AN exhibition has opened at Hartlebury Castle showing the role the fortified manor house played as an emergency hospital during the First World War.

Called A Happy Convalescence, the comprehensive display includes patient’s drawings, poems and comments as well as the stories of the Worcestershire women who nursed them back to health. It will run for two years in the County Museum at the Grade I Listed castle, the former home of the Bishops of Worcester.

Part of the Worcestershire World War One Hundred project, the exhibition pieces together the journeys of the ill and injured from the battlefield to "Blighty" and back again through patient’s drawings, poems and comments. Visitors can learn about the determined Worcestershire women who nursed the soldiers back to health, including the story of the Gibbons sisters, Margaret and Frances who organised, ran and nursed Hartlebury VAD Hospital from 1915 until the end of the war.

The exhibition features real objects from the trenches, including gas masks, cigarettes and even a surgeon's kit used at the front. Visitors will also be able to experience an interactive VAD bed complete with the kinds of items you would find in a patient’s bedside table. The exhibition has been curated from Museum Worcestershire’s collection along with loans from George Marshal Medical Museum, The Mercian Regiment Museum and from local people.

Activities and events will take place throughout the life of the project, kick starting with Explore the First World War on Easter Bank Holiday Monday, March 28, when visitors can meet nurses in the WWI replica bell tent and learn how to tie slings and roll bandages, children can enjoy making poppy badges, Union Jack flags and registration cards, Discovery History will be explaining what life was really like on the Western Front and there will be performance by Worcester-born Vesta Tilley, the Music Hall star who inspired the troops throughout the war.

Through the rest of the Easter holidays the museum is offering a variety of First World War family craft activities, including making paper biplanes, poppy badges, peace doves and models of WWI pilots and war horses. There will also be an egg trail with a WWI theme where children can hunt eggs around the Museum and solve the clues to claim a chocolate prize. Activities take place on Tuesdays-Thursdays only during the two Easter weeks.

Rachel Robinson, Hartlebury property & projects manager of Hartlebury Castle said: “The exhibition will offer a real opportunity to understand what it meant to run a VAD hospital as well as learn more about the experience of injured soldiers. We hope the range of artefacts we have brought together will really bring this part of Hartlebury’s history to life. On Easter Monday we hope people come along to get involved with World War One themed activities, the first of what we hope will be a series of events linked to the exhibition telling the story of Hartlebury Castle during the First World War.”

Su Vale, project officer of Worcestershire World War One Hundred, added: "Hartlebury’s history as a VAD Hospital is hugely important to Worcestershire and our World War One commemorations. Our daily diary, which runs on our website, regularly reports on the patients arriving at and recuperating at Hartlebury as well as the fundraising that took place locally to support the Hospital. We look forward to seeing the artefacts, patient and nurses stories coming together in one place for visitors to the Castle to enjoy and learn more about the impact of the Great War on our county.”

A Happy Convalescence has been funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of Worcestershire World War One Hundred, one of the largest programme of events across England commemorating the First World War involving cultural and heritage organisations ounty-wide through until 2018.

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