ON the central island in Bournemouth Square were four seats for the men, convalescing after being wounded in the war.

Around the seats were railings to stop other people from sitting in them.

The injured soldiers did not like it.

“It was like being in a cage to be looked at,” one said.

This was Bournemouth at the time of the First World War, when the blue uniforms of the wounded could be seen all over the town.

And that war was the subject of a fascinating booklet published 27 years ago that was written by Michael Edgington who lives in Portalington Road in the town.

Bournemouth and the First World War tells of how Bournemouth was among the seaside resorts asked by the Home Office, soon after the 1914-18 conflict began, to provide accommodation for wounded or sick soldiers.

The town responded, providing beds at the Royal Victoria and West Hants Hospital at Boscombe and converting Crag Head, a large house on the East Cliff (demolished in 1972) into a hospital.

That winter, Bournemouth was preparing for the billeting of 10,000 or more Territorial soldiers that would make the resort resemble a garrison town but the horror of the trenches had yet to hit home.

The first contingent of 100 soldiers wounded at the front arrived by ambulance train at Boscombe on Friday 9, October 1914 and a crowd of well-wishers met their arrival before St Ambulances whisked them to the nearby hospital.

Four days later, a further 101 arrived at Bournemouth Station and were taken to Crag Head; soon after, a third batch of 50 Belgian soldiers were found beds in local nursing homes.

It wasn’t long before the grim reality of war became apparent. On October 21, Private William F Stevens, aged 23, died at Boscombe Hospital.

He had been wounded at the Battle of Mons and lain on the battlefield for 15 hours after shrapnel tore apart his hip.

His body was taken by gun carriage, draped with the Union Flag, from Boscombe through Kings Park to an area set aside in the East Cemetery for the war dead.

Soon the demand for beds for wounded soldiers in Bournemouth was so high that more buildings had to be converted to hospitals.

As well as the 200 beds (originally under a canvas marquee) at Boscombe Hospital and the 100 or more at Crag Head, during the course of that war, others opened.

By November 0f 1914, Grata Quies auxiliary hospital was established in Western Avenue, Branksome Park; Heron Court at Hurn became another and the Mont Dore Hotel – today Bournemouth’s Town Hall – was converted into a military hospital initially for injured Indian soldiers.

Later the St John Ambulance Brigade opened a hospital in Bodorgan Road and the Stourwood Auxiliary Hospital came into being at Bracken Road, Southbourne.

Other soldiers were treated in nearby Christchurch, Somerley and Poole.

Tragedy frequently knocked on the hospital doors. During 1915 alone 38 soldiers died in Bournemouth’s Hospital, reported Michael Edgington’s intriguing study.

Twenty died from war wounds, seven from pneumonia and 11 from other causes.

Throughout the war the Red Cross trains would bring to injured to Bournemouth to be met by the St John Ambulance Brigade. By the end of the war the Brigade had off-loaded 10,206 men.

Ambulances – there were 10 available by 1916, – were provided by groups and individuals.

The first had been purchased by Miss Laura Starkey of Grove Road, Bournemouth, and she drove it herself. She went on to buy three more.

Another Bournemouth woman, Miss Lilian Audrey Forse, who was the sister of the vicar of St Katherine’s, did even more for the war effort.

She was a voluntary worker in France where her ward was hit by a bomb during an air raid that saw many casualties.

Miss Forse received the Military Medal “for conspicuous bravery under enemy fire in France”.

She had carried on nursing “showing remarkable coolness”.

Back in Bournemouth, as well as in the Square, seats for convalescing soldiers could be found at Boscombe as well as deckchairs provided on the beach. A canteen for them was set up in 1916 at the cloisters near Bournemouth Pier that served 2,000 teas in its first 10 days.

The war finally ended with the Armistice on November 11 1918. Statistics do not tell exactly how many soldiers were treated in Bournemouth, during the war, wrote Mr Edgington in his booklet, but Crag Head hospital alone, by November 1918, had treated 5,470. Twenty six of those had died.

The men who recovered faced being returned to the battlegrounds on the Western Front... to risk their lives again.