Queen Mary’s Naval Hospital

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Palace Hotel
On the outbreak of War in August 1914, when the thoughts of all civilians were turned to making adequate preparations for the treatment of sick and wounded sailors and soldiers, it was at once seen how admirably the Palace Hotel in Southend, with its splendid position overlooking the Thames Estuary, could be adapted for the purpose of a Hospital. The owners, Messrs. Tolhurst, were approached on the subject and they immediately offered, in the most generous manner, to grant the use of entire building free of rent for the duration of the War. An influential committee was formed under the presidency of Her Majesty the Queen, and sufficient funds were subscribed to thoroughly equip and furnish the Hospital in compliance with modern standards of the day. It was foreseen that the logistics of transporting patients from the ambulance trains to the Hospital needed addressing. Two detachments of the St. John’s Ambulance Men’s V.A.D’s, (Voluntary Aid Detachments), were formed and specially trained for the work under the control of Superintendent H. Langley Jones, who had done such yeoman service in the cause of ambulance work in the Borough. On October 5th 1914 urgent instructions were sent to the Hospital to prepare to receive, on the following day, 168 wounded Belgians from the fighting around Liege, Namur and Antwerp. It was short notice but, most efficiently aided by the Church Lad’s Brigade, under Major F. C. Smith, who worked throughout the night fitting beds, and the Borough of Southend and other Needlework Guilds, who generously furnished large supplies of sheets pillows and other necessary linen. Few who were in the Borough in those opening days of the War will forget the excitement caused by the arrival of the first wounded. Hour after hour the ambulance train was expected, but it was not until two in the morning that those whose duty took them to the Great Eastern Station saw lights of the train coming slowly through the morning mist and draw up at the platform. The Southend and District Automobile Club, under the charge of Mr William C. Mellor, had provided an ample number of motor cars, and the newly trained ambulance men commenced their work of transferring the wounded to the Hospital. Thousands of residents in the Borough had waited up to greet, with resounding cheers, the men who had so bravely held the Germans at bay, causing the transit to the Hospital to resemble a triumphal procession, and it was not until four in the morning that the tired ambulance men were able to rest from their labours. For the next few days the Hospital was the centre of attraction, crowds gathered round to shower gifts of cigarettes, tobacco and comforts of all kinds on the wounded Belgians who had gathered on the balconies. Heroes of Mons A few weeks later a further demonstration was caused by the arrival of the first wounded men of the British Expeditionary Force, the heroes of Mons Le Cateau and other battlefields of the historic retreat. They had much to tell of their hardships endured during the anxious time before the great battle of the Marne had stemmed the tide of the German invasion of France. From that time onward ambulance trains arrived at intervals of two and three weeks, bringing men from Ypres, Neuve Chappel, Festubert and many other hard fought fields of battle, as well as those who, through the bitter cold of the winter, had held the sodden trenches on the British front. As quickly as the fostering care of the doctors and nurses had restored the men to health, their places were taken by fresh casualties straight from the front. The greatest interest was taken in the welfare of the men by the inhabitants of the Borough who, with the greatest generosity, brought to the Hospital gifts of money and kind, as well as arriving in numbers, on visiting days, to sympathise with the patients and hear first-hand of their adventures in the fighting line. On March 28th 1915 the first “Gift Day” in aid of the Hospital was held. Her Grace The Duchess of Portland attended to personally receive gifts from friends of the Hospital, who came in such numbers that it was necessary to form a queue four people deep, extending from the Hospital door well past the building and St John’s Church into the next street. Some 10,000 eggs, jam by the cwt., tea, coffee and provisions of all kinds were brought to the Hospital, in addition to generous contributions of money from all classes of the community; one small boy presented his pet rabbit which was sold for the good of the fund. In June 1915 the Hospital was honoured by a visit from Her Majesty the Queen. She was received by the Mayor as the representative of the Borough, and the Committee and resident staff of the Hospital. Her Majesty visited every ward, graciously conversing with each patient and making sympathetic enquiries as to the nature, and circumstances, of his injury. Her Majesty was greatly pleased with the beautiful situation and cheerful surroundings of the wards, and expressed her gracious approval of the administration of the Hospital so intimately associated with her name. Members of staff were then presented to the Queen, after which Her Majesty took tea with the Matron before entering her car and making a short tour of the Borough prior to motoring back to town. The Fighting at Gallipoli All through the spring and summer sick wounded men continued to flow in, from the battlefield at the front, suffering from every kind of wound from shell-shock, trench foot, the effects of gas, and various other ailments incidental to the campaign. Towards the end of September men of the Royal Naval Division, from the fighting at Gallipoli, began to be received in increasing numbers at the Hospital; the average number of beds occupied varied from 200 to 250. In the beginning of 1916 the demand for beds became still more urgent and the number was increased to 300. The wounded from the first great push on the Somme caused them to be constantly full. The large increase in the personnel of the Navy, and the number of the wounded from the battle of Jutland, caused a demand for more Naval beds. Further wards were opened and accommodation provided for 350 beds divided between the Army and the Navy. In the March the Admiralty notified the Hospital authorities that, in consequence of the pressure at the Naval Base Hospitals, they desired the use of the entire 350 beds, Queen Mary’s having been originally founded for the purpose of an auxiliary Naval Hospital (it being the only