When, some years ago, I first started to research the South African Military Hospital, the reaction of many local residents to the news that there had ever been a hospital in Richmond Park was a sceptical raised eyebrow. Last year, however, Richmond Museum included a display about the hospital in the exhibition Richmond at Home and at War, to which I contributed the text as well as an image of my grandfather in the grounds of the hospital. Pembroke Lodge, to whose collection I also contributed some material, did its bit as well on behalf of the forgotten, or overlooked, hospital. Every little helps and there are certainly fewer raised eyebrows now when I mention the hospital.
Imagine my delight when I spotted a familiar image in the Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive recently. It was the springbok on a blue background on the cover of a leaflet created by ‘Young People at Orleans House Gallery’ as a tribute to the original Springbok Blue. The leaflet was their contribution to the gallery’s exhibition In their Footsteps: Richmond’s First World War and the leaflet’s cover echoes the emblem and masthead of the original magazine.
The Springbok Blue (later, more simply The Springbok) was a magazine for, and by, the patients, the vast majority of whom were serving with the South African forces.
Most of the patients at the South African Military Hospital had suffered life-changing injuries and the hospital provided support during the long, slow process of their rehabilitation. The monthly magazine was not just a means of communicating the activities at the hospitality to patients, staff and supporters, local and in Southern Africa, but for those involved in its production, it was also an effective element in that rehabilitation. What a pleasure it was to find that The Springbok Blue inspired this project nearly a century after it first appeared.
It’s a small point, but I should perhaps note that The Springbok Blue was not a project of the “South African Legion” as the leaflet suggests. The South African Legion’s forerunner, the British Empire Service League, was not founded until 1921.