Longshaw Remembers: Caring for Wounded Soldiers of the Great War

A presentation from the SYTT event - Remembering and Forgetting: Exploring local commemorations of WW1 (26th April, 2015) by Thelma Griffiths, volunteer for the National Trust

Longshaw Estate and a display panel for the 'Longshaw Remembers' project
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I’m a volunteer at Longshaw. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s Longshaw Lodge which you see there was built as a shooting box for the Duke of Rutland so it was part of his grouse shooting estate. Since 1931 it’s been owned by the National Trust with a small amount of the moorland that was with it. So it was a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers during the First World War and last year or in fact two years ago we sort of said we ought to think about what we are going to do in 2014. We sat down and had various sort of brain storming sessions, came up with a list of ideas as long as your arm, most of which didn’t get done in the end because of lack of time, lack of money, sometimes because we didn’t think they were suitable. There is always somebody who wants to dig a trench but we decided we were specifically going to stick to the hospital, the wounded soldiers and nurses, things which were actually pertinent to Longshaw. I was very anxious that we struck the right sort of tone, I didn’t want to trivialise it and I will be honest with you, initially my heart sank when they said we’ve got to get some children’s activities but I think we actually did come up with some quite nice ones and before we started this morning I was talking with a gentleman and he was talking about with a few notable exceptions just the sort of general age group who are here and I think we did actually manage to get some youngsters, primary school children quite interested and hopefully that will continue. Also we didn’t want to make it too solemn you know it wasn’t a commemoration, we wanted people to learn things but we wanted them to enjoy themselves and find it interesting.

So we came up with the strapline ‘Longshaw remembers caring for wounded soldiers of the Great War’ and it just became known as the Longshaw Remembers project. We decided we wanted to have a main event, which I will talk about in a bit but we also wanted some things that people who came to Longshaw throughout the year or throughout the years of the centenary of the war would be able to see and there are some leaflets and things at the back. So we had these leaflets done which have got some nice pictures in them and a bit of information and also some postcards and they are free if you want to pick one up. If you go into the shop they are not free we just had some that were free [laughs] but we also – the pictures on the postcards we had blown up into big pictures that were put up in the visitors centre. So one of the other things we did was we called this bit ‘Pictures in the landscape’ so we got photographs that we knew approximately where they were taken from, so we sort of had them made into big panels so people walking around the estate who came at any time of the year would be able to see them.

So Longshaw kitchen gardeners got involved as well, that’s an entirely volunteer run project so they had a First World War garden and a not the First World War garden. We hadn’t got precise records of what was grown but they knew the varieties – they knew the style of gardening so they did that bed and the not the First World War garden was used for things like raised beds and growing things in pots and growing things like fancy salad leafs that we get today and they also put in some poppies and a couple of blackboards up with First World War poetry on.

We worked with an organisation called the Field Ambulance, now they are a group of contradiction in terms, very professional amateurs – amateurs in the sense they do it for the love of it but very professional. They don’t call themselves re-enactors, they say they are interpreters. They normally tell the story of a soldier wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on the Western Front, and they tell the stories of various medical facilities he passes through, you know regimental aid post, casualty clearance stations and so on until he gets on a hospital ship to go back to blighty. Because we were at Longshaw and it really surprised me it was the first time we’d ever done an event somewhere that had actually been a hospital we sort of talked about the journey from the hospital in where ever they landed up to the base hospital in Sheffield and then on to Longshaw and talked about what happened at Longshaw.

Before the big event – our weekend event which was on the late May bank holiday last year we had four days of schools programmes. Now normally when schools come out they do environmental education but we had this week specifically working with the Field Ambulance. There’s two of them [looking at a photograph] that was one of the things we did with the schools we got them to dress up as soldiers – wounded soldiers and nurses, so the hospital blues that the soldiers wore and the nurses uniforms. This was an amazing project we put an appeal in the regional National Trust magazine asking for people who could sew and would be happy to do this and the first person who came back to me was an amazing lady from Peterborough who said she described herself as a First World War nut. She said she usually did costumes for school musicals and she says ‘I did eighty costumes for Les Mis. last year.’ So we thought yes good that’s the sort of person we want and she said, I can’t remember what they were doing it may be Grease or something like this ‘all they need for that is leg warmers so I’m going to do your uniforms instead’ [laughs]

So she designed the uniforms, the patterns very much with practicalities in mind we’ve only got – most of the girls, the nurses didn’t actually have the full dress, they had an apron and a cape and a head dress, practical a) in terms of cost – the amount of material, we were getting a set made up for a whole class, the cost and the amount of work involved but also how long it takes to get a class of thirty children changed so they’re Velcro, the same on the boys but the buttons on the jackets were actually in Vylene but actually they look very good. We made the military nurses because they’d got the cape so if they’d been the VAD the volunteer nurses, they wouldn’t have had a cape in which case they would just have an apron and a cap which wouldn’t make them look a lot like nurses so we made the military nurses to have the cape so with the apron and the cape you could get away without the dress and they’ve got the T on the corners. That signifies that they are actually territorial nurses rather than the Queen Alexandra’s, other than that the uniforms are very similar.

