John's real-time WW1 blog: Romance blossoms over the bedpans and blankets at Harborough’s war hospital

John Dilley
John Dilley

March 5, 1918...

Wounded soldiers using their crutches and walking sticks provided a guard of honour for Market Harborough’s first wedding between a nurse and her former patient.

The headline from the Harborough Advertiser

The headline from the Harborough Advertiser

The romantic story, which takes pride of place in the March 5, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser, gives readers some well needed good news.

Although there are once again no obituaries of local men to report, the unrelenting gloom of four years of war still makes most editions pretty depressing reading.

Sister Gwendolyn Simmonds fell in love with Sergeant Harry Bentley at the Park House war hospital while nursing him back to health after he was wounded in action.

Apparently, it is a fairly common occurrence for nurses to fall for their patients but this is the first time a romance has resulted in ‘the tying of the nuptial knot’ in the town.

Caption: A wedding featured in a story about love stories from WW1 on the British Red Cross website.

Caption: A wedding featured in a story about love stories from WW1 on the British Red Cross website.

The story says: “The War Hospitals up and down the country have provided many an interesting romance in the way of marriage and Park House has now entered the lists.”

The couple were married at the town’s Parish Church by the Rev Maurice Brown before a huge congregation of nurses, doctors and those patients who could make the short journey into the town centre.

The story says: “After the ceremony the ‘boys in blue’ formed a guard of honour at the church door and the bride and bridegroom passed under an arch of their sticks and crutches and amid showers of confetti.”

A reception was held at the Three Swans where they received many gifts including ‘a handsome electro-plated Queen Anne teapot, cream jug and sugar basin’ from the current hospital patients.

Harry, who is now fully recovered, is back with his regiment and Gwendolyn will continue her work at the hospital where she has been since it opened to wounded soldiers.

Other stories are less uplifting including news of a hospital ship sunk by a German submarine in the Bristol Channel. More than 150 people – including wounded soldiers, doctors and nurses – are missing with only 29 survivors.

The story highlights once again the specific barbarity of the Hun. “It is noted that the ship was in the ‘free area’ and was sunk even in breach of the German pledge given as to immunity of hospital ships from attack in that area.”

And finally, there is news of another sad – and quite bizarre – death, this time closer to home. Mrs Dwyer, the wife of the stud-groom at Hallaton Hall, has died after swallowing her false teeth.

The story says: “She was having dinner when she exclaimed that she had swallowed a bone but in a minute or two it was found she had swallowed her false teeth.

“Dr Morrison was quickly sent for, but could not recover them and Mrs Dwyer was sent to the Leicester Infirmary in a motor car and an operation was performed the same night.”

Despite early signs that she would recover, her health took a turn for the worse and she died the following day.

 This column is published every Monday by John Dilley on the Newspapers and the Great War website

and will continue until the 100 th anniversary of the final armistice in November 2018.

 My fellow researcher and De Montfort University lecturer David Penman is conducting a similar real-

time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.

 Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.