A look at the lives of women and their injured servicemen

New information about the wartime lives of women and injured servicemen and the existence of a Red Cross Hospital in Rothbury has been uncovered by two village groups working together.

Rothbury WI was tasked with looking into how the mothers, daughters, wives and sweethearts of Coquetdale did their bit after a request from the chairman of the village’s branch of the British Legion, former Air Vice Marshal Sandy Hunter.

Sandy has been leading a team researching Rothbury and Coquetdale’s contribution to the Great War, which will result in a book being distributed to every household in the valley.

Aware that official documents largely record the contribution of the valley’s men, Sandy turned to the newly-formed Rothbury WI for help.

And within 24 hours, members had found records of a previously-forgotten Red Cross Hospital in Brinkburn High House, at Pauperhaugh, one of only 17 hospitals in the county dedicated to the care of injured servicemen.

Rothbury WI President, Kate Holt, said: “This is tremendously exciting for us. We know that a WI in Rothbury existed by 1918 because there are references to it in the records of the Northumberland Federation of WIs created in that year.

“It is fascinating to think that there may have been some links between the hospital and the WI and we would dearly love to find out more about these women.”

Then, as now, the property was owned by the Fenwick family. Current members had no idea that the house had been lent to the Red Cross for the duration of the war.

This was despite one of their predecessors, Mrs Lancelot Fenwick, being the hospital’s Commandant.

Fenwick family papers and photograph albums from the period are now lodged at the Woodhorn Museum where researchers are searching for further references to this period in the family’s history.

It was common for families of substance to make parts of their homes available in this way.

Part of Alnwick and Callaly castles also housed hospitals as did Hetton House and Fowberry Towers in Wooler, Linden Hall in Longhorsley and Etal Manor near Cornhill.

The Brinkburn hospital opened on November 22, 1915 with 30 beds, but as the war took its toll and, casualty lists lengthened and this rose to 50.

A photograph, originally published in the Alnwick and County Gazette in 1915, is reproduced in the Red Cross archive with a list of staff that included an honorary medical officer, one trained nurse, a cook, a quartermaster and the names of nine women, eight of whom were unmarried, isted as being on ‘general duty’.

Lead researcher and editor of the coming book on the Coquet Valley in the Great War, Sandy Hunter said: “The Brinkburn hospital provides just one of the fascinating stories we have uncovered about the people of Upper Coquetdale and their sacrifices during the Great War. We are keen to hear more.”

Everyone involved would like to find out more about these women and their patients, where they came from and what happened to them after the war. Along with military experts from auction house Anderson & Garland, Sandy will manage the Great War stand at the WI’s Vintage Rothbury day on Sunday, June 29, which is raising funds for the Stephen Carey Fund.

He is keen to see Gazette readers’ wartime memorabilia and artefacts, hear family stories and gain any information about the names and faces:

Charge Sister (trained) Sister A W Joss; Quarter Master Mrs C. Wilson; Honorary Medical Officer Dr Arthur Hedley; General Duty Miss S Renton; Miss F Robinson; Miss A Robson; Miss M Short; Miss A Wilson; Miss E Proudlock; Miss E Robinson; Mrs M Robson; Miss M J Proudlock; Cook Miss J McCullagh.

See next week’s Northumberland Gazette for the third part of our First World War series.