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Birmingham’s Military Hospitals Birmingham’s Military Hospitals Birmingham’s Military Hospitals

By Voices

On 10, Feb 2014 | 10 Comments | In | By Voices

Birmingham’s Military Hospitals

Library of Birmingham

Plans for military hospitals in Birmingham were made by the 13th Territorial General Hospital well in advance of war breaking out. Birmingham University was used as the 1st Southern General Hospital, with the first wounded soldiers arriving on 1 September 1914, and 1,000 beds provided by early 1915. As casualties increased many other buildings became hospitals, such as the Poor Law Infirmary on Dudley Road in 1915, the Monyhull Colony in King’s Norton in 1916 and school buildings in Kings Heath and Stirchley. Rubery Hill and Hollymoor hospitals were also used.

Great Hall, University of Birmingham [Library of Birmingham: WW1/Hospitals] Auxiliary hospitals, often staffed by volunteers, were set up in some of Birmingham’s larger houses, including Highbury in Moseley, Moor Green Hall, Harborne Hall, The Beeches in Erdington, Uffculme, and Allerton in Sutton Coldfield.

When war broke out on 4th August 1914, mobilisation orders were received by the 1st Southern General. Just one week later, 520 beds were in place in accordance with plans drawn up in 1909. This photograph shows the University of Birmingham’s Great Hall converted into a military hospital ward.

Many activities were organised to keep the wounded and convalescing soldiers occupied. Workshops mended boots and produced surgical appliances, bed frames, supplies for the front. Classes were given in languages, shorthand, book keeping, shorthand, carpentry, tailoring and gardening. Drama companies put on shows and many Birmingham theatres provided free tickets to performances. At Christmas, wards were decorated and traditional celebrations took place.

Ambulance at Highbury [Library of Birmingham: WW1/Hospitals] Regular ambulance units could not cope with the numbers and volunteer drivers ferried wounded soldiers to hospitals and delivered medical staff to stations. Volunteers produced medical equipment and also trained as nurses. A Citizen’s Committee and Lady Mayoress’s Depot, set up in 1914, organised much of the voluntary work in the city.

Commonwealth Patients in Edgbaston [Library of Birmingham: WW1/Hospitals]

Highbury opened as an auxiliary hospital in 1915, the money for its equipment being donated by Kynoch’s of Witton. It specialised in neurological cases and was staffed by a commandant, a matron, eight sisters and voluntary workers, mostly women. It had 274 beds, an open air ward, and the conservatories and greenhouses were used in emergencies.

This photograph, taken in the grounds of the Edgbaston military hospital, shows wounded soldiers from Australia and Scotland with other Allied patients and VAD nurses. By the end of the war there were over 7,000 beds in Birmingham and by 1919 over 125,000 men had been treated, including Belgian, American, and Serbian soldiers.



  1. Hi, I’m trying to track down records for my grandmother who was a nurse at 1st birminham war hospital during ww1. Her name was Cecilia Rosalie Wilks. I’ve had no success trying to get her records through the national archives. I live in Australia so must do all this remotely. Hope you can help.

    Many thanks

    • Nicola Gauld

      Dear Dixie,

      Many thanks for getting in touch. There are archive collections in Birmingham that may be able to help you, the Library of Birmingham and the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

      You will find contact details on the links above, hopefully they will be able to help. I can also do some quick searching but it may be that the records no longer exist.

      Kind regards,

      (Centre Coordinator)

    • Nicola Gauld

      Dear Dixie,

      I wonder if you could send me some more information about your grandmother by email? You can send it to this address:


  2. Hi! My name Lizz Bolton, I am a student studying at Rosemont College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, US. I am looking for a specific nurse that worked at “the 1st Southern General Hospital” during WW1. The nurse is known as Nurse Wilson. We have access to her autograph album. I was wondering if you have heard of this nurse or have any records of a nurse with the last name of Wilson (I’m sure there are many, seeing that it’s a very common name).

    • Nicola Gauld

      Dear Lizz,
      Many thanks for getting in touch. I have forwarded your query to the Cadbury Research library at the University, in case they have anything relating to Nurse Wilson.
      Kind regards,

  3. My aunt, Audrey Powell, was a VAD in 1914-18 War, and after 2 years in a Military Hospital in France,was sent jto 1st Southern General Birmingham for 6 months in 1917, and then to the Military Hospital, Kinmel Camp for a year and then to Shorncliffe Military Hospital. I have her service card, but wonder if more details of her service can be found.
    Thank you for running your “help” page.
    Regards Katharine

    • Nicola Gauld

      Dear Katharine,

      Many thanks for contacting us. Unfortunately the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham (where the Southern General was) have some records relating to the hospital but none relating to individual nurses I’m afraid. There are some images of the hospital and some staff available on their Flickr site:

      I’m sorry we can’t be of more help.

    • Hi Katherine

      I have photograph of a Sister Powell on my website under War Hospitals/1st Southern General Hospital Birmingham. Could this be your aunt?

      913(1). Sister Powell. 1st Southern Military Hospital Birmingham

      kind regards

      • Nicola Gauld

        Thanks Helen! I’ve forwarded your message to Katharine.


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