Afghanistan veteran with medals and child
26 June 2014

Prunella Scales launches WW1 poetry book in aid of SSAFA

Actress Prunella Scales has helped launch a book that offers a new perspective on WWI through the poetry of the men and women at one of London’s Great War hospitals.


Prunella Scales launches  WW1 poetry book in aid of SSAFA

Actress Prunella Scales has helped launch a book that offers a new perspective on WWI through the poetry of the men and women at one of London’s Great War hospitals.

Great Ward Poetry tells the moving war-time story of the men recovering from horrific injures at the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, Wandsworth, and of the nurses who cared for them. Known as the 3rd London Hospital, it was one of nation’s largest, treating 52,000 casualties.

Prunella, along with local voice coach Clive Duncan, read a selection of the poems to guests at the launch.

Even back in 1914 it was recognised that a strong mind was vital to recovery and to getting through emotionally exhausting hospital work. Poetry was encouraged and published in the hospital’s newsletter, the Gazette, which had a circulation of over 5,000 and was read beyond the hospital.

Much of the WWI poetry that we know today was actually written after the conflict. Yet the selection of poetry and art in this book was written at a time when those taking part did not know who would be victorious, before the real horrors of war had been recognised. The launch, which was held at the historic building itself and attended by a variety of guests including the Deputy Mayor of Wandsworth, introduced the book’s very different perspective on events.

Some of the men had suffered gas attacks or lost limbs, others were undergoing pioneering plastic surgery to repair faces disfigured by explosions. Despite the physical state of their patients, the young nurses, often from well to do families, showed endless compassion.

Historian Simon McNeill-Ritchie has spent two years researching the hospital and its poetry “Today, the vital role the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building played in the war is hardly recognised. This hospital saved thousands of young lives during WWI. While the men were convalescing they had the opportunity to ponder on the war, their lives and their dreams for the future, sometimes with uncertainty, as they come to terms with serious disability.

“The nurses were often volunteers. Many of them had given up lives of relative luxury and comfort to do their bit for war. Despite this and the class differences between the nurses and their patients the poetry shows the compassion they felt for the men in their care and understanding of their often tragic circumstances.”

Simon McNeill-Ritchie spoke at the launch about the hospital’s history and its poetry followed by a short tour of the building, including the Main Hall where many soldiers were housed, and its art.

The book is raising money for national military charity SSAFA, the only military charity operating during WWI and still operating today, assisting 50,000 clients each year.