Life as a First World War Hospital Orderly

Life as a First World War Hospital Orderly

Inspired by the diaries of Stephen Warner

Helen Martin – Project volunteer

Stephen Warner, whose family lived in Hoddesdon during the First World War, worked as a hospital orderly at the St John’s Ambulance Brigade base clearing hospital in Étaples from 1915-1917. During this time he was stationed in the two operating theatres, and in the X-ray department. His diaries give us an insight into the work of the support staff at the hospital, and the hospital in general.

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A hand-drawn and coloured sketch of a view of Étaples where there were several hospitals including that of St. John’s Ambulance Brigade and other training camps.
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Interior of the operation theatre in which Stephen worked showing the sterile floors and surface and the views outside of the windows. Both were things he talked about in his diary. (Source: Museum of the Order of St John, postcard book.)

The life of a hospital orderly during the war was a hard, and regimented, one, and orderlies were expected to react to constantly changing circumstances. They were responsible for a range of tasks across the hospital including transporting patients around the hospital site, preparing patients for, and assisting with, surgery, and running unit baths. They worked alongside doctors, surgeons, nurses, and Voluntary Aid Detachments (V.A.Ds) and would have been exposed to sights that they could never have imagined. Orderlies worked closely with the patients in the wards too, and many of them received ‘souvenirs’ of pieces of shrapnel pulled from wounds.

In Volume 1 of his diaries, Stephen outlines a typical day of light duties –

“While work is comparatively light I may as well take the opportunity of putting down as full a diary as possible as I may have less time later on so will now give a short description of one’s day here as now arranged:

            5:30am Reveille (or revally as it is usually called)

            6.00am Parade for early fatigue duty – whatever it may be. There are various  parties made up of various duties.

            7.15am Breakfast, tidy up bed and kit.

            8.30am Parade – for fatigue duty

            12.15pm Dinner + leisure

            2.00pm Parade for afternoon fatigue

            5.15pm Tea

            6.00pm Parade for next days orders. Free after this to walk out

            9.00pm Roll call in dormitories

            9.30pm Last post

            9.45pm Lights out” Vol 1, pg.

In addition to this daily routine, there are multiple instances in the diaries where Stephen describes being woken in the middle of the night to convoys of incoming wounded men. Lack of sleep and constant activity were normal. On Sunday the 2nd of July 1915 he wrote:

Sunday 2 July 1916 “Last night convoy of 79. Today another of 302!! So all of a sudden we are up to the eyes in it! 57,000 casualties so they say to date. The result was that having operated in the morning we started again at 8:30pm with eight cases, getting into bed at 3.00am!! Just as is was beginning to get light! Consequently I fell tired and sleepy today…” (Vol 2, pg. 85)

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Étaples Convoy Yard, Ernest Proctor, 1918. The painting is of the Étaples convoy yard showing the area where ambulance vans would arrive with wounded soldiers. Orderlies to unload them as quickly as possible. (Source: Imperial War Museum, ART 3353)

The work was hard, but there were also opportunities to socialise and relax away from the stress of the hospital. Stephen gives detailed descriptions of his days off dining in Étaples, bathing in the sea, and writing plays to be performed for the staff. He, and many of his colleagues, became avid collectors of flowers; pressing them in his diaries, and sending samples off the Kew to be identified. These activities helped to alleviate the stress and intensity of the daily work at the hospital, but the calm moments were few and far between.

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Diaries, Drawings and Dried Plants

Caring for a diverse collection

Rachel Arnold – Project Officer

 

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A snapshot of the variety of the Warner collection

The first time that I opened the box containing Stephen Warner’s First World War diaries I was amazed at the variety of material housed within.

This collection was compiled by Warner between 1914 and 1918, and added to by subsequent generations. It contains hand-written diaries with pressed flowers and plants, newspaper cuttings, photographs and medals. The contents are very well preserved, wrapped in layers of tissue paper inside an archival box but their storage could be vastly improved to stop conservation issues developing in the future.

Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery we now have money needed to achieve these improvements.

Why do we want to keep them?

