The Hospital in World War 2
In the summer of 1940 Englefield House was again opened as a Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital and voluntary helpers were called for. Emily Cook recalls the time.
"Most patients at the hospital came for 14 days. The ambulances would arrive from Woolwich and Haslar mostly, all very nice chaps I found. On arrival the first visit would be to the PO to buy a view postcard and send their new address home so I was able to look them over in advance of reporting for duty [her father was sub-postmaster at the village post office and she served the customers]. This proved rather confusing to some of them and one evening when doling out the ever-present cottage pie, I noticed two very young patients looking at me rather strangely. Then I heard one say, 'you ask her' and the reply, 'no you ask her' and so they duly arrived with plates at the ready. The first one up said, 'Excuse me miss, but have you got a twin sister who works at the post office?' I looked surprised and said, 'No' and off went two very puzzled young men. Wonder if they've worked it out yet?"
From the very start of the War people in local towns and villages were engaged in making supplies of clothing and bandages for the County Hospital Supply Depot and by November 1939 there were 166 centres at work. The Bradfield Rural centre was run by Miss Benyon and had sub-depots at Aldermaston, Beenham, Bradfield, Bucklebury, Englefield, Marlston, Padworth, Theale and Sulhamstead. More villages joined in as the War went on and Miss Benyon's centre expanded to include Mortimer, Burghfield, Pangbourne, Ashamstead, Yattendon, Basildon, Streatley and Purley. All the items sent to the Hon Mrs Corfield, the County Organiser, by these villages are detailed in Miss Benyon's record book.
Each summer there would be a fete in the grounds of Englefield House; Mr and Mrs Benyon were still living in part of it. These fetes, in aid of the Red Cross, were very lavish affairs. Mrs Benyon had had made years before by the estate carpenters, every kind of kind of sideshow: wheel of fortune, rolling the pennies and a very lavish hoop-la stall. Also the stalls selling fancy goods and produce were proper little market stalls. Each time there would be a special attraction such as a display by PT instructors from Aldershot in 1941, and in 1942 the Central Band of the RAF from Uxbridge.
Entertainment for the patients was provided by ENSA: films every other Friday and in between a concert. Later there was a Wednesday fortnightly film show provided by the RAF. Emily Cook continues:
"This was presided over by a Flight Sergeant and Sergeant. On film nights I would go early and give the girls a hand with the washing up or they would have missed half the show. As it was we always arrived just as the lights were going out, no seats left, so we were obliged to perch on the side of one of the beds which had all been pushed to the back of the Long Gallery.
This could prove a bit chilly in winter as the van with the motor that supplied the power to the projector was parked just outside under the canopy and there were large cables coming in which prevented the door from closing. Add to this the fact that we were unable to lean back so there we were perched like five little swallows on the telephone wires. Should one's back begin to ache the only relief was to lean back on one's hands".
The Hospital in WW2
© 2019 Richard J Smith