A Midnight Feast

Introduction by Linda Preston

This is a light hearted account of my grandfather's time at an Isle of Wight nursing home.  This is exactly as how it was told to me by my grandmother.

My grandfather never ever spoke about anything that happened to him. I think when he married he told my grandmother all the horrors he'd witnessed, and once he got it off his chest he left it at that.

I have researched a little about the nursing homes used for the injured on the Isle of Wight during the first world war, but very little historical evidence remains now.

I contacted the Island's archivist who sent me some interesting correspondence about their establishment but said there was little else available.


My grandfather, Bill Haworth, was 19 when he was badly injured fighting in France during the First World War. He had been hit by a piece of shrapnel in the lower half of his right arm. In a bid to save his arm the surgeons had to remove most of the bone, which left a deep indentation, and would permanently affect his ability to hold objects. It would also leave his hand almost locked in a claw like position. After his operation he was sent along with many others to convalesce at a hospital on the Isle of Wight. The hospital had been a large privately owned residence before being commandeered to be turned into a hospital. It was rather like a stately home set in magnificent gardens. My grandfather, a former Lancashire mill lad who had lived in a two up, two down terraced, was impressed. He was in large room with a huge bay window overlooking the grounds, a room with carpets, and paintings on the walls. Alongside him were several others with a variety of injuries.

However, the novelty of the splendour of the home soon wore off. After a few days, my grandfather, who was a big strapping lad, had only one thing dominating his mind, and that was food, and how to get enough of it. As he lay recovering from his wounds, he was disappointed by just how little they were given to eat. He found that their evening meal was often just slivers of bread and jam, which hardly filled a corner in his stomach. The nurses, and sister seemed oblivious to his complaints of being hungry. They just stated that there was a war on and he should be grateful for what he was given.

Eventually after a week or so of what he considered starvation rations he and a couple of lads in near by beds decided one night to go in search of food. They waited until the night sister had finished her rounds. They knew that she had so many charges she wouldn't be back for hours if at all. So they slipped quietly out of bed. What a sight they must have been. One of the lads had lost the lower half of his leg and was on crutches. My grandfather had his arm hanging uselessly by his side and another lad was almost bent double with an injury in his side. They were however, on a mission and they made their way cautiously but determinedly down the dark corridors. The kitchens were on the ground floor and unlocked. They opened cupboards and went in pantries. It wasn't long before they discovered ample supplies of bacon and eggs. My grandfather despite his injury was soon organizing a fry up. They ate as much as they could, washed up, and carefully put everything back in place. They then went back to bed for a contented sleep with a full stomach.

Word soon got around the ward and the next night they were half a dozen in number making their way down the echoing corridors to the kitchens. This went on for several nights and my granddad began to feel he was recovering much better with a full belly. The nurses were pleased to find him and the others in a much more cheery frame of mind.

It all might have carried on until they were shipped back to the mainland if it hadn't been for the night sister who finding their beds empty went in search of them. She must have followed the smell of bacon frying and they were horrified to find her stood at the doorway watching them tucking into their illegal rations. She was furious. She screamed that "they were depriving others of food" (though the lads on the wards never saw bacon and eggs once) "they were selfish" and above all "they were thieves," she ordered them back to bed immediately with the promise that she would report them next morning.

She was as good as her word, next morning, the bunch were hauled up before an officer to answer for their misdemeanour. The officer who seemed hardly much older that my grandfather, looked at them all grimly and asked them to stand to attention. He said that he hoped that they had a very good explanation, as this was a serious charge against them of stealing. My grandfather was of the opinion that the army couldn't do much to him now. He was, after all, crippled for life, and he was determined to speak up. He explained how they had been given very little to eat and had been feeling weak with hunger. The officer listened patiently to their grievances, and then to their surprise dismissed them with a warning not to do it again. He also added he would see what he could do about the food. Almost from the next meal the size of the portions increased but still not to what my grandfather considered a 'man-sized meal'. However within the week he was on his way back home to his mother's more generous cooking and at last a full stomach.

For a direct link to the author of this article, email Linda Preston

Copyright © Linda Preston, November, 2003.

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