The collection comprises a series of letters written by Kathleen Ainsworth to her family while she was working in Bath War Hospital as a VAD nurse during the First World War, along with photographs of her time there and some ephemeral items. Also includes audio recordings of the reminiscences of 'Bob' Down, Kathleen's husband.
Kathleen Ainsworth (1892-1982) was born in Bath, the daughter of William and Lydia Ainsworth. By 1911 she was living with her parents in Swindon, where her father was an auctioneer and estate agent. At the start of the First World War, Kathleen trained with the Red Cross as an auxillary nurse in order to work in a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). VAD nurses, often (like Kathleen) from middle-class homes, worked in war hospitals on a voluntary basis. They were initially not allowed to undertake nursing duties, but as the war went on and large numbers of patients arrived they began to carry out basic nursing as well as housekeeping chores. They were vital to the running of the hospitals
Kathleen worked as a VAD in Bath War Hospital from the time it opened in April 1916 until she left in 1919. The hospital was built by the War Office with the support of Bath City Council and voluntary donations on a greenfield site at Combe Park, Weston, Bath. It treated soldiers wounded on the battlefields in France and sent back to England; the soldiers included men from New Zealand, Australia and America, as well as British and Irish. It initially held ten long huts each with 50 beds, but as the war progressed the number of wounded soldiers arriving increased dramatically, and large tents were erected to cope with the influx; by 1918 the hospital had about 1300 beds.
The soldiers received treatment for their injuries, and remained at the hospital until they had fully recovered. Those who were recuperating helped with chores in the wards and kitchens, made use of the extensive hospital grounds, and were allowed to go into Bath city centre. The hospital remained open until 1929, renamed the Ministry of Pensions Hospital.
Kathleen Ainsworth married the Reverend Arthur Robert Down (1907-1997) in 1932. He was a Congregational church missionary, army chaplain, and teacher in further education; he travelled widely as part of his missionary and army work. For more information see http://www.brian-wates.co.uk/Bob%20Down.html