Red Cross Hospitals in Mumbles during The Great War

by Carol Powell M.A.

Caring Within The Community:

Mumbles Red Cross Hospitals

Staff and Nurses outside Victoria Hall Red Cross Hospital

Two nurses who served at Victoria Hall Hospital

Photos donated by Penny Hehir, the great granddaughter of Lucy and the granddaughter of Margaret

'Your name has been inscribed on THE ROLL OF HONOURABLE SERVICE'

The British Red Cross Society To Lucy Wood.

It is a sincere pleasure to me to learn that a Meeting of the Council of the British Red Cross Society held in St. James's Palace, your name has been inscribed upon the Roll of Honourable Service.

I cordially congratulate you upon your good work and gratefully thank you for your services in connection with the Cause which I have so much at heart.

Signed: Alexandra Regina Date: 1 May 1919

The plaque which is now displayed in the rebuilt main hall

Tucked away in a corner of the main room at Victoria Hall in Dunns Lane, is a tablet commemorating the work of the local Red Cross and Volunteers during the Great War. Underlying the sentiments on this modest stone is a fascinating story of dedication, hard work and compassion of the Mumbles people towards their patients, the injured soldiers.

During the Great War, many temporary hospitals (Auxiliary Hospitals, as they were known) were opened all over the country. The buildings varied widely, ranging from town halls and schools to large and small private houses. This is the story of two of these hospitals in the Mumbles area, staffed largely with volunteers from local villages: Victoria Hall, in the heart of the village, and Dan-y-Coed, a fine Georgian house overlooking the bay near Blackpill.

At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, it soon became apparent that extra hospitals would be needed to cope with the number of injured being repatriated for medical care and convalescence.

Nurse Eunice Fairchild who served at Dan-y-Coed Hospital

Many temporary hospitals (over 3,000 countrywide) operated by the British Red Cross Society were to be administered under County Directors and staffed by a Commandant, in charge of the hospital; a Quartermaster, responsible for the receipt, custody and issue of article in the provision store; a Matron, directing the work of the nursing staff; and members of the local Voluntary Aid Detachment, trained in first aid and home nursing. Often, ladies in the neighbourhood volunteered, and medical attendance, provided locally, was also voluntary. The patients at these Auxiliary Hospitals, attached to the Central Military Hospitals, remained under military control and were generally for the less seriously wounded and those in need of convalescence.

Victoria Hall had begun its life as a Gospel Hall in about 1875, but in 1914 the Trustees of the Methodist Church, by then its owners, 'placed the premises at the disposal of the Mumbles Division of the British Red Cross Society.' In a short time, local builders and tradesmen had carried out, free of charge, all the small structural and decorative work needed, including bed lockers and dressing wagons. Equipment for the first seventeen beds was donated or loaned by various locals for the duration of the war, and the number of beds was gradually increased to twenty-five. Among the local staff attending were the Misses Bellingham, Evans, Le Boulanger, Taylor, Francis, Hopgood and the two Misses Thomas, plus Mrs Perkins and Mrs Lloyd.

The Mumbles Division of the Red Cross, 1915–19, included are Mr. E.G. Varley, Dr Freeman Marks, Hans Sivertsen and Mr Pressdee.

Nurses and patients, 1917

photo: M A Clare

The hospital opened as the ‘Victoria Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital’ in April 1915 under the 3rd Western General Hospital, Cardiff, and the first patients were received on 21 April. In January 1917, seven wounded NCOs and eleven men, several on crutches, arrived at High Street Station and were met by Commandant C. Russell Peacock and some of the Mumbles VADs, who conveyed them to the Victoria Hospital in motor cars kindly lent for the occasion.

Patients at Victoria Hall Red Cross Hospital, some with walking sticks

The South Wales Weekly Post reported on 31st March 1917, ‘With lectures conducted by Dr. Freeman Marks and the examination conducted by Dr. E.T. Morgan, the following candidates in the Mumbles VAD gained certificates during the recent examinations in the principles of nursing--.A. Peacock, Commandant; A.L. Furneaux, quarter-master; F.G. Balsdon, / Batchelor, N. Davies, H. Dickinson, H.V. Dorrell, J. Evans, F.F. Ford, H.B. Griffiths, H.A. Hield, G.A. Looyd, J.A. Oakley, E. Pressdee, W.A. Puddicombe, H. Roberts, E.C. Schpabel, H. Sivertson’.

On 11th August 1917, it was also announced that, ‘Many of the VAD Ambulance Corps. were also successful in the examination in the principles of first aid’.

Injured soldiers at Victoria Hall, pictured with a small boy

In all, Victoria Hospital was open for 1,343 days and treated 438 patients at a cost of 4s. 10½d. per head per day, with an average stay of 43 days. Its last patients left on 15 February 1919, and it was officially closed on 6 March 1919. Mr Hugh Peel, Hon. Sec. of the Mumbles Division of the Red Cross, thanked the Trustees for their patriotism in permitting the Society to use the building, which must have entailed some sacrifice on their part. Mr Cumming Evan, responding, said that they had not regarded it as a sacrifice but rather as a privilege, to be able to help in 'facilitating in the succouring of the brave boys who had fought for their country.'

Donated by Sharon Simmons

photo: M A Clare

In the autumn of 1915, Messrs F. Cory Yeo, W.T. Farr and S.L. Gregor, the directors of Graigola Merthyr, Ltd, offered Dan-y-Coed to the Red Cross Society. Also donated were sufficient supplies to equip the complement of 65 beds, with two wards of 20 beds each having been added to the existing house. 'Dan-y-Coed Red Cross Hospital’ was officially opened on 1 November 1915, and the first patients at the hospital arrived on 22 November.

