By Tom Dare
A SERIES OF MOVING IMAGES from nearly a century ago showing wounded World War One troops celebrating Christmas at a British military hospital have remerged today, giving a rare glimpse into the valuable work of the Red Cross during the war.
Images from the first Christmas after the war ended in 1918 show one bandaged soldier smiling as he opens his Christmas care package, while another shows an amputee who has lost his right arm reaching for a stocking that has been suspended above his bed.
Further images from the collection show Father Christmas, with a Red Cross on his sleeve, paying the hospital a visit and dropping off some gifts next to the Christmas tree, with an additional photo showing children from the local orphanage being gifted presents by the wounded soldiers.
The images were taken at the Dartford Southern Upper Hospital in Kent between November 1918 and Christmas of that year, shortly after it was handed over to the United States Military Authorities in June of that year.
The hospital predominantly treated American casualties of war, with a particular focus on the psychological effects of war such as shellshock. Despite the fact that the war ended in November 1918, the hospital continued to house patients until it was finally handed back over to the trust in 1919.
Several did return, however, when American Base Hospital Veterans placed a plaque at the hospital on May 20th 1955 to commemorate their stay. John Pontin represented the enlisted men and Mrs Amiee Stewart Bradstreet represented the nurses’ corps. Writing about his return, Pontin remarked in a newsletter to his fellow veterans:
“Upon our arrival at Dartford we found so much was new. The fields were now housing developments. But as our driver set us down at the gates of the Southern hospital, the scene seemed as unchanged as ever.
“At the administration building we found Mr Durrant and Mrs Sumner (secretary to the Medical Superintendent in 1918 and still held the same position). We were soon on the way to the old recreation hall. Here we met Mr Parry (Chairman of the Hospital Management Committee) and Mrs Welch (Vice-Chairman). After wine and hors d’oeuvres, we had some pictures taken and returned to the Administration Building. When Mrs Bradstreet pulled the cord, there appeared, I must say, our very handsome bronze plaque.”