Cambridgeshire

World War One autograph book donated to Cambridge hospital

WWI autograph book Image copyright CUH Addenbrooke's Hospital
Image caption The autograph book includes sketches, poems and music scores

An autograph book signed by more than 100 World War One servicemen while they were patients in Cambridge has been donated to a hospital archive.

The autographs were collected by Sister Helen Strang, who worked at the 1st Eastern General Hospital.

It was left to Sister Strang's housekeeper, whose niece has given it to the Addenbrooke's Hospital Archive.

Archivist Hilary Ritchie said she hopes to have the book on display in the hospital by October.

Image copyright CUH Addenbrooke's Hospital
Image caption When the hospital was first set up it focused on getting recruits fit enough to serve. By 1916, it was treating injured soldiers from the front, attended by staff from Addenbrooke's

Miss Ritchie is now trying to trace the histories of the men who signed the book, which dates from 1916 to 1919.

She said: "We don't have any records - or can't find any records - for the patients of the 1st Eastern.

"We've contacted the Imperial War Museum, the National Archives and Army Medical Records but been told nothing survived.

"We do know there are several Australians, some Canadians and one Argentinean with a Welsh surname, because many of them gave their home addresses."

Image copyright CUH Addenbrooke's Hospital
Image caption It includes the ditty, "Falling in love is healthy, So a doctor wise asserts, But love is like an aeroplane, It's falling out that hurts."

Miss Ritchie first heard about the book, which has not been valued, in February, when the housekeeper's family got in touch.

Sister Strang was a Scot whose family moved to a farm at Cardington, Bedfordshire, in the late 1890s.

She returned to Scotland after her marriage and left the book to her housekeeper.

Image copyright CUH Addenbrooke's Hospital
Image caption Little is known about Sister Strang's medical training before the war. She was in her mid-30s by the time war broke out and may have started as a Red Cross volunteer

The housekeeper's niece and her husband, Maureen and Capt John Watson from Dundee, inherited it and it was Capt Watson who contacted Addenbrooke's to find out more.

Miss Richie said Capt Watson was also helping with her research.

"He's found that one of the autographs was from a doctor from Addenbrooke's, but the majority of the autographs were definitely from patients," she said.

The 1st Eastern General Hospital was on the site of what is now Cambridge University Library.

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