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Auxiliary hospitals

Patients lie in beds with Red Cross nurses standing beside them

Our work during the First World War included running auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes. These temporary facilities for wounded servicemen proved to be vital.

Before the conflict even began, we searched for suitable properties that could be used as temporary hospitals if war broke out. 

This meant that as soon as wounded men began to arrive from abroad, our hospitals were largely available for use, with equipment and staff in place.

However, we did not anticipate how important this service would be - and how many servicemen we would help. 

Staff

Auxiliary hospitals were usually staffed by:

  • a commandant, who was in charge of the hospital except for the medical and nursing services
  • a quartermaster, who was responsible for the receipt, custody and issue of articles in the provision store
  • a matron, who directed the nursing staff
  • members of the local Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), who were trained in first aid and home nursing.

Help from the community

In many cases local women from the neighbourhood volunteered in the hospitals part-time. There were also some paid roles, such as cooks.

Volunteers who worked at auxiliary hospitals were usually too old or young to work in a military hospital. Many were unable to leave home for six months due to family commitments, but were willing to sign a three-month hospital contract.

Auxiliary hospitals were also an attractive option for people who found work in a military hospital too strenuous. Others "preferred to be head cook in a small auxiliary hospital to assistant cook in a large military hospital".

Local doctors did a lot of voluntary work in these hospitals. In 1917 the War Office decided that some payment should be given to them for their efforts

Patients

The patients at these hospitals generally did not have life-threatening injuries and needed time to convalesce. Servicemen preferred the auxiliary hospitals to the military hospitals as the discipline was not as strict, conditions were less crowded and the surroundings were more homely.

Hospital accommodation

On the outbreak of war both the Joint War Committee and the War Office were inundated with offers of accommodation. It was the Committee’s job to sort through these 5,000 offers to find suitable buildings. They included anything from town halls and elementary schools to large and small private houses. There were properties in the country and in towns and cities.

Suitable buildings were turned into auxiliary hospitals. These were attached to Central Military Hospitals.

3,000 hospitals

There were over 3,000 of these auxiliary hospitals across the UK, which were administered under county directors. Download our information sheet below to see the full list of UK auxiliary hospitals.

The War Office fixed and paid grants to hospitals for every patient they looked after, and the grant amount increased annually during the war. At the highest rate, the government paid £1 4s 6d per week, or £63 14s 0d per annum, for each patient. This covered full hospital treatment, food and other costs.

More information

For more detailed information, browse the pages in this section and download our information sheets using the links below:

Visit a Red Cross hospital

Dunham Massey became a convalescent hospital for ill and injured soldiers. Now the National Trust is recreating the hospital for visitors to mark the centenary of the war. Plan your visit to Dunham Massey.

Supported by

  • Kingston University London
  • Heritage lottery fund