Whilst compiling a database of Poole servicemen from the Absentee Voters Register of 1918, it soon became apparent that there were a number of soldiers in the Army Veterinary Corps (A.V.C) who all lived in the same area of Lower Parkstone. Seven of these men lived in Courthill Park Road, Florence Road, and King’s Road. Three of them were NCOs and four were privates.
This is a guest blog post taken from Poole’s Health Record – a blog by one of our project volunteers and a Local Health Historian.
Visit the blog to find out more about the history of health in Poole.
Cornelia Hospital and how it became the first local hospital to receive World War One casualties
September 1914 – Britain had been at war for a month. The military authorities were still assuring the Red Cross that there was enough accommodation to deal with the wounded of the British Expeditionary Force, and that the “temporary hospitals” which the Red Cross were offering were not likely to be needed short of the country being invaded. The Red Cross and its VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments) were getting frustrated. The British Red Cross Society was formed in 1870, but the Dorset Red Cross had only been operating since 1911. It was the War Office that had launched the idea of using VADs, in 1909, inspired by events in the far-off Russo-Japanese war of 1904/5.
During September 1914 the Poole detachment of the Red Cross was busy setting up the Bournemouth and Branksome Voluntary Relief Hospital as one of the temporary hospitals, even though it was sited in neighbouring Bournemouth. This was renamed Crag Head Military Hospital, receiving its first patients in October. The nearest official military hospital was also in Bournemouth, but no patients were admitted there until November.
Cornelia Hospital was Poole’s general hospital, a voluntary hospital only established in 1889 and set up on its Longfleet site only 7 years before the war started. This was a small hospital of only 17 beds, but it was to play a big part in Poole’s war. In September 1914 there were no plans in place for any military patients to be admitted to the Cornelia Hospital – the major worry was probably whether their local doctors would leave to join up. All this changed in a few days, whether plans were ready for war casualties or not. The exigencies of war did not wait for plans. Cornelia suddenly became the first local hospital with wounded soldiers from the Front.
The story of how the Cornelia Hospital dealt with a sudden and unexpected influx of war casualties is told, albeit succinctly, in the hospital’s Annual Report for 1914:
In the month of September your Committee received a most urgent appeal on behalf of sick and wounded Belgian soldiers, and at short notice, the out-patients waiting room was furnished as a ward, and accommodation offered to ten patients. Beds were provided by friends, and certain structural additions of a temporary nature were made to that part of the Hospital. Subscriptions were received for the special purpose of meeting the expenditure on this account, but the total cost has not been provided for, yet the Committee believe that they would have failed to anticipate the wishes of the subscribers if they had refused what treatment and comfort the Hospital could afford to these brave soldiers, whose patient courage under their sufferings have won for them so much affection and respect.
The Belgian soldiers had been brought into Poole by sea, and the Cornelia was the only possible place available for them to be taken. Suddenly a hospital of only 17 beds managed to set up another 10 beds in its outpatients department, sending out to benefactors to supply the beds and presumably bedding. There were rarely beds to spare in its two wards – average daily occupancy of its 17 beds was 16.46 in 1912 and strangely 18.01 in 1913. The largest space in the small building for extra beds was the busy outpatients room. How it dealt with outpatients for the next few weeks is not known. This was a hospital with no resident medical staff and normally only 5 nurses under a Matron. There were 23 Belgian soldiers admitted in all. No arrangements could be made beforehand as to how what was a very financially shaky voluntary hospital would pay for their care and maintenance.
One person affected by the sudden arrival of the Belgian soldiers was the much-decorated nurse Charlotte Paterson. She was due to leave for France from her post at the Cornelia Hospital, but the arrival of the wounded men at 11pm the night beforehand meant she changed her plans. She carried on at the Cornelia and it wasn’t until October 1915 she finally reached France.
The hospital had plenty of space in its grounds. It had been built on a site with a specific purpose of having enough space for future expansion. The result was that the Red Cross were able to create 2 new wards from scratch and opened them in the November of that year. Later extra tented wards were used in Summer months. The original plan had been to use local schools as hospitals, but the Council would not allow that. The way Cornelia rose to the occasion for the Belgian soldiers may have influenced the decision to build military wards on the Cornelia site. The hospital was jointly run for the rest of the war, albeit remaining under the Cornelia Matron, Helen Milne. Cornelia Hospital went on to have 140 beds and admit a total of 2583 military patients in the war, whilst still caring for its local patients.
