Many genealogists will find that their relative served in the trenches of the Great War, and a good portion of those will discover that the same relative was at some point wounded and either treated in the field or sent back to ‘Blighty’. If your ‘Tommy’ ancestor falls into the latter category, he may have been lucky enough to end up at Stamford Hospital.
Imagine leaving the mud, blood and terror of the Front Line behind and, after a long and likely painful journey, finding yourself tucked beneath cool white sheets in grand Georgian house with its own deer park, winter and rose gardens. After months of nothing but harsh, strained or shouting male voices, how good the softer tones of a gentle nurse must have sounded. This restful sanctuary must have felt like heaven to the weak and war-weary men who passed through it – all 282 of them – especially since it was not a hospital for posh officers who might have called such a place home, but was earmarked for ‘other ranks’, who might never even have visited such a beautiful dwelling. The shortest stay would have been 10 days, the longest 10 months.
If you’d like to learn more about what your wounded relative might have seen and experienced, now’s your chance. Until 11th November only, Stamford Hospital (as it was from 1917-1919) is back in business at Dunham Massey Hall. The many stories of the patients, the compassionate and determined women who cared for them and the Grey family, who welcomed soldiers into their home, are brought to life by actors or through original archive material and objects.
The stories have been collected from a number of different sources, including the book kept by Sister Catherine Eva Bennett, the nursing manager throughout the life of the hospital, meticulously recording the name, rank, regiment, admission and discharge dates, illness or injury and treatment of each patient. There is also a scrapbook containing photos, drawings, messages and poems kept by Lady Jane, sister of the 10th Earl of Stamford, a photo album pieced together by the same, an autograph book kept by Lady Stamford, wife of the 9th Earl of Stamford (in which many Service Numbers, as well as names, are recorded), letters sent to Lord Stamford, who was away in London serving as the Aide de Camp to General Lloyd but still took a keen interest in the happenings of the hospital, plus a series of letters and photos sent to the Grey family by grateful soldiers and their families.
Additionally, a number of objects from the hospital, such as bedpans, screens and copies of the hospital rules, remain in the Hall’s collection, as do letters relating to the running of the house. Finally, Lady Jane’s memories of working in the hospital as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse were taped in the 1980s, including her recollections of the time she held a torch while a doctor operated on a soldier’s brain before her.
The house is open Saturday to Wednesday every week, from 11:00-17:00, until it closes for the season on 11th November, and the exhibit, which has been in place since June 2014, will be taken down this year. The hospital will find out on the 1st of July if it has won the Museum of the Year prize, and if it has it will win £100,000 to help it to improve its collection and research. Why not plan a visit to Cheshire to see it soon?
If Cheshire seems a bit far to go, fear not. You can read more about the Field Hospitals of the Great War, usually much more rudimentary than those back home, in our original ‘Trench Traumas & Medical Miracles’ booklet here, or search for your own relative in our unique ‘Military Hospitals Admissions and Discharge Registers WW1’ collection here. Sourced from the National Archive’s MH106 ‘War Office: First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen’, the collection contains close to 2 million names (250,000 of which have already been transcribed). We’re the first to have digitised these valuable records for an online search, and if you visit the Archives you’re unlikely to have much joy finding your relative unless you know exactly which hospital they were tended in, since the archive collection is filed by hospital.