What Royston Did … 

In the Great War

The auxiliary (or soldiers') hospital, Queens Road

image auxiliary hospital

Hertfordshire 18 Voluntary Aid Detachment was formed in 1910 as it was feared there would be injured soldiers needing treatment following any future invasion. Membership was open to men and women.

In 1914, it was decided to use the recently built Schools in Queens Road, Royston as a hospital to look after the wounded soldiers from the War front with the Hon. Maud Bevan as its Commandant.

The Auxiliary Hospital received its first patients in March 1915 and by the time it closed in December 1918, had cared for over 2,400 men. Most of the soldiers had no local connection although a few local men were treated there including William Whitehead and J Nightingale from Bassingbourn.

The local communities within Royston and and its surrounding district donated food, other items like furniture, books and tobacco and raised funds by flag days, concerts etc.

There was a Knitting Club linked to a British Red Cross Working Party. Thousands of pieces of clothing were made for the patients and some were sent overseas to the local men.

In June 1918, the Hon Maud Bevan was made a Dame for her work with the British Red Cross.

The hospital's staff

image hospital Staff

Some of the staff were trained nurses, some were paid but the vast majority were volunteers, mainly women but some men too. Children also played their part. Some of the Volunteers took first aid courses; others cleaned the building and cooked and sewed for the men. We have included some examples of the names from newspaper articles.

This photograph shows some of the hospital staff (and one small kitten) who served at the hospital during the Great War.

The Red Cross service cards have been made available on line and the names of a number of them who volunteered are listed below.

Names from the Red Cross cards

The Red Cross has published scans of the cards setting out details of the service provided by those involved with the various hospitals they ran during the Great War. These service cards have revealed just how much help was received, in many different ways, from those who volunteered for work.  

Follow the link below for more information from the cards.

Red Cross service cards

Ellen Day

image ellen day

Born in Norfolk, Ellen came to Royston with her husband Charles. They are in Royston by the 1881 census. He worked as a groom or cab driver and later as a nursery gardener, whilst Ellen was a dressmaker.

Their children were Benjamin and Sidney. They lived at the Green, Kneesworth Street and later in Queens Road.

Ellen’s Red Cross service card

Ellen worked as a volunteer at the Soldiers Hospital from 1915 to 1918, half a day a week cleaning wards and was awarded a Red Cross certificate in 1919.

image ellen day red cross service cardimage ellen day red cross service card

Others who volunteered

The names listed below are just some of the records which can found on the Red Cross web site which were connected with the Royston Auxilliary Hospital.

Charles Henry Bullard
Regular night orderly working 12 hours a week between 1915 and 1918.

Daisy Clark
Nursing member with 5,000 hours served between 1915 and 1918.

Ellen Louise Cowell
Scrubbing and cooking, 14 hours a week from 1915 to 1919.

Eliza Jane Sewell Cautherley
Organised the work of the kitchen and acted as caterer and cook working a full day of 14 hours in 1915 …. Quite impossible to estimate to number of hours given.

Annie Ada Bourne
Darned 400 pairs of socks, 1915 to 1918.

Inside the hospital

image hospital interior

“ The four wards which are at present furnished and occupied are on the south side of the building, and over each ward is the name of a prominent man of the present war. They are French, Jeffre, Jellicoe and Kitchener. Each ward contains at present six beds and there is a different kind of colour scheme worked out in the hangings, etc., in each ward that has a particularly pleasing and cheerful appearance. The wards are 25 feet by 24 feet and correspondingly lofty. The Central Hall is 48 feet 9 inches by 20 feet, and this is used partly as a mess room and recreation room, the division being made with movable screens. Small tables are provided for games, writing, etc., and there is also a piano. There are three other large class-rooms on the north side of the building, which if required can be furnished and on the same scale as the other wards will accommodate 18 additional patients. The hospital has, however, been scheduled to take 50 patients if required. "

From an article in the Royston Crow - 2nd April 1915

Image by kind permission of Royston and District Museum and Art Gallery

The patients

There are no admission books available but a number of soldiers are mentioned in the Crow newspaper articles throughout the period. These included Canadian Archibald MacMurdy of the 15th Scottish Canadian Highlanders, who supported a recruitment drive in June 1915, and Australian William Farrell of 55th Battalion Australian Imperial Force who wrote to the paper praising how the Home for Little Girls was run in October 1916.

