Tag Archive | World War I

Birmingham Stories: The First World War

Birmingham Stories is a series of blog posts exploring the experiences of Birmingham men and women during the First World War through the Museum’s collection.

Harold Hall

Harold Hall in his RAMC Uniform, December 1914

Harold Hall in his RAMC Uniform, December 1914

Harold Hall was born in Woodgate on the outskirts of Birmingham in 1893. At the age of 14 he began working at Cadbury’s in the Biscuit Department. When war broke out in 1914, Harold volunteered for the Army but he was classed as unfit for military service. Harold had lost a finger in an accident when he was 15 years old. At the beginning of the war men volunteering for the army were often rejected on the grounds of poor health, sight, or bad teeth. They could also be rejected if they were not tall enough. Undeterred, Harold then enlisted as a Private with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) on the 24 November 1914.  The RAMC were a non-combatant corps of the armed forces who undertook a range of orderly and medical duties on the home front and overseas.

Home Front Hospitals

RAMC at Dudley Road Hospital

RAMC at Dudley Road Hospital

In August 1914 parts of the University of Birmingham campus, including the Aston Webb building, were commandeered by the Territorial Force to become Territorial General Hospitals.The University was known as the 1st Southern General Hospital. In May 1915 City Hospital, then Dudley Road Infirmary, became an annex of the 1st Southern General. By May 1917 it was established as a hospital in its own right, known as the 2/1st Southern General Hospital.

The Southern Cross

The Southern Cross, The Journal of the 1st Southern General Hospital RAMCT, Birmingham, No 3

Numerous other smaller annex hospitals and convalescent homes were established in Birmingham. They were often run by a combination of the RAMC, the Red Cross or St John’s Ambulance. They could also be sponsored by local businesses and individuals.

Harold working in the kitchens at Dudley Road Hospital, 1916

Harold working in the kitchens at Dudley Road Hospital, 1916

Harold trained at the 1st Southern General Hospital before moving to Dudley Road Infirmary in 1915 where he worked in the kitchens.

Dudley Road staff band, 1916

Dudley Road staff band, 1916

Harold was a member of the Woodgate Valley Prize Band.  In August 1916 he joined a newly formed Dudley Road staff band. The band regularly performed for patients at the hospital, and on military parades. They also performed at the funerals of soldiers who died in Birmingham hospitals, many of whom were buried in Ludgate Hill Cemetery.

Service overseas

Before the introduction of conscription in 1916, Military Tribunals were established in 1915 as part of the Derby Scheme. The tribunals aimed to free up more men for military service overseas. When Harold attended a tribunal he was deemed fit for overseas service.

In August 1917 Harold left England for France. He was initially attached to the 1st Highland Division Second Field Ambulance.  Harold was a stretcher bearer. In an interview in 1981 he described what his role entailed.

‘[A normal day on duty at the Line] There would be the walking cases…there would be the stretcher cases…and when they were gassed…all sorts of sickness amongst them of various forms…they all had to have attention, didn’t they….see…[My job was] To follow up and take care of casualties…as they arose…to bring them to the [First Aid] Post and carry them across trenches and all that sort of thing…’

Advanced Dressing Station of 51st Highland Division Field Ambulance on the 20 November 1917

Advanced Dressing Station of 51st Highland Division Field Ambulance on the 20 November 1917

Harold Hall served during the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. This photograph depicts the Advanced Dressing Station of 51st Highland Division Field Ambulance on the 20 November 1917. In an interview in 1981 Harold described what was happening in the photograph.

‘They were First Aid Posts used by us for stretcher bearers and we has to get the casualties off the stretchers and and put them on that windlass thing there and the German prisoners there were releasing the handles to let the stretchers slide down the ramp into an underground hospital which was in a German dugout. The surgeon and doctors were down there and they were doing amputation and all sorts of things on the casualties as they came in …see…they were in a pretty bad way…the chaps you were sending down there…the walking cases…we could get them away…but we couldn’t get the stretcher cases away…where immediate operations were needed…to save their lives…’

Harold and George, Christmas 1914

Harold and George, Christmas 1914

Harold probably volunteered at the same time as his friend George ‘Stanley’ Payne, who was also from Woodgate. Stanley was killed at Marfaux in France on the 15 July 1918. He was serving with the 15th Field Ambulance. He died when the First Aid Post he was working at received a direct hit from a German shell. Stanley was 23 years old. During the First World War 743 officers and 6130 soldiers in the RAMC were killed.

