We are greatly indebted to Hazel Basford for researching and preparing this account of a typical small Auxiliary Hospital converted during the war from a country house. Hazel's interest in Quex arose from her bellringing - there is a unique secular tower in the Park
housing 12 change ringing bells, built in 1819. Her qualifications include a M.Phil. (from the University of Kent at Canterbury) a BSc, and a Certificate in the Theory & Practice of Local History from the University of Kent.

Hazel Basford can be contacted by email at hazel@juroch.demon.co.uk or visit her website at: http://www.kentvad.org

Dr Geoffrey Miller


Quex Park is a small country house with surrounding park and farmland just to the south of Birchington in the Isle of Thanet which is in the extreme east of Kent, UK. The house was built in the early 19th century to replace a ruinous Tudor house which was demolished. In the 1880s the house was extended by the addition of wings and new domestic offices. In 1896 the first pavilion of the Powell Cotton Museum was erected to house the growing collection of African mammals and ethnographic artefacts collected on his expeditions by the owner of Quex, Major Percy Powell Cotton. The museum now has six galleries and its diaoramas and collections are unique and widely admired. Major Powell Cotton's son, Christopher, lives today at Quex and is Director of the Powell Cotton Museum.

Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1914 Major and Mrs Powell Cotton made their home available to the Red Cross for use as an auxiliary military hospital. The family, which included three young children, moved out of the house for the duration and lived in one of the staff cottages on the estate called 'The Bothy'. The hospital was opened with just four hours notice at midnight on 14th October 1914 when it received 27 wounded Belgians. The maximum capacity of the hospital was 45 patients and during the war it received a total of 1,241, including Australians, Belgians and Canadians as well as British troops. Only three lives were lost. Quex Park hospital was staffed by Kent Voluntary Aid Detachment 178 (Birchington) whose commandant was Mrs H B Powell Cotton. The Medical Officer was a local general practitioner, Dr H E Worthington. A Matron and a small staff of professional nurses were assisted by the volunteers of the detachment. One of the early patients, a Belgian called 'Camille' who was dumb, stayed on as an orderly throughout the war (possibly Camille Van Wyck of the 25me de Ligne admitted in November 1914 with a "thorax wound"). Another volunteer was an Australian writer, Mary Marlowe, who described some of her experiences at Quex in her autobiography.

The Thanet area had a further six VAD hospitals in Westgate, Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate and received many patients direct from overseas. Major Powell Cotton served as the area's Transport Officer, assisted by Mr D T Milne of Margate and members of local men's Voluntary Aid Detachments. Through the generosity of five local gentlemen six private cars were converted into ambulances, two of these were Major Powell Cotton's own vehicles.

In addition a further 29 private cars were available to carry 'sitting' cases. All expenses were borne by the owners of the vehicles. 160 convoys consisting of 4,069 'cot' cases and 4,769 'sitting' cases were conveyed from local train stations to the various hospitals. Major Powell Cotton advised the Commanding Officer, Dover Disembarkation Office, daily of the number of vacant beds in Thanet. The Major kept a diary and regularly recorded the time taken to transport all the patients to the local hospitals from the stations.

An extract from the entry for 5th July 1916 is a good example -

"Called 5.15 by Dover, convoy to be in 6.30, said impossible to get cars together, then said 7.30. Dress, work out details & phoned, arranged for cars to take men from Mansford & Thicket instead of selves. Off 6.55, train alongside Ramsgate platform 8.25 & last stretcher, 47, out 9.04. I round in train to Margate. M.O. had got back from Sheffield 4 & off again 7.05. Rush on, 3,000 over yester. Margate cleared their 40 cots in 29 mins. With RAMC men helping, took to Mansford & Thicket, saw carried in at latter. Back home 10.50."

The Wards: Quex Park Auxiliary Military Hospital comprised three wards each with 15 beds

'A' Ward was in the drawing room of the house, a ground floor Victorian extension to the original house which had been furnished in oriental style. The walls were decorated with panels of Kashmir walnut made specially for the room and these show clearly in a photograph of the ward in use.

