Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)
In Italy, spirits were high as in June 1915 the Italian army made a rapid advance into Austria-Hungary, which looked as though it would be quickly defeated. The Italian front line stretched for 650km. Much of the fighting was along the valley of the River Isonzo, near where Teresa was based at Cervignano. There were twelve Battles of the Isonzo between 1915 and 1917. To see a map of the Italian Front and to read more about it please click here.
Voluntary British nursing units were being sent out to Italy, including a group headed by Mrs Marie Watkins with whom Teresa was to work. Like most war nurses, Teresa would have been appointed on a two week’s probation and then was taken on for longer once she had proved her worth.
Teresa would have had to buy her own uniform. Nurses’ uniforms were priced at roughly £1 19s. The blue silk Red Cross headdress which Teresa wore during the war survives in the Attingham collection.
Nurses had to make their own red crosses for their armband and aprons. With no guidelines for dimensions, no two crosses were the same! The emblem is an inversion of the Swiss flag and alludes to the origins of the Red Cross in Switzerland in the 1860s. Attingham is fortunate to have Teresa’s Red Cross armband in the collection. On the reverse is an official Red Cross endorsement stamp.
The brassard (arm band) was worn on Teresa’s left arm. If she was captured in an invasion, in theory it entitled her to the international protection accorded to all Red Cross personnel. Teresa would also have carried a certificate of identity to show that she was under Red Cross protection. To discover more about the Red Cross work during the war, please click here.
Amongst Teresa’s war letters are many tragic stories. One of the new faces at the hospital where she worked was Ethel Harbier. In June 1915 Ethel wrote to Teresa stating that she must travel from Italy to England because her two nieces both lost their husbands on the same day. How times had changed for these women.
In June 1915 there was a scandal as the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French, blamed the failure of the battle of Neuve Chapelle on a shortage of munitions. In Britain a shell crisis led to more women being employed in munitions.
The appeal for female munition workers was to have a devastating impact on country houses which relied on the work of female servants. Maids left in their droves, attracted by the higher wages and independence that working in a munitions factory offered. Later in the war, Teresa’s sister, Gioconda, was to consider doing munitions work in England.
On the 23rd of June the London Gazette stated that Mr Van Bergen, the tenant at Attingham had been made a temporary Captain.
In October 1914 the Van Bergens had opened a war hospital at Attingham and by June 1915 wished to use more rooms. However, Lord Berwick had to balance his wish to help the wounded soldiers with his desire to care for the house and its contents. He was worried that some of the beautiful interiors might sustain damage if the rooms were used by the soldiers.
At a VAD hospital like Attingham, medical officers were paid £1 a day, matrons £1 1s a week and nurses £40 a year. Part-time local VAD nurses were unpaid but board, laundry and travel expenses could be claimed. It is likely that many of the women in the village of Atcham helped out at the Attingham hospital.
To make them immediately obvious as convalescing soldiers, patients at the Attingham hospital were made to change their khaki for a blue flannel hospital jacket and trousers, a white shirt and a red tie. Soldiers kept their own cap and boots and photographs show men from an array of different regiments convalescing at Attingham.
To see some coloured photographs of wartime soldiers in their hospital blues uniform please click here.
Visitors to Dunham Massey, a National Trust property near Manchester, can get a sense of what a wartime hospital in a country house may have looked and felt like. For more information on this please click here.