In December 1914, the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School’s building in Heaton Mersey was transformed into one of the many Red Cross hospitals stationed across the UK, to help aid the injured soldiers of the First World War. It has been known to have nursed over 2,000 men within its several wards, during the period of 1914-1918 (Image 1: Ward 2), helping the war effort.
As an insight into the life of the soldiers within this hospital, an autograph book, belonging to one of the nurses, has been discovered. Inside this, the patients expressed their appreciation of the staff, thanking them for “their kind attention” and giving them “best wishes” for the future, showing how high morale must have been due to the high standards this hospital must have provided. Some soldiers also managed to write out sentimental and patriotic verses, with a few even creating full drawings or watercolour paintings, providing the book with interest and a greater insight into their current attitudes. Additionally, each entry gave their own personal details, including their name, rank, injury, and regiment – which have shown us the great variety of patients that were treated here, with each one from a different part of the UK, and some even from Australia and Canada. These have also demonstrated the variety of injuries being treated, such as from having “rheumatic fever,” to losing the “right arm” and being “wounded in the right hand.”
Looking over all of the entries though, it is clear that the soldiers did receive “the best” treatment, wherein they made caring “friends” and had positive relationships with those around them. Some even expressed feelings that indicated they were in a “first class hospital” with the “most excellent nurses and staff.” (See image 2: depicting the recreation room, showing the many activities the soldiers were given to help enjoy themselves and make their visit more comforting, fitting this ‘first class’ standard). This means that from this book, a great insight has been gained, both into the great quality of the hospital as well as the thoughts and feelings of the individual men and their lives within the First World War.
There are some particular entries that stand out among the rest, which prove the high morale of the injured soldiers. An example of this is that of J.M Dunsmore’s entry, a private in the 10th Canadian battalion – who wrote a poem, entitled: ‘Oh Manchester’:
The friends you meet on every street
They seem to look and stare
And always say Canadian are you going anywhere
Come on around for dinner
Or can you stay for tea
And you can’t refuse to go with them
For they are good people there.
This poem allows us to understand how grateful even foreign soldiers were, as well as how welcoming the atmosphere that Manchester presented must have been, creating a true sense of war patriotism.
Other patriotism filled entries include one by a private of the 1st Battalion Border Regiment, who created “A War Alphabet” – which travels from A-Z, speaking of a variety of aspects within the war. An example of this is:
A is for Allies – united we stand –
To crush the old Kaiser and his German band.
This entry also portrays the high spirit of the soldiers, as they are shown to have faith in their victory, as they battle alongside their many allies, striving to beat their enemy. Similar feelings are also expressed within another private’s entry, of the 14th Battalion Middlesex regiment, who offers the poem:
England was England
When Germany was a pup.
And England will be England
When Germanys Battled up.
Therefore, these entries display the high hopes each soldier had, despite their brutal condition of physical injury – showing the true morale and enlightened feelings of each patient.
Some of these entries have also sparked interest in the particular lives of the individuals and their own experiences of the war and their injuries gained. An example of this is that of Jack Bamber Roake, whose entry, that wishes good health to the nurses of the hospital, was written on November 26th 1915, after being wounded in France during the previous month. He is known to be the son of Margaret and Harry Roake and was educated at St Dunscan’s college from 1908 to 1910, before working as a clerk to RW Denyer & Co. During the start of the war period he became a gunner, enlisting in the 4th London ‘Howitzer’ Brigade. After spending a period in Edinburgh, he was then sent to France in 1915, wherein he was wounded and sent to Heaton Mersey’s Red Cross Hospital with an injured foot, before managing to return to France in June 1916. Unfortunately, he was later killed on the 23rd July 1917, at just the age of 22. He is now buried in Duhallows Advanced Dressing Station Cemetery, near Ypres. His death has also been heavily commemorated on several war memorials, including at the Church of St. Peter, Brockley, and St Dunstan’s College (see image 3).
After suffering many losses similar to this, when the war had ended in 1918, the Heaton Mersey Red Cross Hospital was finally taken down, and the original Sunday school was restored after the re-decoration of the building in March 1919. However, as a final act, in commemoration of this hospital and the war, a plaque was placed inside the school, in order to allow us to remember the helpful, welcoming acts the staff carried out in aid of the war effort. This held the inscription:
“The British Red Cross Society hereby place on record the fact that during the Great War this school was used as a + [Red Cross] Hospital and 2256 patients were received in the Building and two temporary annexes between 7 December 1914 and March 1919.”
Therefore, hopefully the acts done by this hospital and the struggles endured by each one of its patients will be forever remembered from this plaque, autograph book and other archives – commemorating each one of their important lives, not allowing us to forget the harsh conditions they faced throughout the war. This means that although many of them may have unfortunately died, these accounts will continue to let their names and memories live on.
This post was written by Hannah Clayton, a volunteer at Stockport Local Heritage Library.
Heaton Mersey Red Cross Hospital Autograph Book – Stockport Local Heritage Library
Image 1: Ward 2 of the Heaton Mersey Red Cross Hospital – Stockport Local Heritage Library
Image 2: The Recreation Room of the Heaton Mersey Red Cross Hospital – Stockport Local Heritage Library
Image 3: Jack Bamber Roake’s Grave Marker – International War Graves Photography Project