First World War Auxiliary Hospitals

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Jackie Bird for the Love Scotland podcast, discussing the use of country houses during the First World War as auxiliary hospitals by the Red Cross. Two National Trust for Scotland properties had been used by the Scottish Red Cross: Leith Hall in Aberdeenshire and Pollok House, Glasgow.

Pollok House, photographed in 2008 by <p&p>photo, from flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the first weeks of the war, the authorities were swamped with offers of private houses and other buildings for use as hospitals. Plans to provide emergency hospitals in the event of a war had been made by the Royal Army Medical Corps as early as 1907, the idea then was that a number of territorial force hospitals would be established in converted buildings, mostly schools, colleges or workhouses. That programme was rolled out at the beginning of the war, but had to expand as the conflict intensified taking over more schools and poor-law buildings. The numbers of wounded arriving in Britain rose dramatically over the winter of 1914 to 15. 

Fourth Scottish General Hospital, nurse with four American soldiers: Lieut. John Martin, Chaplain Thomas E. Swan, Captain H. I. B. Rice and Lieut. W. W. Gillen, 1918, from American National Red Cross photograph collection

At the outbreak of the war the British Red Cross joined forces with the Order of St John of Jerusalem to set up a Joint War Committee. The Red Cross had secured buildings and equipment and were able to set up temporary hospitals as soon as wounded men began to arrive from abroad. They were staffed by Voluntary Aid Detachments.

Oaklands Red Cross Hospital, Clevedon, Somerset, England, photograph taken following the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918 and made into a postcard

The auxiliary hospitals were attached to central military hospitals – receiving patients from those hospitals after they had been treated. The men needed time to rest and recuperate before returning to the Front. By sending them out to these country house hospitals, beds were freed up for more serious cases in the central hospitals, while the domestic surroundings and access to gardens, were ideal to aid recovery.

Leith Hall in Aberdeenshire is another of the country houses used by the Scottish Red Cross during the First World War. The gardens are in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

In Scotland there were between 160 and 180 auxiliary hospitals and just over a hundred of those were houses. Most were similar in size to Pollok house, although a few were larger – such as Hopetoun House, Glamis and Thirlestane Castle. Of course it was not necessarily the whole house that was used as a hospital. At Pollok house two of the main reception rooms were used: the dining room and the music room.

Glamis Castle, photographed in 2008 by Rev Stan on Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Other buildings used as auxiliary hospitals were mostly community halls, but there were also some schools, and in Glasgow the headquarters building of the North British Locomotive Company at Springburn was one of the larger Red Cross hospitals with 400 beds. 

Hyde Park Ward, Springburn Red Cross Hospital, from Scottish Archives for Schools. (National Records of Scotland reference: BR/LIB(S) 5/63) 

Below is a list of auxiliary hospitals in use in Scotland during the First World War. They are divided into the three Red Cross districts covering the West of Scotland, East of Scotland and Northern Scotland. The list is adapted from the list on the Red Cross website, with information added from Gordon Barclay’s report on the built heritage of the First World War in Scotland.