Military Hospitals in the Fovant Area.
Fovant Central No.29
The size of the hospital, which opened in 1915, varies between 150 beds (T.S.Crawford in ‘Wiltshire and the Great War’) and 600 (R.A.M.C. archives taken from ‘Official History of the War – Medical Services’ edited by Maj-Gen. Sir W. MacPerson, 21 beds for Officers and 588 for O.R.)
It was staffed by R.A.M.C. and military nursing personnel, but these were augmented by villagers. The very newly qualified village G.P., Dr R.C.C.Clay, following in his father and grand father’s footsteps, records that he was in charge of 120 medical beds. Other villagers remember relatives who helped in various ways, one young lad as an orderly until he was old enough to join up himself in the Royal Navy. Some girls cycled over the downs from neighbouring Broadchalke and one, skimming down the steep slope with her feet off the pedals, missed the turning at the bottom of the hill and landed in a ‘pile of stuff’ on the roadside. I wonder how the Sister in charge of her ward welcomed her on duty that morning!
One morning the camp awoke to see a large red cross, made of broken tiles and bricks, laid out on the green hillside above them amongst the more intricate regimental badges already cut into the turf. It was done as a thank you from the soldiers as they left for the battlefields of France. I wonder why the Matron was not pleased and had it removed?
Not all the staff were fierce though, as Willie Langdon remembers. He, as a small boy visiting his grandfather, manager of Naishs’ Farm at the time, went with his uncle to deliver milk to the hospital. The Sister took him to the kitchen where a cat had just had kittens and he was allowed to hold one. Precious memories that have lasted over 80 years.
The rows of huts were set up in a field close to the parish border between Fovant and Compton Chamberlayne which is still called ‘Hospital Field’. There are signs, even today, of the hospital having been there – large concrete and brick containers which were too well constructed to be demolished so have been pushed to the sides of the field. You may also be lucky to be able to find an object that has remained hidden for all these years
Hurdcott (No. 3 Group Clearing Hospital, A.I.F.)
Hurdcott Camp was established in 1915 for various Regiments, some Rifle brigades from London, and several from the north of England such as the East Lancashire (The Accrington Pals), 1st Hull and several from Yorkshire. There was a small hospital for them but in August 1916, when the Australian forces took over the camp the hospital was enlarged.
No 3 Command Depot of the Australian Imperial Forces made their HQ in the Farm House and the camp and facilities were greatly expanded to accommodate the thousands of Australian wounded from the battlefields in France.
It was staffed by Australian medical services and had at least 172 beds (a report quoted in the ‘Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services’ edited by A.C. Butler: ‘In the first six months of 1918 the Group Clearing Hospital at Hurdcott admitted 3,368 patients, discharged 2,118 to their units and sent 1,010 to other military hospitals. The average number of patients in hospital being 172 )’
A Group Clearing Hospital (sometimes called Convalescent Hospital) was classified for being sent patients who would take at least 6 months to be fit to return to active service. One, Jack Duffell ( Soldier Boy , by Gilbert Mant) spent 8 months in both Hurdcott and Fovant before being sent back to Australia on a troopship which was torpedoed before it reached the Mediterranean! Luckily, all on board were saved, brought back to England where they began their journey again.
Tisbury V.A.D. Convalescent Hospital
The Revd. F.E. Hutchinson, of Tisbury, Wiltshire, handed over the keys of his vicarage at the outbreak of the Great War. It was put to good use as a hospital for wounded soldiers. It was financed mainly by the Morrison Family with whole-hearted support of the village who equipped and funded it with eager fund raising. Much was done to make the men feel at home.
Before the hospital at Fovant was established this small hospital-in-a-home even undertook surgery.
It was staffed by Voluntary Aid Detachment, a combined British Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance personnel, organised in Tisbury (Wilts/50) by Mrs Shaw-Stewart of Fonthill Abbey.
It had an average number of 40 beds with an occupancy rate of 36.1 and an average stay of 28 days.
For more on Tisbury Hospital please click here
Photograph of Fovant from Dr RCC Clay Collection by kind permission of the Salisbury & South Wilts Museum, Salisbury.
Photograph of Hurdcott from the Australian War Memorial Museum.
Photograph of Tisbury thanks to the Tisbury Local History Society.
Research is on-going
Click on the link below to find more information on the staffing of the hospitals:
Content last updated
28 November 2015