The Museum of Croydon’s centenary commemorations: First World War hospitals and Wallacefield

By - Wednesday 11th July, 2018

How Croydon’s volunteers did their bit for the borough’s war effort

Photo by David and Chris Berkley, used with permission.

Within the collections at the Museum of Croydon there is a wonderful set of postcards depicting hospitals set up for injured soldiers and sailors in the First World War.

The postcards show the six borough schools which were designated as hospitals during the war, which included Davidson, Ecclesbourne, Ingram and Stanford Road schools, as well as the boys’ and girls’ secondary schools in the Crescent. Students were dispersed to other buildings around the town, causing great disruption, which is evident from the school log books held in the Museum’s archives. By converting these schools into hospitals, a total number of 1,000 beds were provided for those in need.

In addition to these six schools, Croydon General become an auxiliary hospital with two dedicated war wards where soldiers were received from the Western Front. Addington Park was also turned into a hospital, although this was outside of the county borough at this time. There were also private residences which were kindly given to those in need. Wallacefield was one private residence that became a convalescent hospital, supported by the St John Ambulance Association and the Voluntary Aid Detachment no. 488.

Wallacefield was a private home, which could accommodate twenty men

Wallacefield was provided for the convalescence of injured soldiers and sailors by Mr George Goodsir. The home at Coombe Road, Croydon, could accommodate twenty men. It opened in October 1914 and closed in December 1918. Mr Goodsir provided funds for the hospital by his own means throughout the war.

Voluntary Aid Detachment no. 488 supplied the staff of trained nurses, cooks and other helpers under the supervision of Miss Chapman, the superintendent and matron in 1914. All the staff gave their services voluntarily.

Mrs Goodsir later became the Lady Superintendent of Wallacefield, and was awarded an OBE for her work in February 1919. Her daughter May was secretary and quartermaster at Wallacefield and kept a journal of daily life during the war years. This journal survives today and is cared for by her family.

Within the Wallacefield Christmas book are poems and short stories

The Wallacefield Christmas book of 1917 was the second publication of this magazine and featured contributions by both staff and patients working and convalescing at the hospital. Within the Christmas book are illustrations, poems and short stories. The last pages contain a nominal roll of patients admitted from December 1916 through to November 1917. Two hundred and forty-four patients were cared for during this period; and during the war, 1,152 wounded men from various countries recovered at this hospital.

Below is an excerpt from the magazine’s editorial:

“We do not aim at producing a document of very high literary value, but rather a friendly magazine which will serve in future years to recall faces and happenings, affairs not of national importance, but of personal interest to those who have known Wallacefield. We have great confidence that we shall not be called upon to produce a third Xmas book. (If the War is not over, paper will be too scarce.) So we offer this, our second book, to our readers, wishing them all every happiness this Christmas and in 1918.”*

‘The doctor who did less than the work of two men is unknown during these years’

In Croydon and the Great War: The Official History of the War Work of the Borough and its Citizens from 1914 – 1918, it documents the work of the medical and hospital services in Croydon. The book acknowledges that “the medical men who remained at home shouldered the several tasks that the profession has been called upon to bear; and we should fail significantly in our duty if we did not record with gratitude the unflagging service they gave day and night, not only amongst their own and their absent colleagues’ patients, but also in war hospitals and after air raids. The doctor who did less than the work of two men at least was unknown during these critical years.”**

To find out more about medical professionals who received honours for their service during the First World War, visit the research room at the Museum.

The Museum galleries sit within the former Croydon court rooms, and are located within the Croydon Clocktower where the declaration of war was communicated to Croydon in the First World War. In this same building, conscientious objectors appealed against military service at the tribunals, and Mayoress Houlder handed over the Women’s Citizen’s Address following the Representation of the People Act in 1918. It was also where the Roll of Honour was compiled, war committee meetings were held, and the Mayor’s speech was given after the Armistice was signed.

Find out more about the citizens of Croydon and their experiences

The Museum of Croydon recently opened two exhibitions as part of the centenary commemorations, both of which will remain open until after the Armistice Centenary in November 2018. 100 Years… Peace, Protest, Conflict looks back at the Museum of Croydon’s commemoration of the First World War and features untold stories of its citizens and their experience of peace, protest and conflict. It also reflects on the changing role of women and Croydon’s involvement in the suffrage movement. Highlights of the exhibition include a sample of the war hospital postcards, as well as the Christmas book produced by the patients and staff at Wallacefield in 1917.

The Art of Peace, Protest, Conflict is an artistic response to these themes and complements the 100 Years… Peace, Protest, Conflict exhibition.

The key sites of peace and protest in central Croydon are explored through art from the Croydon Art Collection, alongside a selection of First World War campaign posters both local and national. For the first time the Museum is also displaying work by Mireille Fauchon, who has artistically responded to Croydon suffragette Katie Gliddon’s diary, detailing her prison experience in Holloway. A recent addition to the Croydon Art Collection by the late John Chisnall is also exhibited.

If you would like to learn more about Croydon and the First World War, visit the research room, which can be found on the lower ground floor of the Croydon Clocktower. This is open Tuesday–Saturday, 10:30 am–5 pm.

100 years… Peace, Protest, Conflict and The Art of Peace, Protest, Conflict are both free exhibitions at the Museum of Croydon, open until November 2018.

* Wallacefield Christmas book 1917, page 1.

** Croydon and the Great War: The Official History of the War Work of the Borough and its Citizens 1914–1919 together with the Croydon Roll of Honour. Ed: Ald. H. Keatley Moore, assisted by W.C. Berwick Sayers. Prepared under the direction of the Corporation of Croydon and published at the Central Public Library, Town Hall, Croydon. P164.

Emily Lansell

Emily Lansell

Emily is the collections officer for the Museum of Croydon; in this role, she cares for the Museum’s social, oral history and archaeological collections, in addition to the Croydon Art Collection. She and her colleagues hope to write articles for the Croydon Citizen to raise awareness of these unique and Croydon-focused collections and of the temporary exhibition programme.

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  • Gary Wright


    I believe ther is a project about the first world war and family history in progress at the moment. Are there any details about how to get involved?

    I would love to contribute.

    Gary Wright