The Rest, Porthcawl during the First World War

In 1862, Dr James Lewis had opened The Rest for Invalids, Convalescents and Scrofulous Patients at Nottage, near Bridgend, Glamorganshire, which consisted of three cottages in his possession. The aim was that people who had been injured or had become ill would have somewhere to recover from their ailments, benefiting from the fresh air of the sea, diet and exercise. It was planned that The Rest would move to much larger premises. Dr Lewis had been in contact with Florence Nightingale about how such a building should take shape in 1871.

DXEL-5-1 004

A design was selected for construction near Porthcawl in 1874, but shortly afterwards it became clear that the funds required would not be raised, due to the collapse of the iron industry and the falling price of coal. A scaled down version was authorised in 1876 and completed in 1878. The rising popularity of The Rest throughout the 1880s meant the facilities were no longer large enough, and in 1893 a new extension catering for female patients was opened. A new wing for the hospital opened in 1897, then a further extension for children was opened in 1900, and finally another extension was opened in 1909, so that The Rest finally looked like it should have done in the 1870s. In 1913 The Rest Committee purchased the Dunraven Hotel in Southerndown, and it would deal with women and children.

The idea of The Rest accommodating convalescing soldiers and sailors had originally been proposed during the Boer War, although the War Office turned the offer down. Only a few months after The Rest at Southerndown had opened, the First World War began. Again, The Rest Committee offered to take wounded and invalided soldiers in to both Rests, but the Secretary of State for War already had over 20,000 beds at the disposal of the military and the war was only expected to last until Christmas, so again turned down the offer. Instead, the first victims of war to be admitted to The Rest in Porthcawl were Belgian Refugees.

Belgian Refugees

By the 5th of November 1914, 29 male refugees had been admitted to The Rest in Porthcawl. At the end of November, the Red Cross was requesting the use of the Southerndown Rest. This was agreed to, on condition that the matron was always in control.

In January of 1915, with the war lasting longer than was originally expected, the local military authorities requested the billeting of over 180 recruits of the 1st Welsh Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, and the Rest Committee agreed to it. After moving to the Southerndown Rest, the Belgian Refugees left at the beginning of March 1915, with the exception of two who stayed on as staff members.

At the end of 1915, the St John Ambulance Association applied for the use of The Rest in Porthcawl as an Auxiliary War Hospital. The Rest was placed at their disposal until the end of the war, although the Association was expected to pay at least part of the cost of maintaining the facilities. This meant that it was not used for civilian patients during this time, and the soldiers and sailors did not pay for a ticket as the civilians had done.

Soldiers 1917

In 1916, more beds were provided and a field hospital in the grounds of The Rest in Porthcawl was considered, although it was not constructed. By the end of the war in November of 1918 nearly 2500 British, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian casualties had received treatment at the two Rests, of which the Southerndown continued to receive civilian patients.

In 1919 both Rests returned to receiving civilian patients, as had been the case before the war. The Rest at Southerndown was sold after the Second World War, while The Rest at Porthcawl closed at the end of 2013.

Andrew Booth, Relief Records Assistant

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