On the eve of the WWI Armistice Centenary, the Unlocking Warwick researchers were contacted by James Grundy, the grandson of one of the patients at the Hill House temporary hospital for injured servicemen evacuated from the Western Front.
A few years ago after the death of an aunt, he received a large number of his grandfather’s photos, including some remarkable pictures taken in Warwick during the First World War.
Mr. Grundy wrote in his email, “I wondered if the attached photos might be of interest to you, taken at Hill House, Warwick, in 1917 when it was in use as a war hospital. They’re from my grandfather’s collection of photographs. His name was Alfred Grundy, he was from Manchester and he was in WW1, apparently serving with a number of regiments including the 9th Battalion Rifle Brigade. That’s him on his own and he’s also in various of the other photos. I can’t offer you any further information about his time there, I’m afraid – the photos are all we’ve got to go on”.
Hill House was a rather elegant family home overlooking St. Mary’s Lands and the racecourse. (It stood on the site of a present-day housing estate opposite the entrance to the Racecourse car park and the entrance to Sainsbury’s off The Saltisford). We know that the house had fallen into disrepair and was empty when WWI broke out in 1914, so it was easily converted into an emergency hospital.
The only picture of Hill House that we had found until now was a rather distant view of the front of the house. Alfred Grundy’s photos show that there were large military style tents erected in the grounds creating a kind of field hospital in Warwick. This must have been necessary to accommodate all the injured men returning by train from France – and those suffering from shell shock. (Click on each picture to see it full-size)
(It’s interesting to see the postcard from Warwick showing the bottom of Smith Street with the tram lines that ran from The Warwick Arms Hotel to Leamington – and no cars in sight!)
Before the war there were a total of 180 hospital beds in the whole of Warwickshire. By 1915 there were more than 2,000. The large group photo and the one of some of the nurses show that Hill House was a major place for treatment, recovery and rehabilitation. It is interesting to see in these photos that the patients (at least those who could get out and about) wore rather smart uniforms. One can only guess that their military uniforms would have been discarded, and they needed something other than pyjamas! But also men of fighting age who had not enlisted could encounter hostility in the town, so the hospital uniforms would have shown the locals they were soldiers having treatment.
Many thanks to James Grundy for sharing with us these fascinating pictures.