The 1st Southern General Hospital


The 1st Southern General Hospital in Birmingham was just one of many large military hospitals that were developed to treat the flood of casualties coming back to Blighty from the fighting fronts and the training centres in the United Kingdom. The details shown here illustrate how these hospitals were established and massively expanded. In the case of the establishments that grew up in the Birmingham area, many still operate as medical facilities today


As part of the organisation of medical facilities in the home countries when the Territorial Force came into being, it was decided in 1909 to employ the new buildings at the University of Birmingham as a 520-bed hospital, should war mobilisation ever be needed. Plans for the equipping and supply of the hospital were made - and carried out to the letter in August 1914, some 5 years after the original planning was done. The first convoy of 120 casualties arrived on September 1st 1914.



By Spring 1915, more University buildings had been taken over, providing up to 1,000 beds. Summer 1916 saw a further expansion at "HQ", adding another 570 beds. At the peak, the hospital could cater for 130 officers and 2357 other ranks. In May 1915, the old Poor Law Infirmary on Dudley Road was also taken over. By the time of the Somme battle in mid 1916, it had been expanded to 1,560 beds. In May 1917 the Dudley Road facility was separated as a hospital in its own right, adopting the title 2/1st Southern General Hospital. At this time, there were in total 8827 beds in the city.

Dudley Road

Wordsley Infirmary was taken over as the Stourbridge annexe in the summer of 1915; it had 510 beds.

October 1915 saw the establishment of two more annexes, in school buildings at the Selly Park and King's Heath suburbs. It was soon discovered that there was confusion between the Selly Oak location of the University, and nearby Selly Park. The latter was renamed as the Stirchley annexe. Each of these had 225 beds, with tented accomodation in the gardens for a further 320 each.

Main hospital supplies depots were established in Birmingham and Worcester.

Writing home from hospital
From the Southern General

1st Southern General Hospital, Stourbridge, Worcestershire.

September 30th 1915.

Dear Mother, I have arrived at the Military Hospital at Stourbridge, Worcestershire. I have been wounded in the knee and am going on quite well, it is not very serious so do not be alarmed. I have got to England alright this time. Hoping to hear from you soon. From your loving son Will.

Stourbridge Town VAD.

Will Townsend, who came from Much Birch in Herefordshire, had been wounded at Bellewaarde near Ypres five days before while taking part in an attack made by his battalion, the 5th (Service) Battalion, KSLI. His younger brother Gabriel had been killed in the same action.

Auxiliary Hospitals attached to the 1st Southern General Hospital

In late 1914, steps were taken to establish auxiliary hospitals in large private houses in the Birmingham area. They were under the general organisation of the 1st Southern General Hospital, which became known as "HQ".

"Uffculme", the former home of Richard Cadbury, was initially used to house Belgian refugees from September 1914, but in November 1916 it was taken over by the Friends Ambulance Unit, and developed into a 200 bed hospital. In 1918 it became the regional limb fitting centre, for soldiers domiviled in the counties of Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Oxfordshire.
"Moor Green Hall Hospital" was established in November 1914, with 63 beds. It treated 1500 casualties during the war.
"Hill Crest", Richmond Hill Road, Edgbaston, was also established in November 1914, and was the first to be operated by the Voluntary Aid Detachment, staffed by a St John's Ambulance unit. It had only 25 beds, but soon moved to "Harborne Hall" and expanded to 126 beds.
"The Norlands Hospital" was established by the British Red Cross in April 1915, with 60 beds. It treated 1900 casualties.
"Lordswood Hospital", Harborne, was established by the VAD in May 1915, with 30 beds that eventually expanded to 70. It treated 2152 casualties.

"Highbury" in Moseley was established by the VAD, in the former home of the Chamberlain family (Joseph and Austen Chamberlain) in May 1915 , with 140 beds. Highbury was funded by, among others, the employees of the Kynochs works in Witton. Highbury was later converted into a neurological section.


