Friday 26 February 2016

York County Hospital and World War One

York County Hospital was established in 1740 and until 1977, when the current hospital opened, was the main hospital in York. The hospital was originally run as a charity, supported by wealthy subscribers. It continued to be run in this way right up to the 20th century when the income from subscriptions and investments was supplemented by patient fees and insurance schemes.  It joined the NHS in 1948 and treated its last patients in 1980. The original County Hospital buildings are still standing and can be seen just off Monkgate.

In 1914, when World War One broke out, the hospital allocated 50 beds for military patients. By the end of that year it had treated 102 sick and wounded soldiers. The percentage of military patients treated at the hospital increased throughout the war and, to accommodate them, two additional hutted wards were built at the back of the main hospital building. 

Photograph of sick and wounded soldiers,
Annual Report 1916 (BIA YCH 1/2/9)

Analysis of military cases
Annual Report 1916 (BIA YCH 1/2/9)
The hospital treated both medical and surgical patients. During 1916, amongst other medical cases, staff dealt with 7 cases of gas poisoning and 13 cases of trench fever. This extract of the surgical treatments carried out on military patients includes numerous bayonet, bullet and shrapnel wounds, as well as several shell shock patients.

During the First World War, around 10% of British casualties were classified as suffering from shell-shock. At the start of the conflict, it was believed that shell-shock was caused by physical head injuries resulting from bombardment. In 1915, a paper in the medical journal The Lancet put forward an alternative, psychological, explanation for the disorder noting that many soldiers that were suffering the symptoms of shell-shock had not received a head injury. By 1917, the British military authorities tried to limit the use of the diagnosis and continuing debates over causes and treatments created further controversy. By World War Two, to diagnose shell-shock was forbidden.   

List of gifts donated for wounded soldiers
Annual Report 1916 (BIA YCH 1/2/9)
Photograph of the night staff, 1914 (BIA YCH 1/6)
The coming of war meant that the County Hospital faced huge financial strain. With an existing debt of £3,800 and the price of commodities rising, the hospital’s 1916 annual report noted an increased expenditure of 24%. A special appeal in 1915-16 sought to raise funds and the generosity of hospital supporters is documented in the lists of gifts donated to the military patients. An extract of this list is included above, showing a range of the gifts given: from eggs, tobacco and newspapers to concert tickets, gramophone records and car rides.

By May 1919, the County Hospital had treated over 2000 military patients. As the hospital slowly returned to its peace-time operations, the wards built for the soldiers were converted into new treatment spaces. One space formed an orthopaedic department for discharged servicemen and other patients who required ongoing therapy. The continuing treatment of veterans was something at the forefront of the minds of those running the hospital, succinctly displayed in this quite from their annual report (BIA YCH 1/2/9):

"It is, of course, essential that those who have been disabled or broken in health in the service of the Country should receive the best possible treatment, and it seems obvious that such treatment is not most readily available at the general hospitals...Pending the satisfactory arrangement of conditions, the Committee, with the complete agreement of the Medical Staff have decided that the full resources of the Hospital shall be placed at the disposal of all discharged men who are recommended for treatment."

Lydia Dean
Archives Assistant

This blog is in part based on a forthcoming exhibition at York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.



Ben Shephard 'Pitiless psychology’: the role of prevention in British military psychiatry in the Second World War' in History of Psychiatry October 1999 10: 491-524

Edgar Jones, Ph.D., D.Phil. Nicola T. Fear, D.Phil. Simon Wessely, M.D. 'Shell Shock and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A Historical Review' in Am J Psychiatry 2007; 164:1641–1645

K.A. Webb From County Hospital to NHS Trust, The History and Archives of NHS hospitals, services and management in York 1740-2000 (Vol 1: History) Borthwick Texts and Calendars 27, UoY 2002


  1. Interesting blog and glad to know about the York country hospital.It is a too old hospital and provided good service in the life span of the hospital. I think this hospital may be played a vital role in the services in the world war.

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