Brockenhurst: A World War One Hospital Village

St Nicholas' Churchyard

 

Brockenhurst is justifiably proud of its Churchyard which overlooks the village and is adjacent to St Nicholas' Church which is one of only two churches in the New Forest mentioned in the Domesday Book and is reputed to be the oldest church in the area.

The Churchyard is divided into two areas: the smaller area surrounding the Church itself falls under the auspices of the Church Authorities whilst the lower section below the steps is managed by the Parish Council. If you would like to enquire about our Churchyard please contact the Parish Clerk.

The Churchyard also contains many Commonwealth War Graves from the First World War. These are mostly ANZAC soldiers who were treated at the No. 1 New Zealand General Hospital in Church Lane but who died from their wounds. Further information on the history of the Churchyard and the Commonwealth War Graves can be found below.

 

Commonwealth War Graves

 

Due to its proximity to South Coast ports and its railway connections, in 1914 the War Office selected Brockenhurst as a World War One hospital centre.  This comprised the main section formally known as 'The Lady Hardinge Hospital' but known to the locals as 'Tin Town' - a 500 bed tented and galvanised accommodation hospital complex situated on at Tile Barn on Church Hill on the ridge overlooking the village and the forest - and two minor sections at the commandeered Balmer Lawn and Forest Park Hotels, known collectively as the 'Meerut General Hospital', after which Meerut Road is named.   

The hospitals treated soldiers of the 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) Divisions from the Indian Army Corps who were sent to help the British Expeditionary Force fighting in France and Flanders.  Almost 3,000 Indian wounded were treated before the Corps was posted to Egypt in November 1915.  

In January 2016 'Tin Town' was taken over to form part of the No. 1 New Zealand General Hospital and further huts were erected and hotels commandeered.  Over 21,000 casualties were treated in Brockenhurst but sadly more than a hundred New Zealand, Indian and other soldiers died in the village's hospitals.  St Nicholas' Churchyard contains 93 New Zealand graves, 1 Australian grave plus those of three Indian and three unidentified Belgian civilians.  

The No. 1 New Zealand General Hospital remained at Brockenhurst until its closure in early 1919.  Auckland Avenue and Auckland Place commemorate this period of village life and the Churchyard plot was organised into its present format in 1924, the impressive engraved headstones erected on the order of the Imperial War Graves Commission, replacing the original white wooden crosses, and the cenotaph added three years later in 1927.  The graves are looked after by the Parish Council who seek to ensure that the headstones remain in the same condition as they day they were erected.  

To this day an annual service is held here on the Sunday closes to Anzac Day and is attended by representatives of the New Zealand High Commission, New Zealand Forces and many Brockenhurst villagers alike.   

Further information on the No. 1 New Zealand General Hospital can be found on the New Zealand Government's WW100 website and Auckland Museum website.   

 

World War One Heritage Walk

 

The Heritage Walk entitled Brockenhurst: A World War One Hospital Village commemorates the presence of a military hospital and the village's part in the War.  It is in two parts:  The Church Lane Heritage Walk and The Village Heritage Walk. 

A walking guide leaflet can be obtained from Visitor Information Points at the Railway Station, village shops, some hotels and campsites, the Parish Council Office or from St Nicholas' Church.  It can also be downloaded here.   

The Church Lane Heritage Walk

The Church Lane Heritage Walk starts at the Railway Station bridge and crosses the railway line to continue along a quiet country lane and past historic parkland.  It passes through St Nicholas' Churchyard where information boards introduce the story of Brockenhurst and World War One.  It then passes the 93 Commonwealth War Graves and the Cenotaph before it proceeds to St Nicholas' Church, reputedly the oldest in the New Forest and mentioned in the Domesday Book.  St Nicholas' Church is open from 2pm - 5pm from Easter until the end of October.   

Inside an exhibition further details the story of the hospital and life in the village at the time.  After leaving the Church a short walk will take you to the former site of the field hospital.  Regrettably there is no public access to the site but on the verge outside a small plaque illustrates how it was set out.  

The walk is approximately 1 mile (1.7 km) long.  In summer views along this walk can be both stunning and full of historical interest.  The terrain is variable including footpaths, gravelled tracks and country lanes.  Please note that the paths in the Churchyard can sometimes be a little muddy.  

On completing the walk you will have been treated to an insight into Brockenhurst both in the days of WW1 and how it appeared several hundred years ago.  

 

The Village Heritage Walk

The Village Heritage Walk takes in the buildings and sites utilised as part of the military hospital operations.  It is approximately 2.5 miles (4 km) in length.  Use the map to enjoy the walk in one piece or divide it into sections to suit your needs.  Waymarker discs at the sites will refer you to explanatory text on the guide leaflet.  

Enjoy the beautiful Forest Lawns immaculately manicured by the grazing of ponies and cattle, or see the picturesque watersplash (ford) in the village centre where grazing stock still mingles freely with shoppers.  

The terrain is mostly flat including footpaths, gravelled tracks and country lanes.  Please note that the paths can sometimes be muddy.  

This walk will provide you with an insight into the scale of the hospital in Brockenhurst and views over New Forest Lawns.   

We hope that having completed the walks you will have found them informative and interesting: please let us have your feedback.  Likewise, if you or your family have connections with the hospital or village and can enhance our understanding, please do contact us either by email to the Parish Clerk or by leaving your name with a guide at St Nicholas' Church.  Any information provided will be passed to local historians to enhance records held of the time and be used to update this website and guide leaflet.

 

 

Brockenhurst: A World War One Hospital Village Project was part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2015 and has focussed on:

  • Reinforcing and enhancing existing knowledge of the World War One military hospital in Brockenhurst;
  • Remembrance of the 79 villagers who lost their lives in the war;
  • Providing greater visibility of World War One sites in Brockenhurst not previously formally recognised / signed by the erecting of plaques, etc;
  • Outreach to villagers, visitors and others to discover more events of the time;
  • Providing a better visitor experience for visitors and interested researchers;
  • Creating a dedicated Brockenhurst World War One website as a historical record and encouraging its use as an online depository of historical data and personal experiences;
  • Seeking to perpetuate interest in the heritage by educational projects for the local school and college via activities such as population of the website and researching the efforts and sacrifices of local families; and
  • Strengthening the bonds between Brockenhurst and the Commonwealth nations whose soldiers were hospitalised in the village.

The central project partners were the Parish Council, the Anglican Church and the local branch of the Royal British Legion.  The local Church provided new roll of honour and interpretation boards in St Nicholas' Church and the Royal British Legion and local historians have produced a small leaflet / booklet giving the history of events.  These have been distributed through the existing volunteer guides who man the Church every afternoon from April to October.  These volunteers continue to offer explanation and encourage visitors to record their knowledge of events.  

Village historians check facts and have engaged with the local school and college to encourage research skills and enhance understanding.  Project team members have given talks to the community at local village halls and continue to monitor the impact of the walk and collect information.  

The village's links to New Zealand continue to assist with organising visits from New Zealanders and working together to extend knowledge and understanding.