Declaration of War and the need for Hospitals
Britain declared war on Germany and her allies on 4 August 1914. Following mobilisation of the Army the British Expeditionary Force began landing in France on 12 August 1914. It was soon realised that the scale of the conflict and the number of casualties would require many more nursing facilities and much more medical care than the country could then provide. Nation-wide, premises were found to accommodate Auxiliary Hospitals. In Hoole, three were opened; Hoole Bank House (now the Hammond School) in1914; Hoole House in 1915; and Chester War Hospital (taking over the Workhouse in Hoole Lane) in August 1917.
Volunteers organised by the County Branch of the Red Cross were employed in these hospitals, often working in more than one as shown on the VAD card of Ada Rawlins who is pictured here in her uniform. Between October 1914 and September 1918 she worked 2,850 hours in the various hospitals. Our thanks to her granddaughter Lesley Piper in New Zealand for the illustrations.
More information on the Cheshire Branch of the Red Cross can be found under the article on Lady Mackinnon C.B.E in Wartime Hoole. The VAD card of Mrs Mary Smith, matron at Hoole Bank can be seen in the article on Folly House in Hoole Road. Names and details of many of the volunteers who worked in the hospitals can be found on the Red Cross website at https://vad.redcross.org.uk/Volunteers-during-WW1.
Hoole Bank House
On 15 August 1914, Mr. George W. Hayes offered Hoole Bank House to the Red Cross as a hospital for wounded soldiers and sailors, paying the expenses for its conversion, even before the first major involvement of British troops in France on 23 August 1914.
The Hayes family were now living near Basingstoke, so the property was available although the domestic staff were still in residence. Harry Leach, their coachman is pictured, with his son also Harry Leach, who served in the Army Ordnance Corps throughout the War, outside the front entrance to Hoole Bank House.
By 24 October 1914 Lady Mackinnon the Vice-chair of the Chester Branch of the British Red Cross Society was able to announce that Hoole Bank and Richmond House in Boughton were ready. Appeals were made for donations or support in kind to fund the work of the hospitals. Hoole Bank offered 42 beds from the converted ground floor entertaining rooms and existing bedrooms.
There wasn’t long to wait. The local press announced the first patient as Lance Sergeant W.J. Tasker, 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment, who was well known in the local area. He was probably Lance Sergeant P.T. Tasker whose family is believed to have lived in Bishop Street. A further press visit to Hoole Bank on Tuesday 27 October 1914 gave them the opportunity to speak to the next contingent of 4 wounded soldiers to arrive. A further 42 wounded British and Belgian soldiers arrived in that week and most were sent to Hoole Bank including 12 of the 15 Belgians. The arrival of more wounded service men continued and was reported in the press.
At that time there were 10 nurses including the acting matron Mrs. Hamilton and 2 orderlies. Mrs. Mary Smith of Folly House, Commandant of Cheshire 46 British Red Cross Society (BRCS), appears to have then become the Matron. In November 1915, a significant addition to Hoole Bank’s staff was Katherine McGrath, a Canadian, as Matron. Her appointment led to Lt. Colonel Prout, Royal Army Medical Corps, who had overall responsibility for the distribution of wounded in the area to concentrate the wounded from the Canadian forces at Hoole Bank. Katherine McGrath stayed until April 1918 when she enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She received the Royal Red Cross from H.M. the King at Buckingham Palace in April 1918.
Numerous lists of local persons making donations and gifts of provisions for the upkeep of Hoole Bank and the other Red Cross hospitals in the area were recorded.
Special efforts were made to celebrate the first Christmas of the War. There was a Christmas tree, a special meal and gifts of pipes, tobacco and cigarettes were sent from Mr. & Mrs. Hayes. Miss Helen Huleatt, then secretary of the Chester Division of the BRCS had organised entertainment. Wounded from Richmond House were invited, and other guests brought the number to over 100. It was over by 8.30pm as a further 11 wounded were received from the Front on Christmas Night.
In January 1915 Hoole Bank received a gift of five brace of pheasant and three brace of duck from His Majesty the King. In July, a concert was given by the ‘Child Trio’ and the ‘Kuda Quartet’ who had recently appeared at the Albert Hall, London; a special tea followed using a magnificent Dee salmon donated by Messrs. Totty, fishmongers in Brook Street. Outings were recorded including one to St. Winefride’s Well in Holywell and Pantasaph Monastery for the Belgian patients.
In June 1915 one of the wounded men, Fred Walters, Connaught Rangers married a nurse though not one from Hoole Bank! The bride was Harriett McNulty who was tending to wounded Indian soldiers who were being treated in a temporary hospital set up in Brighton Pavilion – not Rhyl Pavilion as one report suggested! She had served in France in 1914 and was on her way to Egypt where she eventually worked at two hospitals.
