Monthly Archives: March 2016

Outposts of Mercy – March 1916

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

Teresa was as busy as ever with supply work for hospitals in Italy. She worked at this task with Bridget Talbot, who wrote asking if Teresa could quickly find some supplies for Hospital 022 as the big new wards of around a hundred beds had ‘got no pillows, very few sheets and no bed covers.’

Interior of an Italian Hospital Train, filled with wounded soldiers, somewhere on the Italian Front, 1915. © IWM (Q 53780)

Interior of an Italian Hospital Train, filled with wounded soldiers, somewhere on the Italian Front, 1915. © IWM (Q 53780)

The need for rapid expansion indicates the strain that the fighting was putting on war hospitals. Mrs Watkins’s team were run off their feet but it was worthwhile, as Teresa’s friend Julia assured her how grateful the wounded soldiers were for all the work that the nurses were doing for them.

The heroism of Mrs Watkins’s team is captured by E.V. Lucas in Outposts of Mercy, a pamphlet about the efforts of the Red Cross in Italy written during the First World War. E.V. Lucas visited Mrs Watkins’s team at Cervignano, where he met Teresa.

Outposts of Mercy by E.V. Lucas. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Outposts of Mercy by E.V. Lucas. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Lucas wrote of the danger that the team faced since Cervignano was ‘a constant target for Austrian aeroplanes.’ The nurses lived in ‘a tiny wooden cottage beside the rail, just big enough for the fires which boil the coffee and milk for the poor fellows in the trains, and anything but big enough for the ladies to dwell in comfort.‘ Photographs show that at this time, compared to later in the war, the uniform and equipment used by Teresa and her companions was basic.

Teresa Hulton (left) with Mrs Nott (centre) and Contessa Carafa (right) in a hut a Cervignano, northern Italy, May 1917.

Teresa Hulton (left) with Mrs Nott (centre) and Contessa Carafa (right) in a hut at Cervignano, northern Italy, May 1917.

E.V. Lucas gave a vivid picture of the women going about their work:

‘What the soldiers in an English hospital train stopping at a village station in Essex, say, would think of three Italian ladies, unassisted, carrying hot coffee and bread from bunk to bunk along two or three hundred yards of compartments, I cannot imagine; but the grateful Italians have come to look upon the converse phenomenon without surprise.’

Newspaper clipping from the Tribuna Illustrata showing Mabel Campbell and Teresa Hulton helping the wounded soldiers on the train at San Giovanni di Manzano, northern Italy, taken between October and December 1915.

Newspaper clipping from the Tribuna Illustrata showing Mabel Campbell and Teresa Hulton helping the wounded soldiers on the train at San Giovanni di Manzano, northern Italy, taken between October and December 1915.

The ministrations of Mrs Watkins’s team were especially useful as ‘the authorities have had to make the meal time-table inflexible, so that a wounded man, brought in just too late for, say, breakfast, would have no chance of food until lunch, even though he had long been fasting.’

Wounded soldier carried on a stretcher, Italy, taken between 1915 and 1918.

Wounded soldier carried on a stretcher, Italy, taken between 1915 and 1918.

To see a short British Pathé film of a railway station canteen during WWI, please click here.

The toll that the war had taken on armies of all countries by March 1916 was vast. Many people must have feared that they would be the next to hear the news of a loved one’s death. On the 6th of March Teresa’s friend, Lady Helen D’Abernon, wrote that her nephew had been killed. Already he had been wounded twice since he joined the army and since August 1914, 28 out of the 30 officers in his battalion had died.

Lady Helen Vincent, who became Viscountess D'Abernon from 1914.

Lady Helen Vincent, who became Viscountess D’Abernon from 1914.

For others, the war brought new opportunities. Teresa’s sister, Gioconda, secured a post as a secretary in the Intelligence Division for the Admiralty in London. On the 27th of March she began her work and was to hold the post for several months, although, as with nursing, she was to find it not to her taste.

