Friday, 13 November 2015

Working in a Red Cross Hospital in the Great War .................. Woodlawn in Didsbury

Woodlawn circa 1915
I am back again at Woodlawn which was a Red Cross hospital in Didsbury during the Great War.*

I first came across it by accident when researching a book and in the course of peeling back its history I came to learn a lot more about the role of the Red Cross during that war.**

Much of that story was unknown to me including the sheer number of hospitals run and staffed by the Red Cross here in south Manchester.

Most were set up in the early months of the war in large private homes, Sunday schools and other public buildings.

Staff and patients, circa 1915
They were generously supported by the local communities who raised funds and staffed the hospitals.

And when the war ended the buildings were turned to other uses, the equipment auctioned off and within two generations their presence was all but forgotten.

But the East Lancashire branch of the Red Cross left a record of the hospitals which includes a short general description, the names of the staff and their contributions as well as some statistics covering the first year and a bit of the war.***

Woodlawn had been a large residential property belonging  J.Broome, Esq., and was lent by his executors to the British Red Cross Society for use as an Auxiliary Hospital.

Woodlawn, 1894
According to the book it was
“situated in one of the healthiest residential suburbs of Manchester and surrounded by extensive grounds, Woodlawn is admirably suited for hospital purposes.”

It opened on November 25, 1914 with “very generous support, both financially and in kind.

For the equipment all the furniture, beds, bedding etc., were lent or given, and the expenditure necessitated an outlay of only £50.”

During its first nine months of operation it cared for 118 men who had been admitted for a number of reasons ranging from bullet and shrapnel wounds to the effects of being gassed and contracting frostbite and rheumatism.

And it is the degree of detail about the men, including their nationality their length of stay and where they received their primary wounds and illnesses which makes the story of Woodlawn so fascinating.

All too often you can get lost in the big picture which concentrates on the movements of armies, the advances and retreats and the sheer scale of the fatalities, but here is the very human detail.

Of the 118, the majority were British with a handful of Canadians and Australians and Belgians.  Most were wounded or fell ill in France and Belguim with a few from Gallipoli.

The average admittance per month was 13 and the average stay was 42 days with 80% being transferred to sick furlough and 17% remaining longer in the hospital.

Some of them left their names and units on a souvenir piece of linen and with a bit of research it may be possible to find out more about these young men.

More promising might be the stories of the 67 Red Cross Volunteers, along with the permanent medical staff and the committee many of who will have been locals.

Nurses & soldiers, cura 1915
As ever the starting point will be the census returns, and street directories and the excellent data base currently being compiled by the Red Cross of those who volunteered for service with the society.****

They after all were how Woodlawn was maintained and without them the recovery of those 118 men might well have been harder.

So it is fitting that I shall conclude with one more extract from the entry on Woodlawn,
 “Numerous entertainments have been held, and the large grounds attached provide facilities for all kinds of outdoor recreations.  

The large gardens and orchards have been a source of interest and profit, and to the patients so inclined a means of indulging in a favourite occupation.”

Pictures; of Woodlawn courtesy of Rob Mellor, and detail of Wood Lawn and gardens from the OS map of South Lancashire, 1888-94 courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

Additional material courtesy of the archivist of the Red Cross Society


**Red Cross Hospitals,

***East Lancashire Branch - An illustrated account of the work of the Branch during the first year of the war, 1916

****First World War volunteers, The Red Cross,

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