St Katherines House, the care home in Ormond Road, Wantage, is on the site of what was St Katharine’s School, built in 1898 by the architect AN Mowbray.

It was a ‘middle school’ run by the sisters of the Community of St Mary the Virgin.

Primarily a girls' boarding school, it also had day pupils who were mostly daughters of local businessmen.

It also had a kindergarten and finally amalgamated with St Helen’s in Abingdon in 1938.

However, one little-known aspect of the school's history was that it became a Red Cross hospital during the First World War.

The buildings were offered in August 1914, and opened its doors to patients in October.

The school remained in one part of the building and the hospital took over the remainder.

If you looked into the school hall and surrounding classrooms you would have seen three wards with 20 beds each, the medical superintendent Dr William Loveday (the local GP) was in charge, sisters and VAD Nurses in attendance and British, French and Belgian soldiers.

British soldiers would be in the blue uniforms that wounded soldiers wore – some of the men in this photo are wearing these uniforms.

St Katherine’s was a convalescent hospital: soldiers were sent prior to discharge from the army, or were not completely recovered yet to go back to their units.

The first four soldiers to arrive were Pt Charles Voyce 1st Bn Gloucestershire Regt; Pt Donald Jarrett West Riding Regt; Pt George Bassett Royal Sussex Regt and Pt Albert Jones 1st Kings Own R Rifles.

The school offered its cook Agnes Williams to cater for the men and her account of her time with the hospital has survived:

"It wouldn't do to put in all as I knows: they were very happy days, that's all I know.

"I had an amount of cooking to do; I know that much.

"A whole sheep at a time I had, and the butcher had to come and learn me how to cut it up.

"800 eggs a week we had; sent by Lady Wantage every week – we had them for breakfast, tea or any time it seemed to me.

"Pheasants too, 20 brace at a time. I had soldiers as used to help me pluck them. Were the soldiers fed well? Oh my! There was always plenty of stuff, but nothing was ever wasted.

"They were very fond of faggots and peas, fried fish and chips, tripe and onions especially.

"Ham rashers and bloaters (they used to call them) they would bring in from town about two minutes before tea for me to cook for them.

"Cookie or Mum or Ma they called me.

"The first lot of soldiers that came were five men, or boys I should call them, of 18 or thereabouts; but it was them Beljums; 30 of them came one Sunday morning early and I remember we had to scour the town for every loaf of bread we could lay our hands on – I thought I was in the lunatic asylum.

"I couldn't understand the Beljums. I had them in the Pantry washing up the Ward things – they said something to me, I just said 'yes' and 'no' and the more they shouted the more I did too and grinned too!

"They cleaned the silver and if they was in a hurry over the washing up they would fling half the dishes out of the window – that was if they was in a hurry to get off.

"On the soldiers confirmation days, I had such large cakes to make and the tea parties! Jolly good days they were.

"We had hundreds of cakes sent in and toast – they were very fond of toast and that kept us busy I can tell you.

"I had the key of the stokehole [ie the Furnace House] I know and Orderly Gibbs the key of the back entrance – no soldier was allowed out after 5pm. How they tried to get round me I remember to let them have that Key!!"

Several local concert parties visited the soldiers at the hospital to entertain them including one organised by Mr Edwardes of Hanney.

The school also organised a concert entitled The Tinder Box which brought the house down. The soldiers themselves organised a sports day including such sports as croquet, boot race, bowls tennis and golf.

St Katherine’s Red Cross Hospital was in existence from October 1914 till May 1916 when many more hospitals were available and it was closed and the school returned to normal.

In that time more than 500 patients were treated, and there was only one death – Pt Gabriel Kite, 1st Battalion Dorset Regiment, who died of wounds he received in action at Hill 60 near Ypres in Belgium.

Aged 43 and from Beaminster Dorset, he had volunteered for the army in August 1914, and left a wife and three children.

His funeral in Wantage cemetery was attended by about 1,000 people.

The North Wilts Herald described it as ‘the first occasion as far as is known, on which a soldier who died of wounds in battle has been buried in Wantage.'