Not a moment to spare – November 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

Teresa’s work both at the station canteen and as a nurse at Cervignano, northern Italy, proved to be extremely busy. Between the beginning of November 1915 and November 1916 the number of soldiers cared for by Mrs Watkins’s team amounted to over 42,000.  Estimates suggest that between June and November 1915 60,000 Italian soldiers had died and over 150,000 had been wounded.

Wounded Italian soldiers, taken between 1915 and 1918.

Wounded Italian soldiers. Photo taken between 1915 and 1918. © IWM (Q 65149)

Although Teresa received plenty of letters from family and friends, she often found no time to answer them immediately. Many letters sent to her at this time have notes pencilled on the top to remind her of what she wanted to include in her reply when she found a spare moment to write back.

Letter to Teresa Hulton, February 1916.

Letter to Teresa Hulton, February 1916.

As with many war hospitals, including the one at Attingham, people raised funds so that the soldiers could have occasional luxuries. On the 11th of November Teresa wrote that she had been giving out chocolate biscuits and cigarettes to a train of soldiers that arrived at Cervignano station.

Teresa Hulton (left) helping the soldiers from the train, 1915.

Teresa Hulton (left) helping the soldiers from the train, 1915.

A wonderfully detailed letter to her sister, Gioconda, sent on the 27th of November gives an idea of what life was typically like for Teresa as a nurse and at the soldiers’ canteen at the time. She commented that the hospital was regularly receiving ‘wounded trains between 30 & 60‘ from Cervignano station. Teresa also apologised to her sister:

These days we have been so busy that I have simply not had a moment for writing. On Monday Miss Quather went away, which was a blessing as she was rather a terror and Mrs Watkins and I were longing for her to go.’

Gioconda Hulton, November 1915.

Gioconda Hulton, November 1915.

Miss Quather was replaced by a new nurse, Mabel Campbell, whom Teresa was to find easier to get along with. Teresa and Mabel stayed in touch with each other after the war.

Teresa explained to Gioconda that on first impressions Mabel ‘is rather like a boy, for she has had a lot to do with boats, so knows how to make things look very neat and clean.’ This was surely a trait that would have been welcome when it came to keeping the bustling hospital and canteen organised!

Mabel Campbell worked alongside Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.

Mabel Campbell worked alongside Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.

Teresa also described the character of the Italian surgeon, Professor Terzulli, he was ‘a very quiet man but clever and pleasant.’ In between his medical duties he helped grind the coffee and cut the bread for the soldiers’ canteen. Teresa mentioned that she had assisted this kind-hearted man with surgical operations.

Hospital room at Gradisca, northern Italy.

Hospital room at Gradisca, northern Italy.

Other new acquaintances included many British ambulance workers who supported the Cervignano hospital. One such ambulance driver was Dr Thomas Ashby, an archaeologist and Third Director of the British School in Rome. As a pacifist and conscientious objector, he took on the role with the Ambulance Unit so that he could contribute without fighting. Dr Ashby helped Teresa to find petrol for the car that she drove and to have it repaired so that she could use it for war work. For further information on his WWI photograph collection, please click here.

Dr Thomas Ashby during the 1915-1918 war.

Dr Thomas Ashby during the war.

By 1917 nearly 1,300 ambulances owned by the Joint Committee formed of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John were serving the front line of fighting. Sixty were in Italy. A ‘Transport of Wounded Fund’ was established to help meet the cost of running the vehicles, which averaged £4,500 a week. Ambulance drivers usually took the wounded from the field hospitals to clearing hospitals and from there to hospital trains. However, at times they collected wounded men from first-aid posts where they were often under shell fire.

Ambulance convoy, Arquata, northern Italy.

Ambulance convoy, Arquata, northern Italy. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 5408)

Although it was hard work, Teresa was delighted with her new occupation, writing: ‘I should like to stay on here until the end of the year.’ Like many women, Teresa found that war work had financial benefits and informed her sister of her situation: ‘I have plenty of money to spare as life here is so cheap.’

Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.

Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.

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