Here is the inside account of Cuckfield Hospital after it was taken over by the Canadian army in 1942.
Gordon Muggeridge memories were found, in the RCM Collection, of his posting in Cuckfield and his role as Quartermaster Sergeant. I have included the full biographical account of his career to put Cuckfield into context and to explain the work of Canadian Field Ambulance.
Gordon E Muggeridge
Motivated and disciplined since his youth, Gordon towered above his peers at six feet and though he appeared lean, was built like a solid maple that had potential to be cut into an excellent soldier. It seemed his only vice was the theory of map reading, a skill that might have thwarted his ascendency to a combat role, but he desired a career as a quartermaster.
Growing up between the varied landscapes of Kamloops and Vancouver, British Columbia offered the opportunity for a variety of outdoor actives and Gordon became acquainted with horse riding across arid near-desert landscapes, fishing in the Gulf of Georgia and local rivers or streams, and was quite fond of hunting in the forests and mountains in the north. He particularly enjoyed examining and using rifles and pistols.
By the age of 16, Gordon dropped out of Grade 11 to begin working. It is unclear if it was motivation to begin earning a living or if his family needed money, as he was an above average student and could certainly have excelled in post-secondary schooling. He found work first as a farm laborer for a year and a half and then was employed for six months in logging camps in the area.
In 1932 he joined the 11th Division Signals, part of the Non-Permanent Active Militia, and the same year began working at the American Can Company as a labourer. Within four years, he rose to the position of senior inspector and as a soldier up to the rank of sergeant with first class grades in signal schooling each year through 1937.
He had the rare opportunity to represent his unit and country at the coronation of King George VI. There is no doubt he was selected for his high marks, professional attitude, and clean appearance. A large number of military personnel were present from 25 countries and colonies across the Empire, totaling 32,500 officers and men marching and lining the parade route. The entire procession was long enough to take 40 minutes to complete from beginning to end at any point along the route, which happened to be the longest during this year after it was extended significantly to six and a quarter miles.
After six and a half years of service in the militia, Muggeridge joined the Canadian Active Service Force as part of the famed Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry for four months. Once again holding the rank of Private, his former rank not having carried over from the militia, Muggeridge began attending the RCAMC school and was assigned to their No 11 Detachment.
By the end of 1941, however, he had regained and surpassed his former standing and was now acting as Regimental Sergeant Major, or Warrant Officer Grade I. He intended to make a career of the military service, pursuing a commission in his field of the quartermaster. On the first of the year in 1942, he was assigned to the No. 16 General Hospital, then in Vancouver, and by mid-year, embarked for the United Kingdom, beginning his tenure overseas.
The unit disembarked at Greenock, Scotland on June 24, 1942 with Lieutenant Colonel Murray Mccheyne Baird commanding. The area really looked quite a bit like home to Gordon, with large ridges and peaks paled in the distance beyond congregations of homes and buildings nestled in rich green pasture. Soon they moved south to Cuckfield near the coast of the English Channel, and the familiar hills gave way to farmland and towns of brick and stone.
The hospital took over the old Cuckfield Union Workhouse, a sprawling three story building completed in 1845 and later repurposed as a civilian hospital. It was a sturdy, symmetrical edifice of red brick and sandstone trim with blocky chimneys that pierced the slate roof. On each side of the building, wards lined the long halls back to back and looked out over courtyards surrounded by wrought iron fences.
These open fences were unusual of workhouses of the 1800s that typically used high walls surrounding the grounds for much more confining atmosphere like a prison for the inmates and impoverished workers who earned their keep by working at a nearby corn mill or breaking stones for the road in a nearby quarry.
Originally the house had facilities to accommodate up to 450 inmates and residents and infirmary blocks were added in 1877 and 1890. The workhouse was re-designated after the First World War and again in 1930 when it was repurposed as the West Hylands Institution to care for sick, elderly, mentally subnormal, and others, and finally as the Cuckfield Union Infirmary before becoming an emergency medical service hospital at the outbreak of the war. It was an ideal estate to occupy for the purposes of the Canadian hospital.
