Behind the Scenes at The Ration: Reading’s WWI Hospital Magazine

home front WW1

After only six issues, sales of Reading War Hospitals’ in-house magazine The Ration reached an encouraging average of 1500 copies per month.1 The men behind its success were all with the Royal Army Medical Corps, working in Reading’s busy Central military hospital, Reading War Hospital No.1 (on the site of the old Battle workhouse). Not only were they responsible for its production but, more often than not, large chunks of its content too.

From the first issue in January 1916 to the last, in January 1919, the Editor of The Ration was Corporal (later Acting Sergeant) John William Sinton, the Registrar’s Clerk. Sinton (Regimental No: 101059) was in the RAMC from August 1915 to his demobilisation in June 1919.2 As Editor, he was responsible for ‘the whole of the letter-press with the sole exception of the verse’.3 In addition to his regular columns, he wrote humorous articles under various pseudonyms, such as ‘The Grumbler‘ and ‘Haverill’.

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Private Ernest Shaw RAMC

Sinton’s right hand man was the cartoonist, Ern Shaw (1891-1986). Private Ernest Shaw RAMC was attached to the Quartermaster’s staff and worked in the Orthopaedic Department of RWH No.1. By the closure of the magazine in January 1919, he had contributed over 300 drawings and several articles.4

His article ‘Kits’, outlines what happened to a patient’s kit on arrival at the RWH: it was sorted, fumigated, washed, inventoried, repaired and where necessary, exchanged. He ends the piece with a few figures pertaining to numbers of items issued to patients in the Reading War Hospitals in a single month, including: 780 combs, 30 civilian suits to discharged soldiers, 1303 pants, 1234 socks and 719 puttees!5

Ernie Shaw, as he was known on The Ration, was a talented artist who had trained (via correspondence course) at the Press Art School in London. When King George V and Queen Mary visited the hospital in March 1918, Queen Mary took time to notice ‘a fine charcoal study by our gifted artist’, examining it with interest before drawing the King’s attention to it.6

Whilst his cartoons graced the pages of The Ration, his ‘sketches of details of operations on wounded soldiers, as performed by Surgeon Major J. L. Joyce’ were printed in The Lancet. After the war, he went on to work as a newspaper cartoonist, starting out on the paper ‘All Sports’ in 1919.7

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Staff Sergeant JR Smith

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Private Booth

The ‘Magazine Committee’ comprised of Corporal (later Staff Sergeant) JR Smith, Sergeant AS Wood and Private HJ Booth.

Staff Sergeant JR Smith, Assistant Pay Clerk in the Pay Office, was in charge of all ‘the business connected with our magazine’. Like the rest of the team, he wrote several articles, including one about an escort duty down to Brighton. A keen musician, Smith was the organist for the Sunday service (in the Dining Hall) and a regular accompanist at concerts for patients.

Sergeant AS Wood (pictured at the top) was the RWH Pay Clerk and therefore the ‘best known NCO on the Hospital’s Staff’. He wrote most of the poetry in The Ration, under his own name, as ‘K’ or sometimes ‘Kayman the Scribe’. The final issue features his poignant poem ‘Peace’ on its front page.8

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Private TJ Hopcraft

Proof reading was done by Private TJ Hopcraft of the Admission and Discharge Office, with help from patients, including a Lieutenant Helsby of 18th Northumberland Fusiliers, who, though ‘too ill to write’, was able to help with proofing.9

Among the contributors, Private George W Millar was a rare beast: an author who illustrated his work. From 1916, Millar, an assistant in the Pathological Laboratory, wrote under the pseudonym ‘Mike’.10 In the March 1917 issue (which included a couple of his silhouettes, such as the one below), Millar was congratulated on his promotion to ‘an officer’s rank’ and referred to as Second-Lieutenant GW Millar RGA.11

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Staff at RWH Section 3 (Wilson School) were repeatedly mentioned in the list of contributors. They included the hospital postman, Private R Richardson (poetry), the London Regiments’ Privates GS Plant, W Lawson and F Lynch (artwork) and Acting Sergeant JG Ransom of the Middlesex Yeomanry (Our Pepys’ Diary’).

