Kitchener in petticoats – October 1914

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

October was to be a busy month for Teresa who continued her work in London dealing with donations of money and clothes for the Belgian refugees as well as helping them to find work, such as sewing, working on farms, giving music lessons and working as gardeners. Letters show how grateful the refugees were for her help, particularly when she helped reunite them with their families.

Belgian refugees receiving clothes, Ostend, 28th August 1914

Belgian refugees receiving clothes, Ostend, 28th August 1914. © IWM (Q 53217)

 

As well as working at the refugee centre at Aldwych, Teresa also found work at a centre for Belgian refugees at Millfield House, Edmonton, which had formerly been a workhouse. Teresa proudly described her work in a letter to her sister Gioconda:

‘My Millfield House Refuge is going most beautifully. My only fear is now that the refugees will soon give out – I shall be upset giving up this work – I got 35 to Darlington today, 50 to Brunner, Mond & Co, Northwich tomorrow, 50 to Keighley etc. besides various smaller departures. Everyone seems quite pleased with me + my work and I think you may say a little about my achievements for I quite inspire respect!’

Strand Workhouse Edmonton from north entrance to Belgian Refuge c 1915

Strand Workhouse Edmonton from north entrance to Belgian Refuge c 1915. To see more information on the Edmonton workhouse please click here.

Gioconda replied that she followed Teresa’s ‘instructions to brag a little about’ her war work. Gioconda told her sister:

‘I expect that by the time you come back to Venice, (if Venice exists any more & is not reduced to a heap of muddy bricks) you will have gained the reputation of being Kitchener in petticoats.’

Lord Kitchener poster

Lord Kitchener poster. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 2734)

 

Teresa was enthusiastic to help the war effort as much as she could and applied for work censoring letters. The disappointing reply which she received shows the prejudices that many women faced at the time. She was told:

I do not know if they would allow a lady to do the work of censoring letters, and I am afraid you would find it very uncomfortable working in camp; and of course you could not live here, as it would be still more uncomfortable and rough for you.’

 Teresa had applied to carry out this work at Frith Hill camp, a prisoner of war camp in Surrey that Londoners came to visit as a day trip! To see more information on the Frith Hill camp please click here.

Postcard of the Frith Hill camp, Surrey.

Postcard of the Frith Hill camp, Surrey. Image courtesy of Picture Postcards from the Great War 1914-1918.

 

Teresa was far from the only lady pushing against the constraints placed on women. Gioconda’s friend told her of a newly married lady who went with her husband to Galicia dressed as a soldier but was discovered and sent back.

October also saw the Hultons affected by the tragedy of war. A family friend, Katherine Bernard, lost her younger son and wrote to thank Teresa for her condolences. She described that though she felt sometimes that she ‘couldn’t bear the idea of never seeing him again in this world’ she tried to find comfort in the fact that she knew where her son’s grave was and that his actions were ultimately successful, writing ‘It seems to give one immense Brotherhood all this sacrifice + suffering for so fine a cause!’

Katherine was far from alone in her loss. October 1914 marked the beginning of the First Battle of Ypres fought over a strategically important Belgian town. The battle left around 56,000 British casualties.

First Battle of Ypres, 1914. Distrubution of mail on the roadside near Ypres. The 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards, October 1914.

First Battle of Ypres, 1914. Distrubution of mail on the roadside near Ypres. The 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards, October 1914. © IWM (Q 57197)

 

Attingham

With casualties of war mounting, Attingham Park Auxiliary Military Hospital was much needed when it opened on the 20th of October. The first patients were Belgian officers and privates. The Outer Library was used as a ward and had previously contained a billiard table but this was moved to the Picture Gallery when the hospital began. In 1914 there were only 11 beds and this had increased to 60 by 1918.

The Outer Library at Attingham Park as a hospital ward during WWI

The Outer Library at Attingham Park as a hospital ward during WWI

Mrs van Bergen, the tenant at Attingham, was the Commandant of the Attingham hospital and she was in charge of all hospital affairs except for medical and nursing services. Medical attendance was provided locally and voluntarily, with Mr R. de Salis Stawell, a medical practitioner in Shrewsbury, acting as the surgeon. Two nurses, Sister West and Sister Johnson, were joined by numerous staff in other functions as well as medical staff from nearby Berrington hospital if required. Many local women volunteered at the hospital.

Mrs Van Bergen (left) and a nurse at Attingham Park during WWI

Mrs Van Bergen (left) and a nurse at Attingham Park during WWI

Convoys of wounded soldiers usually went straight to Military Base Hospitals before being sent to the voluntary hospitals, but in Shropshire trains came straight from Southampton or Dover. Initially there were no ambulances and hospitals had to rely on the kindness of tradesmen in Shrewsbury for the use of their commercial vehicles and on loans of private cars. To view footage of soldiers leaving a ship and boarding an ambulance please click here.

Wounded soldiers and nurses in a car at Attingham Park during WWI

Wounded soldiers and nurses in a car at Attingham Park during WWI.

The patients at Attingham were generally less seriously wounded than at other hospitals and needed convalescence. The servicemen preferred the auxiliary hospitals to military hospitals because they were not so strict, less crowded and the surroundings more homely. Photographs show the Outer Library ward with flowers and pretty bedspreads. By 1918 there was an average number of 33 patients resident daily and on average patients stayed for over a month.

Nurses and wounded soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham Park during WWI

Nurses and wounded soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham Park during WWI.

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