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.
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.
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.
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.