War wounded sent to Southam

Southam VAD  hospital
Southam VAD hospital

The high number of casualties during the First World War led to many temporary hospitals being set up in Britain, including one at Southam.

The Southam hospital was housed at The Springs, a large detached house in Coventry Road, at one time owned by Captain H F Leicester Locock.

The Springs (later known as The Grange) was the largest private house in the town.

Historian Alan Griffin described the hospital in his book about Southam’s involvement in the Great War (Lest We Forget - The Southam Men in the Great War, published by Brewin Books in 2002).

He wrote: The Southam & District VAD Hospital (staffed by local members of the Voluntary Aid Detachments) opened on April 7 1917 after what the Red Cross described as ‘many trying and unfortunate difficulties’.

The Southam hospital had 53 beds and received cot cases referred from military hospitals where men’s injuries had earlier been assessed. Lady Shuckburgh was appointed commandant.

Dr Ormerod, a Southam GP, undertook the whole of the medical and surgical work at the hospital, giving his services free until the War Office insisted on paying all medical officers in auxiliary hospitals.

The hospital became the focus for much of the entertainment put on in the town. The Seven Sparks Pierrot Troupe put on a concert for the wounded soldiers, as did the pupils of the Infants’ School who were granted a half-day holiday to perform for the patients.

By 1918 there were problems with obtaining a water supply for the hospital. There was no mains water in Southam which relied solely on wells and boreholes. So some of the patients had to make a number of trips each day to Tomwell Pump in Welsh Road to fetch water. The former supply had been condemned.

Thanks to the skill of the Bishops Itchington ‘dowser’ Mr T Garrett, a good supply of water was located at a depth of 16 feet in the orchard.

One of the nurses, M I Tolley from Vivian House on Market Hill, received a commendation from the War Office for her valuable services at the VAD Hospital.

At the end of the war there was a touch of romance at The Springs where one of the convalescing patients greatly enhanced his prospects of recovery by marrying his nurse. Corporal William McVeigh, a Winchester man, and Frances Gahagan were married at Our Lady and St Wulstan RC church in Wood Street on November 27 1918 with Father Stanbridge conducting the ceremony. The bride received a present from the staff and patients at the hospital.