Bedfordshire at War: Woburn Abbey/ Leighton soldier

Woburn Abbey Hospital 1915
Woburn Abbey Hospital 1915

Bedfordshire and Luton Archive Service is producing two blogs covering the First World War day by day from August 4, 1914 to November 11, 1918. It will be drawing on local Bedfordshire newspapers such as the LBO and material held at Bedfordshire and Luton Archive and Record Service.

Here’s a round-up of some of the incidents for March 1915. See also and

Saturday, March 13, 1915:  An article has been published in The Times describing the success of initiatives taken by the Duke and Duchess of Bedford.

The Duke was responsible for setting up the training camp at Ampthill, and they have permitted the conversion of the tennis court and riding school at Woburn Abbey to provide a hospital described as “one of the most comfortable and well-equipped hospitals in the country” of which it can be said that “to anyone who needs to learn how best a war hospital should be organised and managed, a visit to Woburn is a liberal education”.

We are told that “the buildings have been transformed. Windows have been pierced in the riding school and the largest ward is here.

“There is a well-appointed cook house; a room full of baths with a plentiful supply of hot water; an operating-room; a dispensary; store-rooms, and, in fact, everything that can be required for the comfort of the sufferers, including a reading-room.”

The villagers themselves have also been contributing to the war effort.

The girls of the Council School have given 13 shillings and sixpence to the “something to smoke” fund.

At St Mary’s Church a collection has been taken in aid of the Mission to Seamen after the Reverend E. Eland of Antwerp reported on the work it carries out for the benefit of our sailors, whose efforts have been so vital for the country’s war effort.

Woburn men are doing their bit in the forces. Arthur H. Simmons, a former employee of the Park Farm Office who left England for Canada nearly two years ago, has been wounded while at the Front with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He has written from a hospital near Paris describing his condition as “left flapper slightly dented”.

Wednesday, March 24, 1915: A soldier from Leighton Buzzard serving with the Sanitary Corps has given an interesting description of the way baths are being provided the Front.

In a letter to his parents he says: “Among the many provisions for the comfort and health of our troops in the present war, one that must be almost unique in the history of warfare is the institution of bathing stations to which the men can be sent to obtain a hot bath and clean clothing.

“A number have now been established in France and Belgium, and it is at one of the most successful of these stations that we are now working.

“It was started by part of our section in the schools of a little village. We have three large rooms in use. In the first of these the men take off and leave their uniforms.

“The next is fitted up for use as a bathroom with 27 tubs (wine casks sawn in halves), wooden grids for standing on, tables for serving out clean clothing, etc.

“Here the men get a hot bath with carbolic soap, and a complete change of clean underclothing; their uniforms are meanwhile brushed, or if in a very bad condition exchanged for new. 

“The third room we use as our billet. We are quite comfortable there, only rather ramped as our stores of clean clothing take up so much space.

“At first we worked under great difficulties. All the water had to be hand-lined up from a well, the only suitable source near us, and heated in any kind of pot we could lay hands on (even ‘dixies’, camp kettles holding only two or three gallons) over a trench fire in the open, but we have now commandeered a couple of good 80 gallon boilers and made arrangements for a water-cart to supply us. 

“With these improvements we are able to put over 800 men through in a day, and satisfy them very well. In the earlier days Tommy was fond of telling us with unnecessary emphasis that the quantity of water he was provided with was more suitable for internal use as a draught than for external application. ‘Bath in that!’ one of the Yorkshire men told us, ‘Why ah cud soop that lot!’ The work is not exactly what we expected when we set out; it is rather monotonous and not particularly pleasant, but it is certainly very necessary work out here and is greatly appreciated by the men. One man on leaving told us that he felt equal to 40 Germans.”