Feature Christmas 2016: In Love and War

No 10 Stationary Hospital and the chapel ward at Saint-Omer, France, 1914-18

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6509 (Published 12 December 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6509
  1. Peter C Wever, medical doctor1 2
  1. 1Jeroen Bosch Hospital, Department of Medical Microbiology and Infection Control, ’s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands
  2. 2Military Medicine Historical Research Society, Netherlands
  1. p.wever{at}jbz.nl

The illustration of a military ward during the first world war is a reminder of the role of doctors and nurses in modern war zones, says Peter Wever

On 6 May 1916 a drawing appeared in the popular weekly magazine the Illustrated London News with the caption, “The British hospital in the old St Joseph College at Saint-Omer: in the chapel.” The darkness of the depicted scene is accentuated by a few bright electric lights above the heads of seemingly sleepless patients, cared for by two night sisters. The image of Jesus in the central leaded glass window, which provided comfort during the day, has disappeared with the darkness of night (fig 1).

Fig 1 Illustrated London News, 6 May 1916

The scene depicts the chapel ward of No 10 Stationary Hospital at Saint-Omer in northern France during the first world war. The chapel was part of the Pensionnat Saint Joseph, a boarding school in the Rue Edouard Devaux, which was erected in 1729 by the Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes (Brothers of the Christian Schools).1 The illustration was drawn on the site by the Barcelona born, internationally renowned magazine illustrator José Simont Guillén (1875-1968), who signed his works J Simont.2 3

Chapel ward, No 10 Stationary Hospital

In October 1914 the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) had taken over the Pensionnat Saint Joseph, which the French army was using as a temporary military hospital. Major Frank A Symons described the boarding school in his 1917 book Tale of a Casualty Clearing Station as “a huge three-storied edifice, one side on a cobbled street and the other looking out upon a large enclosure garnished by trees . . . one wing was in hopeless disrepair and decay. There was, however, an enormous kitchen, good offices, a splendid room for an operating theatre, …

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