consisted of three separate hospitals, the Red Cross, the Irish and the Welsh. One of the conditions of erecting these temporary structures was that, if required, they could be easily dismantled and moved to France. Due to the high numbers of casualties coming through Netley as war escalated, huts were increased in number to accommodate a total of one thousand patients. The Hutted Hospital had a staff of three hundred and fifty including many VADs. Despite their temporary nature, the Hutted Hospital complex contained some very modern facilities, including x-ray equipment, electrical equipment and whirlpool baths.

We young nurses on night duty used to sneak off to the soldiers’ wards. They loved us coming down…I think it cheered them a lot…They’d say ‘Give us a kiss, lassie’. We didn’t think it was wrong at all.

Of course you felt like crying, you had a heart, you had feelings.

(Memories of Hampshire VADs, from an exhibition panel in Heritage Visitor Centre, Royal Victoria Country Park)

One of the Hutted Hospitals behind the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley during World War One.
One of the Hutted Hospitals behind the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley during World War One. On display at the Heritage Centre, Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley, Hampshire.

Last month it was announced that a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £102,000 would be given to Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley. The funding will enable the county council to team-up with local organisations to restore the Royal Chapel and undertake further research on the former Royal Victoria Hospital. Development is expected to last a year.

The Royal Chapel. Only surviving building of the former Royal Victoria Military Hospital, Netley.
The Royal Chapel. Only surviving building of the former Royal Victoria Military Hospital, Netley. Photograph ©Come Step Back In Time.
Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, History, Literature, Museum, Rural Heritage, World War One

Front Line Post & War Horses – Stories From The Great War Part 1

Women engaged in mending parcels during the First World War. ©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy British Postal Museum Archive (BPMA).
Women engaged in mending parcels during the First World War.  ‘The Last Post: Remembering The First World War Exhibition’ , at Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Shropshire.  Exhibition opens 10th April, 2014. ©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy British Postal Museum Archive (BPMA).

One hundred years on, we are all connected to the First World War, either through our own family history, the heritage of our local communities or because of its long-term impact on society and the world we live in today. From 2014 to 2018, across the world, nations, communities and individuals of all ages will come together to mark, commemorate and remember the lives of those who lived, fought and died in the First World War. IWM (Imperial War Museums) is leading the First World War Centenary Partnership, a network of local, regional, national and international cultural and educational organisations. Together, through the First World War Centenary Programme, a vibrant global programme of cultural events and activities, and online resources, we are connecting current and future generations with the lives, stories and impact of the First World War. Join us and take part in this global commemoration.

(‘First World War Centenary’ website, led by The Imperial War Museum, 2014)

The First World War commenced on 28th July, 1914 and lasted until 11th November, 1918 (Armistice).  2014 is the start of a four year, global programme of cultural events that will commemorate the lives of all of those who died, fought and were effected by the conflict.  In this article, the first of a series focussing upon aspects of The Great War, I feature two exhibitions inspired by the Centenary and that have particularly caught my eye.

Soldiers receiving post at the Western Front during the First World War. 'The Last Post: Remembering The First World War Exhibition' , at Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Shropshire.  Exhibition opens 10th April, 2014. ©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy BPMA.
Soldiers receiving post at the Western Front during the First World War. ‘The Last Post: Remembering The First World War Exhibition‘ , at Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Shropshire. Exhibition opens 10th April, 2014. ©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy BPMA.

Last Post: Remembering the First World War Exhibition

  • Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire (Monday-Friday, 10-5pm);
  • Thursday 10th April 2014 – Friday 27th March 2015;
  • A nationwide touring exhibition of Last Post: Remembering the First World War will run in parallel to the exhibition at Coalbrookdale.

This poignant new free exhibition, Last Post: Remembering the First World War, will explore the effect of the events of 1914-18 on the Post Office, its people and the contribution of postal communications to the war effort. Before 1914 Post Office communications were vital to everyday life through the telegraph, telephone and postal systems. At the outbreak of war, the Post Office, as one of the biggest businesses in the world, contributed to military operations on a scale never seen before, providing a vital means of communication between the fighting fronts and the home front. Tens of thousands of Post Office workers fought in the war and over 8,500 were killed.

A line of motor vans in reverse during World War One.
A line of postal motor vans, in reverse, during the First World War. ‘The Last Post: Remembering The First World War Exhibition’, at Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Shropshire.©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy BPMA

Curated by the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) in partnership with the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, the exhibition will showcase objects of military and postal importance and include stories from a Shropshire perspective. The exhibition encompasses a variety of themes that bring to life the importance of human contact and communication during a time of great suffering and uncertainty. The themes will include communications both at home and on the front line and the working lives of people involved in the postal service during the war, including those of women on War Work.

Dr Matt Thompson, Senior Curator Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust commented “The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust is proud to be able to commemorate the often forgotten role that the Post Office played during the First World War and is grateful to the BPMA and other partners for their hard work in putting this excellent exhibition together”.

