FOXLEY CAMP: US MILITARY HOSPITALS 1944 - 1945
99th US General Hospital Unit
At the beginning of 1944 a London based contractor moved on site to construct two purpose built hospitals. Building materials came by train to Moorhampton Station and then up to the camp by truck.
On 5th June 1944 the 99th US General Hospital personnel arrived at Foxley Camp. They took over the hospital on site no.1. The hospital on site no.2 was still under construction but nearing completion.
One nurse wrote: “The camp was situated in a beautiful valley about 10 miles from the nearest town. It was a dual-purpose camp ….One requirement was to make each ward identical. It meant salvaging everything available from glass containers to pieces of bunker. Desks were mess tables. The stoves smoked……. The second problem was the pitch mastic floors. Every footprint left a mark……The floors were waxed and by continual polishing were left in good condition.”
99th General Hospital Archives
On 16th June 1944 the first 127 battle casualties arrived at Moorhampton Station predominantly from France having received initial treatment at a forward hospital.
“Hospital trains began arriving. Each train-load was received in a more expectatious manner than the last. The hospital was soon operating to capacity” 99th General Hospital Archives
On 28th July, after just over 7 weeks operating at Foxley Camp, the 99th General Hospital unit departed from Moorhampton Station to Llandudno to await deployment to France. They were transported to Utah Beach on the USS William Pepperell and the HMT City of Canterbury. There they set up a forward field hospital and remained there until September 1944.
On leaving Foxley one nurse from the 99th wrote: “The hospital was in operation for seven weeks when the unit was told it was to go to France……Everyone left Foxley with fond memories, rich experiences and an eagerness to get started on another assignment nearer to the front.” Source: 99th General Hospital Archives
156th US General Hospital Unit
On 25th July 1944 when the 156th US General Hospital Unit took over from the 99th, there were already 1087 patients on site. What the young nursing staff lacked in experience they made up with dedication and enthusiasm.
Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan wrote: “Even though many of the nurses were young and inexperienced they were always willing to do more than their share and give unstintingly of their off duty time. This is particularly true of nurses helping to entertain bed and ambulatory patients. Since there was a definite lack of space for relaxation of ambulatory patients the nurses helped to alleviate this situation by planning many unique and entertaining ward parties.” Source 156th General Hospital Archive
The 156th General Hospital had several areas of expertise for which patients from other hospital units would be transferred: the treatment of hand injuries was the hospital unit’s main area of designated expertise. Captain F. D. Troutman of 156th devised a piece of apparatus which proved invaluable in the rehabilitation of injured hands; a ward for the hospitalisation of sick nurses both from Foxley and other general hospitals was operated successfully; the hospital became the main centre for the care and treatment of psychotic patients; and patients were transferred to Foxley from all over the UK to come under the care of the Chief Medical Officer who was an experienced Gastroenterologist both in civilian as well as army life.
As well as treatment for sickness and injury the hospital took great care of the recreational needs of both patients and staff. The Special Services Officer organised for movies to be shown on each ward during the week and separate showing for officers and men three times per week. Shows were presented and dances were held regularly. They took great pains to maintain the areas around the hospital planting out the gardens and cutting the grass.
Through its time at Foxley the 156th treated almost 8,000 patients.
On 21st May 1945 the 156th General Hospital Unit received the order to close and transfer its patients to the 123rd General Hospital. Although victory had been achieved in Europe war still raged with Japan and the 156th were to be deployed in the Pacific arena.
Colonel Patton, the Commanding Officer concluded his report in May 1945 as follows:
“It can be seen that the 156th General Hospital has performed a remarkable duty while in this theatre of operations. From an untried group of personnel thrust into a difficult setting and suddenly receiving battle casualties and sick soldiers incident to the St. Lo breakthrough we have evolved into a smooth, well knit, highly efficient unit. All personnel have worked hard and contributed unselfishly to this goal. We point with pride to the record of eight deaths in nearly 8,000 patients and only two deaths in the year 1945 (3,059 admissions). - As we close this plant it is safe to say it is in good repair and the grounds can best be described as beautiful. There is an abundance of grass, a profusion of flowers and an air of refinement about the grounds that is conducive to the care of the sick.” Source 156th General Hospital Archives
123rd US General Hospital Unit
After dark on the evening 29th July 1944 the 123rd US General Hospital unit arrived at Foxley. They had sailed 5 days from New York to Scotland on board the Queen Mary. She was carrying more than fifteen thousand passengers without a convoy so that she could sail at top speed. Planes gave her an escort out at sea but returned to the mainland when darkness fell. For all that she arrived without incident. The unit then had to endure a 12 hour journey by troop train to Hereford.
In the morning light Tom Glennon gave his impressions of the area “…that of open country, farms and woodland, green grass and dense wood, a quiet setting for a work connected with the violence of war.” - The Officers Club - Thomas Glennon Source: Camp Foxley
The 123rd took over the new hospital on site no.2. It consisted of 114 single storey buildings most connected by covered walkways. The concrete pillars supporting the walkway roofs were a hazard in the early days to personnel during the complete blackout. Many of those injured suffered broken noses and black eyes.
Thirty Seven buildings were used as wards, giving the hospital a capacity of 1,442 beds. The wards held about 20 patients on each side. Each ward had at least one private room, a toilet and a shower room. The nurses desks were at the end of each ward.
Ladies from the WI in Mansel Lacy would go up to the hospital to roll bandages. Mrs Perks remembered there was a telephone on the nurse’s desk and the soldiers would just walk in and use the phone (probably to call home!).
Eight buildings were used for male officer’s quarters with a large building housing the toilets and washing facilities.
