At our June meeting we were entertained by Claire Penstone-Smith who talked about ‘The Ladies of Catton Hall Auxiliary Hospital between 1915 and 1919’.
She began by explaining that in 2013 she had received lottery funding to research family history in the villages of Irstead, Barton Turf and Neatishead. In doing this she discovered that from 134 men who went to serve during the First World War, only 102 returned. Many of those who returned were wounded and held a ‘Blighty Ticket’. This was only issued if soldiers were too poorly to return to the front line, but instead were shipped back to England. They usually docked at Southampton and then could be transported by rail all over the country.
The hospitals were inundated with wounded men and many had to provide extra accommodation in the form of Nissan Huts to house them. A National Lottery raised some £20 million to enable this to be done.
In Norwich huts were provided at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, but these were still not enough so the asylum at Thorpe was commandeered as were halls and larger houses (44 in total) across Norfolk. Catton Hall was one of these.
The then tenant of Catton Hall, Mrs Laura Buxton became the commandant of the hospital and many of the hall staff were redeployed as teachers, cooks and laundry assistants.
Catton Hall opened its doors as a hospital in September 1915 with 21 beds. The final patient left in early April 1919. The number of beds had now risen to 28.
The patients spent much of their time in what is now the village hall but was then a museum in the grounds of the hall.
Claire then showed us a scrap book and photograph album kept by Mrs Buxton at the time. There were lots of photographs all carefully documented with the names and regiments of the convalescing soldiers.
Their days were filled with activities, including arts, crafts and making things such as raffia and cane baskets, needlework and painting. This was an early form of occupational therapy. In total 687 men convalesced at Catton Hall.