Last weekend we headed off to Northern France to research, explore and compile details of some of the hospitals used by the SWH during WW1. The purpose of the visit was to learn and understand more about the hospitals. We also wanted as part of the project to get local people involved in either telling the story or helping them to gain awareness on the subject. Also we were required to get video footage/photographs as part of our presentation that we will be taking into Schools, Museums and Community groups later this year.
The SWH had a number of primary Hospitals in France. Calais, Royuamont, Troyes ,Villers Cotterets and Sallanches. Our focus was on the hospitals at Royaumont and Troyes and the Canteens at Creil, Crepy en Valois ans Soissons where the women set up canteens for the men returning or heading out to the western front.
From Troyes we met up with Jacques Fournier and Armud Fournier from the Troyes WW1 centenary academy. The hospital at Troyes was situated at the Chateau Chanteloup and was opened in May 1915. Under CMO Dr Louise Mcllory form County Antrim and Laura Sandeman from Aberdeen, they worked under canvas tents running a 250 bed hospital.
Jacques explained that the hospital after the war was used firstly as a holiday camp and today it’s a home for disabled people. Jacques and Armund contributed a great deal to the discussions and we agreed to work together over the next few years so that the story of the hospital at Troyes can be developed and remembered.
Royaumont was impressive, a striking building full of atmosphere and character. Unfortunately Nathelie Le Gonidec the archivist of the Foundation at Royaumont was unavailable, however she had kindly looked out old photos for us to view and we were well looked after by the staff at Royaumont.
The hospital at Royuamont opened in January 1915 and worked continuously till March 1919, admitting nearly 11,000 patients, many of them very serious cases. The 600 bed hospital was renowned for its excellent medical care. As the hospital was only 25 miles from the front line the women would be fully tested in July 1916 with the start of the great push at the Somme. Trains of men poured into Royaumont many shot in 2,3,4,5 places with Gas Gangrene infecting around 90% of the cases. The surgeons did not stop to examine for shrapnel, immediate amputation was often the only way to try to save their lives before the gangrene crawled its way thought the body. The women battled day and night to save lives and are well remembered at the abbey. A plaque and a Rowan tree are there to remind us of the sacrifice and contribution they made.
We headed down to Asnieres sur Oise to visit the grave of Mary Gray of Fife who died at Royaumont. We were met by Elodie Dijoux of the Mayor’s office who showed us to the grave. Unfortunately the headstone is now illegible and needs attention. We agreed that between the two parties something will have to be done.
A worthwhile and successful trip, lots of footage for the presentation, the sharing of knowledge and the meeting of local enthusiastic and like minded people. Above all and opportunity to walk through a corner of history. Incredible.