28th Oct, 2016

War nurses honoured in Southam

Leamington Editorial 13th May, 2014 Updated: 9 hours ago

DESCENDANTS of First World War nurses from Southam came together to view an exhibition honouring their relatives’ service.

The display tells the story of the ‘Grange’ Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospital which treated wounded soldiers in the town between 1917-19.

It was one of more than 3000 such hospitals across the country which were staffed mainly by women who volunteered to help the war effort.

On Tuesday (May 13) descendants of the ‘Grange’ nurses – who provided many of the items on display – were invited to preview the exhibition before it opens to the public on Monday May 26.

Organiser Val Brodie, who spent a year researching the hospital, said: “My starting point was I feel that although the contribution and sacrifice of men is quite rightly commemorated, deeply and with great feeling, there were also other contributions which have almost been lost to history – particularly that of women.

“I tried to talk to the descendants of those Southam VADs because in the local history collections we had the photos but no-one knew much about them. What we’ve got now is much more of a picture of what kind of women volunteered.”

The result is a collection of photos, letters and other memories which detail the lives of 15 nurses, although Val estimates there could have been up to 50 working at the ‘Grange’, aged anywhere between 18 and 60.

More than 1,000 patients were treated during its two-year existence having likely been sent by train from Birmingham.

Val has discovered the hospital had an ‘open-air’ ward for soldiers who had been gassed, the idea being to allow fresh air into the men’s chests.

And among the most poignant items is a letter sent by a Southam woman to her brother, unaware he had died three weeks earlier, telling him the ‘Grange’ had opened and wouldn’t it be great if he could see it. She went on to be a VAD nurse at the hospital.

Val added: “We held the preview on Tuesday because there were so many people who helped me, I felt they had given so much that it would be great to meet up and look at the things they have given and to honour their relatives.

“Once it opens to the public I hope people come along and if they’ve got anything to contribute they will.”

Following the opening day, the exhibition at Vivian House on Market Hill will be open each Tuesday and Farmer’s Market Saturday from June to September.

Rowan Parker chats to Gill Reid, former resident at Stoneythorpe Hall about the collection. 20.014.013.leam.jm11

Organiser Val Brodie with Mary Williams, who contributed to the exhibition. 20.014.013.leam.jm3

An First World War nurse uniform – just one of the historic items on display. 20.014.013.leam.jm12

The ‘Grange’ VAD hospital which was located on Coventry Road in Southam. (s)

More than 1000 patients were treated during the hospital’s two-year existence. (s)

The opening picture of the exhibition showing the hospital commandant as she waits for a new convoy of wounded to arrive. (s)