Saturday 12 November 2022

"Wobblin' Tommies" Pt.1 #Remembrance #RoyalVictoriaMilitaryHospital & #TelegraphWoods #NormandyLandings #Canadians #SigInt


"Remembrance is not for me,

I know better,

They did not die for me,

I know better,

I would not die for thee,

I know better,

What did they die for?

I know no better."


 This is the sight that rises to greet you as you approach, what remains of, the Royal Victoria Military Hospital from the north (Netley Station). What you see is the copper domed tower of the chapel that used to provide the centrepiece for the huge hospital building, quote; "
After the Crimean war Queen Victoria ordered a military hospital to be built in the UK. Its purpose was to train army nurses and doctors and to treat military patients to ensure their swift return to duty. Netley was chosen as the site because it was near to Southampton so that hospital ships from around the British Empire could safely dock and disembark patients."

In-fact a railway was built to extend the line from Southampton to the site but that is no longer in existence, quote; " The railway link, which was a branch line from Netley station, was built some nine years before the Jetty was built, and linked Netley Hospital with the main line and a connection to Southampton Central Station. Ambulance trains made the transfer of patients much easier from Southampton to Netley Hospital. This railway enabled a steam train to be driven to the site after which the wheels were removed and for the next seven years it was used to drive giant cement mixers, whilst the building was being constructed. When finished the wheels were replaced and the train went back to Crewe. Much of the stone and materials for the construction also came by rail.

The jetty was built some two years after completion of the building and turned out to be a bit of a white elephant. The hospital ships which were to dock there would run aground, due mainly to the fact that it was not long enough to reach deep water. As a result the hospital ships went on to Southampton where the patients were transferred to hospital trains. The original little branch line was extended, and sidings added to allow the patients to be transferred directly to the wards. As for the jetty it was left for the patients to enjoy and use for their leisure."


The Chapel is a most striking structure and a great example of Victorian architecture, one can only imagine how imposing (and not a little terrifying esp. for those about to become patients), the original building must have been. 

 All was never as it appeared at the Royal Victoria though its hidden design features mirroring the darker purpose of this (what was ostensibly a), "place of healing", quote; "As can be seen from the photograph of Royal Victoria Hospital Netley above it looked magnificent and was considered to be the largest military hospital in the world at the time. Though the view from inside was different. Patients and staff had a view of the coal bunkers and other out houses because the wards faced North east. The architect did not allow for isolation units nor an adequate provision of fresh air. This was later addressed in later military hospitals such as the Cambridge Military Hospital. Those who worked in the administration block did however enjoy a stunning view across the Southampton Water.":

 The hospital wasn't designed as a place of rest, recuperation and re-integration into the wider society for the servicemen it treated rather it was a "pit-stop", a place of "make-do-and-mend" repairs which were to enable its patients to return to combat (or if not combat then to perform some other useful task for the U.K's military).

 I find it instructive in this regard that by the time of the First World War (the Great War), even children's games had been re-absorbed/subsumed by the (immediately post), Industrial Revolution's military machine. When one considers the deadly nature of the mine (and artillery esp. as used against infantry), warfare that developed in the 20C the notion that "Hopscotch" was included in military training takes on a darkly humorous significance...

 Such is also an example of how "Cowed Britannia" has, so far, been unable to escape the repercussions of her occupation by the Romans (for she became both martial and imperial -although the two do go hand-in-glove-, and many would also say "fascist", as a result), ..


Also see:

Interestingly, quote; "Florence Nightingale had wanted to help design the hospital but plans had already been drawn and construction started before her return from the Crimean War*. She did try to appeal to Lord Panmure and then Lord Palmerston the Prime Minister to have the plans of Netley Hospital altered but this would have cost an additional £70,000 and building work had already started. She was however able to help write up military nursing regulations." See

*The Crimean War 1853-1856.