Patients were published too! Names, ranks and regiments include: Sergeant SA Hart of the 8th Somerset Light Infantry (once again from RWH Section 3), Private FH Agnew of the Scottish Rifles, Sergeant F Lighton of the 2/3rd London Regiment and Captain Howells of the 15th Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

home front WW1The September 1916 issue has an illustration by patient Lance Corporal Joseph Leon Racionzer of the 17th Highland Light Infantry. According to the magazine, Racionzer was a Scotsman, who was persuaded to submit an illustration after being discovered ‘working diligently at a drawing of the hospital grounds’.12 He left hospital soon after and according to his medal card and RAF service records, he transferred to the 38th (Jewish) Battalion Royal Fusiliers in January 1918.13

His departure prompted the Editor to lament, ‘Pity that so many patients only consent to write or illustrate for us on the eve of their departure’.14

Another editorial complaint was the lack of material from the nursing staff, as per Sinton’s comment in September 1916, which ends with an interesting question:

‘A sister at one of our branch hospitals has been courageous enough to send a contribution. We have had several articles from VAD ladies, but this is actually the first to be received from a senior member of the nursing staff. As usual, though, anonymity is claimed. Why, we wonder?’15

Between June and December 1916, several articles including ‘A Story Retold by a Lady Visitor’ and ‘At random by a Wanderer Through the Wards’ were written by a VAD known only as ‘MW’. According to a few intriguing pencil notes, in a copy of the magazine deposited the Berkshire Record Office, the article entitled ‘The Sorrows of Cynthia by a VAD’ (July 1916) was written by one ‘Cicely Bird’.16

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Sister Eliza West (based at RWH No.1) gave The Ration at least two of her photographs. One, entitled ‘Open Air Concert at Central Hospital’ (July 1917) and the other (pictured), ‘A Convoy’ (January 1918).

According to the magazine, Sister West was awarded the Royal Red Cross in 1917.17 This information is corroborated by West’s entry in Sue Light’s transcription of ‘The Royal Red Cross Register’ available on http://www.findmypast.co.uk and her Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) records, available for download at The National Archives. Full of useful biographical information, Sister West’s service record tells us that she trained at the Royal Isle of Wight Infirmary and County Hospital and joined the RWH in June 1915, where she stayed for the duration of the war.18

With grateful thanks to Reading Local Studies for their permission to use images taken of their copies of The Ration.

Footnotes
[1] The Ration, Vol.I No.7 (July 1916)
Reading Local Studies Collection (Shelf No. R/DY)
[2] Medal Card TNA Ref: WO 372/18/87962 via Ancestry.co.uk
[3] Article by Bt-Major JL Joyce RAMC, Registrar Reading War Hospital
The Ration, Vol.III No.29 (January 1919)
[4] The Ration, Vol.III No.29 (January 1919)
[5] The Ration, Vol.I No.8 (August 1916)
[6] The Ration, Vol.III No.27 (Royal Visit 1918)
[7] Entry for Ernest Shaw in Lambiek Comiclopedia
plus blog about Ern Shaw: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up www.ernshawcartoonist.blogspot.co.uk
[8] The Ration, Vol.III No.29 (January 1919)
[9] The Ration, Vol.I No.7 (July 1916)
[10] Ibid
[11] The Ration, Vol.II No.15 (March 1917)
[12] The Ration, Vol.I No.9 (September 1916)
[13] Medal Card TNA Ref: WO 372/16/125224 via Ancestry.co.uk
RAF Officers’ Service Records via The National Archives Online
TNA Catalogue Ref: AIR 76/416
[14] The Ration, Vol.I No.9 (September 1916)
[15] Ibid
[16] The Ration, Vol.I No.7 (July 1916) Berkshire Record Office Ref: D/EE/234/3
[17] The Ration, Vol.II No.24 (December 1917). Further information about Sister Eliza West’s award can be found on www.findmypast.co.uk under ‘The Royal Red Cross Register Transcription’ compiled by Sue Light. Further information on nursing in WWI can be found at www.scarletfinders.co.uk
[18] QAIMNS Nursing Service records via The National Archives Online
TNA Catalogue Ref: WO 399/8857 Eliza West was born in Leeds on 2nd May 1870

© Emmy Eustace

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2 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes at The Ration: Reading’s WWI Hospital Magazine

  1. What a wonderful artefact and an interesting article. At Guildford war hospital we are still searching for copies of “F Wards Gazette” edited by Rev Kirwan, the hospital padre which was described in the Surrey Advertiser as, “a pot-pourri of wit, wisdom & genial nonsense.”

    • Thank you for the kind comment, Liz. I am glad you enjoyed it. Your missing Guildford War Hospital magazine sounds quite similar in approach to The Ration. I wonder why copies weren’t sent to the British Library? I will keep a watchful eye out for it, in every 2nd hand bookstall, just in case!

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