This brief clip shows soldiers feeding hens and gathering eggs in an unidentified New Zealand hospital in 1918 in the United Kingdom. Their lemon squeezer hats identify them as New Zealanders and their uniforms further identify them as hospital patients. Known as the “hospital blues” (also as convalescent blues, or hospital undress) the single-breasted suit and trousers uniform was made out of flannel material of an Oxford-Blue colour, with a white shirt and red tie.
The hospital blues served a number of functions and were important within the hospital environment. In the first instance, they were a replacement for dirty and often infested uniforms and therefore helped to improve hygiene and cleanliness. They were also a way to distinguish the patients from doctors, nurses and visitors and enabled the administration to maintain discipline and rank. The hospital blues also worked as a form of social control, as publicans were not allowed to sell liquor to men in the blues.
The Blue Boys
The impact of wounds, gas, disease and post-traumatic stress or shellshock, meant many returned war veterans would spend a long time in hospital for years after the war – sometimes well into the 1920s.
In the era before antibiotics, people could spend many months recovering from injuries and illness. Dedicated veterans’ hospitals were set up throughout Australia and New Zealand during the war.
In a 1957 radio interview, two New Zealanders, Frank Broad and Alan Kernohan – who were in the King George V Hospital in Rotorua – remembered the restrictions placed on the recovering soldiers.
Throughout the British Empire, men who were able to get out of bed, were known as “Blue Boys” because of their “hospital blues” – a uniform worn by the convalescing soldiers. This marked them out and was supposed to prevent the invalids sneaking off to local hotels for a drink, as civilians were prohibited from supplying alcohol to the men in blue… but there were ways around this, as the men recall.
Back to Blighty
An ambulance arrives at a New Zealand General Hospital and medical orderlies unload wounded soldiers. Around them are wounded men in various states of recovery – note the number of walking sticks and amputees. All of the patients are dressed in “hospital blues” – a uniform worn by all hospital soldiers in the United Kingdom. Under the Defence of the Realm Act it was forbidden for Public Houses to sell liquor to a soldier in hospital blues.
Can you help us identify the hospital? We know it is a New Zealand General Hospital, so it is either Brockenhurst or Walton-on-Thames. Please contact us if can you help us.