Jour­nal tells story of soldiers in hos­pi­tal

STU­ART GREER on the dis­cov­ery that re­veals what life was like on wartime wards

Macclesfield Express - - REMEMBERING THE FIRST WORLD WAR -

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

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●● Mary Hicks with her four sons

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