“The First World War Centenary is an opportunity to reflect on the impact that this cataclysmic conflict had upon everyone, not just those fighting on the front line”, said Dr Adrian Steel, Director BPMA. “Few organisations had a greater role to play, or a greater impact, over the five years of hostilities than the British postal service. It has been a pleasure as always to work with our friends at Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust to bring this significant exhibition and its often-hidden stories to the people of Shropshire and the wider public.”

Temporary storage of mail bags in readiness for despatching to Malta's military base during the First World War.
Temporary storage of mail bags in readiness for despatching to Malta’s military base during the First World War. A line of postal motor vans, in reverse, during the First World War. ‘The Last Post: Remembering The First World War Exhibition’, at Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Shropshire. ©Royal Mail Group Ltd., Courtesy BPMA.


  • Film clip in which racing journalist and former jockey, Brough Scott, talks about the Isle of Wight’s most famous ‘War Horse’, Warrior who served in a number of famous battles during the First World War including Somme and Ypres. ‘Warrior’ went on to become a much-loved police horse, patrolling the streets of Southampton. (BBC Countryfile, 2012).

    Lucy Kemp-Welch's 'Mixed Company at a Race Meeting'. Oil on canvas (1905). Image courtesy of  Lucy Kemp-Welch Memorial Trust Collection.
    Lucy Kemp-Welch’s ‘Mixed Company at a Race Meeting’. Oil on canvas (1905). Image courtesy of Lucy Kemp-Welch Memorial Trust Collection.

Home Lad, Home: The War Horse Story – Exhibition

  • St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire (Monday-Saturday, 10-4pm);
  • Saturday 1st March – Saturday 26th April, 2014 (closed Sundays):
  • Adults £4, concessions £3, children 5-15 £2.

Save The War Horses! – Mr John Galsworthy’s Appeal

“Honour to the Army Veterinary Corps! As far back as October 16 they had already ‘dealt with some 27,000 horses….saving the lives of many.’ They are a splendid corps doing splendid work. Please help them!” writes Mr John Galsworthy, the author, in a stirring appeal for contributions to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Fund for Sick and Wounded Horses at the Front, which has the approval of the Army Council.

“Twenty-five horse-drawn ambulances and twenty-five motor-lorries are especially required at once. Now that the situation is more in hand we can surely turn a little to the companions  of man. They, poor things, have no option in this business; get no benefit out of it of any kind whatever; know none of the sustaining sentiments of heroism; feel no satisfaction in duty done.”

(Notice placed in a British newspaper during the First World War)

Marking the First World War centenary, this art exhibition will reveal how horses were taken from civilian life and prepared for the military. Home Lad, Home follows horses from peacetime occupations to the Remount Depots and active service, as depicted in paintings by Lucy Kemp-Welch, Cecil Aldin, Lionel Edwards, Algernon Talmage, Lady Butler and Edwin Noble. These artists recorded the work of the Remount Service (including Depots at Romsey and Swaythling), the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, Cavalry, Artillery and transport services. It reveals the contribution of horses to the war effort in a remarkable and moving story.

Artist, Lucy Kemp-Welch (1869-1958), specialised in painting working horses and Cecil Aldin (1870-1935) and Lionel Edwards (1878-1966) are both best known for their paintings of horses as well as other animals. There will also be charcoal and watercolour work by official war artist Edwin Noble, a former resident of nearby Milford-on-Sea who served in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, as well as paintings by Lady Butler (aka Elizabeth Southerden Thompson Butler 1846-1933) and Algernon Talmage (1871-1939). Modern day interpretation of the war horse experience will include a commissioned piece by artist James Aldridge as well as Amy Goodman’s sculpture commemorating the work of the Romsey Remount Depot.

Goodman is also currently working on a life-size statue, part of the Romsey War Horse Project, which it is hoped will be erected in Romsey’s Memorial Park early 2015. On her involvement with the Project she said: “Being involved in the War Horse Project is such an honour. I wish to convey the powerful bond between horse and soldier, despite their hardship through war.”

Aldridge’s work for the Home Lad, Home exhibition will research and explore the Remount, when thousands of horses and mules were gathered in Romsey and Swaythling in Hampshire, before being sent to the front line. He will also mentor a group of young people in creating their own work for exhibition, inspired by their experience of seeing War Horse at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, and by research into the role and lives of horses in the First World War. The exhibition will be accompanied by a special schools’ programme, developed in partnership with The Mayflower Theatre, to mark the arrival there of acclaimed National Theatre production of War Horse as part of its UK tour.  It is supported by Arts Council England, Hampshire County Council and Thesis Asset Management.

Young artists at Priestlands School, Lymington are creating their own responses to the themes of the Home Lad, Home exhibition and the National Theatre’s production of War Horse.  The students’ work will be included within the exhibition, alongside newly commissioned pieces by Aldridge. To find out more about the Home Lad, Home educational project, Click Here.

