Ash-next-Sandwich VAD Hospital
Ash-next-Sandwich is a small village in a very large parish on the road from Canterbury to Sandwich. In 1911 the population was 2,055 in the civil parish and 1,638 in the ecclesiastical parish. The mainstay of the population was farming and market gardening but there was also a substantial brewery, several inns, shops and other tradespeople.
In August 1914 the villagers of Ash-next-Sandwich were asked by Dr McCall-Smith to allow the village hall, newly built in 1912, to be used as a hospital for sick and wounded soldiers. The trustees gave their consent, preparations were made - equipment was collected and volunteers undertook training in first aid and nursing care. When the call to mobilise was received on 25th October 1915, a 20 bed hospital was soon ready to receive patients. Wounded Belgian soldiers evacuated from the battlefields of Flanders were the first to come, followed in January by British men. Another six beds were added later. The Hospital remained open without break until 31st January 1919. Patient numbers are not known for the whole period, but in 1916 there were143 patients, 263 in 1917 and 293 in 1918.
The Ash Voluntary Aid Detachment was affiliated to the British Red Cross Society and was registered with the War Office on 11th December 1914. It was numbered 'Kent 128'.
Dr McCall-Smith was the detachment's Medical Officer until he went on active service when his role was taken over by Dr Bolton. Mrs V McCall-Smith was the first Commandant, succeeded "in the early days of the War" by Mrs Marguerite Wilson, who is also listed as Quartermaster in later years, a role filled earlier by Miss Mabel Bramford. The first Lady Superintendent, a trained nurse who was responsible for the nursing care, was Miss M Harrison.
Other members of Ash Voluntary Aid Detachment were (those marked * worked throughout the War) -
|Thelma Bicknell *
Miss E Day
Miss E Drayson
Mrs N Gardner
Mrs M Godfrey
Edith Herbert Mrs Annie Jacobs*
Amy Jenner *
Miss K Minter
Miss M Petley
Miss D Plumptre
Miss L Ward
Mrs Marguerite Wilson was awarded the MBE and was "mentioned". Also "mentioned" were Miss C Harden and Miss L Ward.
The War Office maintenance grant of never more than 3/-3d. a day for each patient was not able to cover all the costs, despite the staff being volunteers. As was often the case, the Hospital was widely supported by the local community who provided regular gifts of food, clothing and other items. Patients visited Guilton Rectory to play croquet on the lawn. After Christmas 1916 the Kentish Express printed a long list of thanks, including to people from Sandwich, Eastry, Grove Ferry and Wingham. During the festivities the soldiers were entertained by the 'Ash Periottes', whose members included some of the nurses - Misses Woodruff, Misses Hogben, Miss Harden, Miss Quested, Miss Jacobs and Mrs Hills. In October 1917 the Commandant appealed for funds in the Parish Magazine and later an advertisement on the back page asked people to "remember the wants of the Hospital in this fourth year of work for Wounded Soldiers."
By the time the hospital was closed on 31st January 1919, they had cared for an average of about 250 patients each year. The 1920 Report says "the hospital was always 'spic and span' and reflected great credit on the Detachment."
On 26th February 1919 an auction sale of the hospital equipment took place. The following advertisement was placed in the Kentish Gazette earlier in the month -
It is a great shame, but all to common a story, that the history of this little VAD hospital, and its part in the efforts of communities all over Kent to alleviate the terrible suffering produced by the Great War, has largely been lost. Apparently some Ash VAD records were thrown out from the attic of the local doctor's house at the beginning of the Second World War, when they were considered a 'fire hazard'! There remain some few references to it elsewhere and several photographs, some of which were published in 'Ash, an East Kent Village' by David Downes, published in 2000 by Phillimore (ISBN 1 86077 134 3).
Several families, members of which worked with the detachment, are still living in the village and it is to be hoped that some material remains with them today. If so, I would be very pleased to hear from them, so that I can learn some more about the work of this hospital.