From the outset of the First World War, the massive inflow of British Empire casualties from the Western Front, Gallipoli, the Middle East and indeed all the theatres of operation soon overwhelmed the existing medical facilities in the United Kingdom. As a result many of the civilian hospitals and other large buildings including some schools were brought under British military command to receive and treat the sick and wounded. Within the UK and placed within one of nine of the regional commands there were various types of hospital: existing Military Hospitals; the Territorial Force General Hospitals (identified before the war, and often adjoining existing hospitals for training); War Hospitals (existing pre-war asylums); Military Hospitals (buildings converted on existing military land); Red Cross, St.John’s Ambulance (in the region of 3,000 small hospitals); Specialist Hospitals (mental, neurological, orthopaedic, VD); & Convalescent Hospitals (for recovering soldiers).
As described in the French Hospitals section, the casualties that arrived in the UK would have already been through the medical evacuation procedure of Regimental Aid Post, Field Ambulance, Casualty Clearing Station, Base Hospital then on one of the Hospitals Ships to a port on the English south coast from where they would then be sent to one of the hundreds of hospitals across the UK. Studying the service records of the 154 men in the AIF 5th/22nd it is observed that once in England very few of the men actually ended up in the same hospital indicating the scale of the operation and the need to take any bed that was available. However as their conditions improved the Australian soldiers would then be transferred to one of the three Australian Auxiliary Hospitals located on the outskirts of London to continue their treatment until discharged to one of the four Command Depots in preparation for either a return to the Unit or for repatriation to Australia.
The Australian medical services in England
The Australian medical service in England was focused at the three Auxiliary Hospitals located at Harefield, Southall and Dartford on the outskirts of London. In addition the Australians had their own dermatological unit at Bulford on the Salisbury Plain, close to UK headquarters, Command and Training Depots. After the end of hostilities No.1 Australian General Hospital relocated from Rouen to Sutton Veny in Wiltshire where it remained until the soldiers were repatriated to Australia.
1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital – Harefield
1AAH opened at Harefield, Middlesex (photograph right) in June 1915 during the time of the Gallipoli campaign . The building of Harefield Park House, set within its 250 acres of grounds, was offered by the UK resident Australian owners Mr & Mrs Billyard-Leake as a convalescent home and for collecting invalided soldiers prior to their return to Australia. Within a short period of time of its opening, extra huts were being built in the grounds. Originally planned to hold 60 patients, by the time it was receiving the wounded from France one year later it contained over 1,000 beds supported by 74 nurses, and changing its role from a convalescent home to a general hospital complete with operating theatres and a X-ray department. Many of the soldiers admitted were surgical cases with a focus on amputees before their return to Australia. By August 1918 the hospital had become a centre for ear, nose and throat cases.
The war hospital closed on 31st December 1918, but today the site is home to Harefield Hospital, one of the top cardiac hospitals in the world. Links to its Australian past remain, with pictures of the men that were treated at the hospital in the Anzac Centre, opened in 2003 and home to the Out-Patients Department, Echo-cardiology, the transplant clinic and two cardiac operating theatres. In addition the annual Anzac Day service is held at St. Mary’s church (photograph left) where 112 Australian servicemen from the First World War are buried, including Pte GA Scott and L-Cpl EN Knell of the 22nd Battalion.
2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital – Southall
In August 1916 the St. Marylebone School in Southall, Middlesex, was taken over by the AIF to be converted into a military hospital. 2AAH with 237 beds received its first patients within a month and later in September 1916 a second nearby school was acquired increasing the hospitals bed capacity to 470, and with a fully equipped operating theatre. By the end of 1916 some 4,000 patients had been treated at the hospital.
In November 1916 the hospital began to specialise in caring for amputees and the fitting of artificial limbs. By August 1917 some 611 amputations had been performed, 46 of which were double, 344 prosthetic legs and 91 arms had been supplied. Workshops were set up by the Red Cross to help rehabilitate the amputees. There are five Australians that are buried in the nearby Southall Havelock Cemetery.
The hospital closed in April 1919 and after demolition the site has reverted back to a school. Information on 2AAH at Southall as well as other Lost Hospitals of London can be found on the aforementioned project website.