As well as the newspaper reports on numbers of wounded arriving and donations received there are some references to entertainments provided to provide cheer to the patients. Out of this grew the “Whizz-Bangs Pierrot Troupe”, named after the sound made by an approaching German artillery shell. Members included Lilias Mary Napier Officer-in-Charge and Helen Huleatt who would later be Officer-in-Charge of both Hoole Bank and Hoole House hospitals. They were pre-war members of the Red Cross branch in Chester as secretary and assistant secretary. Both were from Army families. Lilias’ father was killed in action at Gallipoli in 1915 and Helen lost her brother who died of wounds in 1917. Helen’s grandfather had been involved in the Crimean War and was the subject of some less than complimentary remarks from Florence Nightingale!
Throughout 1916 there were reports of support for the hospitals with donations of foodstuffs, cigarettes and tobacco and newspapers for the patients. Concerts to raise funds were held at the Town Hall in Chester and the troops entertained within the hospitals. There were frequent reports of new wounded arriving on a weekly basis. These are two of a number of photographs of nurses and wounded form 1916/17 taken at Hoole Bank House, others are on the Hoole History web site, and available on the Cheshire Image Bank website.
George Hayes’ two sons served in the Forces during the war. The elder, Harry Urmson Hayes (HAYES H U) was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion Black Watch. He was killed in action on 13 October 1915 taking part in an attempt to take the village of Hulluch from the Germans, during the latter stage of the Battle of Loos. Following Harry’s death, his father endowed a Ward at the Chester Royal Infirmary where a plaque was placed, and which is now in the Hammond School at Hoole Bank. Another plaque was placed in Chester Cathedral. His younger brother Eric Gerald Hayes joined the Royal Naval Air Service and became a pilot joining the 80 Squadron Royal Air Force when this was formed on 1 April 1918 by combining the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. He was engaged in attacking German artillery positions and was shot down 18 July 1918. Though badly wounded he survived, spending some time in a hotel in Paris which had been converted to a Red Cross hospital, before returning to Britain.
On 11 August 1915, Hoole House was opened as a Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital following its donation by Mrs. Wardell Yerburgh and the closure of Richmond House. Unfortunately, this has led to some confusion with Hoole Bank in the remaining records.
Hoole House required “fitting out” for its new role and this was paid for “to the uttermost farthing” by James H. Welsford, a previous tenant of Hoole House, a shipping line owner operating from Liverpool. Two of his ships had been impounded by the Germans at the outbreak of the War. There was a formal opening ceremony, guest of honour being Sir Alfred Keogh, Surgeon General, with the depot band of the Cheshire Regiment playing. Hoole House provided 70 beds and 42 men transferred from the closing Richmond House.
Tragedy was to strike the Welsford family, when one of the sons, George Keith Welsford (WELSFORD G K), an Observer in 11 Squadron Royal Flying Corps was killed in action. Agnes Kirkpatrick Norie who had received her nursing training at the Oldham Royal Infirmary between 1896 and 1899 became the Matron. She was succeeded by Amy Marshall.
A photograph of one of the patients, Sgt. Sidney Webber in September 1916 shows that the house still retained the horticultural features installed by Lady Broughton 90 years earlier; other items relating to Sgt. Webber are in the Cheshire Image Bank.
Chester War Hospital
Warfare intensified on the Western Front 1916, including the Battle of the Somme where the Kitchener Volunteers who joined in the enthusiasm of 1914, were in action for the first time. The resulting long casualty lists meant that more hospital space was required at home.
In January 1917, the Local Government Board wrote to the Guardians of the Chester Union Workhouse in Hoole Lane requesting its use for treating wounded soldiers. At that time there were 370 inmates, who all had to be relocated. As part of the arrangement the existing nursing staff at the Workhouse would be employed in what was to be renamed, for the duration, Chester War Hospital.
Master of the Workhouse was James Martin, his wife Elizabeth died in 1915. His son Percy Martin, 24th Battalion London Regiment died of wounds on 22 January 1917. James himself died a week or so later. This left his daughter, Annie without her parents or brother. She was taken in by the family of the Clerk to the Guardians George Hull.
Meanwhile, the Workhouse required conversion work. This was under the direction of Colonel Hugh Huleatt, the senior Royal Engineers officer at Western Command, and father of Helen. This took several months including providing electricity and telephones. Chester War Hospital opened on 27 August 1917. It provided 550 beds initially. This was extended to 600 beds by December 1917, with plans for further expansion. Such a large hospital required a large staff, in addition to the existing Workhouse staff, additional Red Cross Volunteers and Royal Army Medical Corps officers and men were employed. This photograph from February 1918 shows approx. 190 staff.
