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8 May 2020

Pollok House: an auxiliary hospital during WWI

A black and white photograph of around 50 people standing on or around steps in front of a grand country house. It appears to be a fete or celebration of some kind as all are smartly dressed. Nurses are in uniform and men wear jackets and ties.
Patients and staff at the Pollok House auxiliary hospital
On the 75th anniversary of VE Day, we look to an earlier war and how one particular Trust property helped in the war effort.

In late 1914, as the Great War raged, hospitals in Britain were overwhelmed by the sheer number of wounded from fighting in France. Auxiliary hospitals, much like the Nightingale hospitals created during the COVID-19 pandemic, were set up in country houses around Britain, including Pollok House in the south of Glasgow.

Home to Sir John Stirling Maxwell, who would later become one of the founding members of the National Trust for Scotland, Pollok House was given over to the care of convalescing soldiers, taking the pressure off acute care hospitals. Most of the patients at Pollok House came from Stobhill Hospital in the north of the city, and it was open to all ranks.

In 1915 the auxiliary hospital had 16 beds, which were located in the current Music Room and Dining Room. Later photographs show many more patients being accommodated. To free up space for more patients, the Maxwell family moved out of their home.

The family then spent the rest of the war living at Barncluith House in Hamilton, the home of James Bishop. He was a lawyer and coal magnate, and had already taken in a family of Belgian refugees. Despite moving out, Sir John’s wife Lady Christian returned to Pollok House on some Sundays to play music for the men.

The whole of the Stirling Maxwell family was affected by the war. Lady Stirling Maxwell’s brother Aymer was killed by a shell burst on the Western Front in the first few weeks of the war. Sir John’s brother Archie, as recounted in a letter home early in the war, was shot four times and had been taken prisoner by the Germans who, he said, were treating him well. A telegram from Archie arrived a few weeks later, saying that he had escaped and made his way back to Britain. Even Sir John’s daughter Anne, a young girl during the war, bred white mice to be used by sailors on Royal Navy submarines, to warn them of any build-up of toxic gases.

Sir John had been involved with the British Red Cross from 1909 but with the outbreak of war, Lady Christian also increasingly participated in its work. As the war progressed, she joined ever more of its committees and eventually became president of the charity in Glasgow.

On the south wall of the garden, beneath the old bowling green, is a WWI commemoration plaque. It commemorates all 58 men from the tenants and staff of the Nether Pollok Estate who went to war; 12 men did not return.

Pollok House also has a letter from Winston Churchill to Sir John and a Red Cross certificate from Queen Alexandra to Lady Christian, acknowledging their help in the war effort.

After the war, Sir John Stirling Maxwell was instrumental in the setting up of the National Trust for Scotland, when discussions for its establishment took place inside Pollok’s cedar-panelled smoking room in 1931. Sir John became the Trust’s first Vice President, and he later served as the Trust’s President from 1944 until his death in 1956.

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