At the north west door of Gordon Castle a passer-by may notice the superscription on a small shield, the only indication that the flag of the Royal Red Cross Society was displayed there from 1914 - 1919:
To record the use of this dwelling as an Auxiliary Hospital during the Great War, and the thanks of the Scottish Branch, British Red Cross Society, to the generous donor - April 1919.
A Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital, Gordon Castle, was one of the largest and was established at the stately northern home of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon. It opened as a hospital on 26 November 1914, with provision for 30 beds, which had increased to 100 beds by the time of its closure on 4 May 1919, making it one of the largest in the north-east of Scotland. A total of 2,718 patients passed through the hospital’s doors and benefitted from the care given there.
The Duke of Richmond and Gordon's youngest son, Bernard, was killed in action in November 1914 and it is believed that his decision to turn his home over for use as a hospital was heavily influenced by this event. Other members of the family, including Lord Esme and Lord Settrington, also played their parts during the conflict, the latter eventually falling in Russia. At home the Duke's daughter, Countess Percy, served as President of the Moray branch of the Red Cross Society and was responsible for a lot of the organization of the new Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital.
The situation of the castle, in extensive attractive grounds on the banks of the Spey, must have proved very therapeutic for the wounded soldiers who ended up there. In late November 1914 the first contingent of 24 convalescing soldiers arrived at the castle and a steady stream of patients followed throughout the war. Many of the casualties were transferred there from the 1st Scottish General Hospital in Aberdeen, but others came from as far afield as Glasgow, arriving in Fochabers by train where they were, initially, met by local people who had transport or the Duke's own chauffeur. As time went on, a Red Cross ambulance was allocated for this purpose.
Whilst all the hospitals in the area did a first class job of looking after the wounded and were given many gifts of food and comforts for the men, those at the Gordon Castle Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital, Fochabers, probably fared better than most. The Duke of Richmond and Gordon was a regular donor of venison, rabbits and fish from his estates and many local people, such as the Hon. Mrs Muirhead, Speybank, who donated a ‘huge haggis’, were also extremely generous. Of particular note was a special delivery that arrived in late January 1915 from the King who donated ‘12 pheasants and 8 wild duck’ from the Sandringham estate.
A local publication, Under the Red Cross: Gordon Castle 1914-1919 (Banffshire Journal 1921) provides some rich detail about the hospital:
Some forty rooms of the Castle were given over to the purposes of the Hospital. The entire west wing was used for the needs of the hospital proper; the men's recreation rooms and the accommodation required for the purposes of administration were provided in the central section of the building, the nurses had their rooms in the east wing, and the matron and sisters in the west. About one-half of the Castle was thus given over to the services of the Red Cross organization, the wards in the hospital numbering 15, while the accommodation in each varied from four to fourteen beds. (The more serious cases being accommodated on the ground floor)
The men’s recreation room…was in the central part of the Castle on the ground floor, cheerfully lighted by five windows, with a spacious outlook over the wooded sward in the direction of the Firth, furnished cozily with couches and comfortable chairs, with a generous supply of books and other reading matter, with a piano and a gramophone in one corner, and provided with facilities for games – cards, bagatelle, chess, draughts and the like. In addition, concerts, dances and other entertainments took place in a grand central room known as the Circle.
The treatment surgery may have boasted hunting trophies on the walls but was suitably equipped with a surgical lavatory, medicine cupboards, an electrical sterilizing plant, and electrical heating. Most of the patients enjoyed the opulent surroundings of the Castle for around a month, although more serious cases might require a longer spell of treatment and convalescence. The grounds were also made good use of and, on sunny days, beds were moved out into the gardens – the fine north-east air aiding recovery. The grounds were used for games too – golf, cricket, football, quoits, croquet, boating and hockey – even skating at times.
The more able patients enjoyed trips out, often being driven out in the Duke’s car for picnics and to concerts, and the nearby Spey was a popular haunt for anglers. Each summer, some of the Gordon Castle patients spent time recuperating in the home of Mr McCorqudale, at Dalchroy, Advie, where eight beds were maintained for this purpose.
The hospital was supported to a large extent by the Duke himself, with much of the food being provided by him, along with newspapers and writing paper, and all of the fuel in the hospital's first year. The success of the hospital certainly owed much to his generosity and commitment to the venture.
Dr H W Mann of Fochabers 1914-16– First Medical Officer and largely responsible for the initial planning with the Duke and Countess Percy. Later Provost of Nairn
Major JamesTaylor 1916 - 1919 - Medical Officer. Member of the Territorial Royal Army Medical Corps. Former medical superintendent at the Turner Memorial Hospital, Keith. Provost of Keith
Mrs Insch 1914 – First Matron. Had nursed in India
Miss Riddoch (or Ingram) 1914 – Matron
Miss Ethel Burgess 1915-1917 – Matron. Originally from Sussex where she was Superintendent of the Bognor Detachment of the Red Cross. Received the Royal Red Cross decoration in recognition of their wartime work.
Miss E B Davidson 1917-1919 – Matron. Trained at St George’s Hospital, London. Previously worked at Leys Castle Auxiliary Hospital in Inverness and was Matron at Cullen VAD Hospital. Received the Royal Red Cross decoration in recognition of their wartime work.
Sister Macbeath and Sister Buchan were also on the staff, and they were ably assisted by a large band of volunteer nurses from the local communities, a masseuse to treat some of the orthopaedic cases, a quartermaster and a cook.
NB: An autograph book kept by one of the VAD nurses who served at the Gordon Castle Auxiliary Hospital can be found under the Communication tab