The varied war collection once belonged to Stephen Warner, whose relatives lived in Hoddesdon, and it documents his unique war experience.

A first glance at the diaries and their physical properties already tells us several things about Stephen’s experience. For example: pencil was used more often than ink, implying that ink was more difficult to come by. Flowers were pressed within the pages; showing us that, despite the ongoing war, men in service continued with their hobbies and interests. Especially in these centenary years of the commemoration of the First World War it is important to ensure that this collection survives well into the future for generations to learn from and enjoy.

What are the problems?

Historical objects react in different ways with their environment and with other materials that they come in contact with. This often makes it difficult to choose the correct environmental conditions to preserve collections in storage.

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One page of pressed plants in volume 2 of Stephen Warner’s diaries. Note the yellowing of the adjacent page.

The diaries, which also act as herbaria (pressed plant collection), consist of paper and organic materials and prefer a relatively high humidity level. This prevents drying out, shrinkage and cracking.

 

The plants in the diaries have caused yellowing of several neighbouring pages which is likely to have been caused by acid degradation on the paper from seepage of residual organic material from the flowers.

 

 

 

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An example of the negative corrosive affects that a poor environment can have on the surface of coins. This is the damage that could be done if Stephen’s war medals are mistreated.

Medals benefit from low humidity levels to prevent damp and subsequent corrosion or chemical reactions. The metal of medals can also react to their environment and even the oxygen in air can cause the surface of the medal to change and corrode.

 

 

 

 

Photographs also prefer lower humidity levels and can react with their environment – resulting in spotting, loss of colour or fading (depending on the production quality of the photograph).

 

Already, you can see that we have conflicting environmental needs in this small collection of objects. Although it is normal practise at museums to separate materials in storage we would like to keep all of this material together at least for the duration of the project and the exhibition. This will avoid disassociation of any items and make them easily accessible.

The solution

Each diary’s pages will be interspersed with the finest grade Japanese paper (very thin and chemically stable) beside each pressed plant to prevent further acid degradation on neighbouring pages and subsequent yellowing. They will be placed in specially made conservation grade archival boxes that open to allow easy access to the diaries.

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Upgraded storage of some of the photographs in the Warner collection. They are now inside their own plastic sleeve allowing easy visual access, increased structural stability and protection from fingerprints.

Photographs will be placed in specially made chemically inert plastic sleeves that prevent them from touching other objects and make sure they are still visible. This has the added benefit of making them structurally stronger with a robust casing.

Medals will be put in conservation grade plastic boxes which are airtight. This keeps their environment chemically stable from the other pollutants in the box that might come from the organic material. We can also put silica gel packets in the boxes which absorb moisture and help to reduce the humidity.

 

The above is a simplified description of the environmental and conservation problems encountered. For more information on the topic, please consult the following online resources:

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The British Library

The British Museum

Preservation Equipment Ltd.

 

 

A Rocky History – The Pulham Legacy

This year sees an exciting project taking place at Lowewood Museum, showcasing the history of the Pulhams of Broxbourne, a company that really put the town on the map. James Pulham & Son set up a manufactory in Broxbourne in 1845 making terracotta and cast stone garden ornaments. From this base the firm expanded into landscape design, creating beautiful artificial landscapes containing rockeries, grottos and water features. The Pulhams are known to have produced work for at least 170 sites around the UK, from public parks and gardens to large private gardens, including Sandringham and Buckingham Palace.

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Pulham advert from Country Life Illustrated 1900

 

The company was run by four generations of James Pulham. The first James (James 1) was originally apprenticed with his brother, Obadiah, in c.1810 to a master builder in Woodbridge, William Lockwood, where they learnt the skill of stone modelling. The brothers turned out to be highly skilled modellers, and when Lockwood established a London branch, James 1 became the London manager. Following Lockwood’s death, the firm began to trade under the Pulham name. On James 1’s death in 1838 his son James 2 inherited the firm aged just 18 and moved to Amwell Street in Hoddesdon.  He was commissioned to produce his first rock garden for Woodlands, and the landscaping side of the business was born. James 2 saw a gap in the market and moved to larger premises on Station Road near Broxbourne station, where he could make an extensive range of ornaments and artificial rocks. He developed his own form of artificial rock known as ‘Pulhamite’ – a rubble core covered over with cement that was painted to look like real rock.

