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Dorset County Hospital 100 years ago – what the papers said

One hundred years ago, in 1917, the hospital was still playing its part in the war effort. That year saw revolution in Russia and the United States finally enter the Great War. One of the major campaigns of the year was the Battle of Passchendaele which took place in Flanders from July to November 1917, resulting in nearly 245,000 British casualties. Back home, London experienced its first major German bombing raid which left 162 dead and 432 injured, and the hospital’s patron, King George V, changed the Royal family’s name to Windsor.

All references are to articles in the Western Gazette, unless stated otherwise.
John Edward Acland (1848-1932)

John Edward Acland, hospital chairman in 1917
Reproduced with permission of Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

As usual the local press reported the hospital’s annual general meeting, which took place on 19 March 1917 (23 March 1917, page 7). The chairman of the management committee, Capt. John Edward Acland, summarised the hospital’s activities over the previous twelve months: there had been 836 in-patients and 577 out-patients, compared with 929 and 538 respectively in 1915. These included 432 service patients and 7 German prisoners of war. The surgeons had performed 227 operations.

Expenditure in 1916 had exceeded receipts by £979. Unlike the hospital’s peacetime patients, the young soldiers occupying the wards had healthy appetites, so there had been a great increase in the cost of provisions. Despite the financial pressures the hospital had installed electric lights, new baths and a new steriliser. Legacies had been received from Mr. W. H. Purcell Weston (£500) and Mrs. Fooks (£140). The Weston legacy had been used to purchase number 1, Alexandra Terrace, a house adjoining the hospital grounds, to provide better nurses’ accommodation.

It was suggested at the annual meeting that “advantage would be gained by securing the good offices and the advice of a certain number of ladies on the Committee”. Acland replied that there were no committee vacancies although he agreed that “in many ways the services of ladies might be most valuable, particularly in matters of housekeeping”. (In fact, the first female committee member was not elected until 1920. She was Acland’s wife.)

Edith Sarah Hill

Edith Sarah Hill, who became matron in 1917
© Dorset History Centre

In July, the acting matron, Edith Sarah Hill, was confirmed in post in succession to Miss Marlow, who had retired due illness (13 July 1917, page 2). Miss Hill was to remain matron until 1931 when she too retired due to ill-health. The matron was often the public face of the hospital, involved in fund-raising. In September 1917, for instance, she judged a ‘baby show’ at West Chaldon, following a jumble sale which raised £42 (28 September 1917, page 3).

Egg collection was a popular way to support the hospital. New laid eggs were stored in water glass (sodium silicate) and could be kept for many months. In August 1917, 410 eggs were collected from parishes across the county, of which 360 were sent to France and 50 donated to the hospital (24 August 1917, page 2). Throughout the year there were many reports of egg collections and donations of money and other food from Piddletrenthide (1 June 1917, page 2; 20 July 1917, page 2); Cerne Abbas (5 January 1917, page 2); Puddletown (6 July 1917, page 2; 3 August 1917, page 3); Maiden Newton (19 January 1917, page 2); and from the organisers of the Dorchester Agricultural Society’s produce exhibition (30 March 1917, page 6). Over one weekend in July 1917, sermons, concerts, processions, and house-to-house collections organised by the various friendly societies in Dorchester raised £125 for the hospital (13 July 1917, page 2; 3 August 1917, page 2). Long lists of gifts to the hospital were published throughout the year (for example, 9 March 1917, page 2; 24 August 1917, page 2).

Keeping the soldiers entertained was a priority. The matron appealed for gifts of “magazines, pictorial papers, cards, games, &c.” (16 February 1917, page 2). The “Original Frolics” concert party gave a “sparkling programme of songs, dances and musical novelties” to the military and other patients on Ilchester ward, the performers “attired in varied Oriental costume” (3 September 1917, page 2). During one entertainment, Mr. Ivor Creech, “the well-known humorous vocalist” slipped on the floor of the hospital and fractured his right arm (24 August 1917, page 2).

In February 1917, eighty wounded soldiers were brought to the railway station at Dorchester (9 February 1917, page 2). The hospital had 60 beds with a further 60 in out-posts at Colliton House and the freemasons’ hall in Dorchester. In March, the War Office supplied large hospital marquees to be erected in Colliton Park to house another 60 injured servicemen (23 March 1917, page 2). In May, 140 wounded arrived direct from the Western Front – around 70 were “cot cases” with the remainder able to walk to their hospital beds (4 May 1917, page 2). The hospital’s role as a staging post in bringing wounded soldiers back from the battlefields meant that men from all over the country passed through its gates.

sgt-j-tully

Sgt. James Tulley, a patient in 1917
© Johnston Press plc. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

These military patients included Private T. Clarke of 28 Washington Street, Kingsthorpe in Northampton. He served in the Essex Regiment and was wounded by shrapnel on 27 January and was soon transferred to Dorchester (Northampton Mercury, 9 February 1917, page 5). James Fraser of 26 Globe Street, Motherwell in Lanarkshire was a private in the Cameron Highlanders. He was in Dorset County Hospital in May 1917 with severe gunshot wounds to his leg – the fifth time he had been wounded in action (Motherwell Times, 11 May 1917, page 5). Lance-Corporal R. J. Shelley of Staffordshire was a patient in the hospital in June 1917 with wounds to his left arm. He was a compositor before enlisting in April 1916 in the North Staffords, and went to France in December 1916 with the Northumberland Fusiliers (Burton Daily Mail, 27 June 1917, page 1).