3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital – Dartford
Situated to the southeast of London, the original Orchard Hospital in Dartford opened in 1902 as a temporary hospital to treat smallpox patients, and later in 1910 as a fever hospital. At the outbreak of war the hospital was empty but was operational again in 1915 before being allocated to the Australians and becoming 3AAH in October 1916. The site was expanded over time to provide at its peak some 1,200 beds, improved and upgraded with the addition of an operating theatre. By the end of the war over 56,000 soldiers had been treated at the hospital. CWGC records show that only one Australian is buried in Dartford Watling Street Cemetery, that of Engine Fitter AS West.
After the war the hospital was mostly closed, opening occasionally for epidemics. In 1939 it re-opened taking chronically sick patients evacuated during the 2nd World War from the Midlands, but the hospital itself was bombed and partly destroyed during the London blitz of 1940. The whole of the building was eventually demolished.
As an appreciation of the hospitality given to the troops during their stay, the Australian Government presented the town of Dartford with a captured German gun, but this was sent for scrap during WW2 when there was a call for metal to help the war effort.
1st Australian General Hospital – Sutton Veny
Sutton Veny’s proximity to the Warminster-Salisbury railway line made it an ideal choice for an Army camp when the Great War started, and the camp had its own railway with a connection at Heytesbury Station. Australian No.1 Command Depot moved to Sutton Veny in October 1917 from Perham Down. Prisoners of War were also detained here. At the end of 1919 as other Australian depots in England were closing Sutton Veny became the final assembling base for Australians from France, where they had mostly engaged in reburial work.
The hutted hospital at Sutton Veny opened in 1916, providing beds for 11 officers and 1,261 soldiers. In January 1919 staff of the 1st Australian General Hospital transferred to Sutton Veny from Rouen in France, and at this time many patients were suffering from the Spanish influenza epidemic. Sadly many of the 143 Australians buried in the local St. John’s churchyard (pictured above) died from influenza shortly before returning home. This included Jean Walker who died soon after becoming matron of the hospital. Also included within those that are buried in Sutton Veny are 61868 Pte DC Higgins and 3904 Pte J Podmore of the 22nd Battalion.
Once all the troops had departed most of the huts were removed and the camp railway lifted. However every year since the end of the war the village of Sutton Veny remembers its Australian visitors, with the annual Anzac Day service at the St. John’s church attended by the Australian High Commission, and with the village children laying flowers at each of the soldier’s graves.
1st Australian Dermatological Hospital – Bulford
The British Army had started to build training camps and garrisons on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire in the late 1890’s. Once such location was at Bulford which was greatly expanded during the war, becoming home to a number of the New Zealand Regiments. The site also included a hospital and this was passed to the jurisdiction of the Australians who established it as a specialist hospital for venereal diseases, becoming known as 1ADH. At its peak 1ADH was able to accommodate over 1,500 patients, some of which were under guard. Security however was not tight and going absent without leave relatively simple. Eventually criminal patients were treated at Lewes Prison in Sussex.
Today Bulford Camp is one of the main garrisons for the British Army.
Fargo Military Hospital – Fargo
A training camp for the artillery was established at Fargo on the Salisbury Plain in 1904, and grew to include medical units. In July 1914, just before the outbreak of the war, the Royal Army Medical Corps started work on the construction of the 1,200 bed Fargo Military Hospital.
This hospital’s location was very close to many of the camps used by the Australians in England during the war. The Australian headquarters at Tidworth, the Command Depots at Perham Down, Codford, Hurdcott and Sutton Veny were in easy reach, so too the Divisional Training Groups at Rollestone, Lark Hill, Durrington and Codford that were receiving reinforcements direct from Australia before joining their units in France. As a result many Australians would have been treated at Fargo for sickness and also accidents, many incurred in training. It was at the hospital that inquests into fatalities at the nearby camps and airfields were held.
It is likely that most of the 141 Australians and thirteen Americans buried in Durrington Cemetery (pictured above) would have been patients at Fargo Military Hospital. Included within the Durrington Cemetery is 6177 Pte HC Canham of the 22nd Battalion who died of pneumonia in January 1917.
After the war the hospital became disused though some of the buildings were turned into married quarters for the nearby Rollestone camp.
Published as ‘news’ 100 years on to the day, follow the 22nd Battalion on the project website and via Facebook and Twitter
FIRST WORLD WAR TIMELINE