St Nicholas' Church, Brockenhurst

Brockenhurst, A History

Brockenhurst WI member, Di Fletcher, has kindly written an article on Brockenhurst’s role during WW1:

“I am a member of Brockenhurst W.I. in the New Forest, Hampshire. Having been ‘weaned’ on the W.I., my mother was secretary of Hawley W.I.,Hampshire Federation, my mother-in-law was V.C.O. in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, and in the 70’s I was secretary of Parkend W.I. in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

In 1914 due to the village’s proximity to Southampton Docks, a decision was made to set up a hospital in Brockenhurst for wounded soldiers from the Western Front. Initially the hospital accommodation was tented and housed Indian soldiers, but with cold winters it was decided they would be moved to warmer climes. So, in early 1916 the New Zealand Expeditionary Force took over the vacant hospital site and it became the No 1 New Zealand General Hospital, where 21,000 injured soldiers from the Battlefields were nursed by New Zealand nurses, until they left in 1919.

In 2013 as church archivist, and with the great interest nationally and internationally shown in the commemoration of the start of WW1,  I was determined to raise the profile and tell the unique story of Brockenhurst in WW1.  When I commenced the project, I had no idea it would lead to visits from N.Z dignitaries and Royalty, whom I have been privileged to meet.

With the blessing of the Vicar, I set up a small committee of people drawn from the village. By Easter 2014, an exhibition had been assembled in St Nicholas Church, telling the story of how the hospital functioned, on land given by the Lord of the Manor, Mr. Morant.

The hospital was called No.1 N.Z. General Hospital but due to its timber and galvanised iron roofs it became known locally as ‘Tin Town’. Subsequently, two hotels and the village hall were also requisitioned to be a part of the village hospital complex.

The exhibition has generated considerable interest and been viewed by visitors from around the world, especially New Zealand. The church is open every afternoon from Easter until October and many WI members act as guides for the visitors.

To our surprise and delight the New Zealand High Commission announced that to commemorate the role of the U.K. in caring for New Zealand soldiers during WW1 a new stained-glass window would be commissioned and installed in the church.

On June 26th 2016, the window was unveiled to much acclaim by a New Zealand Cabinet Minister, Anne Tolley, and H.E. Sir Lockwood Smith, New Zealand High Commissioner. The design depicts hospital life with a background map of New Zealand. Soon after, in July 2016, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall paid a private visit to view the exhibition and new window.

The Brockenhurst WI was formed early in 1918 and many WI members would, I am sure, have helped by volunteering their time, letter writing for the patients and giving garden produce to the hospital. When the hospital was disbanded in 1919 a letter of thanks was sent to every village household from the New Zealand Commanding Officer. A New Zealand flag proudly hangs in St Nicholas’ Church, which was presented as a token of thanks.

Di Fletcher at St Nicholas' ChurchEach year an ANZAC service is held in the church graveyard around the 93 soldiers’ graves, who did not return to their homeland 12,000 miles away. Members of the uniformed organisations lay posies on all the graves.

In 2018, We Still Remember Them.”

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