Thursday, 26 March 2015

Stories from the War Hospital - Richard Wilcocks in the Leeds Library

Richard Wilcocks                                         Photo: Laura Cummins
Charlotte Gray writes:
It was a bit of a privilege to be able to set foot in the members-only Leeds Library for today’s event. Bedecked floor to ceiling with books and hiding seemingly secret passageways atop spiral staircases, its atmosphere was one that could only have been kept alive by the most dedicated of bookworms. In this vein, it was the perfect venue in which to be given a glimpse into a book that seems to have been a true labour of love.

Richard Wilcocks’s talk on his acclaimed book  Stories from the War Hospital was an engaging insight into the lives of the people that were treated and worked at the Beckett Park military hospital in Headingley during the First World War. The detailed and careful way with which he retold some of the more personal aspects of wartime life in Leeds really worked to shed light on previously forgotten elements of the city’s wartime history.

What really stood out for me was that Richard’s approach to the hospital’s history was a personal and heartfelt one. A testament to this was the fact that family members of those featured in the book were present in the audience and that Richard took the time to include photos of them in his presentation and to engage them in discussion during the talk.

Some of the most interesting moments were those in which Richard shared unexpected anecdotes about the hospital and about life in First World War Britain. One of the highlights for me was the picture shown of soldiers at Beckett Park dressed in Pierrot costumes who called themselves the ‘Cheeros’. We were told that British military hospitals were often equipped with these kinds of costume as it was firmly believed that humour and entertainment were significant aids to recovery.

Personal and heart-warming insights like this – plus the love stories, drawings, and poems of the staff and patients of Beckett Park - were what set the event apart. I, for one, am eager to read the book and find out more about this rich and previously untouched piece of Leeds’ history.

Book's website is at

Audience comments:

Great to have a chance to visit Leeds Library. No bag/coat policy a little disconcerting. Quote from the 1923 book well-chosen: "They came with the soil of France upon their great-coats... Some were entirely covered from view and of these some would not have been recognised by those who knew them best." A pen picture which enhanced the presentation. 

Powerpoint was well-paced. Good to have Mr Bass with us - a living link. Eva Dobell poem made me tingle. Rousing song! Great range of sources to inspire empathy in us for WW1 folk.

The best contribution to First World War history of Leeds I have yet come across. Could the Playhouse perform your play?

A very interesting and informative presentation of an interesting topic with memories of my grandparents and parents. Thank you.

Really enjoyed Richard's talk. Interesting facts. A very succinct speaker. It was lovely to hear about my grandma and grandad and for their name to carry on. I was extremely impressed that Richard did the whole talk from memory. His knowledge and interest are inspiring!

I found the talk really interesting from my Spanish point of view. I feel I know now a bit more of Leeds and its history.

I really enjoyed the talk. It was full of interesting information and personal stories involving the hospital. My grandfather, who I never knew, served in the First World War and he was very ill with his chest. I have been wondering whether he may have attended the hospital, but I don't think so now.

Having already read the book the talk illuminated it very effectively. A good idea.Maybe we should try the formula again with other books on Headingley matters.

A subject that should have been researched earlier.

Informative especially as I am not a local! Would have preferred a different venue so I could see the slides.

Excellent record of the stories of patients, nurses and doctors at the Beckett Park hospital. Richard has a wonderful lively manner of recalling stories, adding his skills of singing.

A very interesting talk - clear, relaxed, good pace. Some new information and fascinating stories of individual cases of the wounded, the medical team and the nursing team.

Very interesting and quite funny stories about the war hospital. Richard Wilcocks was quite funny when he was describing about the staff and patients at that hospital. I have been inside the Thackray Medical Museum a bit and found that very interesting.

Interesting and informative, with lots of opportunities for questions.

Very interesting "shaft of light" on a previously unknown piece of Leeds history.

Liked the presenter's sense of humour - a lively - though sobering presentation.

A fascinating light shone on the buildings and how they were used in wartime. Adds another dimension to my local knowledge.

Thoroughly enjoyed talk and slides, especially as missed it last year. Would love to see the play performed!

A very informative session. A great story well-told in an entertaining way. Thankyou for the opportunity to find out more about the background to the book.

I have read the book and seeing the photographs added another dimension. Varied and interesting. Extremely well presented.

Lots of fascinating local knowledge. Very well researched. A great addition to local literature.

Didn't know of the hospital previously. Interested to hear of pioneer medical work at this hospital and of who staffed it. Also, funded by private subscription.

Very engaging stories about individual doctors, VADs, nurses and patients at the hospital brought this talk alive.

Excellent thank you.

Fascinating talk full of well-researched information and well-illustrated with photographs. I have a copy of the book which is equally interesting.

Fascinating stories from the people who lived in wartime Beckett Park. A building I lived close to for over 20 years without realising its history.

Very interesting and moving stories about the history of the trained nurse, the treated soldiers and the war hospital. Definitely, my views toward the building used as the old hospital have been broadened. Thank you.

Well done and very interesting.

Well-presented and very interesting. Thank you.

Very informative and interesting talk.

Interesting and very well presented.

A fascinating talk. Thank you.

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