Polkemmet Hospital

Polkemmet Hospital

Polkemmet House near Whitburn operated as an auxiliary Red Cross Hospital from 1915 to 1919. The owner of Polkemmet, Sir Gawaine Baillie, offered the use of the house immediately on the outbreak of war. However, he was killed in September 1914. His mother, Lady Baillie, took on the work of converting the house and acted as commandant throughout its existence.

The equipping of the house seems extraordinarily amateurish to modern eyes. Lady Baillie appealed to local people to take in the hospital laundry. When no one volunteered, she asked for a 2d donation per week from everybody in Whitburn in order to send the washing to a laundry. However, she gave generously herself towards the costs of the hospital, spending (in modern values) tens of thousands of pounds on it.

There were hundreds of Auxiliary Red Cross hospitals throughout Britain. They operated as convalescent homes for wounded soldiers.  Once they no longer needed intensive nursing, they were moved to these hospitals, often in stately homes, and spent some weeks there, building up their strength again and completing their recovery, before being sent back to the front - or discharged as unfit. The hospitals were staffed by a small number of registered nurses, and lots of Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses (VADs) - women with some first aid training.

The book, 'Red Cross Work in the East of Scotland', published in 1918, describes each of the Auxiliary Red Cross Hospitals in that part of Scotland. A copy can be consulted in the West Lothian Local History Library.  For more information on Polkemmet, see the PDF below.

©West Lothian Local History Library

For more information on any aspect of West Lothian and the First World War, contact localhistory@westlothian.gov.uk.






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Hospital ward
The drawing room at Polkemmet in use as a hospital ward (West Lothian Local History Library)
Paragraph from a book
Extract from 'Red Cross Work in the East of Scotland' (T. & A. Constable, 1918)
Group of nurses and patients
Nurses and patients at Polkemmet Auxiliary Red Cross Hospital. Reproduced from the book, 'Red Cross Work in the East of Scotland (T. & A. Constable,1918)