Edwin Noble's 'An Injured horse being loaded into a motor ambulance'. Image courtesy of The Imperial War Museum (IWM).
Edwin Noble’s ‘An Injured horse being loaded into a motor ambulance’. Image courtesy of The Imperial War Museum (IWM).

Approximately, 1.3 million horses and mules were requisitioned for war work and only about one in ten horses survived. A large number of these animals came from Hampshire and Southern England. Some horses had already been working on farms or pulling delivery carts, others were wild horses but all had to be retrained in order that they were ready to meet the demands of front line action. Romsey Remount Depot, Hampshire, witnessed tens of thousands of wild horses passing through its training programme.

The Romsey Camp was located on the summit of Pauncefoot Hill close to Ranvilles Farm. The first horses arrived there in March 1915. For the first two or three weeks, the animals were kept in enclosures called a ‘kraal’. After they had settled in, training would commence alongside their military handlers. This five hundred acre site housed two thousand staff and continued until its closure in 1919.

Edwin Noble's 'A Prisoner of War'. Image courtesy of IWM.
Edwin Noble’s ‘A Prisoner of War’. Image courtesy of IWM.

Swaythling Remount Depot, North Stoneham, Hampshire was built at the start of the First World War. It was the largest of four Depots in England and provided accommodation not only for horses but also mules. These animals were prepared at the Remount Depot for their duties on the Western Front. Swaythling Depot processed nearly four hundred thousand animals between 1914 and its closure in 1920. For more information on the Depot, including some fascinating images of the site in use during wartime, click here. For more information about the unique role that Hampshire played in the First World War, click here (Hampshire’s 1914 The Big Theme).

St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery has recently received initial Heritage Lottery Fund Support (a first-round pass), for a £2million major upgrade of facilities. Improvements will include a new easily accessible public archive, a superb range of interactive displays and an eye-catching new entrance to the building. The old school building will also be re-designed internally to make good use of all the space available, the shop will be improved and an attractive café area will be established.  The project ‘The Future of St. Barbe – Innovative, Inclusive, Resilient’ will create new ways of telling the stories of the people and events that have shaped the area from pre-history to modern-day. Initial development funding of £146,800 has also been awarded by HLF to help St. Barbe move forward with its exciting plans and apply for a full grant at a later date.

Consultation, planning and fundraising has now begun and will continue until 2015 when the museum will apply for the second round of HLF Funding. Building work is scheduled for 2016 and the new shape St. Barbe will be launched in 2017. An important aspect of the upgrade is the installation of an archive. The archive project will allow more access by the public to local history collections, particularly material originally held by eminent local historians, Edward King and Arthur Lloyd. The improvements will also ensure that more historical objects can be displayed, and there will be a changing programme of new displays, helping to create more educational outreach opportunities. Meanwhile the Art Gallery will continue to show national standard exhibitions.

Homeward by Cicely Fox Smith (1882-1954)

Behind a trench in Flanders the sun was dropping low,
With tramp, and creak and jingle I heard the gun-teams go;
And something seemed to ‘mind me, a-dreaming as I lay,
Of my own old Hampshire village at the quiet end of day.

Brown thatch and gardens blooming with lily and with rose,
And the cool shining river so pleasant where he flows,
White fields of oats and barley, and elderflower like foam,
And the sky gold with sunset, and the horses going home!

(Home, lad, home, all among the corn and clover!
Home, lad, home when the time for work is over!
Oh there’s rest for horse and man when the longest day is done
And they go home together at setting of the sun!)

Old Captain, Prince and Blossom, I see them all so plain,
With tasseled ear-caps nodding along the leafy lane,
There’s a bird somewhere calling, and the swallow flying low,
And the lads sitting sideways, and singing as they go.

Well gone is many a lad now, and many a horse gone too,
Off all those lads and horses in those old fields I knew;
There’s Dick that died at Cuinchy and Prince beside the guns
On the red road of glory, a mile or two from Mons!

Dead lads and shadowy horses – I see them just the same,
I see them and I know them, and name them each by name,
Going down to shining waters when all the West’s a-glow,
And the lads sitting sideways and singing as they go.

(Home, lad, home . . . with the sunset on their faces!
Home, lad, home . . . to those quiet happy places!
There’s rest for horse and man when the hardest fight is done,
And they go home together at setting of the sun!)

  • Smith’s poem, Homeward, is the inspiration behind St. Barbe’s Museum & Art Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition, Home Lad, Home : The War Horse Story which opens on Saturday 1st March, 2014. For more information on the exhibition: Click Here.

    Lucy Kemp-Welch's 'Forward -  Enlist Now' poster (1915). Image courtesy of  Bushey Museum & Art Gallery.
    Lucy Kemp-Welch’s ‘Forward – Enlist Now’ poster (1915). Image courtesy of Bushey Museum & Art Gallery.