Jeeps and Jam with the American Army

Aug 16 2017

A group of American nurses in 1945

Hello and welcome to the August blog post… it’s been a bit rainy this month here in Netley, but that hasn’t stopped us getting on with work on our amazing project.

This month I am going to focus on telling you about the “American Period” at the hospital. We’d love to hear from the families of retired members of the US Military that have stories they might want to share about their time here at Netley.

Before we move onto the Americans, here’s a couple of quick updates

Conservation work

Despite the rain, our team of roofers have been doing an amazing job stripping back the tiles and getting ready for the new tiles to be put on the roof.  However, the most amazing development so far is how the ceiling is now looking in the chapel. Previously I have only been able to show you mock ups, now I can show you the real thing! You can now see the chapel coming to life. Here you can see the difference between how the ceiling was – and the amazing difference now. 


Raise the roof

You’ll remember last month I told you about our Raise the Roof campaign.  Here are some photos of some of the almost 900 slates that were sponsored. Over, £6,600 was raised through this fundraising initiative that goes towards the Friends of Royal Victoria Country fundraising target. Thanks to everybody who attended the events or made donations via Just Giving.

Raise the roof campaign

Jeeps and Jam with the American Army

Lots of people know that the US Military was based at the hospital. What’s great is  that we’ve had local residents contact us to tell us stories about how the “Yanks” used to give them sweets and jam etc.  I thought it would be interesting to share with you some of the information that our volunteers have researched about this period in the hospital’s history.  The American Army’s presence at the hospital will be explained through our external display panels that will be installed in the park – and I’ll share news about these panels in the next blog post.

One story often debated is about whether the US soldiers actually drove their jeeps along the wide corridors.  Some people state it was impossible, others are on record as saying they saw it happen, or their parents did. Unfortunately, we have no photographic evidence so we can’t say one way or the other!

So the team here have been doing some research and I can share what we know about the time our Allies from America spent at Netley.

Why were the Americans at Netley?

The hospital was handed over to the US Military on 15 January, 1944, to give the Americans a medical base on the south coast in the build up to the D-Day invasion of Normandy.  As General Hawley, Chief Surgeon of ETOUSA (European Theatre of Operations USA) said at the handover ceremony: “No finer symbol of our association together can be found than this hospital.  It is to the Royal Army Medical Corps what his home is to a man. And, in offering us the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Royal Army Medical Corps has offered one of its real treasures.”   However, not everybody shared his views on the hospital being a “treasure”!

Mrs Sara Marcum Kelley and Mrs Helen Pavlovsky Ramsey were US Navy Nurses stationed at Netley.  They said that “the grounds outside the buildings were beautiful, with wonderful surroundings and the view of the water,” but that the hospital itself was “a very cold monstrosity…. terribly cold and damp and certainly not conducive to treating patients.” 

Lt Francis (Skiba) Zwanski

This is 1st Lt. Francis (Skiba) Zwanski, taken between September 1944 and May 1945, when the hospital was classed as the 79th General Hospital

In fact, the conditions in the main hospital were such that the US Army 110th Station Hospital was set up in E-block – a single storey brick built building that had previously been used to treat venereal disease cases – and remained there until March 1945.  The main hospital housed firstly the US Army’s 29th General Hospital, then Base Hospital 12 for the US Navy and finally the US Army’s 79th General Hospital.

As Lt. Mildred Acord (another Navy Nurse) reported, “only one galley was serviceable and smelled dreadful… one anaesthetic machine could not be used at all, the second had many leaks and mechanical defects.  There were only two knife handles to be found, little suture material, very little alcohol, no distilled water, no sulphur compound for intravenous use and only thirteen units of plasma. Instruments were antiquated, mechanically defective and dull.  There was too little linen…” and so the list goes on!!  They seem to have got on alright though, treating over 1,500 patients before D-Day.

US Naval Base No 12 Hospital

This photograph is of the US Naval Base No 12 Hospital, with 97 Nurses and their chief Nurse, Lt Commander, Mary Martha Heck in 1944.

A group of American Nurses in 1945

Group of American Nurses in 1945

The D-Day invasion began on 6 June, 1944, and Netley received its first wounded on 9 June. At first, only a few patients were brought in but in the 24 hours from midnight on 11 June, they admitted over 400 patients from the ‘Utah’ and ‘Omaha’ beaches – two of the five codenamed landing beaches used during the invasion - all ‘freshly wounded and in need of definitive care.’

Some facts and figures from the American period are as follows:

  • around 35,538 patients were treated at the hospital, including 9,149 prisoners of war of six different nationalities. This number included a female French resistance sniper, along with German and Italian prisoners of war
  • the hospital admitted 400 patients on 11 June, 1944
  • 1,159 patients were treated during one day alone
  • over 483,581 items of bedding and supplies were laundered
  • 600 blackout screens had to put up and taken down on a daily basis
  • a quarter of 9,000 patients treated at US Navy Base Hospital 12 remained in the hospital longer than 36 hours (1.5 days)
  • one in every 12 D-Day casualties were treated at the hospital when it was US Navy Base Hospital 12
  • the hospital was transferred back to British control on 19 July, 1945

American and British handover of the hospital

This final photograph shows the American and British handover of the hospital.

If you are reading this in the USA, we’d love to find out if anyone treated or stationed here, or their relatives, are still alive. Perhaps you could share this blog to members of the navy or military that might be interested or have more information.   Please contact us on Facebook to share your memories!