Times Past: Watermouth Castle at war

Watermouth Castle pictured on an old postcard.

Watermouth Castle pictured on an old postcard. - Credit: Archant

The First World War was the first ‘industrial’ war with huge numbers of casualties the sheer numbers appearing to have taken the government by surprise.

It quickly became apparent that hospital accommodation was seriously lacking. Patriotism saw people coming forward to offer buildings they owned for use as hospitals including Major and Mrs Penn Curzon of Watermouth Castle in Berrynarbor.

War broke out in September 1914 and by October 28 they had opened Watermouth Cottage (in the castle grounds) as a reception home for Belgians wounded in the first battles.

A few weeks later ‘other arrangements’ were made and the Belgians moved on – to be replaced by British NCOs.

Small numbers occupied the Cottage up until March 1916 - and the general feeling of those who had gone through the army medical system was that ‘Watermouth was the gem of the journey’.

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By 1916 it became clear that in terms of the war ‘the salvage of its slaughtering had developed into such a large and lamentable establishment, that it demanded concentration in larger groups for the purpose of receiving closer inspection, with more varied and systematic treatment’.

The accommodation in the Cottage was limited and so the Penn Curzons decided to use the whole of Watermouth Castle as a convalescent home - for officers only.

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From March 1916 until September 1919 just over 600 men passed through the establishment.

In a booklet issued after the war, Mrs Penn Curzon lists the officers treated with virtually all regiments in the army represented as well as the Indian Army, the Canadian and South African contingents and even the Gurkhas.

Oddest was a Sgt Nicalaievitch of the Serbian Army – one wonders how he ended up in Berrynarbor?

In the same booklet Mrs Penn Curzon who was ‘Commandant’ of the establishment praises her seven volunteer nurses, though there seems to have been a constant turnover as they married their patients.

The commandant could only offer ‘short term contracts’ whereas ‘the officer’s proposals were customarily for duration’.

She eventually died in May 1943 aged 81 and was buried in Berrynarbor churchyard – joining her husband who had died five years earlier.

How many of the thousands visiting Watermouth Castle today know of its proud history during the First World War?

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