To prepare for the European invasion in WWII, the allied governments estimated the anticipated number of casualties. It soon became apparent that there would not be enough hospital beds in existing hospitals to cope with the influx of patients…

This lead to the creation of three more hospitals in East Dorset: at Blandford Camp, at St Leonards in Ferndown, and at Kingston Lacy. In mid-March 1943, the War Department took over 72.5 acres (about 72 football pitches) of Ralph Bankes’ land at Kingston Lacy. He was to be paid £145 per year (worth about £3500 today) for this, but many stories state that he received very little of this money!

The hospital sign at Kingston Lacy

A bird's eye view of the hospital

© The National Trust

The Hospital’s Construction

Work on the hospital site began in late summer 1943, and was finished by the end of March 1944. The site lay between Blandford Road in the north and Abbot Street in the south, with the main entrance at Tadden. The hospital site itself was comprised of just over 100 buildings of different shapes and sizes. The main wards, operating theatres, clinics, kitchens and messes were made from brick with concrete foundations, and were all centrally heated with full plumbing, including flushing toilets. They were all linked by covered corridors and walkways, and the site had two libraries, a cinema, a chapel, a mortuary and a Post Exchange. There was also a large Red Cross building equipped with a stage, piano, table tennis tables and comfortable chairs. The accommodation for doctors and nurses was in wooden cabins heated by two stoves, each housing 30 people in bunk beds.

A map showing the planned locations of the hospital buildings at Kingston Lacy

Reference: D-BKL/E/Q/131  

In March 1945, a compound was built for prisoners of war, measuring about 150m by 150m. It was surrounded by barbed wire, with a watchtower in each corner. Prisoners lived in tents within the camp, and could hold 250 men if necessary – although records show that no more than 50 German prisoners were there at any time. The German prisoners were used as a labour force on the site, supervised by American soldiers.

Officers enjoying a meal inside one of the hospital buildings at Kingston Lacy

© National Trust

The Occupants

Between 3 April 1944 and 25 July 1945 the hospital was run by the 28th (U.S.) General Hospital unit, but they were redeployed elsewhere after this period. At this point the hospital was handed over to the 106th (U.S.) General Hospital, who remained at Kingston Lacy until the hospital closed. This unit consisted of 56 officers, 1 warrant officer, 100 nurses, 3 physical therapy aides, 3 dieticians and 500 other ranks, who were all commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Orval J. Miller. They initially trained in Alabama, before eventually embarking on troopships to Liverpool. They arrived on 30 June, and caught the train from Liverpool to Wimborne. The unit’s report states that it was ‘a cold rainy English morning’ on 1 July.

Before the 28th had left the hospital, some of the 106th stayed in Wimborne. It was important that everyone adjusted to this new country, so classes were given on Military Courtesy, Anglo-American relations, Racial Problems, Security, Air Raid and Blackout Regulations and the Conservation of Food and Fuel.

10 bed isolation ward at Kingston Lacy

© National Trust

Patient Care

The majority of patients housed at Kingston Lacy arrived by train at either Wimborne or Sturminster Marshall railway stations, where they were transported back to the hospital via ambulance. Each train could hold up to 300 soldiers, and the transfer back to Kingston Lacy would take about an hour in all. The 106th were soon joined by nurses from various different American hospitals in the UK, which caused problems in the beginning, as each of these hospitals had their own way of doing things! However, after the initial confusion and some retraining, the hospital began to run smoothly once again. Between the 25 July 1944 and the end of December 3,942 patients were admitted to the hospital – 2,642 to the surgical wards and 1,300 to the medical wards. During this time, there were 2,711 dental consultations carried out, 6,199 X-ray examinations, and 16,913 completed laboratory tests. Sadly, the hospital also had to carry out 96 amputations. There was only one death recorded, which was the case of a man who died as he was being taken off the train at Wimborne, and nothing could be done for him at the hospital. The medical records also state that there were 384 psychological patients treated at Kingston Lacy, dealing with mental effects of the war.

A baseball game between officers and nurses at Pamphill Green

© National Trust

Free Time

It was important that staff and patients had some form of recreation to keep them busy. On the site there were basketball, volleyball and badminton courts, and the estate gave permission for nearby fields to be used for football (probably American football!) and baseball. The hospital had a 150 seat cinema with two shows per night, and different films three times per week. Kingston Lacy also had its own radio station, broadcasting Armed Forces radio programmes. Song requests were played, and many people were interviewed. When possible, theatre trips and trips into Wimborne and other places of interest were organised. The libraries proved to be a hit, and the hospital set up a school, teaching a variety of subjects for anyone interested. Bands and concerts were also organised, with the weekly dance being most popular, possibly because of the girls shipped in by truck from Wimborne Square.

Inside one of the hospital buildings at Kingston Lacy

© National Trust

The War Continues…

As the war in Europe raged on, the hospital became even busier. The hospital was at capacity in January and February 1945, with 984 patients in the main wards and a further 330 in tents in the grounds. These were heated by stoves and insulated, keeping them the same temperature as the rest of the hospital. There was also a shortage of water during this time, which caused rationing until a new water pipe could be put in place. Fuel of all kinds was in short supply, and even food became a problem. It became increasingly problematic to find meat for patients on normal and high protein diets, as the main priorities were for those soldiers still fighting on the front line. Between 1 January 1945 and the beginning of July 1945, a further 4,282 patients were admitted to the hospital, with six deaths at Kingston Lacy.

Officer on the steps to the parterre at Kingston Lacy

© National Trust

The End of the War

Following VE day on the 8 May 1945, preparations were made to close the hospital. By the 6 July all the patients had gone and on the 11 July the 106th left Kingston Lacy. Although only active for 16 months, Kingston Lacy’s army hospital treated up to 20,000 patients as far as the records can tell us. The hospital site was officially closed in 1947, but some of the buildings were used for various functions, including temporary housing and housing for refugees. Finally in 1958, the camp was demolished and handed back to Ralph Bankes, 15 years after its initial requisition and 13 years after the war ended.

With many thanks to the previous researchers who helped compile this information.

Further Reading

National Trust Archaeology

WW2 US Medical Research Centre

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