Sergeant James Tully from Cornhill-on-Tweed near the Scottish border, also in the Northumberland Fusiliers, was wounded at Messines Ridge on 7 June. He sustained further injuries on 20 September and 15 October, and by early November 1917 he was in Dorset County Hospital with wounds to his hands and face. He was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in the field (Berwick Advertiser, 9 November 1917, page 6 and 21 December 1917, page 3). Private John Rhodes, of the Royal Defence Corps, died at the hospital in November 1917. Aged 21 and a native of Fulham in London, he was based at Dorchester and had been receiving hospital treatment for two or three months (2 November 1917, page 2). Crowded hospital accommodation increased the risk of hospital infections: in June 1917 one of the nurses was sent to the local isolation hospital because she had contracted erysipelas (15 June 1917, page 6).

Sometimes the more able-bodied military patients took part in fund-raising activities, such as Corporal Edwards and Private Capstock who collected donations for Dorchester’s hospital supply depot in Cornwall Road (22 June 1917, page 2). Conscription had been introduced in 1916 and the newspapers frequently reported cases before the tribunal hearing applications for exemption. Arthur Charles Chard (aged 38), a hair-dresser based in South Street, was the County Hospital’s hairdresser. He received a temporary exemption from conscription in 1917 because his three assistants had all joined up, leaving just him to run his business (26 January 1917, page 2).

BATTLE OF MESSINES, JUNE 1917 (Q 2320) Panoramic view of the old German lines on the ridge at Messines, 11th June 1917, destroyed during the Battle of Messines. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205078199

Panoramic view of the German lines destroyed by Allied mines during the Battle of Messines, June 1917.
The sound of the simultaneous mine explosions could be heard in London
© IWM (Q 2320)

Some non-military patients were also mentioned by the press:

  • Athelia Frankman, aged 5, a Romany child, suffered severe burns when she and other children had made a “play fire”. Her mother, Alice Frankham, had rushed Athelia to the hospital in a pony and trap, but she died soon after admission (16 February 1917, page 2).
  • Joseph House, aged 52, a general labourer from Ansty was admitted as an in-patient on 26 April 1917. He was found that morning sitting up in his hospital bed, conscious, having cut his own throat with a razor. The wound was stitched up but he died later that day. William Burroughs Cosens, the hospital’s honorary surgeon, told the inquest that “the deceased had been admitted … suffering aortic disease of the heart, and it was a very common thing for disease of that kind to cause brain trouble” (11 May 1917, page 3).
  • The press also reported the death of Sidney Clist, the head of the Boys Brigade in Dorchester, who suffered from “cardiac weakness”. He had undergone an operation in the County Hospital two years earlier (27 April 1917, page 2).
  • 16-year-old errand boy Ernest Walter Lucas of 4 Hillside Terrace, Fordington, had been collecting rooks’ eggs at Darkhill, Stinsford, when he fell from a tree. Mr. Hanbury of Kingston House in Stinsford lent a motor-car to take the boy to hospital but he was dead on arrival (11 May 1917, page 3)
  • Harry Beck of Lister Villas, Victoria Park, died in the hospital from injuries to his skull sustained when his bicycle accidentally collided with a motor cycle ridden by Charles James Gill, of Weymouth, at the junction of Wareham Road and Prince of Wales Road in Dorchester. Beck, aged 62, was caretaker at the cattle market (8 June 1917, page 2).
  • At Puddletown, a man named Read, employed by a Mr. Tory of Waterson, was kicked in the body by a colt. When he arrived at the hospital he was found to have a fractured pelvis (8 June 1917, page 2).
  • Ellen May Whitty, aged nearly 3½, was the daughter of George Charles Whitty of Winterbourne Abbas. She was run over by a heavy truck transporting army supplies. She died from internal injuries and shock about three hours after being admitted (16 November 1917, page 6).
  • Miss Elsie Hellier was admitted to the hospital on 19 June. She was then working as a domestic for Kenneth George Burbridge at Wollaston Lodge, Dorchester, when she fell from a bedroom window while cleaning it. She fractured her thigh and as a result her left leg was permanently shorter by 1¾ inches. She was discharged on 5 September and two months later she was still unable to work. Hellier made a successful claim under the Workmen’s Compensation Act. It was alleged during the hearing that she had stood on the window sill, contrary to her employer’s instruction, and had removed her splints in hospital which may have harmed her recovery. These accusations were dismissed by the court (16 November 1917, page 6).
Notes on images: The photograph of John Edward Acland is held by Dorset County Hospital. Edith Sarah Hill’s photograph comes from the hospital’s annual report for 1929 held by the Dorset History Centre (reference NG/HH/DO(C)/2/1/2). The image of James Tully appeared in The Berwick Advertiser on 21 December 1917 and is reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). The panoramic view from the Battle of Messines was taken on 11 June 1917 by Lieut. Ernest Brooks. It is now in the Imperial War Museums collection (reference Q2320) and is reproduced under their ‘share and reuse’ policy.

Posted 1 January 2017