On 12th December 1914 the Bexhill Chronicle announced that “A hospital has been opened at 13 Cantelupe Road by the members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.), under the supervision of Miss Willson, for the benefit of the 2nd Battalion of the Southdowns. There was already a Southdown Battalion Hospital in 15 Cantelupe Road, the other half of a semi-detached house, set up by the War Office but staffed by VAD Sussex 24.
By 17th April 1915 a letter from Miss Willson announced through the Bexhill Chronicle “My detachment (Sussex 24 of the V.A.D.) has been offered 15 Cantelupe Road (adjoining the above hospital) as a Red Cross hospital for wounded soldiers” and to appeal for such donations as “kitchen table”, “knife machine” and “toilet ware”. Miss Willson was interviewed by the newspaper in the midst of the expansion, as donated furniture arrived. She would be glad of “more cupboards and chairs. When the Battalion goes away from the next house I shall want even more furniture, for the War Office only hire what they now use and I shall have thrown upon me the duty of supplying it for the Red Cross.” 16 men were already admitted. Despite continued unfilled requirements, the Cantelupe Road V.A.D. Hospital was reported as ready to take 30 patients on that date.
“The ladies, under Miss Willson, the Commandant, have found out the value of the training which they were wise and patriotic enough to obtain in the past years; as a result of it they are now thoroughly efficient in the performance of the great work which the nation’s needs require of them”, and they are reported to have patients from regiments as far afield as Northumberland. By 17th July 1915 “Everything at the hospital is working smoothly and with military precision”, and on 14 August 1915, Sussex 24 have “made a thorough success of their undertaking and deserve all the support that can be given them by the town”.
CHRISTMASES AT CANTELUPE ROAD
Bexhill’s support for its Red Cross Hospital had already been shown by the Christmas of 1914. Miss Willson writes to the Bexhill Observer with thanks for “Gifts of poultry, fish, eggs, biscuits, jam, crackers, cake, sweets, games, and books”, and reports the loan of a gramophone and records for Christmas Day afternoon and “Mr Grantham sang and played the banjo”.
Miss Willson describes Christmas Day 1915, which took place in dining and recreation rooms decorated by the soldiers,
“At breakfast on Christmas morning many presents and letters were distributed to the patients; a bran tub followed and provided gifts for all. At one o’clock dinner was served; in each place were cigars, cigarettes, matches, and more presents. The tables were loaded and everything on them, and all the good things served to the soldiers were gifts sent by grateful friends.”
A long list of donations follows, including 96 donors in the partial copy available. “For a week the gifts had been pouring in” and they included “12 beautiful prizes” for the whist drive and board games included in the afternoon entertainment.
Bexhill’s “subdued” Christmas.
By 29th December 1917, the Bexhill Observer describes a quiet Christmas in the town with “a dearth of bottled cheer” and a “scarcity of Christmas luxuries”. “The family which secured a moderate supply of margarine and tea regarded it as great good fortune” and there were few “nuts, oranges and similar Yuletide fare”. Yet at Cantelupe Road Hospital, “Tables were loaded with fruit, presents, crackers, and bonbons, and the fare included turkey, pheasants, goose, and beef, as well as Christmas puddings and fruit. A lottery with “all prizes and no blanks” was the chief amusement after dinner” and it was the staff who provided the prizes.
Throughout the War years the weekly list of donations is extensive for all three Red Cross Hospitals and has a range of food items and efforts to boost morale and fight boredom. However a hospital appeal that has a strange ring to it to 21st Century ears was made in the Bexhill Observer of 25th March 1916. “An adequate supply of cigarettes” was requested. For 30 patients, (and a possible further 10), to have a “small allowance”, “300 to 400 cigarettes could be disposed of daily”. To the men “this would be the greatest kindness which they could receive”.
Known Patients at Cantelupe Road Hospital.
Returned Prisoner of War – 20 year old Private G.R.H. Jones, of Sidley, was admitted in January 1919 having concealed his bullet wounds and treated them himself whilst a prisoner of War.
CANTELUPE ROAD SUSSEX 24 V.A.D.
Nurse Anne Gorton married 2nd Lieutenant C.C.N. Wallich at St Barnabas Church on Monday 3rd January 1916. The report of the wedding in the local newspapers provided a rare named photograph of a local V.A.D. The Bexhill Chronicle also reports that some of her wounded soldier patients attended on their crutches. It expected her “kindly faithful service to the wounded” to be “long remembered in Bexhill”.
THE CLOSURE OF CANTELUPE ROAD HOSPITAL
In April 1919 Cantelupe Road V.A.D. Red Cross Hospital closed and an attempt was made to return the many loaned items to their owners. The Bexhill Chronicle printed an appreciative message from well-wishers concluding “Many a Bexhillian has had the pleasure of being nursed there, and we join together with thanks for the kind nursing of the ladies who have done their bit.”
The closing accounts were published on 30th August 1919. The £7 10s 3d left, (after the Red Cross Demobilization Committee had been paid 20%), was donated to St. Dunstan’s Hostel, St Leonards, as was the furniture, equipment and stores valued at over £1,424.
Miss Willson was awarded Membership of the Order of the British Empire in 1920 for the work she did during the war.