Diggers in Birmingham

by Emily Woolley
Publish date
30 November 2012
Comments (4)

Emily is a third-year History of Art student at the University of Birmingham. She worked at MV after winning a Global Challenge award which gives students opportunities to work overseas.

In August and September I spent six weeks in Museum Victoria's Humanities Department helping to plan for the Centenary of World War I exhibition, which will be held at the museum in 2014. My main focus was on a collection of magazines named Aussie published for soldiers during and after WWI.

At the end of my placement I came away eager to contribute more, however small, and link up Melbourne Museum's WWI centenary commemorations with those that will happen in the Birmingham. I set out to find any connections between Australia and the University of Birmingham relating to WWI.

Australian and New Zealand soldiers came to Birmingham in 1914 to be treated at the University of Birmingham’s Great Hall, then called the 1st Southern General Hospital (and it is where I will be graduating next summer). Looking through the university’s collections, I came across an embroidered quilt that was produced by convalescing soldiers. Made up of nine panels, it includes an Australian panel depicting a crown with ‘Australian Commonwealth Military Forces’ written on a scroll underneath and a New Zealand panel featuring an intricate fern with ‘NZ’ over the top.

white stitching on cloth Australian Servicemen embroidery detail on Matron Kathleen Lloyd's linen cloth.
Source: BIRRC-H0013, Research & Cultural Collections, University of Birmingham

stitched fern pattern on cloth New Zealand Regiment embroidery detail embroidery detail on Matron Kathleen Lloyd's linen cloth.
Source: BIRRC-H0013, Research & Cultural Collections, University of Birmingham

I also found photos at the Birmingham Archives and Heritage collections, with wounded soldiers from Australia and Scotland posing with nurses in the grounds of the hospital. Museum Victoria also holds many photographs taken and postcards purchased by soldiers from their time in England during WWI.

group of soldiers Australian soldiers with nurses at the 1st Southern General Hospital, now the University of Birmingham's Great Hall.
Source: Birmingham Archives & Heritage: Misc Photos/WW1/Hospitals/1st Southern Gen (89/1863)

In addition, in the university’s collections there is an interesting article in The Mermaid magazine, entitled A Trip to Gallipoli’ by Percival M. Chadwick. He was a Civil Engineering Lecturer at the University of Birmingham who left in 1915 to go and fight in Gallipoli for twelve months, only to return to Birmingham again to be treated at the university in the 1st Southern General Hospital. He was attached to the New Zealand Engineers working with Australian and New Zealand Infantry and Cavalry regiments including a Maori contingent. He states:

The officers with whom I worked gave me a homely welcome, and I speedily felt quite at ease among them.

I could reiterate what Percival M. Chadwick said about Australians, about my colleagues at Melbourne Museum. It was a pleasure working there and one of the most enjoyable work experiences I have had. I very much look forward to seeing what Melbourne Museum puts on in its centenary exhibition in 2014 and I hope it is a success for everyone.


Percival M. Chadwick, R.E, ‘A Trip to Gallipoli’, The Mermaid, issue 13, p121, 1916-17, University of Birmingham Research and Cultural collections.


University of Birmingham collections

Comments (4)

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Anthony McAleer 3 December, 2012 16:56
Here's a letter from a Victorian soldier describing life in this hospital - Writing from First Southern General Hospital, Birmingham, Private Fred Proctor, in a letter to his sister, Mrs. M. D. Cole of Kooreh, under date November 13th, 1916, says :- I was sent to No. 14 Stationary Hospital. Was only there one night, and then proceeded on the hospital ship to Southampton, which is a very busy place, with very large dockyards. We left by hospital train on the morning of 11th November, and passed through some large towns and splendid country. The Farmers were just starting to sow. There is more grass land in England than in France. We arrived at Birmingham after five hours travelling, and crowds on both sides of the road cheered as the cars passed along. Cigarettes and slips of paper with addresses on were thrown to the Soldiers. The hospital I am in holds 2000 patients. The Australians get a packet of cigarettes every second day, and chocolate twice a week from the Australian Red Cross. We get four meals a day. This morning we had one saveloy and bread and butter; then, for dinner, roast beef, potatoes, cabbage and pudding; for supper, cup of milk, bread and butter. I expect to be here about a week, and then sent to convalescent private places. There is some talk of getting six weeks leave after. I have been in France and Belgium just five months. It will be a couple of months before I get back to my mates. I will call and see Laura Wheeler when I get my leave. With best wishes for a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year.
Brenda C. Fone 23 August, 2014 15:22
I am a great neice of Laura Elizabeth Wheeler, a ww1 nursing sister with the Queen Alexandra British Military Imperial Army Nursing Service .QAIMNS. She was my grandfather's sister.
Janelle Sanders 5 April, 2016 09:51
Looking for a photo (or any information) of my Great Grandfather who was treated at 1st Southern General Hospital in Birmingham approx Oct 1915 to Jan 1916. His name was Leslie Cecil Oakley from the 4th light horse regiment. Thank you
Pete Hart 2 May, 2016 13:31
Hi, I am looking for any info/photos/whatever on my Grandfather, Pte William Hart, Canterbury infantry Regt , wounded at Gallipoli where he lost a leg. As far as I can find out to date he was in one of the first waves attacking Chunuk Bair. Thankyou for your wonderful website.
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