‘Images of the front and back of a postcard showing wounded Belgian soldiers at the Bethel in Ramsgate. The postcard is date stamped 8th November 1914 and the building still stands proud overlooking Ramsgate Harbour. The reference in the message to G-ships maybe to German-ships as the postcard was sent to Lowestoft, about ten miles down the coast from Yarmouth which war shelled, not very effectively, by German warships on November the 3rd 1914 just 5 days before the card was posted.’

139RAM - Bethel PC

As far as can be made out, the transcribed text reads:

‘Many happy returns of the day. These are some of the wounded Belgium soldiers who are being … at the bethel. Several of them have been up here so beginning to seem like old friends now. Did you see anything of the G. Ships … … . Love to you… & all good wishes … X…’

Below is an excerpt from an article written by James Brazier about the Bethel and the Royal Sailors Rest in WW1.

The Ramsgate VAD Hospital at the Royal Sailors’ Rest in WWI

Next to the Royal Hotel on Harbour Parade stands an imposing building which proudly bears its name Royal Sailors’ Rest in large letters across its elegant front.   Shortly after the start of the First World War, this building was to serve as an important VAD (Voluntary Air Detachment) temporary hospital and the above postcard shows a number of wounded Belgian soldiers in its chapel (known as the Bethel), which had been converted into a ward.  Part of the message on the back of the above postcard reads: “These are some of the wounded Belgian soldiers who are being nursed at the Bethel.  Several of them have been up here so begin to seem like old friends now.”    The postmark shows that the postcard was sent from Ramsgate to an address in Suffolk on 8th November 1914.

According to Kent’s Care for the Wounded, published in 1915, the Wounded Allies Relief Committee had arranged for the reception of wounded Belgians and had taken over the Royal Sailors’ Rest early in October 1914.  The owners of the building, the British and Foreign Sailors’ Society, had made it available for use as a hospital with accommodation for 72 beds.   Within a few days, the first wounded Belgian soldiers to be sent to the Bethel arrived on 10th October 1914.  More wounded Belgians arrived at the Bethel in the following days whilst others were taken to temporary hospitals at Margate and Broadstairs.   The East Kent Times carried reports in early October 1914 of the honour which was extended to the Thanet towns on receiving wounded soldiers from the ‘brave little country’ (as Belgium was commonly referred to at that perilous time in its history).

The Ramsgate VAD (officially known as Kent 2) was formed from the Ramsgate Nursing Division of the St John Ambulance Brigade.  It was registered in 1910 and held the distinction of being the first women’s VAD detachment throughout the whole of Kent.   Although the temporary hospital’s first patients were wounded Belgian soldiers, it was not long before the hospital received a number of British soldiers who had suffered ‘Blighty’ wounds.  Indeed, by the summer of 1915, it is reported that a total of 324 patients had passed through its wards.

There are around 20 wounded Belgian soldiers and three nursing staff shown in the above postcard and it is likely that the photograph was taken around the middle of October 1914.

Image and text courtesy of James Brazier