Tom described the view from the officer’s quarters and the nearby building which housed the toilet and washing facilities:
“Being situated on slightly elevated ground our quarters afforded an excellent view of the immediate countryside. Our hospital area lay in a narrow valley formed between two wooded ridges about two miles apart. This land slipped gently to the mouth of the valley, then, as the ridges ceased, merged with the slightly undulating contour of the surrounding countryside.” - The Officers Club - Thomas Glennon Source: Camp Foxley
The nurses were housed in 12 similar barracks. They were cramped with eight to ten beds in each hut. Clothes and personal items were kept in a locker at the end of the bed. There were no toilet or washing facilities in the huts, the nurses had to go outside and up the hill to the bathroom block. However, one luxury the nurses were grateful for - there was plenty of hot water up there for a bath.
The 123rd General hospital officially opened its doors to patients on 4th August 1944. The same day first train-load of patients was transferred from a hospital train at Moorhampton Station to the camp by ambulance. Between three and five convoys per week were received by the hospital up to March 1945.
The hospital had several sections:
Surgical Services this unit alone admitted 2,955 patients between 7th August and 31st December 1944
Physiotherapy Section was staffed by two physiotherapists and three enlisted men and they had to be innovative in making equipment.
“One improvisation was a bicycle mounted on a wooden frame. By substituting a steel shaft for the front wheel the bicycle was made stationary and the height of the base of the frame was great enough to give the rear wheel movement. By increasing or decreasing the pedal tension the physiotherapists were enabled to give patients leg exercises which ordinarily would have been omitted.
Rubber strips cut from discarded bicycle tubes were nailed to wooden blocks in such a manner as to present openings for the insertion of fingers. This item of equipment proved satisfactory in exercising the muscles and tendons of the hand.” - 123rd General Hospital Archives
Rehabilitation Section went into operation when the first hospital train arrived. Using a daily training schedule patients were given such things as punch bags to restore strength. Recuperating soldiers built a miniature golf course near the ward and hikes were taken under supervision.
Laboratory Services opened on 2nd August 1944, with 275 enlisted men volunteering for blood donor service. In January 1945 a team spent two days at the hospital appealing for type ‘O’ donors on behalf of men wounded on the front lines. They were not short of volunteers and the appeal exceeded the required quota. The laboratory building was damaged by fire at the beginning of 1945 but the service continued to function while re-buliding work was carried out.
X-Ray Section through introducing efficiencies could check an average 300 patient convoy and make films available on the wards in 12 hours or less.
Dental Section opened immediately after the unit arrived at Foxley. However, cold was a major problem in the building.
“The stoves being very small and without attention from five in the afternoon until seven in the morning it was impossible to hold the fire overnight so each day the routine was repeated - search for wood and paper, a flame and failure, finally success and the brave little stove would strive to cast a breath of warm into the chilly atmosphere of the clinic. How cold it could be in that particular building can be understood when it is mentioned that on a couple of occasions the water in the developing tank showed a crust of ice. In the surgery room of the clinic a hot plate was set on end by the windowsill and insignificant as it was it did offer the operator a chance to relieve the numbness in his fingers during the early hours of the morning.” - Officer’s Club - Thomas Glennon
Heavy rain illuminated another more serious problem. The sewage and drainage systems were inadequate and the sewers would back up and flood the dental clinic and laboratory. During October 1944 the problem was so bad the section closed and during November the clinic flooded three times. The Headquarters Building was flooded by what was described as “waves” running down the driveway by the building. The problem was finally solved by digging ditches and putting in additional drainage pipes.
Despite the difficulties with the Camp, on-camp entertainment carried on in abundance and locals were invited to see films and attend their dances too. Like the Canadians before them the Americans spent time in the village and further afield. Mansel Lacy didn’t have a pub but Moorhampton did. However, unlike the Canadians the Americans were not appreciative of what Moorhampton had to offer.
“First reports told of the English ‘pub’ situated in Moorhampton where one might quench his thirst with a glass of beer or even a scotch and soda. And, of course, one had a picture in his mind of a cozy country inn, quaint and attractive, complete with the rustic simplicity as the period of Sam Weller or Mr. Pickwick and a bartender possessed of sideburns, a bald head and a cockney accent.”-The Officers Club - Thomas Glennon Source: Camp Foxley
Tom went on to described what actually met them at Moorhampton:
“The town itself burst upon us in a total of four buildings, red brick and rusty, three of them unquestionably dwellings and the fourth resembling more the farmhouse of an extensive farm, which it was, than the tavern of our dreams” The Officers Club - Thomas Glennon Source: Camp Foxley
Conditions in the pub were less than hygienic. After noticing that the glasses were washed in the same bowl without a change of water all night, Tom and his companions chose to try out the pubs in Hereford!
VE day was celebrated in style on the 8th May 1945, with parties held in the village and all over Hereford town. Although they joined those celebrations the 123rd, like the 156th, was required to move to the Pacific front-line where war still raged with Japan. Thus bringing to an end the presence of the Americans at Foxley Camp.
On 24th June 1945 the 123rd General Hospital Unit received their orders to prepare for redeployment to the Pacific. By the end of June there were only four wards open with 33 patients. The hospital officially closed its doors on 6th July 1945. However, in August the war in Japan had ended and thankfully the 123rd were no longer required to redeploy to the Pacific. Two days away from Gibraltar the ship turned around and sailed to the USA.
On leaving Foxley, Tom Glennon wrote:
“The memory of thousands who passed through our hospital wards between battlefield and home gives now a pleasing satisfaction to us in having been part of the united effort which ultimately replaced with peace and quiet, the violence of the years of war. Each one of us to the end of his days will recall the incidents of hospital life in England, what was drab, what was difficult and uncomfortable will be covered with the slight forgetfulness that time always effects, what was heartening and good and helpful will stand out stronger in the set thoughts of recollection.” -The Officers Club - Thomas Glennon Source: Camp Foxley