The Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Hampshire
The Royal Victoria Country Park at Netley Abbey is due to undergo a £2.68M restoration of its historic buildings, via the Heritage Lottery Fund, secured by Hampshire County Council. As part of this the human side of its history is being brought together from memories of the site from locals with family or other links to the site. In charge of this is Paul Del-A-More, a Hamble local who is Project Manager for the venture. Paul’s Blog can be seen here:
Being based in the area Timedetectives decided to do some digging of our own, and came up with some interesting connections to the area via the Family History of the Kray Twins.
The Royal Victoria Hospital was a personal project of Queen Victoria, and when built was the largest Hospital in the world. It served the British armed forces from the time of the Crimean War, through the 19th century and on into the First and Second World Wars, until the demolition of most of the buildings in 1966 during the Philistine demolition boom that destroyed so much British History in the 1960s.
During its time, from the aftermath of the Crimean War to WW2 the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley served generations of soldiers from all over the United Kingdom, its Colonies, and allies. To understand how such a place could have an effect on generations of British Families I have taken an example of the Kray Twins Family as an extension to other Kray stories in this Blog.
The Kray Twins are of course synonymous with East End Gangsters, but the twins had an enduring connection with this area of Hampshire spreading from Southampton in the West, through Netley and the Hamble Peninsula, out to Waterlooville in the East, even ignoring Reggie Kray’s time in Prison on the Isle of Wight.
The First Kray in Netley Hospital
John William Kray, the Kray twins Great Grandfather’s brother, had left his job hammering rivets all day, to take up a life in the army at 18 years of age and in 1870 when he had joined the 65th Regiment of foot. His career in the army was a fractious one, with constant bouts of indiscipline and sickness. He came to be in Netley Hospital whilst stationed in England as veteran soldier with seven years under his belt. He was admitted on 30th April 1877, for a mystery illness, and the doctors scratched their heads whilst John Kray the brawny ex-riveter spent a lovely couple of weeks of bed rest and recuperation chatting to the nurses in the grounds of the large beautiful Hospital bordering the Solent. Eventually the Doctors after scratching their heads and listening to his diverse description of his ailments, decided that despite his protests of illness, there was nothing actually wrong with him other than a likely case of malingering by an experienced old lag of a Private.
Having failed to prove himself sick, he deserted for six months in 1879, then voluntarily re-joined in the same year having got bored with being on the run. On his return he was sentenced to a month’s hard labour and stoppages of wages. Shortly after this the Army decided that he would be better off out of harms way in the Far East, where he spent the next fourteen years serving in the East Indies; India, Aden, and the Soudan (sic). Having failed to get sick whilst at Netley, John Kray surpassed himself in India where he managed to get six year’s worth of diarrhoea, Malaria, Dysentery, Gonorrhoea, and Syphilis, despite this he continued serving, given his particular ailments he obviously made the most of his time in the tropics. He no doubt longed to be back in Netley enjoying the sea breezes off the Solent.
In 1884 the regiment was sent to the Sudan to fight the ISIS of their day, The Mahdists, led by the man from whom they derived their name, the “Mahdi” or the “Mad Mullah” as he was nicknamed by the British Troops. The Mahdi was , who had killed British General Gordon and overrun an Anglo-Egyptian outpost at Khartoum in the Sudan. John Kray would see some real action in the Sudan for the first time in his military career. John’s regiment engaged with the Mahdist Army after the Mahdists had destroyed an Egyptian force sent against them, and had captured the Egyptians’ modern British manufactured firearms in the process, so posed an even greater threat to the British Protectorate.
The Mahdists had a defended position at El Teb but were overrun by British forces with light casualties (John’s regiment only receiving seven casualties) but killing two thousand Mahdists in the process. The Mahdists were later re-engaged by John’s regiment at the battle of Tomai where for a loss of just over two hundred the British killed four thousand Mahdists.
After the actions in the Sudan John Kray’s regiment is sent home, and in 1889, after nearly twenty years in the Army John went back to civvie street, where he married, and settled down in Leeds where he worked as a commissionaire. The only member of the family at this time to move away from the London area. He would die in Leeds in 1906.
No doubt when John Kray reminisced to the rest of the Kray clan about his adventures in the Army, he would have told stories of his best remembered time during a balmy English Summer malingering in the grounds of Netley Hospital; his two weeks of contented holiday on the Banks of the Solent.
The last Kray at Netley Hospital
Clement Henry Kray, a second cousin of the Kray twins, also ended up in The Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley. The circumstances of him arriving there were very different from those of his malingering distant cousin John who we heard about above.
