A Well Dressing to Remember

On a blazing hot day on Thursday 12th June 2014, the annual blessing of the well dressing of Newholme hospital in Bakewell took place.  There was a good turnout of the hospital’s League of Friends, who raise funds for things that enhance quality of life for the patients, including TVs, newspapers, Christmas decorations, amongst other essential work. Past and current patients of the hospital, which specialises in rehabilitation for the elderly, and older people’s mental health services.

The finished well dressing, to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War, was admired in the gardens of Stanton Day hospital, which is part of the Newholme Hospital. But where’s the well?

Occupational Therapist Paul Barras explained: “Stanton Day hospital was built on the site of the original well for Newholme Hospital, so if you’re wondering, it’s right here!”

Paul let a short service of thanks, with prayers and hymns. I read a poem I’d written, compiling thoughts and memories about well dressing from patients and staff. For the past year, I’ve been working as a with patients at the hospital, delivering creative writing and reminiscence workshops, in a collaboration between the NHS and Derbyshire County Council, and I felt very proud to be taking part in the well dressing ceremony.

Then we were treated to a short talk on the role Newholme Hospital played in the First World War, as a VAD hospital (Voluntary Aid Detachment), treating wounded soldiers throughout the war, especially those from the local regiment, the Sherwood Foresters. The Newholme Hospital has a long history, starting life in 1841 as the Bakewell Workhouse.

The plaque commemorating Newholme’s use as an auxiliary hospital says 1914-1919. Why 1919, when Armistice Day famously fell on the 11th November 1918? Paul explained: it’s because injured soldiers were still being treated at the hospitals well into 1919, and 40,000 British troops remained in active service due to the Russian Revolution, fighting against the Bolsheviks.

The most moving moment of the afternoon was thanks to hospital volunteer, Barry, who brought in a battered bugle, used by his grandad, who fought on the Western Front. A young NHS employee who plays the bugle in a military band volunteered to play the Last Post, which sounded very poignant. Barry explained that his grandad used to play the Last Post every Armistice Day in his local park.

Tomorrow will be my final creative writing session at Newholme Hospital until the autumn. We’re going to be looking at the poetry of World War One poet Wilfred Owen and we will be writing our own poems to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. We’ve been lucky enough to secure Arts Council funding for anthology of poems written at the hospital, so look out for it next month.

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