“We see plenty of the “sword” in hospital; let us dally a while in our leisure hours with the pen”.

Extracts from the Norfolk War Hospital Magazine 1916

St Andrew’s Hospital in Thorpe, Norwich, opened in April 1814 as the Norfolk County Asylum.  During the First World War the hospital was used by the military authorities as a War Hospital.  It opened on 26th May 1915, with three patients.  The first Norfolk War Hospital Magazine was published in April 1916.

“Who conceived the idea of a hospital magazine; do they suffer from cacoethes scribendi?”

This quote, along with the quote in the title, form part of a humourous foreword for the first edition which sold for the princely sum of 6d a copy.

Photo 1 cropped

A page from the first edition of the Norfolk War Hospital Magazine, published April 1916. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: SAH 340. 

In its first edition an article gives some background information to the hospital’s origins. “Today the Norfolk War Hospital celebrates its first birthday, but we are a mushroom growth compared to the building in which we are housed.  The Main celebrated its centenary last year”.

Each edition consists of a series of articles written by its residents interspersed with plenty of hospital humour.  The first edition was well received and the editors received plenty of mixed feedback; it was too long, too short, too frivolous, too solemn, there should be more illustrations.  “To all and sundry we would reply, “Well send us the sort of thing you consider ought to be in”.  Remember that readers and contributors are to a great extent one and the same in our case”.

There were common themes running through each edition starting with an editorial comment.  The Editor’s comments were often linked to the great efforts to keep the magazine running for the benefit of the patients. There would be regular pleas for contributions:

 “Staff and patients at all auxiliary hospitals in Norfolk are invited to contribute and subscribe”.

Marketing the magazine was also important.  In October the price reduced to 4d to attract more sales and it was available to buy in several city stores including Jarrolds, Garlands, Pilch’s and Goose & Sons.


Snippets from the Magazine in 1916

Cultural Events

The magazine reported on a range of cultural events for both residents and staff.

A ward in the hospital Annexe was converted into a theatre where the Annexe Theatrical Company opened its doors on 26th January 1916.  Its first play, ‘Tables Turned’, was a comedy about the role of women in a hundred years’ time.  The reviewer commented on “Suzanne’s cool, deliberate oration whilst she rolled her pastry”.  Multi-tasking at its best perhaps.

Ward concerts were arranged for those who could not leave their beds and there was also a hospital orchestra.

Children from the local area would also visit the hospital to entertain the patients.  Children from Thorpe Hamlet School had entertained the patients with singing, dancing and scenes from Shakespeare and Mrs Barwell’s dance. School pupils were regular visitors.


Factual Articles

Informative articles were also a feature of the magazine.  These included an account in May of a raid in Flanders, a report on a total eclipse in June and the recommencement of the Zeppelin raids over Norfolk in August.

A lengthy article in August set out the merits of a life in Canada rather than England.  The author is not given but we may presume he is Canadian – judging more by the extent of his knowledge than his obvious bias!  “Canadian people are more friendly and more willing to assist you . . . I say Canada for any young man if he is willing and wanting to get on in farming or in business”.  The climate and range of sporting activities is also extolled finishing with a warning, however, not to get lost due to its vast size.

In the November edition Lance Corporal T Dixon writes on his mixed feelings at being discharged from active service after spending a year in hospital.  “I don’t say that I want to go back, but there is something, I don’t know what it is, that calls a man.”

Keep Smiling

Each edition would have its ample share of morale-boosting jokes, riddles and cartoons about life in general and hospital life in particular.

August edition:

Corpulent Individual: “But you can’t give me any reason why I should not enlist”. 

Spouse: “Well, I should miss you dear, but the Germans couldn’t!”

December edition:  Rules for Ward K:

“If you cannot reach the bell, ring the towel.

In case of fire, break the window and see the fire escape”.

Sporting Events

Twenty five years previously the former rubbish heap had been turned into a sports field by the patients.  “This field is now one of the finest in Norfolk, and is very much appreciated both by the soldier patients and the medical officers”. (May edition)

A range of sporting events took place and the hospital staff took part in good spirit.  The nurses’ cricket skills were favourably commented upon.

Nurse Baly, not out 53, showed excellent cricket, and Nurse Wright bowled well and took ten wickets”.

Some of their games were against teams from outside of the hospital.  By November the football XI had played seven matches with two wins, two draws and three losses.  One of their losses was against the Northern Signal Company who also brought their band with them.


Many patients, whiling away their time, put pen to paper in poetic fashion.

A poem in the June edition by Private G Waddingham on joining up then being injured finishes with:

“So here I am today my friends,

Alive and doing well,

With the good treatment I have had

In Norfolk War Hospital.

So I thank you doctors one and all

And all the nurses too,

And if we meet no more on earth

I’ll meet you in the Zoo”.

Alphabetical and acrostic poems were popular.

Below is an extract from “A Wounded Australian’s Alphabet” written by W J Smith, 20th Australians, which appeared in the August edition:

“B is for bomb, which laid me low,

Also for bed which I find myself now.

Q is for questions that visitors ask.

Some are too silly, but some hit the mark.

Z is for zeal, with which everyone works,

To relieve all our pains and cure all our hurts”.

Things We Want to Know

Most editions finished with the section “Things We Want to Know”.  While mainly humourous some were clearly an opportunity to get certain things off their chests in an anonymous way.  For example:

  • “Whether the wrath of ward sisters (and others) is really appeased by primrose roots”.
  • “Who bit the end off a thermometer and nurse has to pay 1s in Ward – for a new one?”
  • “What became of the asparagus on the night of June 15th?”
  • “Who is the staff nurse who is afraid to visit the shelter patients after dark, and why?”
  • “Who was primo loco responsible for the use of the word ”Porridge” as a synonym for that mysterious concoction served for breakfast on the morning of the 6th instant”.

Christmas 1916

As 1916 drew to a close a variety of entertainments were planned for the patients.  These were reported on in the first edition for 1917.  These included a pantomime by Mrs Barwell and her dance-school girls, concerts on Christmas day, a procession of pipers on Boxing Day and a concert party, brought over by the Royal Naval Air Station. There were Father Christmases and Pierrots around the tree in the Great Hall and patients “fished” for presents which were put in a “fish pond” by the tree to ensure everyone received something.

No doubt as the year drew to an end there was a communal wish for the war to do likewise.  However that was not to be and the hospital magazine continued to cheer and inform its patients for the following year. Details of the 1917 edition are to follow.


Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger


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