On 11 August 1915 Hoole House was opened as a Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital following its donation by Mrs Wardell Yerburgh and the closure of Richmond House. Unfortunately, this has led to some confusion with Hoole Bank in the remaining records.
Hoole House required “fitting out” for its new role and this was paid for “to the uttermost farthing” by James H Welsford, a previous tenant of Hoole House, a shipping line owner operating from Liverpool. Two of his ships had been impounded by the Germans at the outbreak of the War. There was a formal opening ceremony, guest of honour being Sir Alfred Keogh, Surgeon General, with the depot band of the Cheshire Regiment playing. Hoole House provided 70 beds and 42 men transferred from the closing Richmond House.
Tragedy was to strike the Welsford family, when one of the sons, George Keith Welsford, an Observer in 11 Squadron Royal Flying Corps was killed in action.
Agnes Kirkpatrick Norie who had received her nursing training at the Oldham Royal Infirmary between 1896 and 1899 became the Matron. She was succeeded by Amy Marshall.
A photograph of one of the patients, Sgt Sidney Webber in September 1916 shows that the house still retained the horticultural features installed by Lady Broughton 90 years earlier; other items relating to Sgt Webber are in the Cheshire Image Bank.
CHESTER WAR HOSPITAL
Warfare intensified on the Western Front 1916, including the Battle of the Somme where the Kitchener Volunteers who joined in the enthusiasm of 1914, were in action for the first time. The resulting long casualty lists meant that more hospital space was required at home.
In January 1917 the Local Government Board wrote to the Guardians of the Chester Union Workhouse in Hoole Lane requesting its use for treating wounded soldiers. At that time there were 370 inmates, who all had to be relocated. As part of the arrangement the existing nursing staff at the Workhouse would be employed in what was to be renamed, for the duration, Chester War Hospital.
Master of the Workhouse was James Martin, his wife Elizabeth died in 1915. His son Percy Martin, 24 Battalion London Regiment died of wounds 22 January 1917. James himself died a week or so later. This left his daughter, Annie without her parents or brother. She was taken in by the family of the Clerk to the Guardians George Hull.
Meanwhile, the Workhouse required conversion work. This was under the direction of Colonel Hugh Huleatt, the senior Royal Engineers officer at Western Command, and father of Helen. This took several months including providing electricity and telephones. Chester War Hospital opened on 27 August 1917. It provided 550 beds initially. This was extended to 600 beds by December 1917, with plans for further expansion. Such a large hospital required a large staff, in addition to the existing Workhouse staff, additional Red Cross Volunteers and Royal Army Medical Corps officers and men were employed. This photograph from February 1918 shows approx. 190 staff.
At the front and centre we can see Matron Vera Spencer Jones, and to the right as we look the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel W T Prout. His son was killed serving with the Cheshire Regiment on the Somme in 1916. In December an appeal was set up to raise £100 to fund the construction of a “hut” to provide space for the patients to enjoy some recreation and relaxation and for extra items for the coming Christmas celebrations.
KING & QUEEN VISIT CHESTER
On 14 May 1917, the King and Queen visited Chester and met staff and patients from all the local Red Cross hospitals in a ceremony at Chester Castle. Sister Mullin led a party of 10 nurses and 25 patients from Hoole Bank at the parade. From Hoole House Matron Amy Maskell led the party of 20 nurses and 25 patients. One of these was Henry Masters, Worcestershire Regiment who was presented with the Distinguished Conduct Medal by The King.
FORMALISING SUPPORT TO THE HOSPITALS
A dedicated railway platform which became known as the ‘Flanders siding’ was built at the Chester Railway Station behind the Queen Hotel on City Road to receive the wounded off hospital trains
Support was required to transfer these wounded men to whichever local hospital they were allocated. This was provided initially under the BRCS/St John’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) system using two loaned motor vehicles and two ambulances borrowed from Manchester. In July 1916 it was more formally organised as a Transport Section under Commandant Thomas Wain, covering the whole Chester area and out to Hawarden and Wrexham when needed. A Finance Committee was set up, under Colonel Hugh Huleatt (Helen’s father), to raise additional funds. This resulted in extending the fleet of ambulances available to 16, 12 ambulances were based at the Thomas Street depot, five being still privately owned. The unit was demobilised at the end of August 1919 having dealt with 74,841 patients.
Practical support to the hospitals, in the form of making splints, rolling bandages and knitting items, was provided by the Red Cross Supply Depots (Working Parties). There were two active in the area. One under Mrs Margaret Frost of Newton Hall, the other under Lady Ellen Hall at Brookside, Hoole Road (currently the Shanghai Chinese Restaurant). Lady Hall’s daughter Eleanor (known as Nora) served as a VAD in France from December 1916 to November 1918, principally as a team leader amongst women ambulance drivers.
The support in terms of entertainments for the wounded patients also became more formalised with the formation of the Chester Military Hospital Entertainment Committee, unsurprisingly Helen Huleatt was heavily involved. This was done in March 1917 and from then organised 124 concerts and 24 river picnics for the patients.
CASUALTIES AT THE HOSPITALS
Unfortunately, the care received at the hospitals was not always sufficient and 2 deaths at Hoole Bank and 2 at Hoole House are known. Chester War Hospital received higher numbers and more serious cases were transferred from the other hospitals. As a result, over 60 deaths were recorded here. There were also three deaths among the staff.
In some cases, for staff and patients a Memorial service was held at the Chapel of St James the Less attached to the former Workhouse, which is now the Judo Club.
Although the Armistice was declared on 11 November 1918 and the fighting finished, the wounded still required care, and this carried on for a further six months. Hoole House closed on 26 May 1919 and Hoole Bank on 27th with Farewell Parties being held. Both hospitals had treated over 1,000 patients each. For Hoole Bank we know this was 1,120 of whom 262 were Canadian with only 2 deaths, one attributable to wounds received on the Somme, the other to a pre-existing medical condition. Chester War Hospital continued for a while longer, the last patient leaving in August 1919.
Over 450 staff worked at or supported the three hospitals of whom approximately 80 were from Hoole or Newton. Many of those prominent individuals mentioned were officially recognised for their services by the nation or the British Red Cross Society.