The enduring image of the First World War is of the soldiers who lost their lives in the trenches and No Man’s Land.

Ilford Recorder: Two patients at the Woodford and Wanstead Auxiliary Hospital, formerly Highams Manor [Picture: Woodford Historical Society]Two patients at the Woodford and Wanstead Auxiliary Hospital, formerly Highams Manor [Picture: Woodford Historical Society] (Image: Archant)

But for many others, their harrowing experiences continued beyond the Western Front, as soldiers with horrific injuries or suffering from war neurosis, known as “shellshock”, filled hospitals.

The demand for hospital beds across the country led to the takeover of many large homes to act as emergency rooms – including two in Woodford.

Ian Dowling, an information and heritage librarian at Redbridge Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford, said: “The government realised there wasn’t going to be enough capacity in existing hospitals, so they brought in auxiliary hospitals.”

The grand Georgian mansion Highams Manor opened as the Woodford and Wanstead Auxiliary Hospital in 1914, having been built in 1768 for the MP Anthony Bacon.

These types of hospitals still experienced great demand. Highams opened with 50 beds, but by December 1915 it had treated 304 patients and in 1917 it had 75 beds.

John Lovell, chairman of the Woodford Historical Society, said: “Some [soldiers] had their limbs blown off so there were a lot of quite serious injuries. Highams was a beautiful setting for them.”

Hanover House VAD Hospital was a military hospital which treated patients with diseases such as typhoid. It opened in February 1915. Mr Dowling said: “By 1917 it had 17 beds, so it was quite small. It also had a recreation room for the patients. All but one of the 120 patients recovered.”

Hanover House remained in use until the war ended in 1918 and its patients were later transferred to a hospital in Buckhurst Hill. The building was demolished and the houses of Chiltern Way now stand on the site it once occupied.

The Ilford Emergency Hospital opened in Eastern Avenue, Newbury Park, in 1909 as a small cottage hospital, and was later used for soldiers during the First World War.

After the conflict, the site continued to operate and was extended over many years. It was unveiled as the King George Hospital in 1930.

Mr Dowling said: “The old military hospital was actually attached to the back of it.”

The building was demolished and King George was moved to Goodmayes.

After Highams Manor closed in 1919, it became the Woodford County High School for Girls.

The school, in High Road, was bought by the council in the 1920s. A number of the rooms the school uses today were used by patients and medical staff when it was the military hospital. The entrance hall became the reception, the operating theatre is now the staff room and the ballroom is a classroom.


Did a member of your family serve in the First World War? Do you have stories or memories from the period that you would like to share? Have you uncovered little-known facts or researched a particular subject to do with the war? We would love to hear from our readers to shape our coverage of the centenary year. Get in touch through Twitter or Facebook, email reporter Beth Wyatt at, call 020 8477 3988 or write to Beth Wyatt, Ilford Recorder, 539 High Road, Ilford, IG1 1UD, to take part