Tag Archives: Ambulance

A guardian angel – February 1916

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

On the 2nd of February 1916 Bridget Talbot wrote to Teresa asking her to assist with finding bed spaces for an overload of patients that had arrived. She also asked for Teresa’s help in finding supplies for various Italian Red Cross hospitals. They were especially in need of shirts, nightshirts, sheets, pillowcases and bed covers. A photograph in one of Teresa’s photograph albums shows that the Italian army sometimes used wheeled carts drawn by dogs to carry supplies.

Dogs pulling carts containing supplies, northern Italy, taken between 1915 and 1917.

Dogs pulling carts containing supplies, northern Italy, taken between 1915 and 1917.

Things didn’t always run smoothly with Teresa’s work organising supplies. George Barbour of the First British Ambulance Unit for Italy commented:

Your six bales came today and I spent half an hour with the canteen folk trying to make out what the clever idiot who numbered the bales last had been trying to do. All your numbers had been either obliterated, printed over or used again to form other numbers and the order was completely muddled up.’

In addition to dealing with supplies and donations sent to Mrs Watkins’s team, in February Teresa was also working at an American Red Cross hospital in Florence. Evelyn Gordon-Watson, a Red Cross nurse who was a friend of Teresa’s, wrote: ‘how grateful everyone is, you are really a guardian angel.’

Letter concerning Teresa Hulton's work at the American Hospital in Florence, 1916.

Letter concerning Teresa Hulton’s work at the American Hospital in Florence, 1916.

Being so busy with war duties, the last thing that Teresa needed was to fall ill. Unfortunately she developed a cold and her sister, Gioconda, wrote to her warning her not to tire herself out doing housework. Teresa and the other nurses had to do their own housework in the chalet that they occupied. With the Hulton’s money difficulties and impact of the war on domestic labour, the family were also short of servants.

Teresa Hulton in white Red Cross uniform, 1916.

Teresa Hulton in white Red Cross uniform, 1916.

However, some of Teresa’s friends had worse problems to contend with. Evelyn Gordon-Watson wrote that one of the new huts at her hospital was shelled during the night, which frightened the patients. Luckily no one was hurt.

Mrs Gordon Watson (left), Teresa Hulton (centre) and Mrs Watkins with cat (right) at the soldiers’ canteen at Cervignano, Northern Italy, October 1916.

Mrs Gordon Watson (left), Teresa Hulton (centre) and Mrs Watkins with cat (right) at the soldiers’ canteen at Cervignano, Northern Italy, October 1916.

Due to the difficulty of bringing nurses from Britain, early in 1916 the British Red Cross organised First Aid lectures. They were delivered in Rome by the eminent Italian surgeon Professor Bastianelli, along with a series of Home Nursing lectures conducted by Sister Mary Sales. Exams were held at the Villa Trento hospital near Udine, Northern Italy. Classes were also organised in Milan, Genoa and San Remo to try and recruit more Italian-speaking V.A.D.s.

The Villa Trento hospital, near Udine, northern Italy. © IWM (Q 83686)

The Villa Trento hospital, near Udine, northern Italy. © IWM (Q 83686)

The Villa Trento hospital during WWI. Image courtesy of the British School at Rome photographic collection.

The Villa Trento hospital during WWI. Image courtesy of the British School at Rome photographic collection.

In February 1916 Teresa’s sister, Gioconda, travelled from Florence to Surrey, England. Here she stayed with the family of John Fletcher, her grandmother’s half-brother.

Gioconda visited her friend, Lady Helen D’Abernon, who showed her the ‘instruments for anaesthesia all neatly stowed in a small dressing-case.’ Gioconda was not keen on nursing and in a letter to her sister added wryly: ‘of course I looked solemn & experienced as we discussed them!’

However, Gioconda still dreamed of playing a useful part in the war effort. She contemplated doing war work in England, possibly in a munitions factory. This was an interesting choice as such work was often done by lower class women.

Ministry of Munitions 1916 poster

Ministry of Munitions 1916 poster. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 0402)

 

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Throughout the war Lord Berwick kept in touch with friends that he had met in the Shropshire Yeomanry. One such example is H. Heywood Lonsdale, who wrote to Lord Berwick at the end of February 1916.

The Shropshire Yeomanry, early 1900s. Lord Berwick is stood on the far right on the back row,

The Shropshire Yeomanry, early 1900s. Lord Berwick is standing on the far right on the back row.