By 1918 11 auxiliary military hospitals had been opened in Poole, with the Poole Red Cross detachment still staffing Crag Head Hospital in Bournemouth. Some had been originally established as private convalescent units, but by 1918 they were all run by detachments of the British Red Cross. They employed some trained nurses and cooks, but were mostly staffed by VADs in both nursing and support roles. The majority were convalescent units, but others, like Cornelia, offered full medical and surgical treatments.
It is International Women’s Day today and the theme of the 2017 campaign is ‘Be Bold For Change’. To celebrate this I want to write about Charlotte Helene Jessie Paterson who was born in Scotland but lived in Poole for over 50 years.
Miss Paterson came to Poole in 1903 at the age of 29 and lived at Corfe Lodge, Osborne Road, Parkstone until her death in December 1955. On the 1911 census she is listed, living with her siblings. Her brother, Archibald Richard Paterson, a doctor of medicine is head of the household and under the heading ‘Employer, Worker or Working on own account’ he has filled in that Charlotte is part of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Societies. Her sister is also recorded as part of the Women’s Suffrage Societies.
On 7th January 1938 the Wessex Gazette reported that Miss Paterson received an M.B.E in the New Years honours. Her award was for “political and public services in East Dorset” however the newspaper records:
She had already deserved well of her country before her public career in Dorset commenced by reason of her remarkable services to the British and French Armies during the Great War. She entered Germany before the Armies of Occupation and her most cherished possession is one of the French tricolours which was hoisted in celebration of the Peace Treaty.
The newspaper goes on to state that Nurse Paterson joined the Cornelia Hospital staff in Poole on 8th August 1914 after nursing in London. As she was an expert at speaking French in October 1915 she went to France and spent the war on the front line fighting area.
For a few months she was at a large hospital east of Paris and she was then sent to the Queen of the Belgians Hospital, at Lapanne, close to the villa of the gallant Belgian Royal family. She was among the very first to receive the Queen Elizabeth Medal with Red Cross from the Belgian Queen. It was only given to those nursing within range of the enemy guns. At that time her hospital suffered the ordeal of an enemy bombardment, lasting twelve days and nights, during which she had several remarkable escapes from death. She was in charge of the reception pavilion where the wounded- they could be brought in twenty minutes from the firing line- were taken and received their first operations.
As she was the only British nurse she was recalled for her proximity to the fighting, she rebelled and ended up joining the French Army who had a shortage of nurses. Straight after the war she entered Germany with a French nurse and they reported their findings to the British Commander at Metz who asked her to carry out similar work there. She was ultimately awarded the Croix de Guerre.
After the war Miss Paterson served on Poole Town Council 1924-1934 and represented Poole on the County Council. She campaigned to get the first female police officer appointed in Poole and also established an Occupational Centre for Mental Welfare in Poole. In 1924 she was made a Justice of the Peace.
After Charlotte’s death in 1955 the Poole and Dorset Herald published an obituary:
A fitting tribute to a woman who was definitely courageous and ‘Bold for Change’.
In Poole History Centre today we have had the help of a work experience student from Lytchett Minster School, age 15. We decided to give her a task using the Poole and Dorset Herald for the war years.
The task was to look through the newspaper from 1917 – 1919 and pull out any snippets that could be used as ‘100 years ago today’ tweets or articles. Here are the student’s reflections on the work she produced for the project:
Today I have looked through newspaper articles about events in Poole from April 1917 to April 1919 during World War One. It was incredibly interesting. History has never been my best subject at school as I do not enjoy learning about lots of death as it puts me in a bad mood. 75% of these records were injuries and death. But the other 25% really shows Poole as a happy community, even back then when everything was going wrong and there was only a small amount of hope left. Poole got that little bit of hope and turned it into a beacon. Life moved on and happy events occurred like weddings and charities to support the soldiers. The amount of lives that Poole saved, from German wounded soldiers to children falling into the harbour, just shows how the little acts of kindness that Poole did, gave good news to everybody else, refilling their low level of hope and tolerance.
The snippets extracted will prove very useful when promoting the project, researching and adding news to the timeline. It seems like the work was equally valuable for the student and she enjoyed her time with us.