 

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Pulham Rock Garden at Woodlands, Hoddesdon

James 2 exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and the International Exhibition of 1862. In 1865 his son James 3 joined the family business which became known as Pulham & Son. The company received two royal warrants, the first in 1895 for work at Sandringham for HRH The Prince of Wales, the second for work at Buckingham Palace in 1903. They also produced gardens for Chelsea Flower shows during the early 1900s.

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King George V and Queen Mary visiting James Pulham 4 and the Pulham garden at the 1931 Chelsea Flower Show

 

The years after the First World War saw a gradual decline in work from large estates and a rise in commissions from local councils looking to ‘beautify’ their parks and seaside resorts. Finally, in 1939 the firm closed at the eve of the Second World War. Pulham house and most of the manufactory site were demolished in 1967 as new flats and a larger car park were built near the station. Today just one brick kiln and the puddling mill remains.

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The Puddling Mill next to Broxbourne station car park

 

The Pulham project is celebrating this important history and is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is a joint project between Broxbourne Borough Council’s Lowewood Museum and B3Living. Here at the Museum our Project Exhibitions Officer is developing a touring exhibition showcasing the company’s history, which will be on display from 14 January – 29 April 2017, as well as an events program and online Pulham resources. Keep an eye out on the blog and the website www.broxbourne.gov.uk/lowewood-museum for more information. Our first event is a free stone carving taster workshop on Saturday 20 August.

Stone carving taster session

During 2016 the remaining manufactory buildings will be conserved, and with the help of volunteers B3 Living will also be rejuvenating the surrounding gardens.

Stephen Warner Diaries, Volume II, July 1916

3Sunday 2 July
“last night a convoy of 79. Today another convoy of 302!! So all of a sudden we are up to the eyes in it! 5700 casualties, so they say. The result was their having operated in the morning, we started again at 8.30pm with eight cases, getting into bed at 3.00am.”
Saturday 8 July
“a most painful thing has happened both yesterday and today namely that a patient died in the theatre apparently in each case from heart failure – once is unpleasant enough but the same occurrence the following day is too much.”
Tuesday 11 July 11
“bad news from England today about father – it irks so that one cannot get away home at once to him and at my application for short leave has been refused by the commandant point blank.”
Friday 14 July
“tonight I shall have been a year in the army! How much longer is this nightmare going on? News from the front is good on the whole and we are certainly pushing them back to a certain extent – but at a great cost.”

Lady Meux of Theobalds Park

Sir Henry and Lady Meux at ThobaldsTheobalds Park in Cheshunt Hertfordshire was once home to the characterful Lady Valerie Meux. Built in the 1760s by George Prescott, Esq, its slightly elevated position would have provided stunning views over the Lea Valley, and today is occupied by the De Vere Hotel.

Sir Henry and Lady Valerie Meux hunting at Theobalds.JPGThe estate was acquired by Sir Henry Meux, a brewer from London, in the 1820s. It was under the ownership of Henry’s son, also named Henry, and his wife Lady Valerie Meux, that Theobalds perhaps witnessed its most colourful period of history.

Born in 1847, before she married into the wealthy Meux family, Valerie Susan Langdon worked as an actress and according to her obituary in the New York Times she had met her husband whilst performing in Brighton. Rumours have however suggested a more scandalous meeting whilst working in Holborn. Her flamboyant character wasn’t too popular within the aristocratic society she had married into, and the marriage had in itself caused quite a scandal.

Nevertheless, once comfortably embedded in the family seat at Theobalds, Lady Meux was not reluctant in making her mark. Fascinated by Egyptian history, she established a museum of Egyptian antiquities at Theobalds, a collection of over 1,700 items. She also improved and enlarged the estate with additions including a swimming pool and indoor rolling skating rink – all impressive features for her to entertain her many guests, including the Prince of Wales and Winston Churchill.