There are also a number of war era books belonging to Lord Berwick preserved at Attingham. This example is the ‘Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society’ published in 1916. Lord Berwick was Vice-President of the society.

1916 Transactions

A 1916 booklet owned by Lord Berwick

The first volume of the regular run of Transactions appeared in 1878 and the society is still going today. The Transactions are the chief means for publishing important and scholarly papers on the history and archaeology of Shropshire.

Attingham’s collection of Transactions dates mainly from the early 20th century and were read by the 8th Lord and Lady Berwick. Both had a keen interest in local history and natural history. Lord Berwick was an important member of The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Attingham

The convalescent hospital at Attingham was kept busy as casualties continued to mount. February 1916 saw the beginning of the Battle of Verdun, the most extended battle of the First World War. Verdun, located in the north-east of France, had been a French military base since Roman times.

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

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

Following a heavy bombardment, the German forces launched a major attack against the French intending to cause heavy casualties. Fighting continued until December 1916 and it is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 men died at Verdun.

French troops firing a rifle grenade in a trench in Fort 4 Vaux, February 1916. Fort Vaux was the second fort to fall during the Battle of Verdun. © IWM (Q 49098)

French troops firing a rifle grenade in a trench in Fort 4 Vaux, February 1916. Fort Vaux was the second fort to fall during the Battle of Verdun. © IWM (Q 49098)

To see a map of the Verdun battle sites, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 


A kindred spirit – January 1916

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

In January 1916 a new member of Mrs Watkins’s team joined Teresa at the Italian front. Her name was Bridget Talbot and she was to form a firm friendship with Teresa, keeping in touch with her for many years.

Bridget Talbot, October 1917. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot, October 1917. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Teresa and Bridget’s lives have marked similarities, both in terms of their wartime experiences prior to working in Italy and afterwards. Furthermore, like Teresa, Bridget became the owner of a beautiful house, Kiplin Hall, which she was keen should be preserved for posterity. Like Attingham, today Kiplin Hall is open to the public.

Kiplin Hall, North Yorkshire. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Kiplin Hall, North Yorkshire. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Prior to working on the Italian front, Bridget had organised the Little Gaddesden Cooperative Allotment scheme in her home village near Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. When Belgian refugees fled to England after the German invasion in August 1914 Bridget was on the Belgian Refugee Committee, which organised depots at Alexandra Palace and Earls Court in London to house refugees.

Bridget Talbot as a girl. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot as a girl. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

In 1914 she attended a training course in home nursing and First Aid to prepare her to work as a war nurse. In January 1916 Bridget travelled through France to the Austrian-Italian war zone. She worked alongside Teresa and other nurses at First Aid stations and canteens at Cervignano and Cormons to assist wounded Italian soldiers as they went by train to the base hospitals.

Bridget Talbot, early 1900s. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot, early 1900s. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget’s diary entry for the 5th of February 1916 gives a vivid picture of the arduous and frightening experiences that the women faced. She wrote:

rose at 5 in the pitch dark to do train of wounded. Felt very weird & warlike crawling down feeding men by the light of a lantern with the sun rising over the A. hills.

Bridget Talbot (centre) and soldiers, taken during her time working with Mrs Watkins in Northern Italy.

Bridget Talbot (centre) and soldiers, taken during her time working with Mrs Watkins in Northern Italy. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Like Teresa, Bridget was involved with a variety of work on the Italian Front. For example, Bridget helped Countess Gleichen and Mrs Hollings develop X-rays at the Villa Trento hospital. Sometimes they worked in a Red Cross car, experiencing Austrian fire at close quarters. Between December 1915 and October 1917 12,600 X-ray examinations were made by the sisters and their team. Interestingly, when Teresa had moved to Shropshire after her marriage to Lord Berwick, she received a telegram from Countess Gleichen asking if Lutwyche Hall, Wenlock Edge, was haunted!

Teresa Hulton (far right) in a Red Cross vehicle at the Villa Trento, 1916.

Teresa Hulton (far right) in a Red Cross vehicle at the Villa Trento, 1916.

Bridget remained with Mrs Watkins’s team until 1919, when she moved to Turkey to work with Russian refugees. After the war she was awarded the Italian Medal for Valour, the Croce di Guerra, and an O.B.E. In WWII Bridget invented a torch for life-jackets which saved the lives of many men in the Merchant Navy, Navy and RAF. Bridget focused particularly on the Merchant Navy whose ships, containing food for Britain, had been fiercely targeted by enemy ships during WWI.

