The Red House Museum Photographic Collection has several pictures illustrating the work done at Christchurch Hospital during the 1914-18 war. Before 1914 Christchurch did not have a unified hospital, only several clinics around the town. The new Workhouse, built in the 1880s on Fairmile, dealt only with the medical problems of its inmates. However, when the War started in August 1914 it soon became apparent that there would be very many casualties and that these soldiers were going to need specialist medical and rehabilitation care. The Government looked around the country to find premises to accommodate these injured men and in October had found many properties with rooms that could easily be converted into wards.
The first patients to be admitted were a group of Belgian soldiers and we have a picture of them, looking disconsolate, in the hospital grounds.
They were soon joined by other troops from a many parts of the British Empire. At first there were Indian soldiers and then later soldiers from Australia and New Zealand. Several wards were set up and these were given names of various parts of the Empire, such as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Malta etc.
By the middle of the war the transfer of the wounded from the railway to the Workhouse, now partially a hospital, appears to have become quite routine. The trains were met at the station by a mixture of vehicles consisting of dedicated ambulances and private cars.
They were then transferred to their allocated wards at the hospital. A typical ward is shown
Originally the workhouse infirmary catered for about 50 convalescent soldiers but by the end of the war they had up to 300. We have several photographs of the wards and the medical personnel as the war progressed.
Having so many Empire troops convalescing in a small town like Christchurch must have been very strange to the residents. Christchurch was a small town, and to see many wounded soldiers, photographed at the Priory, must have brought the war home to them.
The town made them welcome and set up a club on the High St called the Union Jack Club on the High Street where they could relax with a drink and entertainment.
After the war had ended in 1918 and the convalescent soldiers had finished their medical treatment the Workhouse Infirmary wards were returned to their pre-war use. However, by this time the Council had apparently seen the benefit of having a modern hospital and work on the present hospital building was started in the early 1920s. The original workhouse was gradually declared surplus to requirements and used more and more as administrative offices. It was finally demolished in the 1990s and replaced by houses and flats.