Quote; " In ‘Notes on Hospitals’, Nightingale carried out a thorough examination of the design of existing hospitals, identifying their defects and proposing a new system of hospital design. Her specifications were determined by the contemporary belief in ‘miasmatic theory’, namely the damaging inhalation of gases derived from decomposed organic matter. At the time, miasmas were generally believed to be the cause of the infectious diseases threatening Europe. The new system of hospital design was specifically developed for ventilation, allowing the miasma to disperse. To achieve this, the principal premise of hospital construction was to place the sick in independent wards, also named pavilions. A pavilion was a rectangular space with a considerable number of windows to provide cross-ventilation of fresh air and light, as well as enabling supervision by the minimum number of nurses.":

Apparently Nightingale was scathing saying, quote: "It seems to me that at Netley all consideration of what would best tend to the comfort and recovery of the patients has been sacrificed to the vanity of the architect, whose sole object has been to make a building which should cut a dash when looked at from Southampton River. Pray stop all work."*[8]2

Furthermore, quote; 

"The building was enormous, grand, and visually attractive, but was neither convenient nor practical. Corridors were on the sea-facing front of the building, leaving the wards facing the inner courtyard with little light and air. Ventilation in general was poor, with unpleasant smells lingering around the vast building. In 1867, journalist Matthew Wallingford paid a visit to the hospital to write a report for the local parish newsletter:

It was a ghastly display of deception to say the least. To the naked eye it is a triumph of modern architecture, but should you inherit the misfortune to be sectioned there, one would not think of the place as so. It is not so much as the greatest military hospital in the world as much as it is a rather impractical waste of government finance.*[19]

Early patients arriving from campaigns taking place all over the world during the expansion of the British Empire had an uncomfortable journey to the hospital, either having to be transferred to a shallow-draft boat[13] if landing at the pier, or transported from Netley station to the hospital if arriving by rail.[20]

The hospital was particularly busy during the Second Boer War (1899–1902) which, when the project was further encouraged by Queen Victoria,[15] provided the impetus for extending the railway line. The extension terminated at a station behind the hospital but was awkward to operate, having gradients which were steep for the locomotives of the time.[21] Some trains needed a locomotive at each end to travel that ¾ of a mile.[22]

The railway and pier were also used for Queen Victoria's frequent visits to the hospital; she often arrived at the pier having been conveyed in the Royal Yacht from her residence on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House. She awarded three Victoria Crosses to patients at the hospital.[23] The Pier's lack of access to deep water meant it ceased to be used for patient transfer after 1901.[24]"

*Italics mime.

 It must be said that the stench of hypocrisy permeates the site to this day for we seem unable, as a culture (both national and international), to admit that the true purpose of, not only this institution, but all military hospitals of the time (and later), was not to ameliorate the suffering of wounded service personnel but to increase it by making them (apparently -to the blinkered eyes of exploitative imperialism-), fit to return to their "duties".

Quote; "At the rear of the site, D Block (Victoria House) and E Block (Albert House) formed the psychiatric hospital. D Block was opened in 1870 as the army's first purpose-built military asylum.*" Wiki.

*Italics mine.

War may continue just so long as its true face remains hidden..

In 1963 there was a major fire at the hospital, much of which remained was then demolished in 1966 although, quote: "Shortly before its demolition, Jonathan Miller filmed his 1966 version of Alice in Wonderland in the hospital." Wiki.

Seems appropriate, after all; "don't forget what the door-mouse said!"

I believe that the story of the treatment of these men (in-fact all involved), is already late in the telling and therefore encourage all who would like to work collaboratively and co-operatively to bring (working title), "Wobblin' Tommies" to the screen to comment here. It would be a major undertaking. There is much research to be done for, in order both to be authentic and to honour the memory of those who suffered, the individual experiences of the real people involved; patients, their loved ones, staff, politicians and the wider society (, must be explored. It is past time we came to grips with these issues (esp, those of mental health re: the traumatic effects of combat), as a society, our in-humanities to each other must not be glossed-over, we owe it to coming generations to come-clean (or these may be few).


A Veterans For Peace UK Film challenging the British Army's policy of recruiting 16 year olds into the most dangerous army jobs. More details at"

Unfortunately "Veterans for Peace"  closed down this year, quote;

"Good Morning

Emerging in a time of war, VFP UK formed to serve the cause of world peace.

