Shipyards experience was vital for war time hospitals

THE injured from the First World War numbered in the tens of thousands and some of the injuries were horrific.

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  • Glasgow hospitals were well equipped for the injured
    Glasgow hospitals were well equipped for the injured
  • Glasgow hospitals were well equipped for the injured
  • Glasgow hospitals were well equipped for the injured
  • Glasgow hospitals were well equipped for the injured
  • Glasgow hospitals were well equipped for the injured
  • Glasgow hospitals were well equipped for the injured
  • Glasgow hospitals were well equipped for the injured

But as CAROLINE WILSON discovered, nurses and doctors in Glasgow were readily equipped to deal with the horror.

GLASGOW'S hospitals were well equipped to deal with wounded soldiers during the First World War because doctors in the city were used to coping with the results of horrific industrial accidents in the shipyards.

A fifth of all ships in the world in the early 1900s were made on the Clyde by a workforce of tens of thousands.

This often dangerous work kept surgeons busy in the city's casualty units at its major hospitals including the Royal Infirmary, the Western and the Victoria.

During the war hospitals set aside wards to treat injured soldiers, sharing the burden of military hospitals such as Bellahouston, run by the Red Cross.

"Basically, it was just young men with serious injuries", says Alistair Tough, lead archivist for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

"Accidents and Emergency units were already dealing with a lot of broken bits. It was their bread and butter from the shipyards, from the coal mines. There were a lot of shunting accidents involving trains.

"A steel plate falls off in the process of being attached to a ship, comes down and takes off someone's leg.

"Although some of the war injuries might take their breath away, a lot of them were actually familiar."

When war broke out many senior medics transferred to the military hospitals to treat casualties, which put pressure on the city's health services, then dealing with life-threatening infectious diseases such as typhoid, TB and scarlet fever.

Alistair said: "The hospitals in Glasgow may have struggled in the sense that there were fewer people to do the ordinary work because a significant number went to France or temporary hospitals closer to home.

"That would have created an accumulative strain, over a period of months and years.

"But most people seemed to think that other people were going through worse and they ought not to complain about it."

The war saw a huge influx of young women coming into nursing. The Barony Parish Poorhouse in Springburn, which opened in the 1850s and later added a purpose-built hospital, had one of the first nursing training schools in the UK.

OTHER workhouses from as far away as the north of England sent women to Glasgow to train.

Alistair said: "There is a pattern visible before 1914 that women from well-connected families come into nursing as a career either because they failed to find a husband or they don't want to find a husband.

"Women seem to get sucked into the system during the First World War.

"The Western Infirmary, the Victoria Infirmary the Royal Infirmary, Gartnavel, in the psychiatric sector, Yorkhill for sick children, the Rottenrow, these were all big training centres for nurses. There seems to be a sense that some of them feel they ought to be making a sacrifice.

"After the war many leave nursing but a lot of them stayed."

Glasgow had the last outbreak of bubonic plague in Europe in 1900 and the corporation of Glasgow awarded medals to nurses who risked their lives to take care of patients.

Rat catchers were sent out in large numbers in an effort to reduce the vermin population, while with the agreement of the Catholic Church, there was a temporary suspension of wakes, as it was believed that gatherings of people could be implicated in the spread of the disease.

In the end, something like 36 cases were identified and 16 people died.

Alistair says: "The patients were segregated but the women who looked after them were also segregated. The corporation awarded the nurses medals for bravery because the risk of death was so high."

Hospitals were split into voluntary, which included the Royal Infirmary, and infectious diseases hospitals, including Ruchill.

The sick were also treated in the parish poorhouses, including Glasgow City Poorhouse, which opened in 1845 and was one of the largest pauper institutions in Britain.

With the creation of a single poor law authority in Glasgow, three new hospitals were built, Stobhill and the Eastern and Western General Hospitals.

During the war, Stobhill was used for wounded servicemen and known as the 3rd and 4th Scottish General Hospitals, while the British Red Cross established their temporary hospital at Bellahouston.

Initially this treated wounded servicemen but from about 1920 was primarily for rehabilitation of disabled ex-servicemen. It closed in the early 1930s.

When the war broke out, Glasgow was a world-leader in medicine.

Doctors travelled from all over the world to see Ruchill Hospital, which treated infectious diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, scarlet fever and measles, which were widespread at the time.

EVERY year there was around 15,000 deaths from infectious diseases in Glasgow.

Alistair said: "Ruchill was built and opened in 1900 and was the flagship for infectious disease medicine.

"It was a well regarded design with all the separate pavilions. People came from all over the world to see this municipal hospital.

"There was an infectious diseases hospital in Japan modelled on Ruchill."

caroline.wilson@eveningtimes.co.uk

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