While the Kray Twins line of the family had been Lamp Lighters, Clement’s line of the family via his Grandfather had pulled themselves up by the boot straps to open a small tobacconist shop in Bethnal Green, and Clement’s Father, Henry Joseph, had managed to get an education and move into lithographic printing, eventually opening a small printing business for himself.
in 1900 Henry had volunteered for the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), not actually as implied by its name an artillery unit, but a mixed unit of Infantry and supporting artillery, drawn from Londoners from the area of the City of London, and the oldest volunteer Regiment in the British Army.
Clement Kray, Henry’s eldest son, had been doing well for himself before the War, he was a young commercial traveller from Harlesdon, and no doubt enjoyed life and expected great things to develop, as the Country moved from Victorian seriousness and poverty for the working classes, into a time of opportunity and a developing Middle Class in the Edwardian era. In 1910 he followed his Father as a part time volunteer soldier in the HAC, so had a good career, some status in a well respected volunteer force, and a bright future. But the Great War would change all of that.
Clement was shipped over to the French/Belgian border to fight the Germans in 1914. The HAC took part in the Battle of Ypres, and Clement’s unit was dug in around Kemmel, the highest point on the battlefield, which of course put them up as a prime target for the Germans. The Kray Twins’ Grandfather “Mad’ Jimmy Kray was in France in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) another London regiment, at the same time as Clement, and no doubt heard about the action at Kemmel where his second cousin Clement was fighting.
The HAC were soon heavily engaged during the bitter winter of 1914. On 15th December 1914 the HAC went over the top and charged the German lines after an artillery bombardment, having to run uphill many of the HAC had been cut down by the Germans on the way in. Despite this they had overrun the German positions and had taken a terrible revenge on the Germans who had surrendered, shooting many of them out of hand in revenge for their fallen comrades. By their own admission many of the men had a blood lust brought on by battle, and such incidences of brutality outside the rules of war were far from uncommon amongst the hard-bitten British professional soldiers, for example in the same battle 300 German prisoners were reported slaughtered after surrender by the Royal Scots. Clement was one of the unlucky HAC soldiers who was wounded in the Battle. The wounds were far too serious to be treated in the field, or even further back from the battle front, bad enough in fact for Clement to be shipped back to England.
Clement was shipped back to Blighty on a hospital steamer, unloaded onto one of the specilaised Hospital Trains at Southampton Docks, which steamed the few miles down the coast to Netley, where he was taken into the care of the volunteer nurses at the Royal Victoria.
Netley, after much criticism, had been added to with a large number of huts to accommodate patients in better conditions than were previously available in the wards, and was visited by Sir Frederick Treves in November, just a month before Clement Kray was shipped across from from to it. Treves was famous as the rescuer of Joseph Merrick (sometimes mistakenly called John Merrick) better known as The Elephant Man. Treves was now very senior in the Medical Profession, looking after the Royal Family, and had also served in a field hospital in the Boer War, so was keen to make sure that facilities were as good as they could be for wounded soldiers in the Great War. In his report he describes The Royal Victoria Hospital as:
“It is a ‘Hut Hospital’ of 500 beds, essentially a Field Hospital capable of being readily moved. When completed at the end of the present month, it will be made up of 45 Huts disposed as follows:- 25 for patients, 9 for nurses, 5 for orderlies, 3 as recreation rooms, and 3 for isolation wards.
At present only 25 Huts are occupied, 10 of these being Ward Huts. The Operating Theatre is not yet completed. The staff under Sir Warren Crooke-Lawless consists of 18 medical officers, 65 female nurses, all fully trained, a matron, 20 quartermasters, and 130 N.C.O.’s and men. The Hospital is rationed from Netley. The wounded are brought into Netley by a special ambulance train, thence they are transported by stretcher to the Hospital, a distance covered in some four or five minutes.
The number of patients in the Hospital is at the moment 140; 80 being British soldiers and 60 belonging to Indian troops. In another week the Hospital will be able to accommodate 300 patients. As an illustration of efficient transport it may be said that a large batch of patients now in the wards were wounded on a certain Friday and were in bed at Netley on the following Monday. There has happily been only one death at the Hospital, that of a soldier with a desperate shell wound of the skull exposing the brain. The first major operation performed in the Hospital was not upon a soldier, but upon one of the Hospital orderlies, who was seized with appendicitis and is now a cheery convalescent in his own ward. The cases are practically all gunshot wounds. There has been no tetanus and little gangrene. No cases of typhoid fever have been received. The medical cases have been light, although among them are six cases of Beri-beri.