We found community, sanctuary, purpose, and a vital platform during tumultuous stages of our lives.

Everything comes to an end one way or another.

Now a shadow of its former self, VFP UK is being closed down in a calm and peaceful manner.

Our body of work will be left online for future generations of veterans to take what they need from it.

This might come as a shock to some of you.

To others not so much.

If you would like to speak to me about this I am available in the evenings.

There will be a major social gathering in January for us to gather, remember and celebrate.

More information concerning the closure of VFP UK will be posted on this website soon.

Peace to you all

Ben Griffin

Founder VFP UK":

The Peace Pledge Union is still going though, quote; "War is a crime against humanity. I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war. I am also determined to work for the removal of all causes of war.*":

*Italics mine.

According to Hampshire County Council's publication, "The Royal Victoria Military Hospital: Uncovering the Stories", quote; "Despite the old building, the American forces treated over 1500 wounded patients at the RVMH before D-Day."..."After the Normany landings many vessels returned to the RVMH carrying the wounded, who were received at the crowded pier and taken to the hospital for treatment. The hospital was briefly full for the last time in its history."

The RVMH is not the only place in this area at which to remember the sacrifices made by previous generations either, Telegraph Woods and the Harefield Woodlands (in Eastleigh & Southampton respectively the site straddling the boundary), show signs of wartime use: 

 I've taken my own pictures in the area and it does not appear to have been a mere "troop camp" (see link), but also to have continued a tradition of being one of Southampton Port's most important eastern defensive positions and signal hubs, quote; "The blog post of August 2017 I quoted earlier is worthy of closer examination re: the entire area (esp. see the pictures of the remains of Fir Tree Cottage, quote: "The blue van is still in the layby at Telegraph Woods on the north side of the A27 at West End, where the third leg of the walk started with a bit of a run for the dog. A little bit of exploring – at least around the top end of the wood, closest to the road. Not quite in as far as the Iron Age ‘fort’ that is here somewhere, but leastways round the corner to the ‘Armada beacon’

The beacon (a circular pit) is one of only a handful that survive nationally dating from at least 1595, situated on flat land at the highest point of a ‘gravel plateau’ known as Moorhill or Telegraph Hill, overlooking lower lying land to the west, north and east. The woods are known as ‘telegraph’ woods after the Napoleanic ‘Shutter telegraph’* that once stood here – part of a line of similar between London and Plymouth but nothing remains of that now, except the high ground.

Nothing much remains of ‘Moorhill’ either – the large house that once stood at the highest point on the road enjoying spectacular views to the north.
You can’t really see much of that either, thanks to the new development at the Rose Bowl (sorry, I really hate sponsorship names that I am not paid to say). Instead, this is the view over the new golf course, looking north over the cricket ground towards the South Downs in the very distance. Ah, the delights of corporate inhospitality. Good luck seeing over the fencing…*
*" Go to:

*Quote; "Shutter telegraph machines were vertical wooden frames with 6 shutters within them, designed by the Reverend Lord George Murray. To make a signal, the shutters were opened and closed in order to spell out different letters. This was a new means of fast communication in the 1790s and meant that the Royal Navy could now send any message between important ports and the capital.
The Portsmouth Shutter Telegraph line was built 222 years ago in March 1796. It established a line of communication between the Admiralty building in London and Portsmouth. The message was passed through several telegraph stations including Putney, Chessington, Haslemere, Bedhampton, and ended next to the King’s Bastion, Portsmouth. Workers at the stations would watch through telescopes and take down the message, then pass it on by pulling ropes attached to the back of the shutters to spell it out. This line could send important messages from the Royal Naval base in Portsmouth to London in 7.5 minutes, far quicker than any other method of communication at the time. The next fastest method was to carry a message by horse, which would take at least 4.5 hours. One telegraph station’s journal even notes that a message was sent from London to Portsmouth in one minute.
The signal system was, however, very dependent on the weather. Poor visibility could slow down messages considerably. The stations could also only operate in the daylight." Go to:"

There are even Bronze Age burial mounds in the area...
 What more modern military structures and earthworks I have discovered (and photo-documented), include what are obviously machine gun, artillery and observation positions on the eastern slope of Telegraph Woods. The nature of the reinforced concrete that remains also suggests more permanent structures than that of a late war "troop camp" but that troops were there (said to be Canadian but I have been unable to confirm this), prior to the Normandy Landings I do not doubt. One might also reasonably expect there to have been some component of anti-aircraft provision considering the area's elevation and position on the eastern approach to the port.  