The only comments we can find on the hospital by a soldier are those by Fred Allwood, a Derbyshire born member of the Australian forces who was treated there in June 1917.

A Most Unremarkable War

image a most unremarkable war book cover

The story of Fred Allwood was inspired by letters to his sweetheart, compiled by Alan James. In this extract Fred compares life and the care he receives while at the 1st Great Eastern Hospital in Cambridge (from where he writes) and the Auxiliary Hospital in Royston.

“ Royston has built me up again. I am hard and well again and now I am here again [1st Eastern Hospital, Cambridge] in the prison like hospital with liberty for 3 hours only every day and nothing to do in the remainder feeling fit and ready for anything.

“ Sister Cockburn gave us a splendid time the Tuesday before we left Royston. She lives at Baldock about 9 miles away and she invited the Sgt to pick a tennis team of four to play against her team at Baldock. The team was made up of 2 British and two Australians inc your boy and we drove over and had a right royal time. She and her husband and another lady and gentleman played against us. They beat us but we enjoyed it, she gave us a splendid dinner and a good tea on the tennis ground.

“ I miss the tennis and cricket and I haven't enjoyed a meal here yet. “

Extract and book cover by kind permission of Alan James

Fred Allwood (head and shoulders) and Ashley James (author’s grandfather)

Hospital closure

The Auxiliary Hospital closed during the week which ended on 21st December 1918. This gave the members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and other supporters a chance to reflect on their work mainly over the 1915 to 1918 period but acknowledging how it all started in 1910 when Herts 18 VAD was set up.
A triple celebration took place at the Schools to mark the end of the War, the closure of the hospital and Christmas. 

Herts VAD 18 continued after the War. The children returned to the Schools in 1919 which finally closed in 1969. The buildings were knocked down and the current housing was built.

image memorial plaque

Plaque later attached to the reopened schools building in recognistion of the role they played as a hospital in World War I
Image by kind permission of Royston and District Museum and Art Gallery

Royston Crow report

“ A visible link in our midst with the agony of war for three years nine months.
The wounded soldiers have been popular with the people and have conducted themselves in such a way that warm friendships have been fostered that will remain for some long time to come.

They have always spoken of the hospital with the highest praise. The absence of the familiar blue and grey hospital uniform will be missed from our town and the girls in blue too.

Royston too feels proud of the patriotic band of workers who have so loyally rendered service at the hospital many of them for the whole time it has been opened. It has indeed been a fine example and credit to themselves and the town.

The hospital was fortunate to have for its commandant the Hon. Dame Maud Bevan the president of the British Red Cross Society for Hertfordshire whose organising ability has been conspicuous from its commencement and whose tact and personality won the loyal and wholehearted service of the Detachment and helpers which is a such an incentive and encouragement to a leader.

In June last among the King’s birthday honours the Hon Mrs Bevan was distinguished by being created a Dame of the order of the British Empire. Her second in command Miss Ella Phillips has also had her valuable services officially recognised as her name was included in the list of lady members of the nursing brought to the attention of the Secretary of War published in October 1917.

Several other members of the VAD have had similar recognition of their services [Inc. Miss Dorothy Jacklin and Miss Daisy Clark] and the matron Mrs [Sybil] Cockburn in August last at an investiture by the King at Buckingham Palace was decorated with the Royal Red Cross, second class VAD. "

As part of its report on the closure, “The Royston Crow" included a number of speeches made by some of those involved. Here are a number of extracts from those speeches.

