Clandon Park and the First World War

Nurses and patients in the North Courtyard that acted as the ambulance bay

Nurses and patients in the North Courtyard that acted as the ambulance bay

When Britain entered the war in August 1914, Lord and Lady Onslow were keen to play their part in the war effort. They felt that Clandon might have wartime uses and submitted their application to the War Office.

Clandon was accepted as an Auxiliary Military Hospital, with 100 beds to be ready by October 1. Rooms were cleared of furniture to be used as wards, some of those on the second floor became nurses accommodation. Lord Onslow’s dressing room became the operating theatre; it had a running water supply and reliable north-east light.

Transport was a problem, with very few ambulances transferring patients from Woolwich to Clandon. For this reason it was decided that Clandon should operate as a Primary Hospital, receiving patients directly from the ports.

The first patients

Clandon was not thought to be required for some months but a telephone message on October 12 asked if Clandon could admit 100 patients later that day. The first patients were 101 Belgians, evacuated after their country was overrun.

They were met at the station by the St. John Ambulance Brigade’s horse ambulance and were comforted with gifts of food and cigarettes. Some had not eaten for forty eight hours. They were desperate, destitute, serious hospital cases. Every available bed was needed.

The Earl described the arrival of these shattered, half-starved men as having more effect on those connected with the hospital, than any other subsequent event. This was the stark truth of the effects of war.

It wasn’t until March 1915 that the bulk of the British patients arrived. Convoys arrived irregularly until January 1916 after which there was a steady flow of wounded.

A dedicated staff

The medical staff was made up of a resident medical officer and three visiting doctors. The nursing staff were trained nurses and Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses, with orderlies supplied by local branches of the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance. The first group of VAD nurses arrived at Clandon in October 1914 and consisted of 13 women, including the matron.

By the end of the war

The Hospital remained open until April 1919 because of the need to treat victims of the Spanish flu epidemic. The last patients were discharged on May 1, 1919. In all there were 5059 admissions and 747 operations were conducted in the operating theatre.