From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office
This blog uses NRO records JLD 1/8/1/10 and ‘The Auxiliary Hospitals of the British Red Cross Society & St John Ambulance in Norfolk 1914-1919’ compiled by C.E. Knight.
Sunnyhill was one of two auxiliary war hospitals (AWH) in Thorpe, the other being Cooner. In addition there was the large war hospital at Thorpe St Andrew. All were well placed to receive wounded soldiers arriving by train at Thorpe Station in Norwich.
The hospital at Sunnyhill was originally at Larchwood in Thorpe. On 1st December 1914 a letter details the acquisition of Larchwood for an AWH and posting Detachments 7 (Men) and 16 (Women) of the Red Cross there.
However Larchwood proved too small and on 25 March 1915 the Red Cross wrote: “The difficulty has been met by Mr. Geoffrey F Buxton’s most generous offer of his beautiful House and Grounds ‘Sunninghill’ Thorpe, for a hospital, where it will be possible to have a much larger number of beds”.
Mrs W Jarrold was appointed Commandant of the hospital and her husband Mr W Jarrold was its official secretary. The Quartermasters were Miss Leathes Prior for the women and Mr Taylor for the men. While the Red Cross in the First World War is often associated with women, it is worth noting the contribution of the men’s detachments. The Men’s Red Cross Detachment at Thorpe, whose Commandant was Dr Davidson, helped with the wounded arriving at Thorpe Station and provided a night orderly at Sunnyhill.
Records for Sunnyhill largely cover the running of the hospital rather than detailing the lives of individual patients. There is one letter written in 1917 by Corporal J Carson. He wrote to Mrs Jarrold thanking her for her kindness while he was at Sunnyhill as a patient then as an orderly. Grandma is still in bed & wants me to stay at home now . . .I myself should have liked very much to have gone back (to Sunnyhill) only I’ve got to consider what grandma wants me to do.
All AWHs depended on the goodwill of the local community and Sunnyhill was no exception. It had begun with the Buxtons offering their home to the Red Cross and it continued with donations from local residents and events which brought the community and the hospital together. An article in the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) in July 1918 reports on a garden fete held at the hospital. Parties of wounded men were present from various other hospitals, and the crowd was further swollen by a contingent from an American unit who threw themselves heartily into the sports, and contributed most efficiently to the music. . . Strauss was the life of the party. His song in honour of the nurses, “I don’t want to get well” was an electrical success. The fete made £63 10s 8d.
The Red Cross continued to keep the Buxtons informed about the use of their home as a hospital. In April 1918 Mrs Astley, a leading figure in the Norfolk branch, had written to them about Sunnyhill. We owe you a great debt of gratitude for your generosity in allowing the Hospital to exist so tranquilly in such eminently suitable surroundings . . . in no other hospital do they (inspectors) see such difficult cases trusted to an auxiliary.
In November 1918 plans were made to close the hospital and return Sunnyhill to its owners. The hospital closed on 30th November 1918. During its time it had treated 1152 patients from all corners of the Empire and from all services.
In 1919 plans were made to commemorate the work undertaken at Sunnyhill. In April Mr Jarrold was tasked with writing to members of staff to thank them for their service. His draft letters were sent to Mrs Astley for approval. She replied: The enclosed letters are charming . . .but Mr Taylor’s isn’t quite personal enough you haven’t thanked him for his own personal effort & really he is the best & most enthusiastic conscientious supporter of all. She sent Mr Jarrold an altered letter for him to consider which he duly sent writing: “We are confident that your work has been done often at personal sacrifice owing to your personal health being far from good”.
In May 1919 a commemorative tablet was unveiled at Sunnyhill. The ceremony was attended by Mr Jarrold who spoke of his gratitude to the Buxtons. The County Director of the Red Cross spoke of the free use of the house and that, out of the 62 Norfolk AWHs, the Red Cross had only had to pay rent for 8 which was why they had been able to run so many. The EDP reported:
Sunnyhill, at Thorpe St. Andrew, was generously placed by Mr G F Buxton and Mrs Buxton at the disposal of the Red Cross Society for use as a hospital during the war. . . The Thorpe Red Cross was one of the first detachments to be formed, and to be ready for any emergency. . . Mr Jarrold paid a tribute to the many kind services to the hospital of Mrs D G Astley of Plumstead Hall. She had, he said, stood by detachments Nos. 7 and 16 in sunshine and cloud.
Two interesting press cuttings from the EDP put Sunnyhill’s success, as part of the Norfolk branch, into a national perspective. In March 1918 it reported on a meeting of the Norfolk Branch. Lady Ampthill (head of Devonshire House) spoke of the excellent work being done in Norfolk. Norfolk stood second to none in its work and reputation . . . the recruiting for the V.A.D. has been better in that county than in any other”.
The second article appeared in September 1919. It was entitled “Red Cross Hospitals. Their Proud War Record”. It gave interesting details of AWH expenditure and an overview of the work done nationally. Excluding private hospitals, 1,260,523 patients had been treated at cost of 3s 9d a day. The total cost of AWHs was £10,488,650 excluding 1914 when no accounts were asked for. Of this, £2.5 million pounds was met through voluntary donations, the rest by the Army and Ministry of Pensions. Norfolk was one of fifteen counties credited with running their AWH at less than 4s a day for each patient. No-one would deny that the work of the auxiliary hospitals during the war has been successful beyond all expectation.
Compiled and written by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger