World War One in the Wrekin area and Wem by Wendy Palin
Everyone in Britain was affected by the Great War and huge numbers of the population were keen to find ways to help the war effort. For some this meant raising money for the Soldiers’ Comfort Funds or knitting socks.
There were lots of ways for those at home to get involved and help to win the war.
The page below is from a small book that was included with paper pattern pieces and gave instructions for the construction of the garments ranging from a helpless case shirt (for a man who was not going to survive) to a surgeon’s coat. Individuals or working parties would donate or raise funds to buy the recommended amount of material and would then make the garments using a sewing machine. Group efforts had to be managed and a card at Sunnycroft for Adelaide Slaney shows that she was responsible for buying of materials, accounting and sewing at the workroom in Wrekin Hall. J.V.T Lander’s wife Mary also volunteered there.
Some of the young women from our area volunteered as nurses. This could be local work as the Workhouse in Wellington was used by the military authorities as a hospital treating over 100 men with less serious injuries. Before the end of 1914 the Town had volunteered its own newly established Cottage Hospital for the wounded. Further centres were created in the Wrekin Buildings at the corner of Tan Bank and Walker Street. In 1917, Wellington College (later to become Wrekin College) offered the use of “..two commodious houses nicely situated on Constitution Hill” to establish a St. John V.A.D. auxiliary hospital. On 22nd June the first patients for this venue “were met at the railway station by motor cars, lent by local residents”. All did not go as well as expected; some of the men who hailed from Liverpool were accused of bad conduct and were removed back to that town. By 31 July the College “hoped to start the hospital again, but not with men who did not know how to appreciate the kind and generous services rendered them….”.
Other nurses found themselves in places further afield. During our research we have found some of the soldiers’ sisters helping the wounded. The photo shows Lillian Reynolds, the sister of Evan William Harris Vaughan, one of the men listed on the Lychgate, on the extreme left of the middle row serving as a WW1 nurse, though sadly we do not know the location. Emily Kathleen Chilton, whose brother Hubert is on the memorial, worked at the War Hospital in Guildford.
Six benches were supplied on the outskirts of the Wellington for the use of invalided soldiers. “Canteens for Soldiers” were set up in the town providing free refreshments for those in uniform (though it was requested that those who could afford it should offer some payment). Wounded soldiers would have been an everyday sight in Wellington and the surrounding towns.
Many of the women and remaining men would have been involved in these activities in some way. A great deal of this work was of a voluntary nature.
A little further afield, though still within our county, a rather more intriguing and noteworthy activity took place. On the mosses and bogs in the Wem area women and children carried out the cold and uncomfortable job of collecting sphagnum moss. This was then made into wound dressings. The moss is able to absorb liquid (blood or pus) up to 20 times its own volume, making it significantly more effective than cotton wool. As it is acidic, it inhibits bacterial growth which was an added benefit as the battlefields were contaminated with soil bacteria and raw sewage meaning that the chance of wounds being infected and turning septic were exceedingly high.
The newspaper clipping concerning the moss is from a 1919 issue of the Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News.
Other acknowledgements: Photo of Lillian Reynolds courtesy of Keith Reynolds. Booklet W.J.Palin. Wellington College Hospital by kind permission of Wrekin College