Dame Maud Bevan - Commandant

“ Dame Maud Bevan started talking by remembering that in 1910 the VAD was started four years before the war and that a good many people had laughed at them.

“ They really did a lot of things then that were no use to them as an invasion never came but there were other things they learned that had been of great help to them. At that time there were about 20 women in the detachment and a Men’s Detachment was formed at about the same time.

“ When the war broke out they were all ready but only slightly trained. At the immediate outbreak of war this hospital was not started but the VAD ran a canteen for the troops that were quartered in the town up to March 1915. By 29th March 1915 this hospital was equipped and opened with 25 beds. Later they were asked to provide 30, then 60 and later 80. Since it had been opened 2,415 men had passed through the hospital. They had sent a good many nurses to the front and 17 had volunteered for work in military hospitals at home and abroad. Nevertheless they remained a complete detachment owing to the loyal response of the villages around. They had since they opened raised £3,000 to run the hospital and for Red Cross work.

“ They had made and sent to Hatfield she did not know how many thousands of garments for the Belgians and other refugees…….

“ She wanted to say a few words of heartfelt thanks to the medical officers, the VA Detachment, the Matrons, the male night orderlies and all the voluntary helpers.

“ Speaking for herself she felt responsible for the whole thing, but yet she had never felt any responsibility because she could always depend upon the loyalty of staff from the Matron to the humblest worker. "

Read full speechClose


Mrs. Geenstreet - [presumed to be Louise - Matron]

“ She would like to endorse every word that had been said as to the loyalty and unity of the VAD nurses and all the staff. She had been happier in that hospital than she would have been in one under strict military discipline. She felt what was being done was done as a work of love and it had been proved that they could run such a hospital free of red tapism and run it successfully. [applause]

“ It was their great pride to feel and know they had the best commandant in England [cheers] they had all been drawn together as friends as brothers and sisters and they would never forget the work they did together and she hoped the men would realise it had been done for the love of them and what they had done. "

“ ...they had all been drawn together as friends as brothers and sisters and they would never forget the work they did together and she hoped the men would realise it had been done for the love of them and what they had done. "

Read full speechClose


Mr. Percival Grundy

“ The whole town had feeling of great pride and gratitude to the originator of the Hospital and the great body of people who had united themselves into such an efficient band of workers, who carried out their duties so admirably and well that in the eyes of the officials, that institution had become the best Military Hospital in the County of Hertfordshire. The qualifications of a good Commandant must include ability, tact, hard work and something more, character and when they thought of Dame Maud Bevan she had all those qualifications and many more."

Private Browe

“ A patient, quite an elderly looking soldier said he thought it hardly right if he and his comrades did not on that occasion join in the general expressions of good feeling. Whatever had been said that evening respecting the work of their Commandant, the staff and all connected with the Hospital he could assure them that the half had never been told [cheers]. He could speak with assurance that the boys had appreciated the work that had been done there for them by the VAD. " [Renewed cheers].

Royal Red Cross

image royal red cross medal

The Royal Red Cross was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1883 and was the first example of a British military order solely for women.

The decoration can be conferred upon members of the nursing services, irrespective of rank. It can also be given to anyone, British or foreign, who has been recommended for special devotion or competency while engaged on nursing or hospital duties in the navy, army or air force. Since 1917, it can be conferred on male members of the nursing scheme.

Recipients are designated “members: and can use the letters “RRC” after their names. The badge is in the form of a red cross, in gold with red enamel. The words “Faith, Hope, Charity” are engraved on the arms of the cross with the date of institution, 1883. In the centre, in relief, is the royal effigy and on the reverse, the Royal Imperial Cypher and crown.

Royal Red Cross, second class, was instituted during the Great War of 1914-18. Recipients are called “associates” and can use the letters “ARRC” after their name. The badge is almost the same but in silver instead of gold.

Despite the title, the order has no connection with the Red Cross movement, though a number of women members of the British Red Cross have received the award in recognition of the nursing services performed with the British navy, army or air force.