Bridget Talbot at a horse show behing the Italian-Austrian front line in September 1918. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot at a horse show behind the Italian-Austrian front line in September 1918. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

From the 1920s onwards Bridget worked tirelessly to save the threatened country houses and estates of Britain. This included helping to persuade the National Trust to purchase 5,000 acres of woodland on the Ashridge estate.

Bridget Talbot, c.19150. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot, c.1950. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Her struggle to save Kiplin Hall lasted for over forty years. She tried to interest many organisations in using the house, from educational to social welfare and environmental bodies. Bridget visited Lord and Lady Berwick at Attingham on several occasions and like them wished to leave her home to the National Trust. However, the agents for the National Trust at the time refused to accept Kiplin Hall. Bridget took matters into her own hands and in order to preserve the house she set up the Kiplin Hall Trust in 1968. The Kiplin Hall Trust still manages the house today.

Bridget Talbot in her later years. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot in her later years. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Before the war, whilst studying at Trinity College, Oxford, Lord Berwick became friends with the Oxford don and Classical scholar R.W. Raper. In 1902, Raper recommended that Lord Berwick try for a position in the Foreign Office as an Honorary Attaché. The following year Lord Berwick’s diplomatic uniform was made and it remains in store at Attingham today. The uniform consists of a hat, coat, trousers, sword belt, sword and scabbard. To see these objects, please search ‘609711’ on the National Trust Collections website.

Bicorn hat, part of Lord Berwick's diplomatic uniform made in 1903.

Bicorn hat, part of Lord Berwick’s diplomatic uniform made in 1903.

At the beginning of 1916, Lord Berwick was once again working in Paris at the British Embassy. He remained involved with the British Embassy in Paris and assisted with the peace negotiations at the end of the war.

Lord Berwick as a young man at Oxford University, c.1898. His uncle, the 7th Baron Berwick, died in 1897 and Thomas became the new owner of the Attingham estate.

Lord Berwick as a young man at Oxford University, c.1898. His uncle, the 7th Baron Berwick, died in 1897 and Thomas became the new owner of the Attingham estate.

Attingham

In January 1916 the Military Service Act was introduced conscripting able-bodied single men aged eighteen to forty-one. The huge losses to the British army and the fact that fewer men were volunteering to fight meant that such measures were deemed necessary. The introduction of conscription meant that more women workers were needed to take the place of men called up to fight.

Parliamentary Recruiting Committee Poster No.151, 1916. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 5253)

Parliamentary Recruiting Committee Poster No.151, 1916.       © IWM (Art.IWM PST 5253)

The increasing losses and injuries suffered by those in the British army are illustrated by the many casualties that the Attingham hospital, and other nearby hospitals, saw during 1916. In 1916 a total of eighteen ambulance trains came to Shrewsbury with 2,838 men.

Nurses and soldiers at the Attingham hospital, c.1917.

Nurses and soldiers at the Attingham hospital, c.1917.

Growing numbers of wounded men needed tending and feeding. However, for people throughout Britain, the war was taking its toll on the amount of supplies brought in from overseas. In 1916 commodities began to go up in price and the financial strain on war hospitals in Britain was heavy. However, the Shropshire hospitals were complimented by the Red Cross Headquarters in London for running their hospitals at a lower cost than those in other counties.

Nurses and soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham, c.1917.

Nurses and soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham, c.1917.


Deck the halls with…paperchains! – December 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

Teresa’s work at the canteen and hospital at Cervignano continued to be busy in December. By the end of 1915 fighting along the Isonzo near to where she was based had cost the Italians 230,000 casualties and the Austro-Hungarian army 165,000. To see a map of the Italian Front and to read more about it please click here.

Information in the Attingham archive indicates that Teresa usually did her canteen work in the morning and helped out in the hospital during the afternoons. Her tasks at the hospital included dressing wounds and giving medication. Having had very few moments to spare for correspondence, Teresa was glad to have time off to return to her family and catch up on their news at Christmas.

Teresa treating a wounded soldier in the American Hospital in Florence, Italy, 1915.

Teresa treating a wounded soldier in the American Hospital in Florence, Italy, 1915.

