Normanhurst Red Cross Hospital was set up in the covered tennis court of the Normanhurst mansion, Catsfield, which was the home of Lord and Lady Hythe, Thomas and Idena Brassey. It was large enough to take sixty beds in two wards divided by a screen. In buildings nearby there was an operating theatre, nurse’s quarters, dining hall and recreation room. There was also an open air camp kitchen. The building had the benefit of electricity and hot water. One contemporary source reported “the impression was that of concentrated activity and efficiency welded together by an all-pervading sense of harmony and peace.”
Lady Idena Hythe was Commandant. The medical officer and Matron were surgeon Mr Norman Ticehurst and his wife and there were three trained nurses as well as VAD volunteers who had been attending Red Cross lectures. There was also a trained masseuse.
Lady Idena Hythe moved in the highest social circles, a life-long friend of Queen Mary and active in countywide and national philanthropic enterprises. Normanhurst Hospital benefited from her social network but also received donations from the local community of food, money and games to encourage the soldiers to be active and prevent boredom. Physical activity and the healing virtues of fresh air were important aspects of the care provided. There were occasional visits to Bexhill concerts at the Colonnade and, in August 1915, to an entertainment at Bexhill skating rink.
On one occasion Lady Idena was unable to use her social influence to achieve her aims in support of the hospital. In February 1917 her chauffer, Earnest Randall, who, “did all the necessary transport work at Normanhurst Hospital”, was brought before the East Sussex Appeal Tribunal after appealing his call up. Lady Idena spoke for him emphasising his importance to the smooth running of the hospital but to no avail. The decision was that his departure should be delayed by only a month, (Bexhill Chronicle 24th February 1917). The importance of efficient transport was underlined that August when a fatal accident occurred when stretcher cases were being brought from Hastings station. One of the cars was reported to have hit a lamp post while attempting to pass a tram. One patient was killed and others injured.
Lady Idena was brought to the attention of the Secretary of State for her work during the war and during a long career in charitable organisations was awarded the Red Cross Service Medal and Bar, the Silver Jubilee Medal (1935) and the Coronation Medal (1937). She was a Justice of the Peace for Sussex.
The mansion at Normanhurst was used by Canadian forces and to hold German prisoners of war during the Second World War. It was demolished in 1951.
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