Huge impact of war on Sheffield hospitals

.Members of the Royal Army Medical Corps at Base Hospital, Collegiate Crescent, Sheffield. Picture: Museums Sheffield
.Members of the Royal Army Medical Corps at Base Hospital, Collegiate Crescent, Sheffield. Picture: Museums Sheffield

The events of the Great War had a major impact in the Sheffield hospitals, writes Mike Collins.

Approximately 70,000 wounded and ill soldiers were treated between September 1914 and July 1920 when the final group were admitted.

Wounded soldiers being taken from an ambulance to the Base Hospital on Collegiate Crescent. Courtesy of Picture Sheffield

Wounded soldiers being taken from an ambulance to the Base Hospital on Collegiate Crescent. Courtesy of Picture Sheffield

Initially the authorities thought the soldiers could be cared for in the Base Hospital on Collegiate Crescent, a newly-converted teacher training college, and at the Royal Hospital and the Royal Infirmary.

However, the numbers grew to such an extent that additional beds had to be found in other hospitals including those at the workhouses at Fir Vale and Nether Edge and at St George’s Hospital on Winter Street.

Wadsley Asylum was converted into Wharncliffe War Hospital and the psychiatric patients were transferred to other institutions or to home. In all 6,000 beds were found.

The entire organisation was under the 3rd Northern General Hospital, the military title for the hospital and convalescent services. Lt Col Arthur Connell was the commanding officer.

The workload was unpredictable and sometimes overwhelming.

Records show soldiers with complex fractures and injuries to major blood vessels being treated, injuries that were not seen in Sheffield in peacetime.

Again, soldiers with unfamiliar illnesses such as malaria and trench fever were treated.

Specially-trained nurses were supported by volunteers such as those from Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs).

Many volunteered or were ‘called up’ for duty, often at short notice. Doctors and nurses were ‘borrowed’ from permanent posts and the university.

There is no doubt that the clinical staff in Sheffield hospitals gained huge experience in treating such a wide variety of severe and unfamiliar injuries and illness and that this benefited the local population after the war. Advances such as the removal of shrapnel and bullets under X-ray guidance were developed in Sheffield.

Women were given greater opportunities in the hospitals, an example being that female nurses were allowed to return to work after marriage for the first time because of the shortage of staff. The economy of the city and surrounding area benefited during the war, an example being the purchase of additional food and provisions required by the hospitals.

Soldiers were sent to convalescent centres in Sheffield and around the region. Small hospitals, schools, church halls and other venues were used.

Wharncliffe Hospital was also used for rehabilitation, especially of soldiers suffering from shell shock and neurological diseases. Physiotherapy was provided at the Edgar Allen Institute on Gell Street.

Sadly, many soldiers contracted Spanish flu in 1918/1919 and some died in city hospitals. There are records of staff who also suffered from Spanish flu and pneumonia. Nurses Lucy Castledine (Stocksbridge) and Catherine Jollands (Misterton, Nottinghamshire) died from pneumonia contracted whilst at Fir Vale Hospital.

Among the many challenges that hospitals faced was shortage of finance. The Royal Hospital and Royal Infirmary provided care for the soldiers free of charge to support the war effort. The waiting time for civilians lengthened and some hospital departments closed until after the war.

The efforts of volunteers in supporting the soldiers and the hospitals were truly impressive. Volunteers visited soldiers in the hospitals and cared for them in convalescent centres.

They drove ambulances, collected donations to provide gifts to the soldiers at Christmas and organised entertainment and outings. Voluntary donations and subscriptions to the hospitals increased during the war. Ambulances were donated by individuals and firms.

* Mike Collins is one of the speakers at a Sheffield’s Great War event at the City Hall on November 11 in aid of the Royal British Legion. Information at www.sheffieldsgreatwar.co.uk