Teresa proved to be useful in many different departments of war work in Italy. As well as nursing and serving in the canteen she found time to deal with supplies sent to Italian hospitals, canteens and rest stations under the care of Mrs Watkins. The expenditure on the distribution of stores made by the Joint Committee, formed of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John, rose to nearly £1 million a year during the war.

British Red Cross Letter in the Attingham Archive.

British Red Cross Letter in the Attingham Archive.

The station canteen set up by Mrs Watkins mainly served the special hospital trains that took wounded men to the war hospitals. Removable beds supported on brackets had been added on either side of the carriages. Some trains could carry up to 500 wounded men and had an operating table, dispensary and kitchen. By 1917 providing and running these trains had cost the Red Cross over £60,000.

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)

As well as the canteen at Cervignano, some of Mrs Watkins’s team were working at San Giovanni di Manzano. At San Giovanni di Manzano there were three workers headed by Mrs Gordon-Watson and aided by local Italian women. They fed the wounded at the principal clearing station for the Gorizia front. Despite the severe fighting, they worked day and night with up to 2,000 wounded men passing through in one day.

Mrs Gordon Watson (left), Teresa Hulton (centre) and Mrs Watkins with cat (right) at the soldiers’ canteen at Cervignano, Northern Italy, October 1916.

Mrs Gordon Watson (left), Teresa Hulton (centre) and Mrs Watkins with cat (right) at the soldiers’ canteen at Cervignano, Northern Italy, October 1916.

As well as Mrs Watkins’s team, many other women were helping the wounded in Italy. In December 1915 Lady Helena Gleichen and Mrs. Hollings were attached as a radiographic unit to the army in Italy. They had been trained as X-ray operators and had raised private funds to purchase motor-cars fitted with X-ray apparatus. Between December 1915 and October 1917 they made 12,600 X-ray examinations.

Their work was commented on by G.M. Trevelyan in his book Scenes from Italy’s War, New York, 1919, p.108:

‘There was no more characteristic sight on the roads than the radiographic cars being driven by Mrs. Hollings and Countess Gleichen from hospital to hospital at the front.’

Bridget Talbot, one of Teresa’s friends who worked for Mrs Watkins, sometimes helped the two ladies with developing the X-rays.

To see a photograph of a mobile X-ray unit from the First World War, please click here. To see an oil painting by Lady Helena Gleichen depicting troops moving into Gorizia during the war, please click here.

 

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

In 1915 Lord Berwick received news that his relative and heir, Michael Noel-Hill (1897-1953), later the 9th Lord Berwick, had joined the army. At the age of 18, Michael was gazetted to the Rifle Brigade and went out to serve in France. Michael had a passion for shooting which had started when he was a boy from shooting sparrows and rabbits during his holidays.

Charles Michael Wentworth Noel-Hill, later 9th Baron Berwick, June 1922.

Charles Michael Wentworth Noel-Hill, later 9th Baron Berwick, June 1922.

Following Lord Berwick’s death in 1947 the title passed to Michael and he became the 9th Baron Berwick. However, he was seen as too incautious to entrust with the care of Attingham, so in the 1930s Lord Berwick begun discussions with the National Trust about the future of the Attingham estate.

Lord Berwick and his dog on the Portico steps at Attingham, 1938.

Lord Berwick and his dog on the Portico steps at Attingham, 1938.

Michael’s behaviour may have been due in part to his experiences during the war. James Lees-Milne was the National Trust agent who came to talk to Lord and Lady Berwick about the bequest of Attingham. Lees-Milne described Michael Noel-Hill in his book People and Places:

His Life epitomised the tragedy of a man of decent disposition but weak character, knocked endways by appalling experiences during the First World War and its aftermath. He was perennially out of pocket. Not that his cousin Tom did not at times come to his rescue and occasionally settle his debts. Nevertheless grinding poverty tends to make a black sheep blacker, and other troubles multiplied.’

 

Attingham

Christmas 1915 offered a jolly respite from the horrors of war for the soldiers convalescing at Attingham. Photographs from c.1917 show the Outer Library cheerfully decorated with paper decorations and a large Christmas tree. Convalescent soldiers often helped to make decorations like paper chains and Chinese lanterns.

Wounded soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham, c.1917.

Wounded soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham, c.1917.

The egg collection fund set up for Shropshire auxiliary hospitals at the beginning of the year had been a great success. In 1915 a total of 70,927 eggs were collected for the Shropshire hospitals to aid the diet of the men.

Egg collection poster. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 10825)

Egg collection poster. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 10825)

 

 

 


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.