"Moor Green House" was established as an annexe to Highbury, and became designated the 4th Auxiliary Hospital, Moseley. In May 1917, it was reserved for the treatment of officers.
"The Beeches Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital" was established in December 1915, with 46 beds. It treated 982 casualties, and from 1918 specialised in facial injuries.
"Allerton" on Lichfield Road, Four Oaks, was established in January 1916 , with 54 beds. "The Hollies" on Four Oaks Road opened as an annexe in October 1917, adding a further 32 beds.
"Stoneleigh", Victoria Road, Stechford, was established as a VAD hospital in July 1916, with 62 beds. It treated 1029 casualties.
"Stapylton House", St Peter's Road, Harborne, opened as a 35-bed annexe to Harborne Hall in May 1917. Funds were provided by, among others, employees of W&T Avery, the weighscale manufacturers.
"Farcroft" was established as a VAD hospital in Handsworth in early 1917, with 74 beds. It needed much refurbishment, with funds provided by the Birmingham Brewers Association.
"Mayfield", Harborne Road, Edgbaston, was established in early 1918.
A Monyhull Section was used as a neurological unit for up to 18 casualties.

1st and 2nd Birmingham War Hospitals

The urgent need for more suitable hospital accommodation forced the authorities to consider many alternatives. The Army Council specified the need for an extra 50,000 beds across the country, in established buildings with appropriate facilities, located near to a railway station. In consequence, the Asylum War Hospital Scheme was launched in January 1915. The asylums in the United Kingdom were sorted into 9 Groups. One asylum in each group would be cleared of its current patients, who would be transferred into the others in the Group. The emptied building would then be converted into a military hospital.

The Birmingham City Asylum at Rubery Hill was chosen from the Midlands region's Group 4 of asylums, together with its annexe at Hollymoor. These became the 1st and 2nd Birmingham War Hospitals, with 1100 and 930 beds respectively. In all, 1334 patients were relocated to other asylums, including some very violent cases. The first military casualties were received on 5 July 1915 (Hollymoor) and 30 July 1915 (Rubery). 1st BWH closed on 31 March 1919, having treated 20,000 casualties. 2nd BWH closed on 1 March 1920, having treated 16,800 men. In the later stages of the war, Hollymoor had been converted into a specialist Orthopaedic Hospital.

Civilian Hospitals turned over for war service

Both the General Hospital, providing 100 beds, and Queen's Hospital, which treated a total of 1600 casualties, were occasionally used for military medical work. An outpatients department for the Southern General Hospital was established in the Children's Hospital on Steelhouse Lane in 1915.

Staffing the hospitals

On mobilisation, there was a total of 92 staff belonging to the Territorial Force Nursing Service in the city. In May 1915, nurses and auxiliaries of the Voluntary Aid Detachments joined the staffs of the hospitals. By 1918 there were 578 nursing staff.

Transporting casualties to the hospitals

The initial convoys for the University arrived at the city's Moor Street station, but a depot was soon arranged at nearby Selly Oak Goods yard. The convoys for Dudley Road hospital were unloaded at Soho and Winson Green GWR goods station, where a special platform was erected for the purpose. Casualties arrived at Stourbridge Town station for the Wordsley facility. For the first two years of war, virtually all transport of wounded was undertaken by volunteers: it was only in 1916 that this was largely taken over by the VAD Motor Transport. The volunteers and VAD not only moved casualties from the train convoys to the hospitals, but they carried nurses to the stations, stores to the depots, etc. A night-time car service also ensured that no man returning on leave had a wearying, time-wasting wait until morning: he was taken home by car. In addition, "Rest Stations" were established by volunteers at Snow Hill and New Street stations, where men could obtain a hot drink and a sandwich. This service catered for 362,000 men from 2,372 trains over the years of war.

Eyewitness: Mona Neale
"I think it must have been about 1915 when wounded soldiers were first brought to Soho and Winson Green station, just across the gully from the Talbot. The carriages were shunted onto the siding which led to a goods yard, where ambulances were waiting to take the wounded to Dudley Road Hospital via Handsworth New Road and Winson Green Road. I remember seeing the soldiers, many with bandaged heads and arms, and [my brother] Wilf and I would wave to them from the top of our garden wall. Sometimes my father would take me with him to distribute cigarettes, tobacco and chocolate that the customers of the Talbot Inn had donated for the wounded troops. Mother was not too happy about my going with him because I would get so upset at seeing these poor souls, some of them legless, but it taught me the awful reality of war".

Other statistics

The statistics of the human effort and suffering are quite incredible: By Spring 1919, some 130,000 military casualties had been treated in the Birmingham hospitals. The majority had suffered wounds or sickness on the Western Front, but this total included men coming from all of the theatres of war, plus Belgian and Serbian troops, men from the navy, and prisoners of war. By March 1919, 233,000 patient-journeys had been made, in 43,300 car journeys in Birmingham alone. 762 ambulance trains had been unloaded in the city.