ON the surface it may look like a scruffy scrapbook of scribbles but delving into the contents reveals the key to unlocking a major part of Oxfordshire’s military history.

One First World War matron knew she was part of an important moment in history and took it upon herself to record just that in a hospital logbook which is on display at an Oxfordshire museum.

The book brings together the details of county soldiers who passed through the Bicester Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) unit during the Great War.

Pictures, names and notes were recorded for each treated soldier at the unit by volunteer Commandant Lettice Bowlby, who cared for the patients.

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Bicester VAD took in the walking wounded transferred from nearby hospitals, including the Third Southern General in Oxford, so they could complete their recovery.

Oxford Mail:

Patients treated by the Third Southern General Hospital at New College Gardens.

The album is on show at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock as part of the Oxfordshire Remembers 1914 to 1918 exhibition, running until August.

Exhibition curator Stephen Barker said: “There is just something unique about it.

“With all the work I have done around the First World War I have never seen a nurse’s record of each man as they came in.

“If I mention the book to people who are interested in the war they go glossy-eyed.

Oxford Mail:

Pictures, names and notes recorded by volunteer Commandant Lettice Bowlby now housed in the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum.

“It tells us something about Lettice Bowlby and her understanding of the historically significant time, and she understood her part in it recording such detail.”

According to The Western Front Association, Commandant Lettice Bowlby, the 4th daughter of Viscount Valencia, was born in 1885 and died in 1988.

She married Captain Geoffrey Vaux Salvin Bowlby of the Royal Horse Guards in 1911 and had two children.

Mrs Bowlby was widowed when her husband was killed in action on May 13, 1915, near Gully Farm in France.

Oxford Mail:

Volunteer Commandant Lettice Bowlby, who kept a logbook of patients submitted to the Bicester Voluntary Aid Detachment unit during the First World War. Picture: National Portrait Gallery, London.

Along with her work at the Bicester VAD, Mrs Bowlby was the lady-in-waiting for the Queen Mother, then Duchess of York, and woman of the bedchamber when she became Queen Elizabeth.

Mr Barker added: “With every name and photograph, she was aware of her place in history.”

The album, on loan from the Red Cross, included between 300 and 400 patient entries with names, injury details and photographs.

It was common for patient details to be recorded but it would be very uncommon for photographs of each injured soldier to be recorded as well.

Injured soldiers were sent close to home for treatment where possible although entries included patients from all over the country.

Oxford Mail:

Wingfield Convalescent Home on the current Nuffield Orthapedic Centre site.

Among them were 38-year-old Arthur Andrews from Bicester, a member of the 1/4th Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantrym (OBLI) who was treated for frostbite in 1917.

Henry Calcutt, from Oxford, also in the OBLI was treated in 1917 for influenza.

Michael O’Donoghue, from Bicester, was treated for trench feet in 1916 and was a member of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

Mr Barker added: “There is a significant number of Oxfordshire infantry but we are talking about 15 per cent as patients were from all over the country.”

The book is displayed alongside a uniform, which belonged to VAD nurse volunteer Evelyn Phipps of Marsh Gibbon.

A photograph of the volunteer wearing the uniform while treating patients of the Bicester hospital at a sports day was found when searching the logbook.

Oxford Mail:

A picture of nurse Evelyn Phipps carrying out duties during the First World War. It forms part of the logbook on display at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock.

The VAD often kept the walking wounded active to aid recovery with treatment including sports days, gardening and therapy.

As part of the centenary year, the Oxfordshire Remembers 1914 to 1918 exhibition focuses on those who served in the Oxfordshire Yeomanry and the OBLI.

It encompasses case studies and artefacts to follow what was happening in Oxfordshire, the action Oxfordshire soldiers were involved in overseas and personal case studies.

  • The logbook loaned from the Oxfordshire Red Cross will be displayed at the Park Street museum in Woodstock until Monday, August 31.