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Jewish Nurses, VADs and Military Hospitals.

1914 was a time before the NHS. However, most towns and cities had hospitals with trained staff although the training varied considerably. An assessment at the start of war calculated that there were approximately 50,000 beds available and that would be more than sufficient to accommodate the wounded1.  How wrong they were.  By the end of 1914 some 73,000 injured had already been brought home.  It was obvious that extra capacity was desperately needed.  Wealthy people with large houses volunteered to take in wounded and turn parts of their homes into nursing or convalescent homes.

The patriotic Anglo Jewish community were quick to answer the call as they had loved ones who were joining up to serve King and country.  Women, mothers, wives and sisters of those at the front were keen to join the throng of women serving in the professionally trained Queen Alexandra’s Imperial  Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS – see the History Window on the QAIMNS for further information) which, in 1914,  had less than 300 nurses. By the end of the war four years later over 10,000 nurses had served with them2. Florence Oppenheimer, later Florence Greenberg of cookery book fame, signed up as a QAIMNS3 and served in Gallipoli, where she kept a diary4. Those with limited nursing training or none at all could volunteer to serve abroad with the French or Belgium forces, who were less fussy about previous training, or they could join The Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) (see the history window on VADs for further information).

The VADs, which were organised by the Red Cross and the Order of St John5 also sent some women abroad, but they were primarily used for nursing and convalescent homes in the UK, supported by a few qualified staff.   

The military hospitals tended to deal with the serious cases whereas the homes were required for those who had been returned home following medical care in the hospitals in France, Belgium and across the war zones but were expected to recover. The wounded in such places could include those recovering from light injuries to something quite serious such as amputation.

Hospitals in this period were often run as private institutions and from charitable organisations – this increased during the war. The Jewish community provided funding from private donations for Beech House Hospital and, at the end of the war, Tudor House Hospital on the site of Summit Lodge, Hampstead Heath. There were several Beech Houses established over the course of the war which operated as a franchise run mainly by Jewish Staff for Jewish patients. One was in The Avenue, Brondesbury, London, one in Manchester and another in Brighton. 

Beech House, Brondesbury was staffed by 5 trained nurses and 37 members of the VAD who were drawn from mainly middle-class families. The VADs were expected to do various types of work, from serving the tea, organising the kitchen staff or keeping the stores to being an assistant in the Linen Room. The Doctors, Lowenthal and Gaster, were men, whose wives were both VADs at the hospital.  Of the 1,560 patients admitted to the hospital, only one died. 

Tudor House Hampstead was taken over by the Red Cross in 1918, the house having previously been a convalescent home in memory of Baroness De Hirsch, which had closed due to lack of funds. Tudor House’s running costs were funded6 by Mrs Clarissa Bischoffsheim7 and run by the Commandant, Miss Janie Joseph OBE who like Rose De  Bear was a qualified nursing sister. Many of the women, VAD volunteers, were working in excess of 2,000 or 3,000 hours in 1918, although most worked for hundreds, including nights.

The British Jewry Book of Honour contains photos of about 24 of the women who volunteered throughout the country, including Emily Hartman8 a VAD who volunteered at Bermondsey Hospital and is buried in Ecclesfield Jewish Cemetery, Sheffield.  Many of the women from both Tudor House, Hampstead and Beech House, Brondesbury lived in West Hampstead, which was a popular place for the Jewish community at that time – near both Lauderdale Road, Brondesbury and Hampstead Synagogues.

The experiences of these women, like so many throughout history, are difficult to research, since records can be vague about them or omit them completely. This is compounded by the fact that married ladies changed their names, which, together with the fact that voting registrations do not include women until after the First World War, often makes following a women’s paper trail impossible.  We are trying our best to record them - if you have any information on any such women please do contact us. Just email admin@jewsfww.london


1 https://historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/first-world-war-home-front/what-we-already-know/land/hospitals- convalescent-homes/

2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26838077
3 https://www.jewsfww.london/florence-greenberg-115.php
4 http://www.letters.thejmm.org.uk.gridhosted.co.uk/biography_florence

5 http://www.qaranc.co.uk/voluntary-aid-detachment.php 

6 https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/tudorhouse.html
7 https://www.jewsfww.london/clarisse-eva-birschoffsheim-2515.php
8 https://www.jewsfww.london/emily-hartman-1518.php 

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London Jews in the First World War - We Were There Too

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