During WW1 the small town of Étaples, in the Pas de Calais region of northern France, became a vast Allied Military camp, and was also the site of a several successful field hospitals. Wounded soldiers, including my husband's grandfather, were taken there to be treated before being returned to the front, or en route back to England for more extensive treatment.
|British Army Camp at Étaples|
© IWM (Q 58089)
Due to a severe shortage of trained nurses, the field hospitals relied heavily on the work of the Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses, who, whilst unskilled, became the stalwarts of the service. During the four years of war 38,000 VADs worked in hospitals and served as ambulance drivers and cooks.
|Nurses in the Princess Victoria's Rest Club for nurses at Etaples.|
© IWM (Q 3170)
The writer, Vera Brittain spent eight months as a VAD nurse at Étaples between August 1917 and April 1918 and wrote of her experiences there in her memoir, Testament of Youth, and in her poem The Last Post, which she wrote at Étaples in 1917.
|Female Ambulance Drivers, with their vehicles at Étaples|
© IWM (Q 2441)
Étaples provided care for hundreds of patients as well as being a military training camp, supplies depot and a detention base for prisoners. At any one time there could have been upwards of 100,000 people there. On this one site there were many hospitals who catered for as many as 22,000 patients.
|A patient in traction on the officers' ward at No. 24 General Hospital at Etaples, France.|
© IWM (Q 8033)
In order to boost morale there was a royal visit to France by King George V and Queen Mary 3-14th July 1917 where they visited strategic sites including the hospitals at Étaples.
|Queen Mary of Teck talking to the wounded soldiers|
at the St John Ambulance Hospital at Etaples, 6th July 1917
© IWM (Q 2512)
The Étaples military camp was one of the largest of its kind and as such did not escape military bombardment. The camp was bombed by Germans in 1918 with many casualties and fatalities.
Étaples War Cemetery is now a six hectare site which houses the graves of 11,500 soldiers who died from wounds or disease sustained during this conflict.
My husband's grandfather was successfully treated at the hospital in Étaples and returned to the front where he continued to serve until the end of the war.
As always, I am indebted to the IWM and their WW1 collections for the opportunity to share these photographs.