All the Canadian hospitals moving overseas were dependent on such accommodations. Already there were eight settled in England with a combined capacity of 4800 beds. A ninth was requested for no later than early July – No. 16 fulfilled this need with 600 more beds. But the build-up of hospitals in England to bolster the capacity for casualties in the planned invasion of France for summer of 1943 called for more, and with the arrival No. 16 CGH, the number was barely halfway there.
The duties of Quartermaster Sergeant were pivotal during this period. With not so many patients arriving, the hospital focused on expansion and preparation. As qualified clerk and wardmaster, Muggeridge handled much of the logistics in stocking and maintaining supplies. They did so for the next year, despite the proposed invasion date being pushed out from summer of 1943. Beginning in February of that year, Gordon began attending pre-Officer Cadet training and by November 1 was slated to be a Lieutenant. Two weeks after his commissioning, he took on strength with the No. 23 Canadian Field Ambulance.
The field ambulance was quite different from a static hospital as it was the unit operating forward of casualty clearing stations in the field. They were responsible for the evacuation and treatment of casualties before reaching the CCS, and this mobility introduced a number of new supply problems for Lieutenant Muggeridge to understand and adapt to while the allies prepared for the invasion of France slated for spring 1944. It felt like a repeat of the year before.
Aerial bombardment had not been as effective as planned, but still left many coastal homes smoldering shells of broken beams and crumbling brick. Telephone and electrical wires lay between poles, some leaning and broken. Juno beach was equally as littered with debris from the day before when the first waves of assault troops stormed French coast. Being of the rear echelon of the No. 23 Field Ambulance, Gordon did not have to witness the harsh first hours of the assault under fire, though he did bear witness to the results of combat as casualties rotated through the ambulance to dressing stations and hospitals.
Toward the end of the Normandy campaign, Gordon transferred to the No. 23 General Hospital for two months and then sailed back to England for service with the No. 22 General Hospital.
It was a great relief to be away from the combat area and once again live in the comfort of solid buildings with real beds. This lasted until the last days of March 1945 when Gordon received orders to report ot the No. 7 Field Dressing Station, and headed back to the European continent.
After the allied victory in Europe, Gordon immediately volunteered for service in the Pacific, but as the workings of the military would have it, he simply returned home to Canada. He did not expect his service in the Far East to come after a period of seven years when he was called on to serve with the 1st Commonwealth Division in Korea. He arrived in the frozen hills on February 10, 1952 to a scene that was more reminiscent of what he had heard of during the First World War than what he saw himself in Europe.
The unit he joined – No. 25 Canadian Field Ambulance – was to return to Canada in two months due to the annual rotation implemented for the Commonwealth units. The quartermaster captain he replaced was eager to go, welcoming the opportunity to be home before his unit was slated to go. The two months gave Gordon ample time to adjust and prepare for the arrival of the No. 37 Canadian Field Ambulance in late April, and he was eager to offer his experience to the unit which was proudly cohesive and did not need to absorb many replacements.
The field dressing stations in this war did not move about as rapidly as they had during World War II, but the issue of refugees and civilians seeking medical aid was astounding. Being integral to the field ambulance, Gordon was much more active on the front and only occasionally saw the plight of the Korean people. He was more often exposed to the brutality of fighting as casualties were evacuated almost daily through the unit.
Eleven full months combat saw an end to Gordon’s Korean tour and he returned to a peaceful life once more. For his service in Korea, he was Mentioned in Dispatches, likely for upholding his duties as quartermaster with great attention and care to ensure the success of the No. 37 Field Ambulance. After eight years, he finally retired from the Army, ending a career spanning over 30 years.
You can read more about this period of Cuckfield Hospital's life and about how Canadian's became a welcome and lively part of Cuckfield's life in the following Cuckfield Connections articles:
The transfer of patients in an article on the 150 years of the hospital site at: https://www.cuckfieldconnections.org.uk/post/150-years-of-the-cuckfield-hospital-site.
1992: Angela Fox reflects on what the Canadians did for Cuckfield in WW2
1939-1945 People's War - Phyl Bowring looks back
1939-1945: What Cuckfield did in the War
Workhouse picture credit: Cuckfield workhouse from the east, c.1909.
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.