During the early days of August, 1914, we were hourly expecting the word “mobilise,” but we had to carry on as though war were a thing remote. The Unit accordingly went to Aldershot for the Annual Camp on the Saturday night of August 1st, and, having pitched tents and made the camp as comfortable as possible on the first day, we went to bed tired out. At 11p.m. on Sunday a telegram was handed to me ordering our immediate return to London. On Tuesday night, at 11 o’clock, another telegram arrived at Headquarters: “Mobilise, act accordingly.”
The first difficulty was that there was nothing to say what the word “accordingly” meant. There never had been a rehearsal, and nothing positive was known as to the source of supply of equipment. Who was to give the order to take over the building and how it was to be done were equally indefinite problems. The only safe course appeared to be to act first and to get authority afterwards.
The Royal Victoria Patriotic School was established and endowed for the maintenance and education of fatherless daughters of Sailors, Soldiers, and Marines from the Patriotic Fund which was raised at the time of the Crimean War, and was opened on July 1st, 1859. Fortunately, at the time of the conversion into the 3rd London General Hospital, the children were away on their holiday. It was, therefore, decided to take a number of large vacant houses in Spencer Park, Wandsworth Common. Here the children are now comfortably located, well cared for, and as happy as the changed conditions will allow – longing, however, for the end of the war and their return to the old home with its beautiful park-like grounds.
The orderlies who joined on mobilisation were young men mostly enlisted from Messrs. Hitchcock and Williams, and I shall always remember the amount of work crowded into a few days by those youngsters and the nursing sisters who came at the beginning. There was no eight-hour day: it was work, work, work till the place had been emptied of all the school equipment and converted into a hospital. The hundreds of small pairs of boots, each in its own rack in what is now the dispensary, had to be strung on string and numbered so that they could be identified. The lockers in the recreation room contained the treasures of the little ones, and those who understand children will realise what grief would have been caused by the loss of old toys.
Ten days after mobilisation we were ordered to prepare for 500 in case of need, and that night, by 9.30, 520 beds were made and the rest were on mattresses on the floor. Two operating tables were ready, and the sterilisers were going all night. The surgical staff were in part here, and the others were at the end of the telephone. Our war had started.