Doctor, Sister and Nurse doing rounds in A Ward

B' and 'C' Wards were in museum galleries. Both rooms contained large dioramas - floor to ceiling glass cases containing the mammal displays - and a number of skulls and animal heads were hung from the walls. Being a patient in such surroundings must have been rather bizarre at times but on wet days Major Powell Cotton would pull back the screens which protected the dioramas and give lectures on his trips to Africa and Asia.

The hospital mess room was in the Winter Gardens, a large conservatory located between the house and the museum buildings, adorned with palm trees and other exotic plants.


Additional rooms in the house which were used -

The armoury - staff room

The boudoir - staff cloak room

The Pine room - operating theatre

The Crispe room - Isolation ward

The Roberts room - Matron's room

The Haine room - Food Controller's room

The billiard room - Quartermaster's stores

The Powell room - store for bandages etc

In summer some 12-14 beds were moved on to the verandas outside the drawing room, hall and billiard room. The gardens of the house were used for sports days in summer in which both patients and staff took part.


Local schoolchildren visited the hospital to perform concerts to entertain the patients and the proprietor of the 'Hippodrome' theatre in Margate opened his doors freely to wounded soldiers for matinee performances.

The Voluntary Aid Detachments in Kent were organised centrally by 'Kent VAD' which was a joint committee of the Kent Territorial Association, the Red Cross and the St John Ambulance Brigade. Headquarters were at the home of Dr Yolland, the Chief of Staff, at 53 Bromley Common, Bromley. Detachments were officially numbered by the War Office, women's detachments were given an even number and the men's detachments an odd number. 'Kent VAD 1914-1919' lists 32 men's and 95 women's detachments in the county. All detachments stipulated that members must obtain a First Aid Certificate from the ruling body of their association. The first detachments in Kent were formed as early as 1908 by the individual associations as part of the overall response to increasing fear of war. Creswick (p.19) says that their original purpose was to provide "a link between Base Hospitals and the Field ... in the event of invasion." By the outbreak of war there were 50 detachments in Kent and their role soon became apparent. The military medical provision could never have coped with the enormous number of casualties from the western front. There were just three military hospitals in Kent - at Chatham, Folkestone and Woolwich, the latter, providing 629 beds, was one of the largest in the whole country.

Although the War Office paid a daily allowance for each patient the larger parts of the equipment and running costs of the hospitals were met through local fundraising and support. People lent equipment as well as their houses. Major Powell Cotton put his own domestic staff at the service of the hospital.

The eighty or more VAD hospitals in Kent provided accommodation for 4,730 patients. In addition to the members of the VADs, local surgeons and physicians gave their advice and long hours of service together with other medical professionals, nurses and masseuses. Kent accommodated far more wounded soldiers than any other area of the country and by the end of the war the VAD hospitals had cared for 125,000 patients - 30,000 (31%) more than any other county in the England (Kent VAD 1914-1919).

No forward planning could have anticipated the awful slaughter and mayhem caused by trench warfare and the system to care for the wounded was only able to cope because it was underpinned by the voluntary effort of local communities. 'Kent VAD 1914-1919' concludes "the warmest thanks are due to the many friends who, though unable to render personal service, contributed by their gifts of equipment, stores and money to add so greatly to the comfort and happiness of the patients."


Thekla Bowker, The Story of British VAD Work in the Great War, Melrose, London n.d. (c.1918)

Paul Creswick et al, Kent's Care for the Wounded, published by Hodder & Stoughton, 1915

Mary Marlowe, That Fragile Hour: Mary Marlowe, an autobiography, published by Angus & Robertson, North Ryde, New South Wales, 1990

Kent Voluntary Aid Detachments, Report of Hospitals & Detachments 1914-1919, printed by S Bush & Son, Bromley, 1920