Harold Hall donated his collection of personal memorabilia associated with his First World War service in the RAMC in the 1980s. To see more objects relating to Harold’s First World War service with the RAMC or Birmingham hospitals during the First World War please go to BMAG Flikr.

Birmingham Museums are interested in collecting objects relating to Birmingham people during the First World War. Did your ancestor serve in any of the following areas either on the Home Front or overseas?

  • RAMC
  • Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service
  • Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD)
  • Red Cross
  • St John’s Ambulance
  • YMCA
  • Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU)

Please contact enquiries@birminghammuseums.org.uk

Jo-Ann Curtis,
Curator (History)

An Expanding City – Birmingham stories

The expanding city is the 4th gallery in the suite of new Birmingham history galleries and looks at the period between 1909 and 1945. The gallery is divided into two sections, the first, A Vision of Birmingham, looks at the development of the suburban Birmingham during the early 20th century, and the second, Birmingham at War, focuses on the experiences of Birmingham people during the first and second world wars.

General_gallery_shot_01
General_gallery_shot_02

Within the expanding city, I was able to select some fantastic objects with great stories including: cream pots once used by dairy farmers in Moseley during the 1920s, and a 1914 Birmingham Battalion badge issued to men who volunteered for the Birmingham Pals at the beginning of the first world war; but for me the highlight was the opportunity to use recordings of people sharing their personal experiences.

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Cream Pot, Cold Bath Farm, Moseley

1976_f578

Lapel Badge, Birmingham Battalion, 1914

The Museum has collected oral testimonies since the early 1980s, and has amassed an archive of over 1000 recordings with Birmingham people on topics as diverse as working life, migration, war, and the Bull Ring markets. Today we consider collecting oral histories a vital part of developing our Birmingham history collections, and where possible we will conduct an interview when acquiring a contemporary object.

‘Now it’s forgotten sometimes how during the war there were lots of refugees that came into Britain. They came from all parts of Europe, but many of them came from Austria, Czechoslovakia, there was in fact what they call a Czech army. A special group of men who joined the British Army of Czechoslovakians and other foreigners of a like, who wanted to fight fascism’.  Lilly Moody 

Enabling to someone tell their own story is very powerful, which is why the use of oral histories was key to developing these galleries.  Most of the displays are supported by a sound post where you can listen to a range of topics including: working at Cadbury’s, moving into a suburban council house during the 1930s, and volunteering for the Caribbean Regiment during the second world war. 

Sound_post

The Museum has particularly strong oral history collections relating the two world wars, and we wanted to make the most of these interviews in the new galleries. The central feature of Birmingham at War is an installation which features interviews with over 30 Birmingham people.

Installation

Jo-Ann Curtis, Curator (History)

Curatorial tours for an Expanding City

Throughout 2013 there are a number of curator-led tours of the Birmingham history galleries. The following tours will focus specifically on An Expanding City or may feature it as part of a wider gallery tour.

Tickets are available from reception and cost £2 per person. Tours begin at 1:00 in the Round Room.

  • 7 May – Cadbury’s Angels: Experience of Women Workers in the Early 20th Century by Jo-Ann Curtis
  • 18 June – From paintings to postcards: snap shots of Birmingham through its history by Jo-Ann Curtis
  • 2 July – Faith and Social Conscience: some examples of faith in action from Birmingham’s history by Henrietta Lockhart
  • 17 September – Birmingham at War: Industry during wartime, by Jo-Ann Curtis
  • 15 October – Birmingham: a city made by migration, by Henrietta Lockhart