Headingley LitFest has been awarded a substantial grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project in 2013/2014 based on the military hospital which was at Beckett’s Park, Headingley, during the First World War.
The project will come to a climax in time for the seventh annual LitFest in March 2014 with the production of an illustrated publication and a dramatic performance based on its contents.
The City of Leeds Training College had been built there not long before hostilities started, and in 1914 it was established as the 2nd Northern General Hospital. Wounded soldiers replaced trainee teachers, and the Red Cross flag was hoisted above what is today the James Graham Building, part of Leeds Metropolitan University*.
“The news that we have the grant is really exciting!” said Headingley LitFest Secretary Richard Wilcocks, who wrote the bid last July. “We are particularly interested in personal stories. Thousands of men and women were involved with the hospital – soldiers of all ranks, doctors and surgeons (mostly from the RAMC), nurses and VADs – for the whole of the Great War and for several years afterwards.
We will be looking for letters, diaries and articles in newspapers, and we will also be trying to trace the descendants of people who were there – the grandchildren perhaps. We intend to put out appeals in print and online to find them, hoping that they have memories and photos to share. I would guess that they are scattered everywhere, because the patients were from far and wide, but some of them must live in Yorkshire.
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Support and assistance is going to be given to us by those involved with the Legacies of War project at the University of Leeds.
All available archives are going to be searched – at Beckett’s Park, Leeds University, Leeds Library and Information Service, regimental museums, Imperial War Museum and so on – and anything which might be relevant and useful will be pulled out. We are very interested in photos with names associated with them, because they could be the beginnings of trails which lead to what we want. There are plenty of neglected materials in various archives relating to the Beckett’s Park Hospital, and we are already excited by some of the things we have found in the last week or two:
For example, thanks to help from Keith Rowntree, from Archive and Special Collections which is part of Libraries and Learning Innovation at Leeds Metropolitan University, we have seen a most remarkable scrapbook of photographs compiled by a Sergeant George Sprittles, who was at the hospital in 1917, and pages from a kind of unofficial ‘signing-in book’ with the names of a number of patients who give the details of their wounds and where they were fighting, together with their answers to the question “What would you do with Kaiser Bill?”
We are going to share the results of our researches and compilations with local residents (the various audiences which we have built up over the years) through an attractive and interesting publication, which will be printed at the beginning of 2014. There will also be a dramatic production based on the publication, which will be part of Headingley LitFest in March, 2014. The results of our research will, of course, also be made available for descendants and families, regimental archives, the RAMC and the British Red Cross.
The men and women we are researching went through the most terrible experiences, and they should not be forgotten.”
*The first convoy of wounded, most of whom had been involved in the fighting at Mons, arrived at Leeds Midland Station on 17 September 1914, to be welcomed by the Lord Mayor, Sir Edward Brotherton. Packets of tobacco and cigarettes were thrown at the men by crowds of well-wishers.
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