Temple Bar at Theobalds

Perhaps her most lavish influence was persuading her husband to purchase Temple Bar from the City of London, which was residing in storage, so that she would have a grand entrance to her estate. The iconic gateway designed by Sir Christopher Wren remained at Theobalds until 2003, when it returned to Paternoster Square, London. This was not the only extravagant purchase she had persuaded her husband to spend his money on. Race horses were also a passion of Lady Meux’s and so she had her husband buy them for her, which she would race under the name of Mr Theobalds.

In 1881, Lady Meux commissioned James McNeil Whistler to paint her portrait. His portrait Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux can be seen today at the Frick Museum in New York, and Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux belongs to the Honolulu Academy of Arts. A third portrait was also commissioned although was never finished due to a dispute between Whistler and Lady Meux. It was subsequently destroyed by the artist.

Following her husband’s death in 1900, Lady Meux had become concerned for the British forces during the Siege of Ladysmith of the Second Boer War. Her offer quickly to finance artillery was rejected by the War Office, but fearsome as she was she went ahead and did it privately anyway, supplying 12 field guns.

After the war, she got to know Sir Hedworth Lambton, a senior naval officer at Ladysmith. So impressed was she with Sir Hedworth, she left everything, including the Meux brewery, to him in her will on the proviso that Sir Hedworth change his name to Meux, which he readily did on his benefactress’ death in 1910. Sir Hedworth Meux went on to become Admiral of the Fleet and a Conservative MP. His hunting trophies, a tiger and leopard, from an expedition with King George V (then the Prince of Wales) were for many years on display at Cedars Park, Cheshunt and today can be seen at Lowewood Museum.

Theobalds ParkThe Meux family continued to live at Theobalds until 1929. Since then, the house has been used as a hotel, a school and college, before re-opening as a hotel as it is used today.

 

 

Meet the team – Exhibitions Officer, Pulhams

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Name
Jennifer Rowland

Job title
Exhibitions Officer, Pulhams

Give a brief outline of what you will be working on over the coming year.
I am working on a project celebrating the work of the Pulhams of Broxbourne, key landscape designers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I will be developing a touring exhibition and marketing this to potential host venues. The exhibition will launch at Lowewood Museum in January 2017 and be available for tour from May 2017. I will also be organising an event program to accompany the exhibition, and producing interpretation signage on the former Pulham factory site, the remains of which are being conserved as part of the project. The whole project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and is being delivered in partnership with Broxbourne Borough Council and B3Living.

What is your favourite thing about working in Museums?
That moment when a visitor discovers a famous, personal or local history link to a museum object that makes them go ‘oh wow’. Inspiring and enthusing people of all ages with the collections and the areas of history covered by a museum is the most rewarding part of the job. Plus the chance to get involved in lots of different activities, get dressed up in historical costumes for events, and generally have fun all in the name of the job!

Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the Museum field.
Think outside the box. The role and work of museums is constantly changing, so be flexible and don’t be afraid to put forward your ideas, whether you are volunteering or at a job interview!

Which historical figure would you like to meet and why. What would you ask them?
John Ray, the 17th Century father of natural history, who worked out the first scientific definition of a species and catalogued thousands of plants, animals, birds, fish, reptiles and insects during his life. The sheer scale of his works amazes me. He also wrote very advanced papers for the 17th Century on adaptation and the origins of fossils. However, sadly he is not that well known despite his ground-breaking contributions.  He lived in my former home village of Black Notley in Essex so I guess I would probably ask him – ‘What was it really like to live in Black Notley in the 1690s?’

Where would you choose to go/visit if you could go anywhere in the world for a day?
New Zealand to see the Lord of the Rings sets

What was the first music track or album you bought?
Ronan Keating’s album Ronan

Stephen Warner Diaries, Volume II, June 1916

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Wednesday 7 June

“we hear that the Russians are performing more than favourably – again that Lord Kitchener is unexpectedly drowned off the coast of the Orkneys and so the tide of this war ebbs and flows.”
Wednesday 28 June

“the hospital is still being kept empty and as the people say that our artillery is very active, I suppose we may reckon on an advantage being made shortly and then no doubt we will be busy.”