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Oakwood Halls V.A.D. Hospital Destroyed By Fire

On a windy Saturday afternoon the 22nd June 1918 while patients were being served with dinner, a fire was discovered in the north wing of the building. It was the smell of the fire that first attracted the attention of the matron Miss E Sinclair White. As she and some of the wounded soldiers who were recuperating fought fearlessly with fire extinguishers and water to douse the fire it proved useless against the flames that had quickly taken hold of the roof. Although heroic attempts were immediately made to dampen the fire, the flames were fuelled by the force of the wind. As the wind blew stronger and stronger the flames of the fire seemed unstoppable. The staff and 100 recuperating wondered soldiers were quickly evacuated; meanwhile the Fire Brigade had been contacted. Wounded Soldiers, hospital staff and civilians fought to beat the flames though this was hampered by the lack of a sufficient supply of water. As the horse Drawn Fire Engine quickly made its way from Swallownest more heroic attempts were made by the soldiers to save any hospital furniture and equipment. These attempts were soon stopped as the fire raged on.

The firemen quickly got to work under the command of Chief Inspector Green and later on Sergeant Cook (Deputy Inspector) of the fire brigade. As the firemen attempted to control the fire it seemed destined to stay ablaze all day. The gusting fed the raging fire which had now engulfed most of the building. The falling roof and shattering glass made the firemen's work difficult and dangerous. One fireman was badly burnt by falling debris whilst working in one of the upstairs rooms and he was quickly removed to Doncaster Gate Hospital.

Meanwhile the fire was now spreading towards the south wing. The tower roof was covered in flames that forced their way through with such strength it caused a loud roaring sound as the tower crashed its way into the burning main building. The shattering windows sprayed glass over the firemen and helpers. As everyone ran out of danger one soldier was badly cut. Within the first hour the upper floor and the front of the building had already burnt itself out. The chief constable Mr. E. Westhogg also visited the scene to give his support. He had just returned from a fire at Swallownest. It took firemen several more hours before the fire was really under control and another few hours before the building collapsed and the flames were finally extinguished. The once beautiful building had suffered the most incredible fire damage.

Saddened faces looked on to see the last flickering flames subside. Everyone was exhausted by their fruitless efforts. The fire had dealt a most cruel blow to this once majestic and tranquil building. The whole of the north wing, the kitchen and the administrative building was completely burnt out. The stables and veranda had also suffered damage. Every ward (except the open-air wards) was burnt out. All that remained was a charred and blackened skeleton of stones. A large quantity of the hospital's furniture was saved although many objects such as fixtures had been sacrificed. Many soldiers lost their personal belongings; some of these effects had gone through the war with them, a sad and tragic irony.

Dr. Knight, the medical officer in charge of the hospital was soon on the scene and remained throughout giving assistance wherever possible. Major Yates, with a fleet of ambulances, arrived from Sheffield's Base hospital within three-quarters of an hour of the outbreak of fire. Luckily all staff and soldiers got to safety except sadly for one soldier who was badly cut by falling glass. Patients were removed to Moorgate, and the General Hospital on Doncaster Road hospital however 13 males were left to sleep in the conservatory or the dinning room until beds could be found. The patient who was badly cut was removed to the Base Hospital at Sheffield. West Riding Police Officers under the direction of Inspector Hoyle helped keep many civilian spectators at bay well away from the fire. Miss Baker, quartermaster of the V.A.D, was also amongst the helpers. The damage was estimated from £5000 to £6000.

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