During the First World War Barry's volunteer first aid and ambulance services provided more hospital beds per head of population than any other town in the British Isles. There were two hospitals of 150 beds each run by the Red Cross, and one of 120 beds run by the St. John Ambulance. All were used to treat soldiers wounded at the front.

The Red Cross

The first hospital to open was at Holton Road School and contained 12 beds. It opened on 5th August 1914, and was staffed by detachments of the Barry Branch of the British Red Cross Society from Cadoxton, Barry and Barry Dock.

The men's detachment, which attended the railway station at Cardiff, gained a record second to none for its speed in evacuating the wounded to the voluntary staffed hospitals in the area.

On 8th August the first patients arrived from the front for treatment, but by the end of the month, school holidays had ended and the school was taken back by the education authorities. An alternative site was quickly needed and Mr W. H. Brain of Brains Brewery offered the Red Cross the free use of the Sea View Hotel in Dock View Road (now the Sea View Labour Club). It was quickly fitted out, and received its first wounded from France, among which were five Belgian soldiers.

Towards the end of 1915 an outbreak of a contagious disease took place in Cardiff, and the hospital was closed for a six-week period as a precaution. The work that the hospital and the Red Cross were carrying out was brought to the attention of the government, who made a grant towards the hospital's upkeep and maintenance. This enabled the number of bed spaces, which were provided by voluntary contributions, to be increased. The building of a large wooden hut at the rear of the premises, together with a covered wooden walkway from the main hospital, enabled the accommodation of another 50 patients, bringing the total number of beds to 150.

In 1917 so many wounded were arriving from the battlefields that other premises were needed, and an approach was made to the Windsor Road Congregational Church for use of their schoolroom. This was granted, and the Sunday school and other activities were transferred. The Windsor Road hospital opened in the May of the same year, and contained over 100 beds. Captain Drew of "Hillside" lent his property to the Red Cross, and this enabled another 46 convalescent patients to be housed. The Porthkerry Road Methodist Church schoolroom was also pressed into service.

From August 1914 until February 1919 when the hospital closed, the Sea View Hospital treated 1,136 patients. In 1918 alone over 400 patients arrived in Barry for treatment from the front. The West End hospitals treated 240 patients in 1917 and 42 patients in 1918. This included British, Canadian and Italian wounded.

The Barry Branch of the Red Cross received the highest commendations from the authorities. The Countess of Plymouth, president of the Glamorgan Branch of the Red Cross, paid tribute to the work done by both the Red Cross and St. John's. Both West End hospitals closed in December 1918.

At the end of the war Mrs Sibbering Jones awarded silver medals inscribed "For Services Rendered" to members of the Red Cross from Barry who had served in the war. Thirty eight had enlisted and twenty six medals were awarded.


St. John Ambulance Brigade

On 10th August 1914 a small band of workers from the St. John Ambulance Brigade took over Clive Road School during the summer holidays. Their total equipment comprised three beds, a small bottle of brandy, and a lot of confidence and hope. This hope was realised, and the St. John's Garrison Hospital became one of the best voluntary hospitals in the area, treating over 3,114 bed patients and over 30,000 outpatients during its lifetime.

Its first patients were admitted on 15th August, one with tonsillitis, and the other with a high temperature. The staff at Barry Island were ordered to send them to Cardiff for treatment. Mr Franks' sweet cart was pressed into service to transport them to Cardiff. A short time later they arrived back at the Island with injuries to their legs after being kicked by Mr. Franks' horse.

At the end of the school holidays the education authorities required the return of the school, and Mrs Pardoe who was one of the organisers, approached the Wesleyan Movement to ask for the use of the Barry Island Church, which they granted. Work began on transforming the church into a hospital, as the authorities could see that a great number of wounded might need treatment and that further hospital beds would be required. The Boys Brigade hut from Barry Hill was taken down and rebuilt on ground next to the Church, to act as a third ward. A large tent was lent by Mr Vaughan to be used as and when required, as accommodation for the staff. This was unfortunately destroyed in a violent storm, but Messrs C.H. Bailey and others, together with the St. John's Ambulance Association, raised sufficient funds to enable another tent to be bought. The free use of two properties on the Island were given by their owners for use as convalescent homes. These were "The Towers" by Mr Vaughan, and in 1918, "Lyndhurst". In that same year the authorities provided a large hut as a place in which the patients could relax and recuperate.

