Written by Laurence Spring, Surrey History Centre
A telegram arrived at Clandon Park on 14 October 1914, which read that a train was leaving Dover and that they should expect 87 Belgium soldiers at a certain time. The hospital had only just become operational so there must have been an air of excitement because these would be their first patients. However, there was a lot to do before they arrived; the local Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) would have to be contacted, so that they would be waiting at the station when the train arrived. Since trains had to make other stops along the way to unload wounded they were usually late and it was not until 3.00am on 15 October that the train finally arrived at Clandon Station. Lord and Lady Onslow are said to have overseen the removal of the patients from the train (Daily Mail, 15 October 1914). It was standard practice to remove the walking wounded first, followed by the stretcher cases, who would then be driven to the hospital. According to Lady Onslow 103 patients were unloaded from the train, rather than the 87 they were expecting. The casualties had not eaten for 48 hours and two soldiers had managed to smuggle their wives with them ‘greatly to the disgust of the others who had had to leave theirs behind’ (SHC ref G173/1/6). A fleet of 100 cars and carriages, plus a horse-drawn and a motor ambulance ferried the wounded the short distance from the station to Clandon Park, where more V.A.D.s were waiting for them.
Setting up the Hospital
The hospital was designated a type A hospital, receiving casualties directly from the front, apart from during the month 25 June to 28 July 1915 when it was briefly a type B or Auxiliary hospital taking patients from the King George Hospital in London to convalesce.
In the main hall were 18 beds with a further 14 in the drawing room, while in the sitting room was an X-Ray cabinet and facilities to sterilize equipment. A small room was used as an operating theatre. In the ballroom and Japanese Room there were 20 more beds. On the first floor was a ward containing 36 beds, plus a kitchen, the R.M.O’s bed and sitting rooms, the matron’s office, the commandant’s bedroom and a mess room for the officers. On the top floor was another ward, comprising 46 beds, and an open landing which was used as a dining and recreation room, which also had a kitchen. In the grounds was a small cottage which was used as an isolation hospital, although this was only used three times throughout the war. A stone building in the grounds was used as a mortuary.
Clandon Park accounts for 1917 SHC ref G173/1/6.
In September 1915 Lady Onslow had wanted to erect four huts in the grounds to accommodate 80 more patients, but it was already costing £1,000 per year to run the hospital and with the prospect of a rise in income tax and ‘all the London tenants …. going bankrupt’, this idea was dropped (SHC ref 5337/10/52/27, 201). In fact in a letter dated 8 November 1915 Lord Onslow suggested that the hospital might even have to close for financial reasons (SHC ref 5337/10/52/258). Fortunately for the hospital from January 1916 there was a steady flow of patients which brought in a regular income.
Lord Onslow paid for the setting up of the hospital, but from November 1914 the government paid 2 shillings for each occupied bed, which was quickly raised to 3 shillings and on 12 December 1915 it was further increased to 4 shillings. Finally on the 1 August 1917 this fee was raised to 4 shillings and 6 pence, plus 6 pence for every unoccupied bed. Additional income came from the Red Cross, who organised fund raising events and public donations.
Lady Onslow served as the Hospital’s commandant, supported by a matron and three ward sisters. The hospital’s first doctor had served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, but was found to be so old and infirm that he was quickly replaced.
VAD Contract to work at Clandon Park SHC ref 8792/7.
The 16a, later known as the 86 (Surrey) Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.), was attached to the hospital, amongst whom was a Miss Knott whose work is described as ‘fair (very slow)’ and Mrs Vigue who though she was a ‘good worker’ was ‘noisy’ (SHC ref 8792/1). Unlike nurses who trained for three years, female V.A.Ds had to have a First Aid Certificate and a Home Nursing Certificate.
Another V.A.D., Margaret Van Straubenzee, has left an account of her time at Clandon. She had to wash the marble floor, ‘take round the meals and wash up; get the staff’s tea ready at 9.30am, take round “specials” to the patients at 10am, clean all the forks and spoons, brasses etc., and help in the wards to make beds in the afternoon and evening, when some of the other V.A.D.s were off duty’ (SHC ref Zg/60/1). Such duties were too much for one V.A.D., Mary Ada Pike, who resigned because she wanted to be a ‘ward maid’ rather than a ‘scrubber’ (SHC ref 8792/2).
When on night duty Margaret Van Straubenzee had to boil 150 kippers for the patients’ breakfast. However, before they could have breakfast the patients needed to be washed and their beds made. She comments ‘after a busy night (often convoys arrived at night) I was just dropping with tiredness’ (SHC ref Zg/60/1).
Lady Onslow also records there were tensions between members of staff, because many nurses were ‘reluctant to accept subordinate positions, thinking that they should be given a ward’. The doctors were also reluctant to be under a surgeon whom they considered their equal. By August 1916, because of the difficulties in finding nursing staff, wages had to be introduced into non-military hospitals and probationers were employed without the usual Home Nursing and First Aid Certificates. Cleaners were also employed so that the V.A.D.s were no longer required to clean the wards (SHC ref 8792/3).
By December 1914 many of the Belgium soldiers had recovered enough to be discharged but it was not until 5 March 1915 that a further 21 medical cases and 74 surgical cases arrived (The Times, 5 March 1915), followed by more wounded in April.
Quantities of food for 100 patients at Clandon Park SHC ref G173/1/6.