Heavyweight reinforced concrete.

..and here are the eastern slope positions I mentioned...

 Metal clearly embedded.

This structure is at the bottom of the hill (according to a local blogger, I have yet to try and locate it), ..

Pls. also see:, &
I doubt you will be surprised to hear that my interest in the subject is enhanced by family history. My great grandfather was a military vet on the Western Front for the duration of the Great War, he had previously been working on the Fleet Street Drays...

During WW2 my grandad was an engineer at Biggin Hill, he worked on the Merlin engines both on the front line and in the factory (he was injured test bedding one). His brother William was a regular soldier and was killed at Dunkirk. My mother was strafed by the Luftwaffe and my father blown across a field and embedded in a hawthorn hedge by a V-1. All of them suffered as a result of their experiences (some more than others -stories I would like to tell at some point-). 
 Like many others my own Cold War experiences were deeply affecting (as was that of my friend the Rev. John Knopf, Minister Emeritus, Southampton Edmund Kell Unitarian Church, Oxon., Cantab. RIP). 
 Some people (like Spike Milligan), found such strains tipped them over the edge and they became bi-polar for life!
The Cold Bolt

“Warm moist lupine huffs burst upon the ear,
Against a smoky velvet drape suddenly clear and frosted,
A hypodermic to the jugular whilst still under the thrall of the mutilated, shattered, statuesque grotesque seemingly able to dance without feet,
Without feet and without a head,
Belongs to no-one,
The miasma crawls and swirls again ignition sparking rockets which fly into the night;
“Aren't they bright against the sky?” Assaulting the nostrils,
“Blast!” Blood and deceit,
Salty, insulting, more damp on top,
Filthy, corrupted digits crawl, encrusted flesh stretches,
Stiffened, quivering, sticky starry crystals shake, warn flesh that much not catch the cold bolt.” 
Don't Sign up for War

"See thon Arthur Henderson, heid bummer o' the workin' men
When war broke oot he pressed his suit an' ran tae catch the train
He signed a deal in London, nae mair strikes until the fightin's done
In Glesga toon the word went roon', tak tent o' John Maclean

He said a bayonet, that's a weapon wi' a working man at either end
Betray your country, serve your class.
Don't sign up for war my friend
Don't sign up for war

When they turned him oot o' Langside Hall, John stood up at the fountain
Whit he said was tailor-made tae magnify the friction
Ye patriots can roar and bawl, it's nought but braggarts fiction
The only war worth fightin' for is war against oppression

He said a bayonet, that's a weapon wi' a working man at either end
Betray your country, serve your class.
Don't sign up for war my friend
Don't sign up for war

The polis wheeched him oot o' there and doon tae Queens Park station
They telt him plain, offend again an' we'll mak' ye rue the day, son
But Johnny didnae turn a hair, he ca'd for a demonstration
A mighty thrang ten thoosan strang turned oot against conscription

The next time that they came for him, John kent they meant the business
He didnae plea for mercy, he said gi'e me British justice
The justice that he ca'd for stunned many intae silence
When oot o' Hell the hammer fell, three years was the sentence

He said a bayonet, that's a weapon wi' a working man at either end
Betray your country, serve your class.
Don't sign up for war my friend
Don't sign up for war"
Alistair Hulett

 Whatever you think or feel about the sentiments expressed in Hulett's poem the truth is that the narrative he endorses has been completely marginalised in our globalised neoliberal state. How can anyone promoting the notion of European democracy possibly accept the conscription of the Ukraine's male population to fight NATO's proxy war?

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