Mrs Ridley Thomas, MBE, was born Sarah Lavinia Davies in 1874, daughter of John and Sarah Harriet Davies. In 1891 she lived at Western house, Whittington Road with her father John who was widowed Grocer and her sisters, Mary age 24, Margaret 21 and one assistant, William Rowlands age 17 and born in Manchester.
In 1898 she married William Ridley Thomas a farmer and they had two children. John Montague, born in 1899 later became a surgeon, and E Derrick, born in 1902, a farmer like his father.
At the time of the 1911 census, they were living at Rose Hill, Whittington with servant Bertha Annie Roberts born in Oswestry in 1890. They later lived at Ashlands, Oswestry.
According to the Oswestry and border Newspaper on 3rd May 1915, Ardmillan House was to be turned into a Military hospital and Mrs I Whitefield, Woodside, Oswestry organised a Whist Drive to provide funds for Hospital furnishing.
Mrs Ridley Thomas was engaged by the Red Cross Shropshire VAD to act as Commandant at Ardmillan Auxiliary Military Hospital from 2nd November 1915 to 1st March 1919. She was to have ’full responsibility’ for the running of the hospital.
6 wards were created (31 Beds in total), along with a surgery, day rooms and mess room, staffed by a British Red Cross Sister, 2 nurses and 6 VADS.
In the summer the house was supplemented by tents in the garden
The first five patients arrived by car from Shrewsbury on 2nd February 1916. The soldiers were triaged on the train from France before being sent to Ardmillan hospital. They were described by the Oswestry and Borders newspaper (2nd February 1916 pg. 8) as ‘convalescent’ patients. VADs were waiting to receive them.
A further 15 patients were admitted shortly afterwards from Shrewsbury.
Convalescent patients were likely to include soldiers affected by Chlorine Gas and later by Bromine and Phosgene gas. Mustard gas was used from 1917 onwards. They all had the same effects; Damage to the eyes resulting in pain, photophobia, sealing of the eyes with dried secretions, blindness and extreme anxiety. The eyes needed to be bathed regularly, sometimes hourly, with a sterile solution of sodium bicarbonate.
Lung damage was severe and usually irreversible causing Emphysema and Fibrosis. This resulted in severe debilitating breathlessness and increased risk of chest infections. However, it was only years later that the chronic effect on the lungs was discovered.
Shrapnel wounds and straightforward amputations would also be sent for convalescence with the aim to return the soldiers to the Front line as soon as possible.
Mrs Ridley Thomas submitted records for the Ardmillan Hospital to the Red Cross every year.
Records for the year ending 31st December 1918
No. of beds – 31
Average beds for year – 37
Open all year round
Average number of patients in residence – 31.6
Number of in-patients from the war office – 247
Patients average residence – 41.4 days
Rate of army allowance – 3s 3d
Total army allowance – £2149 5s 3d
Gifts – £183 10s 8d
Wages – £524 14s 8d
Av. Cost per patient per day – £4 9s 6d
Cost of administration per day – 1s 7d
Total expenditure of hospital – £2929 3s 5d
Mrs Ridley Thomas was brought to the attention of the Secretary of State for Services (Llangollen Advertiser 8th February 18 pg. 2) According to her VAD card she was mentioned twice.
She was awarded the right ‘To be a member of the civil division of the said most excellent order’ by His Majesty the King on 26th March 1920 (London Gazette Supplement 31840 pg. 3864)
At the time of her death on 31st August 1947, Sarah Ridley Thomas was living The Lawns, Nunington, Withington, Herefordshire. She left £5572 15s 8d. Her husband Thomas died on 22nd May 1960.
Mrs Ridley-Thomas’ VAD card and Medal
British Red Cross Archives and museum, 44 Moorfields, London, EC2Y 9AL
Oswestry and Borders newspapers on-line
Oswestry and Whitchurch in the Great War by Jan Johnstone
London Gazette Archives
One Hundred Years of war time nursing practices 1854-1953 by Jane Brooks and Christine E Hallett