The details of the men would have been entered into the admission and discharge register and a case file created to record each man’s progress. Unfortunately registers and files have not survived for Clandon, but an autograph book kept by one of the nursing staff records the names of many soldiers including 1869 Private A Corbett of the Army Service Corps who was wounded on 12 May 1915 and arrived at the hospital two days later. However, not all wounded arrived so quickly: 2451 Rifleman A C Carter of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles was wounded at Ypres on 24 July but it was not until 2 August 1915 that he was admitted to Clandon (SHC ref Z/489/1).
Margaret Van Straubenzee, records the arrival of a convoy of patients sometime in 1915: ‘A huge convoy of Australians (70) arrived [who] soon filled up every available bed, and all the worst surgical cases were generally put on the ground floor near the operating theatre. Every patient had to be blanket bathed as most of them had come straight from the front line stations and had only one dressing applied’.
Many of the nursing staff in hospitals are known to have been infected with lice and scabies from doing this. However, Margaret continues, ‘I had to take my turn with the others and go into the wards, and really terrible sights I had to see. Several of the wounded had an arm or a leg blown off and there was one case with both legs and one arm missing… Operations were going on day and night’ (SHC ref Zg/60/1).
Among the group of patients who arrived in March 1915 was Private Alfred Holloway of the 7th Dragoon Guards who was suffering from pneumonia, but he gradually became more and more depressed and committed suicide by ‘cutting his throat with a razor’. Nevertheless he was given a military funeral (Surrey Times, 17 April 1915).
Ward at Clandon Park, c1916 SHC ref PC/41/16.
During the Autumn of 1917 one patient was admitted and was placed in a bed next to the one he had occupied two years previously. On another occasion a one-armed patient wanted to help out the staff by cleaning a painting hanging above a fireplace. While trying to take it down he lost his balance and put his arm through the canvas. Lady Onslow did not report how much the painting was worth, but it was probably valued at more than the 6 shillings and 6 pence he offered her as compensation, which was the only money he had (SHC ref G173/1/6).
For one unnamed patient, Margaret Van Straubenzee recalls, ‘I had to “special” a case on night duty on one occasion and my patient was dangerously ill with typhoid. He looked ghastly, with emaciated body and large head and big black beard, as he was too ill to be shaved. It was my duty to watch his pulse and to report any change to the sister. I literally dreaded going behind the screens in the dim-lit ward, and sitting and watching over this poor creature all night. Eventually he died, but not when I was on duty, I am thankful to say’ (SHC ref Zg/60/1).
Usually the nursing staff would keep a record of anything a dying patient said so that the hospital could tell his next of kin when they informed them of his death.
Once a patient had recovered sufficiently they would be transferred to Heywood or Broome House Hospitals to convalesce so that their beds could be made ready for the next intake of casualties. These ‘Auxiliary hospitals’ had 50 and 40 beds respectively, and from them patients would either be discharged or sent back to the front (SHC ref G173/1/6).
One episode which is not mentioned in Lady Onslow’s history of the hospital or in Lord Onslow’s autobiography Sixty Three Years is a romance between Gunner Ernest Albert Spring, who despite serving in the Australian Force was born in Surrey and Louisa Green the head housemaid. They ran off together to get married, but unfortunately for Louisa, Gunner Spring was already married. Having been apprehended he was sent back to France, where he was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry (SHC ref 8792/3). However, there is a twist to this ‘tragic story’ (as the correspondence about it has been annotated). In 1924 Ernest G H Spring married a Louisa M Green in 1924. Could this be the same couple? If so what happened to his first wife?
On 21 July 1917 the Surrey Advertiser reported that a ‘concert, tea and sports’ had been held at Clandon on the previous Saturday. The concert ‘consisted chiefly of classical items, which were heartily enjoyed by the men and by many residents from the district’. After tea, sporting events were held, including a three-legged race, while Private Thompson won the thread needle race. If this is like the ‘threading the needle race’ held in other hospitals, then competitors had to run along a track while trying to thread a needle with a piece of cotton. There were also two heats of a potato race (like an egg and spoon race but with potatoes), one for the patients and the other for the staff.
The patients were also entertained by the Y.M.C.A. from the local Canadian army camp, and at other times by pillow fights after lights out. As in other hospitals the patients probably played tricks on the other patients as well as the nursing staff to relieve their boredom.
On other occasions visitors arrived. At first they came every day at any time but later visiting hours were restricted to Sundays and Thursdays from 2 to 4. Lady Onslow records that some visitors had, ‘An air of great condescension as if they were conferring an inestimable benefit on all concerned by entering the building and also seemed to imply that they had gone very far to win the war by conferring this benefit upon us’ (SHC ref G173/1/6). However usually it was the patient’s family and at other times local volunteers of all classes who were only too happy to talk to the patients.
The End of the War
After four years of war the peace was finally declared, Margaret Van Straubenzee recalls, ‘I had just gone to bed (being on night duty again) when we were awakened by people shouting and bells ringing, and we got up and went into Guildford to see all the fun, etc., It was a wonderful feeling of relief and tremendous goodwill to all and sundry’ (SHC ref Zg/60/1).
Despite peace the hospital would not close until 1 April 1919. During its time it had treated 5,059 patients, of whom 21 died. A dead soldier’s relatives were always invited down to Clandon to pay their last respects and the West Clandon burial register records nine soldiers who were buried from the hospital, including two Belgians. The others were sent home for burial (SHC ref CLW/4/1 and SHC ref G173/1/6).
On the closure of the hospital the Onslows received £800 from the government to restore Clandon to its original state, but it would also take £600 of Lady Onslow’s gratuity from her service as the Commandant of the hospital and a further two years before life was back to normal at Clandon Park.