At the front and centre we can see Matron Vera Spencer Jones, and to the right as we look the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel W.T. Prout. His son was killed serving with the Cheshire Regiment on the Somme in 1916. In December an appeal was set up to raise £100 to fund the construction of a “hut” to provide space for the patients to enjoy some recreation and relaxation and for extra items for the coming Christmas celebrations.
Although not based in Hoole we do have some descriptions of this time provided by Katherine Foote an American Red Cross nurse who was at Vernon Institute, Saughall. She wrote letters home to her family in America. They were collected together and published in 1919 as “88 bis and V.I.H. Letters from Two Hospitals”.
She tells us of singing for the patients at Hoole House in May 1917.
Katherine Foote describes an October 1917 visit to the War Hospital which she describes as being in “an unattractive part of town” but also tells us of American doctors from Chicago working there at the time.
The King and Queen visit Chester
On 14 May 1917, the King and Queen visited Chester and met staff and patients from all the local Red Cross hospitals in a ceremony at Chester Castle. Katherine Foote tells us of the day Sister Mullin led a party of 10 nurses and 25 patients from Hoole Bank at the parade. From Hoole House Matron Amy Maskell led the party of 20 nurses and 25 patients. One of these was Henry Masters, Worcestershire Regiment who was presented with the Distinguished Conduct Medal by the King.
Formalising support to the Hospitals
A dedicated railway platform which became known as the ‘Flanders siding’ was built at the Chester Railway Station behind the Queen Hotel on City Road to receive the wounded off hospital trains.
Support was required to transfer these wounded men to whichever local hospital they were allocated. This was provided initially under the BRCS / St. John’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) system using two loaned motor vehicles and two ambulances borrowed from Manchester. In July 1916 it was more formally organised as a Transport Section under Commandant Thomas Wain, covering the whole Chester area and out to Hawarden and Wrexham when needed. A Finance Committee was set up, under Colonel Hugh Huleatt (Helen’s father), to raise additional funds. This resulted in extending the fleet of ambulances available to 16, 12 ambulances were based at the Thomas Street depot, five being still privately owned. The unit was demobilised at the end of August 1919 having dealt with 74,841 patients.
Practical support to the hospitals, in the form of making splints, rolling bandages and knitting items, was provided by the Red Cross Supply Depots (Working Parties). There were two active in the area. One under Mrs. Margaret Frost of Newton Hall, the other under Lady Ellen Hall at Brookside, Hoole Road (currently the Shanghai Chinese Restaurant). Lady Hall’s daughter Eleanor (known as Nora) served with the VAD in France from December 1916 to November 1918, principally as a team leader amongst women ambulance drivers.
The support in terms of entertainments for the wounded patients also became more formalised with the formation of the Chester Military Hospital Entertainment Committee, unsurprisingly Helen Huleatt was heavily involved. This was done in March 1917 and from then organised 124 concerts and 24 river picnics for the patients.
Casualties at the Hospitals
Unfortunately, the care received at the hospitals was not always sufficient and two deaths at Hoole Bank and two at Hoole House are known. Chester War Hospital received higher numbers and more serious cases were transferred from the other hospitals. As a result, over 60 deaths were recorded here. There were also three deaths among the staff.
Edith Hughes had been working at the Workhouse as Hospital Superintendent Nurse. She was from a local family who are recorded in various homes in Faulkner Street. She was one of those Workhouse nursing staff taken over by the War Hospital when it was established. She became Superintendent of “E” Division. Sadly, she passed away in May 1918 and is buried in Guilden Sutton.
There were two further casualties among the staff at the War Hospital in 1918 as a result of the Influenza pandemic that year. Kathleen Mary Tapsell was working as a Red Cross VAD in Yorkshire and shortly after volunteering in December 1917 transferred to Chester War Hospital and can be seen in the group photograph in February 1918. She died in November 1918.
Major Donald Burrows Royal Army Medical Corps, had, like Lt. Col. Prout, qualified at Edinburgh before serving in West Africa before the War. He succumbed to pneumonia following influenza in November 1918. In some cases, for staff and patients a Memorial service was held at the Chapel of St. James the Less, attached to the former Workhouse, which is now the Judo Club.
Although the Armistice was declared on 11 November 1918 and the fighting finished, the wounded still required care, and this carried on for a further six months. Hoole House closed on 26 May 1919 and Hoole Bank on 27 May with Farewell Parties being held. Both hospitals had treated over 1,000 patients each. For Hoole Bank we know this was 1,120 of whom 262 were Canadian with only 2 deaths, one attributable to wounds received on the Somme, the other to a pre-existing medical condition. Chester War Hospital continued for a while longer, the last patient leaving in August 1919.
Over 450 staff worked at or supported the three hospitals of whom approximately 80 were from Hoole or Newton. Many of those prominent individuals mentioned were officially recognised for their services by the nation or the British Red Cross Society.
- Article researched and written by Dave Rees, August 2018, Hoole History & Heritage Society