Tales from the Parish Returns: The Red Cross in Somerset

Following on from the picture of the week of the West Harptree VAD hospital, we have received the transcription of the Parish Return identifying the activities of the Red Cross hospitals in Somerset during the First World War.

The document begins with the statement, ‘Somerset has nobly appointed the Red Cross Society in its devoted & self-sacrificing work for our wounded soldiers’.

Red Cross Parish Return

Red Cross Parish Return

17 hospitals were established across the county in a variety of different buildings ranging from manor houses and stately homes, such as Gournay Court, West Harptree, to religious buildings such as the Carmelite Priory in Wincanton.

The return provides details of the kind donor of the building, as well as highlighting those who offered additional funds for extra beds and equipment. The hierarchy of staff are listed, frequently consisting of a commandant, a quartermaster, medical officers and VAD nurses. Additional staff are also noted, such as Lady Superintendents, masseuses and x-ray operators.

The staff at Ashcombe House Hospital in Weston Super Mare included four masseuses.

Ashcombe House Hospital, Weston Super Mare

Ashcombe House Hospital, Weston Super Mare

Although the hospitals were of a temporary nature, they had many of the features that would be found in a present-day setting including wards, operating theatres for both minor and major procedures, and x-ray machines. The use of massage treatment rooms and whirlpool baths were essential for convalescing soldiers.

Many of the hospitals also had considerable grounds, enabling the use of gardens to provide fresh fruit and vegetables, and rabbits and chickens to feed patients.

The work of the Red Cross in Somerset was extensive throughout the First World War and the Parish Return reports that the work of all those involved was recognised in a special day ‘in the County in October’. Although it is not clear what year this took place.

Further information on the work of the Red Cross during the First World War is available on: http://www.redcross.org.uk/About-us/Who-we-are/History-and-origin/First-World-War


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