Journal tells story of soldiers in hospital
STUART GREER on the discovery that reveals what life was like on wartime wards
THE discovery of a book has provided a moving glimpse into the lives of soldiers and nurses during the First World War.
The journal also gave a Poynton woman an insight into the life of the grandmother she never met, and opened a new chapter in her family’s history.
The book was started by Stepping Hill Hospital nurse Mary Hicks in 1906 as a way patients she cared for could record their thoughts about staying in the hospital, through sketches, poems, messages and doodles.
But when the First World War started, Stepping Hill became a military hospital for wounded soldiers coming back from the front line.
From 1914, most of the entries in Mary’s book came from soldiers and reveal a mix of emotion and humour on the trials of the war, with many writ- ing about missing their families and loved ones.
Mary left nursing when she married Ernest Bromley in 1920. She had four sons during the next decade, and died in 1965.
Nothing was known of what became of her book in the 96 years after Mary left the hospital and her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren had no idea it existed.
This all changed when a Twitter message sent from a second-hand bookstore, 285 miles away in Cornwall alerted Stepping Hill staff to the book.
They retrieved it and tracked down Sally-Anne Bromley, Mary’s granddaughter, who was living just four miles away in Poynton.
Sally-Anne, 44, who runs the Bulls Head pub in Poynton, was shocked and overwhelmed by the discovery.
She said: “When I was contacted about the book, I was a bit apprehensive, as it was so unusual and came totally out of the blue.
“At the same time I was also very intrigued about it, as I never met my grandmother because she died before I was born.
“I was thrilled when I actually looked at the book. It was clear the patients must have found her caring and great company to write so many messages.
“I feel like I know my grandmother a little now in a way I never did before.”
Entries in the journal include a wounded doctor writing: ‘We go to fight, an enemy strong and bold. Whose cruel acts, and awful deeds, are not yet fully told. And we are still determined. Defiant to the last’.
A royal engineer from London accompanies his drawing in the book with the words: ‘Far, far from Ypres I long to be, where German snipers cannot pot me. Thinking of me crouching where the worms creep, waiting for someone to sing me to sleep’.
A soldier shot in the leg at the Battle of Loos in October 1915 describes his journey from northern France to Stepping Hill.
Drawings range from cartoon caricatures of nurses, patients, over-burdened hospital orderlies, put-upon husbands and men with an eye for ladies, to lifelike drawings of churches and the patients’ much-missed sweethearts.
Ann Barnes, chief executive of Stepping Hill, said: “We are absolutely delighted to have found this book.”
●● Sally-Anne Bromley with the journal which was started by her grandmother – Stepping Hill nurse Mary Hicks – and tells the story of life on the wards during the First World War
The journal is full of entries and pictures from injured soldiers
●● Mary Hicks with her four sons