Teresa and Gioconda in a gondola in 1908

Teresa and Gioconda in a gondola in 1908

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Lord Berwick was working in Paris at the British Embassy in early 1916 but he remained in contact with his Shropshire Yeomanry friends. From the 14th of March 1916 to April 1917 the 1/1st Shropshire Yeomanry was based in Egypt. The order to sail to Egypt was mentioned in a letter to Lord Berwick from H. Heywood-Lonsdale, an acquaintance in the Yeomanry. He wrote to Lord Berwick from Gorleston a most infernal hole where we have had the roof burnt down over our heads.’

Shropshire Yeomanry badge on Lord Berwick's uniform in the Attingham collection.

Shropshire Yeomanry badge on Lord Berwick’s uniform in the Attingham collection.

Heyward-Lonsdale also described possible future movements:

‘I rather think we shall go to Salonika very soon’ and he hoped that the regiment shall spend ‘next winter in Vienna.’

And commented on the war in France:

‘…your appreciation of the Verdun affair is interesting, we have heard 3 of the forts have fallen, hope French are preparing a surprise for the Bosch.’

[For a list of slang terms used at the Front, please click here and scroll to ‘Allies and enemies’.]

Lord Berwick’s friend, Heyward-Lonsdale also went on to explain entertainments for the Yeomanry:

‘A paper has been started, run by the Doctor and Guy Rogers THE SHROPSHIRE WAR PAPER on the lines of THE SPORTING TIMES. Poker parties carry on.’

 He thanked Lord Berwick for his letter and informed him that Berwick had a mess bill of £4.7s.11d outstanding.

Lord Berwick at a desk taken between 1900 and 1919.

Lord Berwick at a desk taken between 1900 and 1919.

Attingham

Demand for British war hospitals increased and in March 1916 the War Office took over Cross Houses workhouse, near Attingham, as a hospital. The 321 inmates were accommodated in other workhouses or hospitals. The workhouse was named the Berrington War Hospital due to its proximity to Berrington train station.

Berrington War Hospital, formerly the workhouse at Cross Houses, Shropshire.

Berrington War Hospital, formerly the workhouse at Cross Houses, Shropshire.

The Attingham and Berrington war hospitals worked closely together. Berrington was the central hospital, acting as a clearing hospital for wounded soldiers. Attingham was one of several auxiliary hospitals that received patients from Berrington. There were over 3,000 auxiliary hospitals in Britain.

Wounded soldiers were sent by train to Berrington station. The hospital bell was rung and to alert people at the hospital that there was a train load of wounded soldiers to be collected.

Wounded soldiers, a nurse and a dog outside Attingham Hall, c.1917.

Wounded soldiers, a nurse and a dog outside Attingham Hall, c.1917.

Hilda Evans, born in 1902, vividly recalled the first convoy of 127 soldiers arriving at Berrington station. In an oral history recording she explained that initially, there were no nurses here at all, and they had to collect the people round. My mother was one – to help until they got the nurses here. And when they used that awful mustard gas, in the First World War, the poor lads were brought here with great holes burnt in their backs. It was dreadful to see them, dreadful; shocking.’

The aftermath of a mustard gas attack on the Western Front in August 1918 as witnessed by the artist, John Singer Sargent. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1460)

The aftermath of a mustard gas attack on the Western Front in August 1918 as witnessed by the artist, John Singer Sargent. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1460)

To see a 1915 photograph of patients in a gas ward receiving a salt bath treatment for their mustard gas burns, please click here.

Hilda Evans also described how the wounded men came ‘straight from the trenches here, because we had to cut their clothes off and they’d be full of lice and all sorts of things. It was dreadful. And they used to make a big bonfire and burn all their old uniforms, because they couldn’t do any good with them.’

Troops of the 2nd Australian Division in a support line trench checking their shirts for lice, northern France, May 1916. © IWM (Q 582)

Troops of the 2nd Australian Division in a support line trench checking their shirts for lice, northern France, May 1916. © IWM (Q 582)