The 7th July 2016 marked the centenary Queen Mary’s Workshop on the East Lawn in the Royal Pavilion Garden. During the years 1916 to 1920, the Royal Pavilion was transformed into the Pavilion Military Hospital for Limbless soldiers, which included a workshop to provide classes for amputees to learn new skills and prepare for work in civilian life.
Over the workshop ran the motto ‘Hope Welcomes All Who Enter Here’, which is said to have been chosen by Queen Mary herself. It was a literary reference to the words over the gate to Hell in Dante’s L’Inferno, ‘Abandon Hope All Who Enter Here.’ These men had already experienced the Hell of trench warfare and now were encouraged to look towards the future with hope.
Before the First World War, disabled veterans depended on the goodwill of charities, but with increasing numbers of amputees returning from the battlefields the government took action to prepare the men for civilian life. The workshop was the first step to help amputees find jobs if they were no longer able to return to their previous work. Here they could retrain in a number of trades, such as typing, carpentry, motor mechanics, shoe repair and cinema projection operating.
There is rarely a mention of Queen Mary’s workshop without reference to its Superintendent, Mr A G Baker. He stated that his aim was to give ‘a higher form of education than they had previously had’ as many soldiers will have left school by the age of 12 and only been trained for manual work.
Although only in his forties, Mr Baker had retired from business at the beginning of the war to offer his skills to the war effort. He is described as bringing ‘kindness, tact and devotion’ to his work, and as being highly respected by all.
Each new patient would be visited by Mr Baker soon after their arrival and assessed as to whether he would be able to continue his previous job in civilian life. If he needed to be retrained, he would then be encouraged to sign up for 18 to 22 hours of classes a week to fit around his medical treatment.
As well as preparing the men for work, classes also kept the men occupied during long periods of treatment at the hospital. Mr Baker was concerned that the men could become institutionalised and writes: ‘Card playing is the most formidable hindrance; once a man has got into a group of gamblers, he can only be got out of it by fatherly kindness and firmness.’ (Reveille No 1 August 1918)
In addition, a Red Cross report refers to the work done at Brighton as and comments that classes also helped the men to exercise their limbs and speed up healing (The Development in England of a State System for the Care of the Disabled Soldier John Culbert Faries, PhD). Indeed, it is referred to as an early form of occupational therapy.
The workshop opened without ceremony, so that classes could start as soon as possible and the formal opening by Lady Falmouth took place a month later on 9th August 1916. Queen Mary herself did not visit for two more years, but when she did, her visit was filmed by British Pathe News. This can be viewed at the exhibition Pavilion Blues: Disability & Identity.
When the men returned to civilian life, further formal training was offered at technical colleges in addition to the war pension. However, the reality of the post war years meant that jobs were scarce and only about 90% of amputees were able to find work in the early days after the war. They formed Limbless Associations to offer each other support, which eventually combined to create the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association (BLESMA).
The efforts of Mr Baker and his staff were not forgotten as their work here at the Pavilion Military Hospital, as well as at Queen Mary’s, Roehampton, became the model for the Ministry of Pensions’ training scheme for veterans.
There is a postscript to this story as the workshop was moved to Hollingbury Golf Course where it served as the clubhouse for many years until it was finally demolished.
Jo Palache, Oral History and Life History Researcher
More about the Pavilion Military Hospital can be learnt in the exhibition Pavilion Blues: Disability & Identity and The Royal Pavilion as a Hospital for Limbless Soldiers. All editions of The Pavilion “Blues” magazine are available to be downloaded from the Royal Pavilion & Museums Image Store, free of charge.