S. of France British Convalescent Home, 1915, WWI
[WORLD WAR I]. – [Queen Mary's Convalescent Home for British Officers.] a ’Kodak Ltd.’ album, manuscript title ‘Cimiez / February & March 1915’. Cimiez, France: 1915. Oblong quarto (9 7/8 x 10 3/8inches; 252 x 263mm), 25 leaves of thick card, partially filled, with the first 11 leaves containing 42 ‘snapshot’ photographs (each 3 ¼ x 3 ¼ inches; 83 x 83 mm), apparently recording the stay of an anonymous officer at Cimiez (near Nice), includes images of the immediate surroundings, neighboring towns and scenery, including Nice, La Turbie, Cap Martin, Roquebrune, Villefranche, Monaco, Antibes, Gorges de Loup. There are also a few images including officers and staff, and one featuring five officers and Lady Michelham – titled ‘Lady Michelham’s Lunch Party at … Cannes’. Original half leather over cloth-covered boards, with label to rear pastedown ‘Kodak Ltd. / Series H / Album’ (some damage to spine and extremities).
An extraordinary album recording an extra-ordinary establishment: British officers plucked from the horrors of 1915 trench warfare were transported to the South of France, to a convalescent establishment which according to a contemporary report was like ‘a large first-class hotel’. One would think that the contrast alone must have triggered strong reactions: the experiment did not last very long making this album particularly unusual.
‘QUEEN MARY'S HOME FOR BRITISH OFFICERS (CONVALESCENTS), CIMIEZ.
It is a far cry from Flanders to the Alpes Maritimes, but one which sounds almost daily, for in the very centre of the Cote d’Azar [sic.] there is a home for British officers convalescent from wounds or sickness, and recommendations for admission arise with frequency. The two buildings, the one old and the other new, stand within 100 ft. of each other in the private park at Cimiez, near Nice, which surrounds the house chosen as a spring residence for Queen Victoria in several successive years just before the close of her life. This fact in itself suggests and vouches for the attractiveness from many points of view of the general position of the home. In ordinary times it is a large hotel, but was offered to the Paris branch of the British Red Cross Society at the beginning of last winter, with a view to its conversion to its present use. Since the beginning of January it has been officially known as Queen Mary's Convalescent Home for British Officers."
A good many such offers were received from various parts of the Riviera, but no decision to accept any of them was reached until an examination of each proferred [sic.] home and its general environment had been made by a medical representative of the Society. A decision in favour of the Cimiez plan, if any, having been reached, the question was laid before Sir Arthur Sloggett in his joint capacity of Chief Commissioner of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and of the British Red Cross Society and of Director General of the British Medical Services in France. He at once decided to take up the scheme as an offshoot of the work of the two bodies mentioned and as a definite part of the army medical arrangements for British troops on the Continent. Despite its official status, however, the home presents a considerable degree of individuality, having besides a committee of management, consisting of the D.G.M.S., the Commissioner of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and British Red Cross Society (Sir Cortauld Thomson), the A.D.M.S. southern lines of communication, and a representative of the conjoint societies - a president in the person of Sir Jobn French, an official visitor (The Lady Michellam), and two honorary presidents, one being the British Ambassador and the other Monsieur André de Joly, Prefect of the Alpes Maritimes, who assisted the foundation of the home by obtaining for it various facilities likely to add to the comfort of its occupants.
The home itself resembles, in respect of appointments and comfort, a large first-class hotel; an excellent table is, for instance, maintained, and every officer has a separate bedroom, usually with a dressing and bath room attached. The administration closely resembles that of a military hospital at the head of all things is a colonel of the Army Medical Service, who has a staff of four officers, the principal of whom, on the professional side, is a physician familiar by long experience with the climate of the South of France as also with the class of case represented by a large proportion of all the occupants of the home. There is also available an honorary staff of consultants in all the chief special departments of medicine, and a nursing staff consisting of a matron, three sisters, and a number of orderlies.
