As a hundred years passes since the ending of the desperate war of 1914-1918, details continue to emerge in Southam of the men who died, who served and of what was done to assist the wounded here on the home front.
This photograph was recently donated to Southam Heritage Collection. Southam people raised money in 1917/1918 for an Outdoor Ward to be built at the VAD Hospital at the Grange. It housed men who, suffering the terribly-debilitating effects of gas inhalation needed as much fresh air as possible. The beds obviously went back in at night but the side shutters were kept wide open–in all weathers. It was a type of ward pioneered in Warwickshire and the people of Southam put their hands in their pockets to ensure that the soldiers got the best treatment possible.
In the photograph the Commandant Lady Shuckbrough who ran the hospital is seated in the centre with one her VAD nurses on her right. Both women were volunteers and had had brief training provided by the local GP. They worked long hours; Zoe Shuckbrough according to Red Cross records did 5,500 hours in two years. The VADs coped with men who had suffered intensely in the fighting. Each day in the main building there would have been the regular round of dressing wounds; this could be exceedingly painful for the injured and harrowing to witness. Some men had shell shock which was an agonising physical and mental condition. The windows of the hospital were flung wide and those able to went on route marches to try to rehabilitate them.
A letter has recently come to our attention from one patient who wrote home to Wales bemoaning that there were no matches to be bought in Southam (I expect the small shops had run out with 50 soldiers buying supplies) but he really appreciated being in Southam
‘The Grange is an old country house in very pretty grounds. It is surrounded by woods- part of the old forest of Arden which Shakespeare knew. The village is so picturesque and old-fashioned- and so peaceful and sleepy, if it weren’t for the boys in blue [the wounded soldiers] you almost forget there’s a war on’.
Another soldier sent home to Lambeth a picture of the main ward with the window opening out onto the garden. He wrote to his wife ‘Can you imagine a more beautiful place?’
Southam Heritage’s Exhibition ‘Honouring those who died and all who served’ closes on November 20th. It is the final event of our four-year commemoration. You can continue to read the life stories of more than 60 soldiers who died, over 300 who served and more than 50 women and girls who were nurses, by visiting www.southamheritage.org/southam-soldiers
We have created this Centenary Archive both on line and with hard copies on file for future generations to ensure that those who served will never ever be forgotten.
Southam Heritage Collection is located in Tithe Place on High Street and is currently open on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday mornings from 10am to 12 noon. The Exhibition may be opened for group viewings at other times. Please see our website www.southamheritage.org for more information. Contact us on 01926 613503, email firstname.lastname@example.org and find us on Facebook: Southam Heritage Collection.