North Devon in 100 Objects 38

38. Matron’s Autograph Book

This autograph book belonged to Jane Appleton, the fourth and final matron of the Barnstaple Red Cross Hospital in the First World War.

The hospital was set up at The Miller Institute on Derby Road, now Yeo Valley Primary School.  It was one of around 3,000 temporary Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Auxiliary hospitals which sprang up across the country following the outbreak of war in 1914. Administered by Red Cross county directors and staffed overwhelmingly by civilian volunteers, mostly women and girls, these ‘second-line’ hospitals generally cared for the less seriously wounded soldiers. The volunteers, often upper- and middle-class ladies drawn from the local area, worked under the direction of trained nurses like Jane.  Before taking up her post in Barnstaple on March 5, 1918, Jane had served at VAD hospitals in York, Waterlooville, and Eastbourne.

It was recorded that 1,153 patients passed through the Miller Institute’s wards during the course of the War.  As well as convalescing in the hospital’s “charming grounds” the more able soldiers enjoyed trips to local beauty spots. There were frequent concerts and entertainments to improve the lives of these ‘broken and maimed heroes’ from across the United Kingdom as they recovered from everything trench life had thrown at them including battle wounds, frostbite, rheumatism and influenza.

The gratitude and relief felt by the men she tended is clearly reflected in the sketches, poems and simple expressions of thanks collected by Jane during the closing months of the war.

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