Stories of Exeter’s War Hospitals, 1914-1919 is one of the projects supported by the county’s Devon Remembers Heritage Project to commemorate the centenary of the First World War by exploring what life was like on the home front in Devon. A small research group from Exeter Local History Society (composed of former NHS staff) has been exploring the range of information that survives about the seven sites in Exeter that were used as Red Cross temporary war hospitals, the patients who were admitted to them, and the staff and volunteers who provided treatment and care within the hospitals and in the wider community.
35,000 patients from all over the Empire were treated in Exeter’s Red Cross temporary war hospitals between 1914 and 1919, making it one of the largest voluntary provincial medical centres. The Exeter hospitals were first-line hospitals, taking patients direct from ambulance trains from Southampton, rather than purely caring for convalescents as the majority of Red Cross hospitals did. Patients were treated for all sorts of conditions including the effects of gassing, wounds caused by shells or bullets, loss of limbs, eye injuries and illnesses ranging from mumps to ‘trench fever’ and tuberculosis. The hospitals were equipped with operating theatres, x-ray units, and an electrical treatment unit, and were staffed by local consultant medical and trained nursing staff as well as by hundreds of Red Cross volunteers.
The group has been engaging with people in Exeter and the surrounding communities, and with the relatives of those who were treated in or served in the Exeter hospitals from around the world to share their understanding of the significant role these hospitals played in treating the sick and wounded, and the range of support they were able to draw on from Exeter and the villages and towns around to feed, clothe, care for and entertain the patients.
A programme of talks and pop-up events planned for 2017 and 2018 includes as a centre-piece a major exhibition, Stories of Exeter’s War Hospitals, 1914-1919, to be held between 19th and 23rd September 2017 in St Stephen’s Church in the High Street, Exeter. For further information contact Dr Julia Neville, research co-ordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Exeter Local History Society gratefully acknowledges the receipt of a grant towards the costs of the project from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the application for which was supported by Gateways.