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A Hospital Romance

Posted in This months highlight on 02 Feb 2024

This month’s highlight looks at the autograph book of signatures (ref. D/EX2912/1) collected by Nurse Alice Shorter from St Luke’s Auxiliary Hospital, Reading, 1915-1917.

After the outbreak of the First World War, provisions had to be made for the treatment and convalescence of wounded soldiers. The Berkshire Voluntary Aid Detachment (34th) were granted use of Reading St Luke’s church hall rent free to set up Reading’s second Red Cross Hospital. This opened in late November 1914 after alterations had been made to the hall and relevant equipment had been sourced.

Alice Shorter was the daughter of master tailor Charles Shorter and his wife Ellen. She joined the VADs aged 25 and started work at St Luke’s Auxiliary Hospital in October 1915. During her time there, she kept an autograph book and many patients recorded messages in it. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the patients treated at St Luke’s.

messages on pages in an album from Private Dale and Lance Corporal Bell, c.1915 ref. D/EX2912/1

The image above shows messages from Private Dale of the 1/9th Manchester Regiment and Lance Corporal Bell from the 2nd Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire. Their entries contain additional information about where they had served and been wounded: Lance Corporal Bell had been wounded at Ypres whilst Private Dale had been in Egypt, yet both ended up in same Berkshire convalescent home.

Each patient brought their own style and skills to their messages from sketches, a musical pun, and poems as can be seen in the image below.

Sketch drawing of a vase with flowers and musical notes from page in an album c. 1915 ref. D/EX2912/1

There is also an entry in Welsh just signed by ‘Ernie’ as can be seen in the image below.

Welsh writing from a page in an album c.1915 ref/ D/EX2912/1

This was by Corporal Ernest Hughes. He was from a village in Cardiganshire (now Ceredigion) and joined the Royal Sussex Regiment. As part of the D company 11th Battalion of the Sussex Regiment, he was sent to France in March 1916 and was stationed at Cuinchy. In June 1916, Corporal Hughes was wounded by a mine laid by German tunnellers and was sent back to England. He eventually came to St Luke’s for rehabilitation where he met Nurse Shorter.

A romance blossomed between the pair, and they were married on 8 December 1917 at Reading St Laurence, bringing an end to Alice’s time as a VAD nurse. A photograph of the pair on their wedding day can be seen below (ref. D/EX1912/7). Their descendants would care for this autograph book and be responsible for a copy of it coming to the archive. We received this archive in digital format and it provides a wonderful record which can be viewed onsite via our digital archive with prior booking. Please see our Planning a Visit page for details.

A man (Corporal Ernest Hughes) and a woman (Alice Shorter) stand on their wedding day 1917 ref/ D/EX2912/7