A visit to "Woburn Abbey Base Hospital"

The article reproduced below is the first half of an account that featured in the The British Journal of Nursing on the 27th February 1915. This first passage sets the scene with their meeting with Mary, Duchess of Bedford. The second passage, which we will publish in our next blog entry offers a room by room tour of the Woburn Military Hospital. 


We had the pleasure quite recently of inspecting the base military hospitals designed and organized by the Duchess of Bedford, contained in her Cottage Hospital at Woburn, and in the Abbey Hospital at Woburn Abbey; and a short report of the very efficient work evidently being done there for the sick and wounded, will, we feel sure, prove of interest to patriotic nurses.

The imaginative newspaper man is constantly reminding us that we were “astounded and shocked” by the declaration of war, although he usually owns up that we regained our mental equilibrium with remarkable celerity. Of shocks and amazement we know nothing; what the majority of women at once realised at that fateful crisis was, that if the jewels of Empire were to still star the Imperial Crown, we had got to become a military nation for some time to come, and from north, south, east, and west, from wherever the Sons of Empire foregathered to serve their Motherland, there opened out stupendous sacrificial duties for the women of our race. From the first hour of the war, women in every corner of the globe realised instinctively that Duty was the first and only law; and faithfully and gloriously they have obeyed the law. We were reminded of this truth on our arrival at Woburn Abbey when after greeting, the Duchess said:-

“As soon as war was proclaimed I wondered what help I could render: I offered my yacht as a patrol boat and all the crew volunteered; as I go yearly to Fair Island away between Orkney and Shetland, we know the Northern coasts and waters very well. My offer was refused, I suppose because I am a woman!”

So failing this heroic service which she is so well fitted to render, the Duchess, so well known for her intelligent interest in nursing, turned her attention to the care of the wounded. We say intelligent, because but the exchange of a few expressions of opinion on nursing, convinces one that this lady has the professional instinct; firstly she realises that even with vocation, it demands an extended novitiate, she appreciates nursing, not only as humanitarian work, but as highly skilled scientific service, based as is medicine in all its degrees on sound sanitary science. We learned this much in her greeting: “One cannot touch hospital work without at once grasping the importance of trained nursing,” she said, “how all essential it is. I have no volunteer nurses in the Abbey Hospital.”

Image for A visit to "Woburn Abbey Base Hospital" The Riding School and Tennis Court were located in the long building at the top of the image.

Then we went to see the hospital which, it is not too much to say, is a marvel of ingenious adaptation. Woburn Abbey to all appearance is an abbey no longer-the demesne bestowed for services rendered in France, to an ancestor of the Duke, by Henry the VIII, is still of exquisite sylvan beauty, but the house is Georgian, and of the same period is the fine building of some 300 feet in length, and of great height - in which the Riding School and Tennis Court were placed, and it was on this fine building that the Duchess cast a longing eye, when she thought of the aftermath of the battle, and the urgent need for care and comfort in base hospitals to be prepared for the sick and wounded.

To the average woman the difficulty of rendering this splendid shell (when tan and cobwebs were removed), sanitary, hygienic, habitable, comfortable, and beautiful, and fit for the care and recovery of sick men, would have appeared insurmountable, but provided with a sheet of paper and a pencil, the Duchess of Bedford (to judge from the result) found no difficulty in evolving from her builder’s brain, a scheme for hospital and annexes, which now that it is fitted and furnished deserves the very highest praise." 

Reproduced by courtesy of the Royal College of Nursing.

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