Between 1914 and the end of the war Barry Island Hospital treated 3,114 cot patients and over 30,000 outpatients. In the last great allied offensive of the war, over 60 stretcher cases were evacuated from Cardiff station and brought to Barry Island for treatment.

The Red Cross provided eight women's and two men's detachments, and the St. John Ambulance Brigade provided one women's and one men's detachment. From 1911 until the outbreak of war in 1914 the Red Cross held camps at the Garrison Buildings on Nell's Point, Barry for the purpose of training young women to act as V.A.D's. These camps were re-started in 1922.

At the end of the war a Roll of Honour giving some of the names of the voluntary workers, both Red Cross and St. John Ambulance, was published. It included Dr Percy Billups, who was the first doctor at Barry Island hospital, followed by Colonel Rees andCaptain P. W. Kent. Dr Budge joined the staff in 1915 and Mr J. T. Peterson of the Lynn Institute attended the hospital to treat patients on two days a week for over three years, during which time he attended to over 2000 patients.

Voluntary workers from the hospitals organised by the Red Cross were also recognised. These included Dr King who gave his services for over three years, later succeeded by Dr Owen Jones and Dr Rogers. Mrs. J. S. Longdon was appointed General Superintendent and Chief Commissioner in 1917, and Mrs. Hellier from the Parade was its first matron, others were the Misses Teniswood, Tyson, Lewis, Furse and Hodgkinson.

The government paid tributes to the staff at all the hospitals in Barry. Many of the V.A.D's, nurses and orderlies at both St. John's and the Red Cross walked many miles every day from their homes to their particular hospital.

The work of both matrons at the Barry Island hospital was recognised. Mrs Winifred Pardoe, who served for over three years and raised over £3,500 towards the running costs of the Island hospital, was awarded the OBE for her efforts, and Mrs Lucas received the Honorary Service Medal. The services of Mrs J.S. Longdon at the Sea View Hospital were recognised with the presentation of the Royal Red Cross by HM the King at Buckingham Palace in March 1920.

Most of the finance needed to run these hospitals was raised locally, among which the War Charities Committee raised thousands of pounds. The ambulance service which picked up wounded servicemen from Cardiff, and transported them not only to Barry, but also to the Convalescent homes in Dinas Powis and Wenvoe, was also paid for by voluntary contributions. It took a great deal of persuasion for the authorities to allow the volunteer ambulance service the petrol it required.

The Red Cross was freely given the use of a house for convalescent patients in Dinas Powis (later to be known as The Institute), by Mrs Lillie Thomas. Mrs Thomas, who was its honorary commander, lived at "Merevale".

At the end of the war, sales of equipment from the hospitals were made to help pay off the debts that had been incurred in their running. The first sale was of the hut and covered walkway at the Sea View Hospital, which by now had become the Union Jack Club. The second fund raising event was a Giant Carnival organised by the War Charities Committee. It was held on the 4th August 1919 to raise money to clear off the debt remaining from the running of the St. John's Garrison Hospital on Barry Island. The building was finally handed back to the Wesleyan Movement on 31st May 1919, and as recognition of the work done by St. John Ambulance Brigade it was re-named St. John's Methodist Church.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) there were so many volunteer workers at these hospitals that it is impossible to name them all. I know of one surviving member of the staff of Barry Island Hospital, Mrs M. Sayers (nee Reynolds), who is now over 100 years of age and lives in Shropshire. On the outbreak of the second World War she took up the duties of matron at the first aid post at Cadoxton School.

Whilst researching this article I came across a report in the newspapers of the time, that when conscription for the armed forces was introduced during the first world war, the authorities wondered why there were so few conscripts called up in Barry. After investigation, it was realised that so many Barry men had volunteered for the forces at the outbreak of hostilities that there were very few left to conscript. The number of men that enlisted was over 15,000 and of these, 700 made the supreme sacrifice.


© T. CLEMETT 2002

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