Abbey Lodge VAD hospital, Chislehurst

Learn more about this VAD hospital

Joanna Friel

Abbey Lodge in use as a VAD hospital

Abbey Lodge VAD hospital, Chislehurst

This magnificent locally listed house played the central role in caring for the casualties that came to Chislehurst. A second convoy of 30 Belgians arrived on 17th October 1914 and were housed at Abbey Lodge, Chislehurst.

Before the First World War

This five storey mansion was built in 1884 for Colonel Hugh Adams Silver, after whom Silvertown in North London is named. The family moved away in 1903 and it seems the house lay vacant for many years.

Usage during the First World War

John Erskine, an architect from Ryde on the Isle of Wight, seems to have had a legal interest in the house in 1914 and was persuaded by William Willett, no less, to rent the property free of charge to the Red Cross.

Seemingly the agreement was for one year but the hospital continued at Abbey Lodge until 1919 – initially no one thought the war would last beyond Christmas of course.

The hospital accommodated 50 beds and was the centre of Kent 60 VAD (Chislehurst) operations.

Staff

Dr Brennan performed excellent work at the outset of affairs.

Sister Treasure and Nurse North were in charge. Sister Treasure was very efficient but apparently something of a tarter.

The Deputy Medical Officer was Dr Lawson, who was to lose two sons at the Front. Quartermaster was Lily Pole.

Members:

  • Theodora Adamson,
  • Winifred Alston,
  • Dorothy ‘Dolly’ Batten, Trixie’s older sister,
  • Margaret Cadell,
  • Evaline Clark,
  • Elsie Doran, older than most, she was the wife of Brigadier General Beachamp
  • J. C. Doran, Commander of the 8th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Division,
  • Elizabeth Fanner,
  • Ellen Dorothy Forest,
  • Doris Greef,
  • Grace Greengrass, (30) daughter of a local upholsterer, she was skilled in the trade.
  • Janet Joyce,
  • Lillian Knight,
  • Lucy A MacCall,
  • Annie O’Brien,
  • Luisa Page,
  • Marjorie Pattison – Storehouses, administered ably and unselfishly,
  • Gladys Pole,
  • Hilda Pole,
  • Muriel Pole,
  • Ellen Pott,
  • Elaine Powell, aged 29,
  • Kathleen Powell, 23, the daughters of Sir Leonard Powell , local Liberal from ‘Heatherbank’ on Summerhill. They lost their brother at Ypres in 1915 and
  • May Rena Wilson.

Supernumeraries

  • Dagmar Bennett, 22,
  • Eileen Bennett, 21, sisters from ‘Thorndale’, Lubbock Road, 3 doors down from Brooklyn.
  • Mrs Good,
  • Suzanne Good,
  • Dora Howard,
  • Edith Margetson,
  • Agnes MacFarlane,
  • Edith Murton,
  • Agnes Paterson,
  • Dorothy Payne,
  • Marian de Quincey,from ‘Oakwood’, 46,
  • Doris Search,
  • Dorothy Warrington,
  • Norah Webb,
  • Jessie and Marjorie Whyte.

Support from local residents

Local resident, George Croll, was described as

‘most generous and has taken unfailing interest in the hospital’,

The Reverend Pole referred to him as the ‘godfather’ of the hospital. He was a merchant who lived at ‘Millfield’, on Chislehurst Common.

Mr Straus, from Hatton Cottage, Lubbock Road helped with the accounts.

Life as a nurse at Abbey Lodge

Muriel Pole told a story of life as a nurse at Abbey Lodge:

‘One day when we had moved to the big house, Abbey Lodge. Sister Treasure met Nurse Doran in the hall and asked her to take some sheets upstairs. Sister Treasure handed her an armful of sheets and proceeded to walk up the main staircase, naturally Nurse Doran obediently followed only to be told in a chilling voice “Nurse Doran, nurses use the back stairs”. ‘

Muriel also commented that she copied the behaviour of the parlour maids at home when taking tea to the officers, one of whom happened to be her sister.

Hilda Pole said she kept rabbits to help with subsequent food shortages and did gardening, she worked part time at the hospital in the kitchen. She spent the afternoon of the Armistice in the hospital kitchen scraping carrots and peeling potatoes.

Courtesy of Lyn Macdonald author of The Roses of No Man’s land published in 1980 who conducted interviews with the Pole sisters before they died.

Life as an orderely at Abbey Lodge

The late Tom Bushell, celebrated local historian, wrote in his diaries

‘whilst still wearing a school cap it was my privilege to act for several months as a volunteer orderly at Abbey Lodge. One helped to a certain extent with the patients, but the chief duties were the filling of coal scuttles, the trimming of oil lamps and a tour of the whole building to light the gas lamps each evening.

One duty, (unknown to the Commandant) was the translation from English into French of the love letters received by the Belgian soldiers from Chislehurst girls. In reverse, one had to translate the soldiers’ letters into English before they were sent. This presented no difficulty for almost every one had the same phrase “Je vous aime de tout mon Coeur, et je suis a vous pour toujours et toujours”. [I love you with all my heart and I am yours for always and always]

Most of them talked of the large house in which they lived and of the Rolls Royce buried in the garden to escape capture from the Germans. Men were deceivers ever, but the girls seemed to be suitably impressed.’

After the First World War

After the war John Erskine’s daughter resumed ownership of Abbey Lodge, and then there were at least two subsequent owners before it was divided up into flats. This division probably saved the grand house from the developer. The house has now been converted back onto a single dwelling and is known as Chislehurst Hall.

This page was added by Ian Grant on 07/07/2014.

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