The Hospital has the general appearance of a toy town made up of grey Huts arranged, with great formality, in a meadow behind Netley. The Huts are the best of the type I have seen. They are light, airy and well ventilated. They are lit by electric light, are warmed by slow-combustion stoves (two to each Hut) and are amply supplied with water. The sanitary arrangements are quite admirable, the many difficulties that presented themselves having been surmounted with complete success. Each Hut contains 20 beds and has a well-arranged annexe. The furniture, beds, bedding and general equipment of the Huts leave nothing to be desired. The Hospital kit, issued to each man by Lady Wolverton is excellent and – if I may venture to say so – is better than that supplied by the Army. It consists of a blue jacket and trousers, both lined with flannel, a vest, shirt, night dress, towel, handkerchief and slippers.
The Red Cross store, managed by Lady Lawless and Mrs. Miller, is a model of efficiency and order. The new Operating Theatre, built under the direction of Mr. Cuthbert Wallace, is admirably arranged and will soon be completed. The nurses’ huts, with 9 cubicles in each, are very comfortable. The kitchen is furnished with every requirement for a hospital of 500 beds, and the sergeant cook is very proud of it. He exhibited a roast fowl and a bowl of beef tea with the confidence of an artist who was displaying finished works of art.
The Medical Officers, under the direction of Mr. Cuthbert Wallace and Dr. Miller, are doing excellent work, and these gentlemen speak in the highest terms of their efficiency. The matron pays a compliment to the Society in its selection of nurses by her assertion that her staff gives the greatest satisfaction and there is not a single nurse she would wish to change. The orderlies are men drawn from various Voluntary Aid Detachments throughout the country. It will be of interest to the Society to know that Sir Warren is not only entirely satisfied with these men and their exemplary behaviour, but also – although the staff is so large – that he has not had occasion to make a complaint of any one of them.
A whole-hearted enthusiasm and a determination to do their best pervade the entire staff of the Hospital from the highest to the humblest. This excellent spirit derives its inspiration partly from the fine example set by Colonel Crooke-Lawless himself and partly from the fact that everyone at work in Netley is proud of the Hospital he serves. In that pride the Society may well participate.”
Clement spent Christmas 1914/15 and New Year in Netley, but sadly died of his wounds on 22nd January 1915.
Clement’s Father had already lost his youngest son Frederick earlier that year, and had the sad task of having Clement’s body shipped back to London by Trainhis Mother and Father buried him at New Southgate Cemetery Enfield, with the following epitaph:
Clement Henry Kray
1st. Battalion Honourable Artillery Company who fell in the Great War. Wounded at Kemmel, nr. Ypres, 15th. Dec. 1914, Died at Netley Hospital, 22nd. Jan. 1915, aged 22 years
“Duty bravely done is the rising of the Sun of glory”
During the Second World War when Reggie and Ronnie Kray were children, their mother took therm away from the Blitz in London to the relative safety of Hampshire, it is not clear where exactly, but the episode did not end well, as the twins’ unruly behavior proved too much for the kindly Doctor who had agreed to take the family in, and very soon they were back to Lopndon, andn then evacuated again to Suffolk, where they saw out much of the War.
This time in the country made a big impression on the twins, although they were Cockney born and bred and the family had been since the 1700s, they had an abiding love of the country, and when things got a bit too intense in the East End, thye twins would come down to Hampshire for a little holiday, here Ronnie coulkd play Lord of the Manor with his silver topped cane and tweeds, while he and his brother Reggie would drink in their favourite Pub outside of London, The Bugle Pub near the waterfront in Hamble.
So taken were the twins with Hamble, that they bought a small house in the village, Hamble Manor Lodge, right next door to Hamble Manor. The twins didn’t just take it easy while in Hamble, they are rumoured to have had various dealings with the local underworld in nearby Southampton, where the docks were rife with money making opportunities, and there are even stories of a motor launch that was owned by the Twins being abandoned at Southampton Docks when they were finally banged up for murder. Maybe it was just a pleasure cruiser, or maybe it was used for other purposes? “Mad Axeman” Frank Mitchell was said to have been wrapped in Chicken wire, weighted down, and dropped in the Sea after he was murdered by the Kray’s associates.
There are also stories of a collection from a Bank Manager in Waterlooville of £85,000 that was taken to Ronnie Kray while he was in Prison. Maybe there are still some mysteries to be uncovered?
…and if you have your own Family Stories about servicemen who spent time in The Royal Victoria Hospital Netley in Hampshire let me know and I’ll pass them on in time for its historic restoration. Please feel free to leave a comment on this page.
If you’d like your own Family History professionally researched, please contact me on email@example.com