Southam exhibition commemorates opening of town’s VAD hospital in First World War

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Memories of a soldier undergoing treatment in the First World War are being shared in an exhibition in Southam.

Caring For The Wounded, being held by Southam Heritage in the basement of Vivian House in Market Hill on Tuesday and Saturdays from 10am to noon until the end of April, commemorates the opening of the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Hospital in the town 100 years ago.

It includes drawings by Jonathon Lewendon, an accomplished artist who sent his wife pictures of hospital tents when he was being treated in Marseille.

The pictures are now in the possession of his granddaughter Gill Phillips from Long Itchington who has lent them to the heritage collection.

Sgt Lewendon, who served in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment, etched in details of tent life – on one he shows ‘my bed’ and on another shows food cooked by a fire.

Exhibition Curator Val Brodie said: “They are a glimpse of how the sick and wounded were living on a daily basis.

Val Brodie curator admires the technique of the drawings with Gill Phillips, granddaughter of the soldier/artist.

Val Brodie curator admires the technique of the drawings with Gill Phillips, granddaughter of the soldier/artist.

“They are a very personal and a direct link to an ill and suffering soldier who sat and drew his surroundings.

“Jonathon was showing his wife how he was surviving in tents in the forest’. “Especially for Gill, they a moving reminder of what her grandfather went through.

“At Southam Heritage we are very grateful to Gill for allowing us to share these precious, expressive and rare objects with the wider public.”

The exhibition begins with a display of enlarged photographs, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, showing the horrendous journeys of the badly wounded by horse ambulance, train and boat from the front back to ‘Blighty’.

After a long and painful journey the injured men would likely would have ended up in a VAD Hospital.

The one in Southam opened in April 1917 and was staffed by local Red Cross VAD volunteers working with two professional nurses.

Val, who has carried out research regarding the hospital, said: ‘It must have been bliss to have clean clothes with no bugs, fresh white sheets and good hot food.”

The rare photographs of the hospital come from Southam Heritage’s Alan Griffin Collection and additional ones have been donated recently by people who are descendants of the VAD staff.

Southam Heritage is asking anyone who had a relative who served in First World War and has items such as postcards, medals or other precious family memorabilia – to bring them along to the exhibition.

This will allow the group to to understand the broader effect the war had on the town and its residents and is an opportunity to remember and honour the memory of the fallen and all who served.

Sgt Lewendon served throughout the war in Italy but suffered disease and illness because he was profoundly allergic to the dye used in khaki uniform cloth.

The Southam Heritage Collection is a charity dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of the town and its surrounding villages.

The collection receives no on-going support from any outside body and is solely dependent on donations, subscriptions and support from the public and businesses to cover its running costs.

For more information visit www.southamheritage.org