I have never had the privilege of an extended hospital stay. Matter of fact, I’ve never been admitted to a hospital beyond the one time I broke my collar bone and I was only in there for a few hours. But I can imagine it’s not a place you want or can get too comfortable in. Scratchy sheets, weird shower, cold floors, ugly gray walls, no fuzzy slippers for your feet, and no familiar pantry that you can go to for your stash of cookies.
WWI was a conflict that was supposed to be over by Christmas. Or so everyone thought. But the world was turned on its head, and the overwhelming flood of wounded was more than the up and running hospitals could handle. The mettle of good citizens was tested, and boy did they step up.
Lady Almina, Countess of Carnarvon rolled up her sleeves and turned her home, Highclere Castle (the setting for Downton Abbey!) into a hospital for the injured fresh off the trenches. She provided plump pillows and fresh linens, silver service dinners, card games in the library, and beer from the house’s own brewery for each soldier. The lady of the house even dirtied her own hands to change bed sheets and dress wounds.
Julia Hunt Catlin Park DePew Taufflieb turned her Chateau d’Annel into a 300 bed hospital on the front line. She was the first American female to be awarded the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honour from France.
The Duchess of Westminster, a young fancy lady, ran a hospital in Le Touquet with her faithful wolfhound always at her side. To raise morale, she and her friends would dress in full evening gowns and turn on the gramophone to greet the incoming wounded. Nothing like a glittering tiara and tinkling piano to take your mind off your shrapnel gouged legs.
Of course not all homes were grand nobility, but simpler lodgings in countryside homes where the women took the men and treated them as mothers to their babes. Washing, mending, cooking. They took such personal concern for these boys that their commanding officer would often find a dozen women waiting for him at his office each morning to explain that Johnny or Duncan had a cold and had been packed off to bed with a hot water bottle. In her opinion, the poor lad was not fit for soldiering that day.
My hat’s off to these ladies and the countless others who opened their homes to strangers in need. Sometimes for months and years at a time. I’ve opened my home to family and after three days I’m ready to kick them to the curb.