After almost 20 years in an artificial marriage,  Lady Almina Carnarvon was tired of being merely a show wife and of spending her life hosting needless shooting parties, lavishly entertaining at country house weekends, attending dull receptions and balls and enduring endless, exhausting trips abroad. The Countess wanted to do something of worth; something that would make a difference. She found the serious role she was seeking in nursing.

Almina had supported nursing causes, but she had no direct experience of nursing except for the rare occasions when she had attended the children or wiped the brow of guests taken ill whilst staying with the Carnarvons. Nursing Lord Carnarvon had never featured in her marital duties; that task was left to others. But Almina was determined to do her bit for the war effort, and she was stirred by Kitchener to put proposals to the War Office for a hospital within the Carnarvon seat at Highclere.

George Herbert, the 5th  Earl  was already irritated by the idea of a hospital in his midst. He  thought the whole  idea “quite mad”  and declared facetiously to Kitchener, “In future, my dear K, our telegraphic address will have to be AMPUTATE, HIGHCLERE.” But the Earl was appeased when Almina’s godfather,  Baron  Alfred de Rothschild, agreed to give the cause financial support, and agreed to Almina’s plans. Alfred knew all the right people and his family was already involved in providing medical aid for the conflict, his brother, Lord Rothschild, was  the President of the Red Cross.

The War Office approved Almina’s proposals, and Highclere Military Hospital opened its doors almost as soon as the first major British casualties were sustained.

Almina was just one of scores of aristocratic women across Britain who opened up their stately homes to treat the wounded. An American newspaper carrying a photograph of Almina reading to a wounded soldier remarked: “England’s titled women are busy with the wounded, the most famous society leaders having forsaken drawing rooms for the hospital tents. … Lady Carnarvon is one of the leaders of the titled nurses. “

Extracted from ” The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon” : A candid biography of the 5th Countess of  by William Cross, FSA Scot

The next posting will include details of setting up Highclere Military Hospital.