First World War hospital records survive at Clandon Park

Lady Onslow with hospital patients

Amongst the objects rescued from the fire at Clandon Park, those that relate to Clandon's role as a hospital during the First World War are amongst the most poignant. During the fire the valiant efforts of everyone that helped ensured that many objects from the collection were saved, including the Hospital Record Book which contains the signatures of many of the 5069 soldiers who were cared for here.

In October 1914 Clandon Park changed from a family home to a fully functioning military hospital, complete with an operating theatre.     

On the outbreak of war rooms were cleared of paintings and furniture and Clandon was hastily prepared as a hospital. Ground floor rooms, including the Marble Hall, were converted into wards which could accommodate more than 100 beds.   

For more than four years Violet, Countess of Onslow swapped her role as country house chatelaine for that of hospital commandant in charge of a large staff of Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) who cared for and nursed the injured men. The VADs were mostly young women trained in basic nursing by the Red Cross and they occupied rooms on the second floor.

Clandon Park First World War Hospital Record Book
Clandon Park First World War Hospital Record Book

This unassuming book, which was snatched from display on the night of the fire, contains the names and signatures of soldiers who arrived wounded from the battlefields of Flanders, France and Turkey.  The men (no officers were cared for at Clandon) were mostly British, but some came from France and Belgium, and others from much further afield including Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

The men were admitted, exhausted and hungry, sometimes with appalling injuries, having made long journeys from the front line. Ypres, Loos, Gallipoli, Passchendaele, and the Somme were recorded by the soldiers’ names.   

The Operating Theatre

The Earl of Onslow’s ground-floor dressing room was chosen as the best place to carry out operations because it had running water and large north and east facing windows. Over the course of the war 747 operations took place there, which is remembered by a brass plaque in the room, which remarkably survived the fire.

Clandon Park First World War Operating Theatre Plaque
Clandon Park First World War Operating Theatre Plaque

Sadly, despite the efforts of surgeons and the care of the nurses, some men died of their injuries. A memorial commemorating this sacrifice stands in the neighbouring church of St Peter and St Paul, alongside a number of Commonwealth War Graves.

A record of friendship

Also rescued from the fire was an autograph book owned by one of the VAD nurses. This records the friendships that were made during this difficult time. The little black book is filled with soldiers’ names, poems and jokes and is illustrated with cartoons and photographs. For some nurses and soldiers these friendships turned to love and ended happily in marriage.

A home once more

At the end of the war family life returned to Clandon, though the operating theatre plaque and another pulled from the rubble in the Marble Hall, were constant reminders of this period of sacrifice. A grand silver salt cellar inscribed to commemorate Lady Onslow’s role as Commandant was rescued from the Speakers’ Parlour during the fire.

Clandon Park First World War Salt gifted to Lady Onslow
Clandon Park First World War Salt gifted to Lady Onslow

These items are a few of the hundreds saved on the night of the fire. To find out what else survived visit our Collections Database.