From Field to District Hospital Roaming D-Day archives

In May and June 2019, ArtCare artists Stephanie and David took our historic archives onto the wards of Salisbury District Hospital. Items in the boxes comprised of photographs, plans, objects and documents. During the sessions, patients, staff and visitors explored the origins of the hospital (as a US Field Hospital built in 1942) and discussed stories, lived memories and experiences that were stimulated by their access to these historic items.

Items from the roaming memory archive
The conversations contained common themes; memories of wartime experiences, personal stories and reminiscence, stories about the hospital site and working there. The project revealed a deeply held connection between people and their hospital through generations of local families.

Read more about how Salisbury District Hospital was set up in 1942 as a US field hospital that treated more than 10,000 casualties from the D-Day landings http://salisburyhealthcarehistory.uk/odstocks-beginnings-american-field-hospital/

New people suddenly arrived in Salisbury

I was here before Odstock Hospital. I remember the GIs, they had money. We had chickens. At one point my husband was driving an ambulance foe the Yanks. He even went as far as Swindon

I was a landgirl I loved it, anything to keep me outside… I remember them being around (the Americans),they were exciting. I went on the buses as a conductor too.

I remember the Americans were all over the steps, the terraces in Tisbury and of course all the children were buzzing around and they gave us chocolate, we’d never seen the like before. My mother was furious, Americans were still strangers.

Scratched grafitti in the brickwork of the old guardhouse

We were used to the Americans being around. But I really remember when they went. All of a sudden, the town would be silent,it was eerie. You had no notice, they just went.

They would never have thought in a million years that they would be remembered would they? And they should be. Look at those smiling faces. How extraordinary to see these images, to think of these men.

This project confirmed for me that archive material is a wonderful resource that needs to be shared rather than gather dust. Tangible objects, images and words enable patients to access emotion and memories they have forgotten they had.

Recalling the old buildings

My father helped build this place he helped take the loads off the trains and brought them up here on a lorry, hauling stuff he was, bless him. He was a WW1 veteran and he had 3 good references but that was all he could get to do. He was a qualified man and it wasn’t much money.

I remember the old nissen huts up here, the wind whipped in, blimey the most exposed hill in Salisbury! I was in hospital in bed next to an RAF chap and I bumped into him a few years later and blow me I ended up marrying his sister!

Inside the nissen huts, heated by a stove

I worked in the War Department, typing and copying at Wilton House.. a nissen hut at Wilton House but it felt very grand going through the gates. We had a pot bellied stove. It was not glamorous though and postwar in the’50’s was dull, drab, no wonder we had the 1960’s…

The D-Day material provided an immediate way in for those who engaged with it, unlocking both local knowledge and experience with wider historical context. When we share such material we make the ordinary and seemingly unimportant have a moment to shine with significance. This makes people feel valued and appreciated.

Delicious & different foods

Soldiers queuing at the canteen described on the photo as 'Gourmet supper!'

I remember a big bowl of doughnuts, the Americans they had this big bowl, my first doughnut.

They had peanut butter and put jam on everything and custard, custard on their dinner!

We would go dancing at The Assembly Rooms above what is now Waterstones,or the Medina Café at the cheese market where the library is now.

On the day rationing ended in 1954 my boss gave me £1 and the afternoon off to go and eat sweets. He was so kind.

I was working in a store in London on D-Day.We heard all this commotion and rumbling as tanks and vehicles came along the street.We all dashed out and gave out cups of tea and cigarettes to the soldiers.My friend slipped her address into one of those packets.Well of course after the war she married the soldier who got that packet!

The artists were shadowed by Tamsin who was learning about our archives and how our artists worked with patients on busy hospital wards. She described their work and the benefit felt by those who participated:

They are incredibly skilled at engaging people when and where they are most vulnerable - ill in a hospital bed. I heard powerfully moving conversations stimulated by the archive material that had a beneficial effect beyond being a history lesson.
I witnessed rather depressed and disengaged people open up like flower to become animated and energised through these conversations.

Memories stretched across times and generations

I used to deliver to the Common Cold Unit…I’d arrive at 8 in the morning and Betty at the gate bungalow would have the kettle on… we used to laugh if we had a sneeze after going there…

Common Cold Unit was set up on the site of the US hospital at Harnham, used for blood transfusions during WW2

Read more about the Common Cold Hospital http://salisburyhealthcarehistory.uk/harvard-hospital-common-cold-unit/

Staff recalled their connections

I remember when I started working here in 1982 the Burns Unit was on the edge of the site. The helicopter landing pad was next to it and the landing site was marked out with a few planks in a cross shape. I can remember, at the main entrance from the road, there were fuel tanks on the left hand side.

The nursing staff accommodation, Nadder and Ebble where I lived, was one of those marked 52 on the military map.

I remember I took photos of the Nissan huts when I first started, as it was worth recording. I also remember the Chief Exec fought hard to keep the Burns Unit as a special unit before it became a ward.

Covered walkways that became main corridors

I started working here in 1987 and my work included spinal x-ray and isolation wards. I remember the corridors between general wards were open to the outside with just a roof on them.

The project revealed a deeply held connection between people and their hospital through generations of local families.

These memories were scribed onto specially commissioned postcards that commemorated the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. From the 7 days of sessions over 60 postcards were collected along with 26 further extended tales. ArtCare took part in the 2019 National Armed Forces Day celebrations in Salisbury and we took our archive boxes and displayed them alongside the collected stories.

National Armed Forces Day 2019 in Salisbury

For more details about the project, our archives and roaming history projects go to our website www.salisburyhealthcarehistory.uk

Created By
Lesley Self


ArtCare, Salisbury District Hospital