Dan-y-coed Red Cross Hospital, B Ward

photo: M A Clare

Great War hospital in Dan-y-Coed: Ward. B Among the patients were a number of men specially transferred for the purpose of being fitted with artificial limbs, which had been designed and made by one of the staff. In addition, a further 18 were admitted from the hospital ship the Rewa, which had been torpedoed in the Bristol Channel on 5 January 1918. During convalescence, all patients well enough to do so were permitted to go out into the community but were instantly recognisable, wearing the regulation ‘hospital blue’ uniform.

Two weddings between patients at the hospital and local girls took place at Clyne Chapel in 1917. The first was that of Private F. Oxley, 1/5th York and Lancs. Regiment, to Miss Nellie Bounds of West Cross, in January. Several other patients, nurses and orderlies, all dressed in full uniform, attended, and as well as the Matron, Miss Ada Davies, the Commandant, Mrs A.L. Furneaux, the Quartermaster, Mrs W.T.Farr, and Dr F. de Coverley Veale, the Medical Officer, attended.

Joseph Horlock and Elsie Nobbs were married at Clyne Chapel, Blackpill

The second wedding was the following November 1917, when the Bridegroom was ex-patient Gunner Joseph Horlock, R.G.A. of Warrington, who married Miss Elsie Nobbs of Blackpill. Her bridesmaids were the Misses G.M. Crisp, Katie Richards and May Davies, and the best man was Mr W. Davies. Many of his fellow patients and nurses came to wish them well.

Their descendants still live in the area.

Added Information-

Gunner Horlock RGA, arrived in France on 17th October 1915. Also served in the Labour Corps. Died in 1962 aged 67.

Medals-He was entitled to the Victory, British and 1915 Star.

Elsie Hobbs had a sister Lizzie, one year older, who was a Dressmaker. Their parents were James (Jobbing Gardener) & Annie (both aged 47 in 1911 and had then been married for 24 years). They had four lodgers.

The Herald of Wales reported on 21st September 1918 that, 'Through the good offices of Councillor C P. Bell, who collected about £10 from three American officers who marched through Swansea with the American soldiers a few weeks ago, a beautiful wicker bath chair is to be presented to Victoria Red Cross Hospital, Mumbles. This chair will enable disabled soldiers to be taken out into the fresh air by their stronger brethren and friends'.

Dan-y-Coed, in the charge of the same Matron throughout its duration, was open for 1,220 days, treating 732 patients at a cost of 4s. 3½d. per head per day, with an average stay of 64 days. On the occasion of its closure, on Thursday 27 March 1919, a reunion of about 230 of the Red Cross workers was held at Dan-y-Coed, greeted by the Deputy President, Commandant Mrs A.L. Furneaux and Mrs W.T. Farr. The spacious wards had been decorated with flags and bunting, and games of whist were enjoyed. There was also dancing to the music of Mr Charles Davies’s orchestra, the catering was by Mr Matthews of Walter Road, and the MCs were Commandant C. Russell Peacock and Quartermaster A.L. Furneaux.

Mumbles people have always been generous of heart, and the Mumbles Press, paying tribute, commented that 'very few places of its size, if any, can claim a better all-round record . . . amongst the manifold activities of the good folk who stayed at home, the noble work done for our wounded by all associated with the two local Red Cross hospitals, stands out most prominently. The devotion and self-sacrifice displayed by the members of the men’s and women’s voluntary aid detachments during the past four years have been beyond praise, while the generous support extended by the general public in subscription and in kind, has proved exceedingly gratifying.'

Photos donated by Penny Hehir, the great granddaughter of Lucy and the granddaughter of Margaret

The Closing of the Victoria Red Cross Hospital (1920s)

H.F. Maslen

There’s a funny looking building,

In the centre of our town,

Built from three distinct designs,

By builders of renown.

Sometimes behind a frowning face,

You’ll find a heart of gold,

And if this building had a tongue,

What tales it could unfold.

Of golden hearted nurses,

Who never tired grew,

Of trying to relieve the pain,

Of heroes dressed in blue.

Through wind and rain and storm they came,

Some names I’ll dare to mention,

Miss Thomas came from Bishopston,

Her bike deserves a pension.

Miss Bellingham from Caswell Road,

Miss Evans came from Town,

And from the Mumbles Hill top,

Miss Boulanger trotted down.

Miss Taylor from Bryn-Andrem,

Miss Hopgood from West Cross,

And Mrs. Perkins from Slade Road,

(Be careful, she’s the boss).

Miss Francis too has worked so hard,

Done more than words can tell,

Miss Hilda Thomas, Mrs. Lloyd,

And many more as well.

Mrs. Moreton, (Matron) with Dr. L. Freeman Marks, M.B., (Medical O/C) and Mrs. R. D. Perkins, (Commandant).

Mumbles Press - 1 May 1919

Two Nurses who served at Victoria Hall Hospital, Mumbles

Nurse Lucy Wood (nee Bellingham)

Nurse Margaret Wood

known by the patients as

'Nurse Sunshine'


South Wales Daily Post, 17 January 1917, 31 March 1917, 11 August 1917

Herald of Wales, 21 September 1918

Mumbles Press, 18 January 1917, 25 January 1917, 29 March 1917, 1 November 1917, 13 March 1919, 3 April 1919, 10 April 1919, 1 May 1919, 25 September 1919

H.F. Maslen, The Closing of the Victoria Red Cross Hospital, written in the 1920s and republished in the Mumbles and Gower News, January 1971 and Mumbles in Verse, 2006

Photographs: Eunice Fairchild, donated by her daughter, Penny Hehir, Joyce Hewitt; Mumbles News, April 1970, June 1971; and OHA archive.

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