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Medical care during the First World War – how hospitals managed the influx of injured soldiers

Following the end of the First World War, the soldiers returned home to resume their lives. Many though had sustained physical and/or mental injuries, requiring medical support. However, the state could not look after them all, with many having to rely on charitable institutions or family.

As part of the World War 1 Centenary commemorations, engagement centres have been supporting community groups to research how the war impacted on medical and social care provision around the country.

See also other World War One features at ahrc.ukri.org/WW1 and visit our 'WW1 Centenary news and events' page.

After the guns fell silent

Read the blog by Dr Jessica Meyer from the University of Leeds about her research about how the returning soldiers were cared for.

Exeter hospitals

In Exeter, 35,000 patients from all over the Empire were treated in the Red Cross temporary war hospitals, making it one of the largest voluntary provincial medical centres. The hospitals were first-line hospitals, taking patients direct from ambulance trains from Southampton. Calling on the knowledge of local people and the relatives of those who were treated in or served in the hospitals, the community group has researched the significant role these hospitals played in treating the sick and wounded, and the range of support they were able to draw on from Exeter and the villages and towns around to feed, clothe, care for and entertain the patients. Read the blog Stories of Exeter's war hospitals, 1914-1919 by Dr Julia Neville, Research Co-ordinator.

Erskine Hospital, Glasgow

Opened in 1916 as Princess Louise Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers, it was established as a direct response to the need for specialised medical facilities to deal with injured service personnel. Sir William Macewen, an eminent Glasgow surgeon was the driving force behind the scheme. Using the Erskine archive on the University of Glasgow website, the project has given new insight into the work of the hospital, particularly in relation to use of prosthetics. 

Brighton Pavilion Hospital for Limbless Soldiers

Over 6,000 soldiers were admitted to the hospital for treatment, recuperation and retraining. ‘Healing War Through Art’ was a project that looked at the experiences of the patients that used the purpose-built Queen Mary Workshop and Art School as part of their recuperation. The exhibition included images and text from the soldiers’ publication ‘Pavilion Blues’.

Queen Alexandra Hospital Portsmouth

Opened in 1919, it was established to help care for the large number of servicemen with serious injuries and disabilities. The project has uncovered 3,000 photographs that document its heritage which have now been digitised. It shows how nursing care and rehabilitation of veterans has changed through to the present day. It shows the makeshift wards fashioned from ballrooms, the wheelchairs the veterans used, the social activities they participated in and the emergence of Occupational Therapy.

The project also explores the royal patronage of The Queen Alexandra Hospital Home, showcasing never-before-seen images of The Queen Alexandra, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Read the blog QAHH - Our legacy to our country on the Gateways to the First World War website.


Untold Stories: Birmingham's Wounded Soldiers from WW1’ is a project that looked at the untold stories of soldiers returning to Birmingham from the Great War with serious physical and psychological injuries. It mapped the sites of hospital treatment and convalescence that were set up in the city and explored what happened to the soldiers after their treatment ended.

Nursing at the Front: Edie Appleton's War Diary

This project looked at the life of Edie Appleton who was born in Deal in 1877. She became a nurse and kept a diary of her time on the front line. As a trained nurse rather than a volunteer VAD nurse, Edie not only had medical skills, but equally had developed the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with the physical and emotional suffering of her patients. She rarely let’s slip any moments of despair in her diary, although it’s clear that at times she was under enormous pressure. She equally had a lively sense of humour, and included some wonderful sketches as well as the written entries. A key theme running through the diaries is her love of swimming, which provided some temporary relief from the intensity of her nursing work. Read the blog Nursing at the Front: Edie Appleton's War Diary on the Gateways to the First World War website.

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