A piece of cake – February 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

As well as helping at two centers for Belgian refugees, doing secret intelligence work and working in the postal censorship office, Teresa made time to lend a hand at events put on to raise funds to help the war effort. On the 16th February 1915 Teresa and some of her friends were selling at a sale of cakes and preserves in aid of a Belgian field hospital.

Teresa and her stall at the Attingham garden fête, 1924

Teresa and her stall at the Attingham garden fête, 1924.

Teresa did all that she could to help the Belgian refugees and had taken one of the young Belgian boys, Adolf Keyeux, under her wing. He was especially bright and Teresa made an effort to help him with his education. Eventually she assisted him in gaining a place to study in Leeds. Throughout the war he sent letters and cards to her, updating her on his progress and asking for her advice and assistance.

Teresa reading in 1912

Teresa reading in 1912.

Other people who were also concerned with the care of the Belgian refugees had more trouble. On the 28th February Teresa received a letter from H. E. Ayris who had taken on Monsieur and Madam Busscherts, a refugee couple who had come from the Edmonton centre, London.

Belgian refugees leaving Ypres, 2nd November 1914.

Belgian refugees leaving Ypres, 2nd November 1914. © IWM (Q 53383)

 

The Busscherts had just had a baby, which was putting pressure on Mr Ayris’s resources. He wrote asking Teresa whether he could seek financial help from the committee established to care for Belgian refugees. Times were hard for the Busscherts family as their Belgian landlord threatened to seize their possessions unless they forwarded him rent money.

As well as assisting the refugees, Teresa was also keen to help her own family, especially her sister, Gioconda, who found it difficult to settle to doing war work. Gioconda wanted to join Teresa working with the refugees in London but their mother, Costanza, felt that it might be ‘too much responsibility. She is so dependant and has so little initiative, and if she only has you to lean upon, you may find her too heavy.

Gioconda in Italy, 1908.

Gioconda in Italy, 1908.

 

Attingham

1915 marked the beginning of a busy few years for the British Red Cross hospitals in Shropshire. In 1915 a total of twelve ambulance trains came to Shrewsbury with 1,666 men. About forty were taken to the Royal Salop Infirmary and many soldiers were so badly wounded that they had to be carried to the institution on a hand ambulance. In February Mrs Van Bergen, the tenant at Attingham Hall, visited the Royal Salop Infirmary, eager to do all that she could for the wounded soldiers.

Wounded soldiers and a nurse at the Attingham hospital, c.1917.

Wounded soldiers and a nurse at the Attingham hospital, c.1917.

As the Commandant of the Attingham hospital, Mrs Van Bergen’s uniform would have been much grander than that worn by the nurses as a mark of her higher rank. Her uniform would have consisted of a scarlet two-piece jacket and skirt, a blouse with a collar and tie and a hat with a ribbon and a badge of rank.

(Source: Storey, Neil R. & Housego, Molly (2010) Women in the First World War, Shire Books)

The Van Bergen family, c.1917.

The Van Bergen family, c.1917.

The convalescent hospital at Attingham took in many patients. Less badly injured or recovering soldiers were taken in ambulance wagons or in borrowed motor cars to local military hospitals like the one at Attingham. Helpfully, a motor ambulance, funded by members of the Ludlow Race Society, had been presented to the Shropshire Red Cross Society in January 1915. To see a British Pathé film of WWI ambulance vehicles, please click here.

Motor car at the front of Attingham Hall, c.1917.

Motor car at the front of Attingham Hall, c.1917.

Mr Van Bergen wrote to Lord Berwick’s Land Agent, Louis Dease, in February 1915 asking if it would be possible to make two tennis courts at a corner of the field near the river. He also mentioned that grooms with the army, which used Attingham’s stables to train mules and horses to send to the Front, sometimes left the gates open and livestock escaped.

February must have been a worrying month for many people in Britain as Germany declared that the waters around Britain were a war zone in which naval, merchant and passenger ships could be sunk without warning. On 18th February 1915 German U-boat attacks began and soon the number of ships being sunk was outstripping the number being built.

Lifebelt from HMS Formidable, sunk on the 1st January 1915 in the English Channel by torpedoes from German U-boat U24. © IWM (MAR 66)

Lifebelt from HMS Formidable, sunk on the 1st January 1915 in the English Channel by torpedoes from German U-boat U24. © IWM (MAR 66)