Higher education postcard: Eastern General Hospital, Trinity Cambridge

This week’s card from Hugh Jones’ postbag takes us to 1914, grim days, and repurposed buildings

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

Greetings from Cambridge, and this time somewhat melancholy greetings.

We’ve visited Trinity College Cambridge before on our journey, but this time we’re seeing a brief aspect of its history, shared with one or two other UK universities.

In 1914 Europe went to war. And because European countries had colonised many other parts of the world, the war spread and was known at first as the Great War, and then World War One, when we as a species proved ourselves stupid enough to need to start numbering them.

The war was no surprise to governments in Europe: great power rivalry was fierce; war as a means of settling disputes was considered normal by governing classes; and a largely monarchic system meant that checks from more democratic forces were insufficient. And so there had been planning about what to do, including, in Britain, how to deal with casualties in what was known would be a different scale and type of warfare compared to the Napoleonic conflicts of 100 years previously.

A number of sites had been identified before the war as Territorial Force General Hospitals – this included the University of Birmingham in its new campus at Edgbaston, and the 1st Eastern Hospital in Cambridge, which had been established in principle in 1908, to be made reality in the event of mobilisation for war.

The hospital shared a matron with Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, and was headquartered at Trinity College. It was initially sited within a school (Leys School) and the college itself (when the photograph on the postcard was taken), but after term started, tents and prefab buildings were erected on college land to enable its growth and operation (the land was subsequently used to house the new Cambridge University Library).

The hospital was reckoned to have admitted 62,664 patients between August 1914 and June 1918. Only 437 died – tribute to the care in the hospital but also, perhaps, to the fact that the more seriously wounded or ill wouldn’t have made it as far as Cambridge.

There’s plenty of images available of the hospital. Here’s a couple of postcards; here’s a view via the Gonville and Caius college website; and here’s a link to details of some of the people who served at the hospital.

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