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WWI military hospitals - were uniforms recycled?


sblethyn
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Hi, I am doing some research for a story and would like some information on a few questions if anyone is knowledgeable in this area:

Were local women employed at WWI British military hospitals in France or Belgium in functional roles - cleaning etc.

What happened to the uniforms worn by casualties on arrival? Were they laundered and repaired for re-use?

Were replacement uniforms manufactured in France or were they all manufactured in the UK and shipped out for returning wounded? Were battle ready casualties re-uniformed at the hospital before being dispatched back to the lines? Were the uniforms of the dead cleaned up and given out for re-use or were they sent back to next of kin? Whose job was it to sort through the pockets of the dead looking for personal effects to send home?

Can anyone recommend any good books covering this area?

I hope someone can help here, my husband tells me he always gets a response to his questions from someone.

best wishes, Sarah

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Hi Sarah

I'll have a go at answering although not an expert in this area.

First, the answer to your questions possibly/probably lies in the Official Histories - under logistics and/or sanitation.

British military hospitals were staffed by people in the military - and male orderlies would generally have done cleaning etc. However, I don't know whether there were occasions where local women were employed. More likely to be employed in French hospitals I would think.

Uniforms - depended on the state of the uniform. Patients who had progressed back past Casualty Clearing Stations wore patient 'uniforms' in hospital while their own uniforms (if in good repair) were washed and sanitised to get rid of lice etc. This was done by laundry sanitation units but I don't know their correct title. Uniforms of the sick could be in good condition and I presume they were reused.

Were replacement uniforms manufactured in France or were they all manufactured in the UK and shipped out for returning wounded? Presumably you are asking about British soldiers only - I don't know where their uniforms were made.

If a soldier had been evacuated back to a base or general hospital, it is likely that they would be in hospital quite a while and would probably go to a convalescent depot of some sort before returning to the war. If it was some months, they might also go to a training depot to rebuild their fitness before returning to the front. It was at these places they were re-uniformed. Of course, I'm sure there were exceptions. The Quartermaster was responsible for uniforms and kit at hospitals.

Were the uniforms of the dead cleaned up and given out for re-use or were they sent back to next of kin?

If your question relates to patients who died in hospital, then they had their uniforms removed at admission and wore their patient 'blues' (at least they did in Australian hospitals); I don't think there was the personal attachment to uniforms there is now except the soldier kept their hat and their boots - however, this might have been different for officers. I can't imagine any uniforms being sent back to next of kin.

Whose job was it to sort through the pockets of the dead looking for personal effects to send home?

Depends where they died. If at their unit, it was their officer's responsibility. If in hospital, personal effects were removed from uniforms at admission and the valuables kept in 'dolly bags' which went with the patient when they moved. This could have been done by a nurse, VAD or orderly. One Australian nurse wrote of a time when she was doing this and recalled that she found some live grenades in the soldier's pockets.

hopefully someone else on the forum who knows much more about logistics than me can help further.

cheers

Kirsty

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Where uniforms were made has I think already been covered somewhere on the forum. From memory of this and of what I was taught at Bradford University Business School they were made under large scale contracts in the UK (much of the cloth coming from the Bradford area) so replacement uniforms would come from army storage depots including some in France but be made in the UK. An exception was for the Indian army where there was some significant local Indian manufacture.

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....What happened to the uniforms worn by casualties on arrival? Were they laundered and repaired for re-use?...

Cut off in many cases to treat injuries and if so probably discarded or burnt

Other cases where uniforms can be removed - first stop the fumigator

Found this in an old book Observations of an orderly; some glimpses of life and work in an English war hospital ([1917])

Muir, Ward. Currently on my Kindle (downloaded from archive.org)

'.....the walking-case thankfully finishes his cocoa, picks up the package of " blues " which has been put at his side, and departs, with his fellows, to the bathroom. Here he is tackled by the Pack Store orderlies, who take from him, and enter in their books, his khaki clothes. These he must leave in exchange for the blue slop uniform which, pro tern., is to be his only wear. When he emerges from the bathroom he is attired in whatis now England's most honourable livery — the royal blue of the war-hospital patient. And (though perhaps the matter is not mentioned to him in so many words) his own suit is already ticketed with an identification label and on its way to the fumigator. This is no reflection on the owner of the suit . . . but there are somethings we don't talk about. Mr. Fumigator- Wallah is not the least busy of the more retiring members of a war-hospital staff." He is not in the limelight ; but you might come to be very sad and sorry if he took it into his head to neglect his

unapplauded part off-stage.......

Also

'.The Pack Store orderlies have carried off their loot of dirty khaki tunics and trousers for the fumigator.

In another book, it looks as if they didn't always have their own uniforms back

In the soldier's service; war experiences of Mary Dexter, England, Belgium, France, 1914-1918 (1918)

'...Our fine big Seaforth Highlander is miserable today — his uniform has come, and it is not his own kilt, and the coat is far too small, his great hands are miles out of the cuffs! He is six feet two, and his name is Ronald Bannerman. He was describing the different kilts to me — the Gordon and Cameron Highlanders, and the Black Watch.....

Caryl

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Hospital blues (covered in many places on the forum) were very much recycled and were washed and rewashed many times so they gradually became very light blues indeed.

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Is this not running on another thread?john

Yes I've already posted a request that they are merged.

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