Another of the activities we did – you’re probably familiar with the John Singer Sargent painting ‘Gassed.’ Where you’ve got a line of soldiers being led away from the front, all with their eyes bandaged and with the one hand on top of the shoulder of the soldier in front, this introduced them to all sorts of things that they weren’t familiar with, war artists for a start – came as a bit of a shock I think. The effects of gas, the different kinds of gas. I think sometimes the perception that everybody who was gassed  died or were blinded often because they’ve got bandages around their eyes they’re not necessarily blind, it’s just to stop them stinging and perhaps they’d have been wet to stop the stinging.

Obviously some did die, a lot died. A lot died much later in life from respiratory diseases, but it was quite interesting that doing this activity leading them through a bit of rough ground, how far they thought they’d gone and we did it as staff and volunteers, we tried all the activities out first so we just made this tiny little trip round on a bit of grass and you know a couple of obstacles to get over but we really felt as if we’d gone for quite a long way and the children thought the same and they couldn’t believe it, they’d got about fifty yards and that was it and I wasn’t actually on the day involved in this activity but one of the people – on one of the days there was a little girl who was very concerned she’d actually got her new purple boots on and she didn’t want to get them wet and muddy and one little boy just turned around and said ‘well, you should have worn your walking shoes’ and anyway then they were as I was saying trying to get over to them how the soldiers might have felt, to try and imagine it as they’d just come out of the trenches, there would still be artillery going overhead, that the path they were on you know would be full of shell holes and puddles and this sort of thing. They would be walking possibly miles maybe not, maybe a kilometre or a mile or something like that. They’d be frightened, they wouldn’t know if they’d ever see again and the little lad turned round to the girl with the purple boots and said ‘see, there’s more things to worry about than getting your boots dirty’ so he had got it, he had got the message we wanted to get across and I should have said now as I was talking about the uniforms.

Quite a few of the girls wanted to dress up as soldiers. I only had one little boy who was desperate to dress up as a nurse but we said ‘no’ and we explained why, we said you know we know there’s women soldiers today but during the First World War you know the boys were the soldiers, the girls were the nurses and that’s the way it was, in the British army anyway you know maybe the Serbians and Russians had woman soldiers but we didn’t, and a couple of girls were ever so stroppy with me about it [laughs] and another activity that we did, we did a timeline activity and we got to 1916 conscription introduced and I suddenly realised they didn’t know what conscription was so I started explaining it ‘well that’s not fair, they can’t make you do things you don’t want to do.’ [Audience laughs] and when I explained that they could actually be imprisoned or even shot if they didn’t obey orders that was quite an eye opener for them I think.

It was an eye opener for me as much as for them so another activity that we did sort of relating to disability we got a copy of a diary – it wasn’t from Longshaw it was one of the volunteers and somebody that died in the family, very ordinary fairly boring diary until suddenly the handwriting changes and he’s going back and filling it in later and his arm had been injured as he describes his journey from the front on the hospital train and he gets to the hospital in Amiens and he had his arm amputated, so there’s some at the back so as I say to do help yourself to anything’s at the back. We got them to fill in the field service postcards you know where they were just allowed to cross things out and you weren’t allowed to write anything other than their name and the date and we got them to do that with their wrong hand and that was sort of quite an eye opener for them.

We did apply and get some lottery funding, we applied for the ten thousand pound grant that you could get to help for pay for what we did and I wasn’t involved in the actual bid but the person who phoned up and had the initial conversation we had been told by the Field Ambulance that they were looking very favourably on medical things because it was something that you know not a huge number of people were doing but at the time they had the conversation we were apparently the only people that they’d had who were going to do anything at all looking at the effects of war and disability and [incomp] you know we got that.

