Home Comforts in WWI through the Red Cross

By Judith Phillips

What does the famous novelist Agatha Christie have in common with Elizabeth Lowes and Jane Smurthwaite of Middleton-in-Teesdale or Janet Amelia Dent and Mary Alice Smith from Barnard Castle?  The answer is that they were all involved with the Red Cross during WWI.

Films, TV dramas and novels have shown us Red Cross and other nurses tending wounded soldiers in France, the Middle East and the Balkans.  But the Red Cross also provided hospital care for military personnel in Britain –‘at home’ – particularly for convalescents. During the war The Bowes Museum provided tomatoes from its greenhouses to Red Cross voluntary hospitals in the north-east, only asking for the cost of transport.

Join us at The Bowes Museum for an inter-active session to find out more about the Red Cross and its hospital work.  There will be talk with an opportunity to get your hands on nursing and hospital equipment from the WWI period.  The session on Saturday 27th May starts at 2.30 and costs £3 including light refreshments (free with museum admission and for Friends).  Please email info@thebowesmuseum.org.uk or telephone 01833 690606 to book.

Nursing was obviously a very important part of the work of the Red Cross during the war.  But people were involved in a wide range of support work as well.  We know of women from Teesdale who worked behind-the-scenes, providing clerical support, working as waitresses and housemaids in Red Cross institutions.  We tend to forget the less ‘glamorous’ support work and we’d love to hear from you if you know anything about a relative or person from your community who was involved in any way. 

Local Red Cross Societies were important fundraisers for the national society.  There are many articles in the Teesdale Mercury during the war years, recording a range of events held in towns and villages throughout Teesdale to raise money for the Red Cross locally and nationally.  A search on www.teesdalemercuryarchives.org.uk shows, for example, that in November 1915 Woodland Red Cross Society held a dance and supper with nearly 200 people present and raised over £10 – quite a lot of money in those days.  Some of the money would provide Christmas parcels for three men from the village serving in the Dardanelles (W. Dewhurst and F. Finnigan) and in France (R. Anderson).  Our Roll of Honour shows that Dewhurst and Finnigan were in the Royal Engineers and survived.  Anderson, in the Black Watch, is listed on the Woodland war memorial among those who died.