How town gave time, skills, compassion and cash to help war victims

A page from an autograph book which belonged to volunteer nurse Sarah Bromfield

A page from an autograph book which belonged to volunteer nurse Sarah Bromfield - Credit: Honiton Museum

The image featured in this week's article is a scan of a  page from an autograph book which belonged to Sarah  Bromfield.

She worked as a voluntary nurse in the Honiton VAD hospital from October 20th 1914 to 13th January 1919. During that time she served a total of 5,184 hours without pay.  

With the assistance of the British Red Cross and the Order of St John, the Voluntary Aid Detachment was  founded in 1909. In May 1914, all 20 of Honiton’s VAD women, including Sarah Bromfield, passed a nursing examination set  by Dr Langran of Axminster.

Just after the outbreak of war in Europe, the volunteers set up hospitals all over the country.  

When the  war first broke out the Army made provision to billet troops in Honiton. By October one of the houses that was requisitioned for troops was transformed into a temporary hospital with six beds and Miss Margaret Nesta Lee Pennell was the matron.

An appeal went out for beef tea, fruit and cigarettes for the patients. The hospital then moved to a property called Coleshill. Hundreds of sick and wounded soldiers were treated during this time. During their busiest day, 95 patients were treated.    

By 1915 the matron had moved to London and  married and the hospital moved to a bigger premises - the Working Men’s Club, when it was opposite the church in the High Street.

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Almost everything in the hospital  had been donated or loaned by the people of Honiton. Dr Steele Perkins was the medical officer,  Miss Alice Palmer was the matron, assisted by sister Emma Duncan. There were four wards with 30 beds, an operating theatre and offices.  

During  the next six months the people of Honiton raised the funds to build a one hundred foot long wooden structure at the rear of the building  which became  a new outdoor ward for 30 beds. 

Testament to the great nursing care received from the Voluntary Aid Detachment  in Honiton is that only one patient lost his life. He was Corporal Richard Vivian Smith of the Royal Field Artillery, son of Mrs Octavia Smith of Oxford. He died of his wounds aged just 22. He was buried with full military honours at  St Michael's in Honiton. 

On January 13th, 1919, the Honiton VAD hospital (second line) was closed.  

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