We also introduced them to Sphagnum moss, the lady in the nurses uniform was a VAD, a volunteer nurse at Longshaw during the war and her granddaughter told me about how granny said that when she was at Longshaw they would go out on the moors and collect Sphagnum moss for use in dressings and I’d done about this but I didn’t know very much that was all I knew but I got quite interested and along with Christine Handley at the front here from Sheffield Hallam University, did quite a lot of work on that but that wasn’t just a little cottage industry it was a huge industry, they were produced by their million. Sphagnum moss very very absorbent and slightly antiseptic so it was used in place of cotton which was in short supply but also used for munitions and one interesting thing was it was generally put into a muslin bag and packed very loosely because it absorbed so much liquid, bodily fluid – it didn’t have to be blood it could have been other things as well [laughs] and then it was used in home hospitals, dressings that were sent abroad were compressed so this is so they were easier to transport but that was from a munitions factory, one particular munitions factory the reference said that you know one minute they were making shells and the next minute the same machinery was being used to compress all the Sphagnum moss to help heal people.

Other activities we did that you might not associate with the First World War, we made lavender bags, and I associate the smell of lavender with furniture polish and grandmas, not wounded soldiers but again they were made in their hundreds of thousands probably millions at home, sent to hospitals just to hide the stench of the you know gangrene, dysentery, sickness – all the horrible hospital smells so they could either – if they could hold it to their nose or patients were lying down they were pinned onto their pillow just to make the smells a bit more bearable. So there’s some of the activities that we actually did come up with.

Our main event as I say took place late May bank holiday last year when other members of the Field Ambulance came and joined the two who’d come to us for the schools week and did a presentation, this is at the Moorland Discovery Centre at Longshaw. They brought a model T Ford ambulance that had actually been out to the Somme, seen service at the Somme. They brought it up on a trailer from London and their lottery bid was actually to get a new trailer to make it easier to transport. These are pictures of the weekend. The top picture is entitled men at work, anyone who is familiar with Longshaw will know the car park just gets absolutely rammed, on a normal weekend if it’s sunny it will be overflowing, you know it will be full by ten o’clock. If you can remember last year’s May bank holiday it rained and rained and rained. I think at eight thirty in the morning we’d got three car park marshals on and three cars or something like that [laughs] so the welcome tent wasn’t ever so busy either [laughs] but the advantage was to look on the bright side which we did, it meant every member of staff and every volunteer who was there on the weekend helping was actually able to get to see the presentations. If we’d been busy they wouldn’t have been able to so as I say we just looked on the bright side.

These are us handing out Anzac biscuits, they’re fairly topical. One of the leaflets on the back is about a soldier called Cyril Newbury who was at Longshaw who was a New Zealander. We had soldiers from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, America towards the end of the war, all over the place so there’s a little bit about him and there’s also a bit about Anzac biscuits, they are rather nice. I would recommend you having a go at them, so the cafe made some Anzac biscuits which we were giving away and it meant there were more Anzac biscuits for everyone. We got a contingency plan that we were going to break them into halves or quarters [laughs] we didn’t need to do that.

We had some musicians who were – they were lovely singing First World War songs. You can’t see very well I mean sandbags today aren’t sort of khaki coloured but just there [pointing at photograph] one of the rangers sort of halfway through the morning was putting down sandbags to stop the water coming in under the tent, I’ve not known anything like it but they were a huge hit and we will pass over that fairly quickly,[looking at a picture] all I will say is that you have no idea what you find if you go onto eBay and search for nurses uniforms [audience laughs]. I will tell you this story, one of our rangers – the first day I wore it I thought I’m not going to skulk around I’ll go in the office and I will go in the shop  I will just let them get all the wise cracks over you know, get all the laughter over and one or our rangers who isn’t known for his finesse shouted from about twenty yards ‘bloody hell’ he said ‘when you said nurses uniform that wasn’t what I had in mind’ [laughs] and one of the others from who I would have expected better turned and said ‘are you feeling a bit happier now?’  [Laughs] I said ‘it’s a good job I have a sense of humour.’

Anyway that was actually taken on the Sunday afternoon, the rain did eventually stop, that is the view from the front of Longshaw Lodge and whenever I do a talk about Longshaw and the First World War I always finish with a picture like that, I think if you think about those soldiers coming out of the trenches, coming through Gallipoli as Cyril Newbury our New Zealander did, the mud and the blood and the rats and the lice and all the horrors and then one day they both wake up and they look out of the window and they see that and that has got to have made them feel better. So that’s it, thank you.

Transcript ends.

More information can be found here: Life at Longshaw during the First World War


This page was added on 21 August 2015.

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