institution of its kind in the south of England). The Committee approached the Military authorities who consented, in the circumstances, to transfer all Military cases to other Hospitals. On March 22nd most of the Military patients were transferred to the Glen, Overcliff and Victoria Hospitals in the Borough, and the remaining cases to Chatham. It was quite an affecting scene when the soldiers left. They gave cheers for the matron, doctors, nurses and staff, and expressed their deep regret at the termination of the happy time that, notwithstanding their injuries, they had spent at Queen Mary’s. Since the opening of the Hospital, 169 Belgian soldiers, 3,475 British soldiers and 1,025 British sailors, totalling 4,669 men had received treatment. This entailed the services of two resident and eight visiting local medical men, the matron and staff of fully qualified sisters, nurses, a radiographer, and domestic staff, and six London specialists visiting the Hospital as their services were required. In addition to dental and minor operations 2,000 x-rays had taken place, and over 1,200 operations had been carried out in the theatre. Of the 4,669 patients only 37 died, giving a percentage of well below 1, notwithstanding that every type of case had been taken, frequently, direct from the firing line. The matron, resident doctors, and great majority of the sisters, received their early training at Guy’s Hospital, of which Dr. W. Hale White, chairman of the Committee, is one of the consulting physicians. The extraordinary and continued kindness shown to the patients, by the Borough, was most deeply and gratefully appreciated by the men. Entertaining the Wounded All through the fine weather the members of the Southend and District Automobile Club, and the National Motor Volunteers, took the men for motor rides, generally to entertainments provided for them by ladies and gentlemen with beautiful country houses and grounds in the surrounding districts. They also conveyed the more severe cases to concerts, teas and other entertainments so lavishly provided by clubs, associations and congregations of every kind, in various halls, theatres or schoolrooms in the Borough. Week after week the artistes, performing at the Hippodrome, devoted Friday afternoons to visiting the Hospital to give the best of their repertoire to the wounded men in the bijoux theatre created in the dining hall. Many of the men who were unable to leave their beds were carried to the dining hall so that they too could enjoy the efforts of the talented companies always provided by Mr Thompson the manager. The total number of entertainments given amounted to 110. Every provision was made for the amusement of the men in the Hospital. Four billiard tables were at their disposal for practise, and for competitions between wards or individual players. Gentlemen of the neighbourhood, who were experts at the game, were frequently good enough to give exhibition matches to encourage the weaker players. Whist drives were organised among the men from time to time, and prizes were provided by various friends of the Hospital. A sing-song was arranged each week, plenty of talent usually being available among the patients, occasionally assisted by members of the staff. Seldom a week went by without a concert being given by one or another of the talented concert parties, pierrot troupes, glee singers, and other musical friends with whom the Borough was so richly endowed. To hear the lusty manner in which the men joined in the choruses was sufficient evidence of how much they enjoyed, and appreciated, the kindness of their entertainers. Daily Routine After an early breakfast the ordinary routine of the wards commenced. Beds had to be made, wards cleaned and tidied, and everything made fresh and clean for the day. This work was largely carried out by the voluntary lady orderlies of the Essex V.A.D., who nobly came forward to supplement the regular male orderly staff whose ranks had been greatly depleted in consequence of so many having joined His Majesty’s Forces. These ladies provided a most excellent service, helping with the meals, dressings, domestic work, and the hundred and one other small details of the efficient carrying out of duties on which so much depended. Dinner was at twelve o’clock. Feeding 350 men in various stages of ill-health, and convalescence, involved a tremendous amount of organisation to ensure that every man got his meal hot and well served. At 1.30pm the patients who were well enough were allowed out to visit their friends, or to take advantage of the kind offer of the cinema theatres, Kursaal, and other places of entertainment, to admit them free of all charge. Tea was served at 4.30pm to those in the Hospital, but the men who were out largely availed themselves of the many kind invitations to take tea with friends in the town. Supper was at 8pm, and at 9 o’clock it was “lights out”. The Work of the V.A.D’s The duty of supplementing the night orderly staff was undertaken by the members of the 43rd and 35th V.A.D’s, who voluntarily gave hundreds of hours to this wearisome duty, remaining at their post from 7pm to 7am the next morning. In addition to that, on hearing any alarm of approaching aircraft danger, a number of members of the Detachment immediately attended at the Hospital and remained until all threat of danger had passed, often not until the early hours of the morning. It was impossible to indicate even a tithe of the many acts of kindness, generosity, and willing service rendered by the inhabitants of Southend, and the surrounding districts, to the inmates of Queen Mary’s Hospital, but the widespread interest displayed in our soldiers who came to that haven suffering from sickness, and wounds received at the Front, undoubtedly continued to be extended to the sailors who continued to fill the wards. Although, perhaps not appealing as much to the imagination as duty in the trenches, the wounds, sickness and strain caused by the long vigil of our sailors, by day and night, in the North Sea entitled them to every bit as much sympathetic help and consideration as had been so lavishly extended to the land forces. The fact that Queen Mary’s Hospital had been reverted to the purpose for which it was founded made no difference whatsoever in the direction, administration, nor in the nursing staff. Everything remained the same with the exception that every bed would, in future, be reserved for the men of that splendid Fleet on which the entire defence of the Empire was based.
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