As for the atmosphere of the place, it is comparable to that of the officers quarters of a large barrack in the after morning-duty hours. A physical and mental military tenue is maintained, and though comparatively little "shop" is talked, every one remembers that he is merely off duty for a few days, so to speak, and that his chief aim mean time must be to recruit his strength for a further term of work at the front. At one time there would seem to have been an idea of allowing the adjoining building, formerly occupied by Queen Victoria, to be used by the wives and other women relatives of the officers in residence at the home, but this plan, which would have completely changed the atmosphere of the home and been gravely detrimental to its value as a military medical unit, was fortunately abandoned. This does not mean, however, that family claims have been set aside: on the contrary arrangements have been made by which various hotels in Nice itself receive the relatives of officers at very low terms, and the latter are at liberty to see as much of their friends as they please in the day time and to invite them to tea, etc., at the home. In the way of general occupations there are always a few officers who are more or less cripples for the time being, and others who have to spend a good deal of the day at rest, but the great majority of those admitted are able, after a day or two, to get about freely, going for strolls on the hills or down to Nice, or for expeditions in the motor touring cars with which the home is provided. It is, in fact, for those whose convalescence is likely to be rapidly completed in favourable circumstances that the home is mainly designed, and its value to the army lies in the circumstance that it helps dozens of officers, both senior and junior, quickly to regain complete health who might remain only semi-efficient for months but for an opportunity of spending a couple of weeks or so in a bright sunshiny atmosphere in a cheerful environment.
The home, indeed, may be regarded in a measure as a sort of officers' rest camp, the majority of the occupants coming from the hospitals at Boulogne and Rouen, and being signed up eventually for duty once more at the front, Some, it is true, who go before the medical boards are assigned permanently to light duty or are invalided out of the service; but these are fortunately very few. The bronchial troubles acquired through long weeks of exposure, the sequelae of influenza, which has been very common in some areas, and the late effects of frost-bite and general overstrain, etc., seem usually to vanish with rapidity at Queen Mary's Convalescent Home. Whether they would do so if the moral atmosphere of the place were different may be doubted. It it were less cheerful and soldierly, men in a condition of health such as that of most of the patients on their arrival might well remain semi-invalids for months, despite the climatic virtues of the Riviera. As things are, most of the officers admitted to the home, besides soon beginning to spend almost the whole day out of doors, rapidly reacquire a healthy interest in bridge at infinitesimal stakes, and spend the evening thus occupied when not beguiled towards the billiard-room or to the music-room by the sound of a rousing chorus or of a pattering breakstep. Thus it comes about that the population of the home is of a rapidly changing character.
In ten days, a fortnight, in extreme cases a month, each convalescent in his turn metaphorically girds on his sword once more and is off again on active service. This it is that makes the home an asset of real value to the army, and this, too, it is that attaches an element of sadness to the whole undertaking. It is not to ordinary life that are returning those whom the home has successfully endeavoured to restore to full energy and health, bat to one whose risks the daily casualty lists reveal only too clearly.
The bulk of the funds necessary are provided by the lady mentioned as holding the post of a lady visitor. Consequently the expenditure imposed on any officer who recruits his strength at the home is quite small. This is a very great advantage to the army at large, for, as everyone knows, a very large proportion of all those who now hold commissions are men practically dependent on their pay.
It is expected that the home will remain open until about May 1st, and it may be loped that after that date an equivalent institution may be available in France, for such places are undoubtedly of very great utility provided that the officer in command is possessed of the qualities necessary for their successful administration. In the present case, for instance, not only Cimiez but also Nice regards itself as the host of all English officers, and the commandant who is in disciplinary as well as medical charge of those must conceal an iron hand under a very thick velvet glove in the performance of his duties. It is not, it should be mentioned, only English officers who represent the allied armies on the French Riviera; most of the larger hotels at Nice, Cannes, and in other towns on the coast have been converted into hospital establishments, and, taken together, they must contain many thousand French patients. The majority of the latter would appear, however, to be either convalescent or cases which have reached a more or less chronic stage.’
(The British Medical Journal Vol. 1, No. 2832 (Apr. 10, 1915), pp. 639-640)