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4th November 1914

This was a fascinating episode to put together, and I was very lucky to be able to discuss the medical aspects of the script with Mr Simon Hardman-Lea, consultant and WW1 author in his own right. The financial ideas I ran past Micheal Willis, my Economic History teacher at my old school.


Any errors are, of course, my own.


The medical story. We have to have an Army hospital where Celestine can reasonably be expected to perform all the jobs we want her to do in the script. Naturally we based Celestine's hospital on a real one: the Fourth London General Hospital. It opened as the new King's College Hospital with 600 beds on 26th July, 1913. You might like to take a look at the Lost Hospitals of London website - - for more information.


When war broke out a large part of the Hospital was requisitioned by the War Office for use as a military hospital - that was when it was renamed. Only four wards and the Casualty Department remained available for civilian patients.


At first the 4th LGH contained a few cases of injury and sickness among men in training at various military camps in the country but, as the casualties from France grew, the military hospital was extended.


Usefully, the 4th LGH can remain a prototype for Celestine's hospital as it is a place where the battle against gas gangrene continued throughout the war: and we know that's a big piece of Celestine's work.


We got Celestine into her hospital by the simple method of making it her own hospital in the first place: we called it The East London Hospital for Women, partly paid for by Robert to set her up. Taken over by the Army, it’s now called The Sixth London General Hospital.  For the sort of place such a hospital might be, try pp91-93 of A SCOTTISH WOMEN’S HOSPITAL AT ROYAUMONT, available at And there's OBSERVATIONS OF AN ORDERLY also at that website.


If such a highly qualified, war-experienced doctor was willing to volunteer and go down to the wing where they look again at tricky recruitment cases, I think the Army would grab at the chance.


My reading of the times is that things were still quite disorganised. This is the East End of London. Recruits have massed to the colours, and we know that meant some had to be kept waiting at home because there were no barracks or camps to put them in. So the idea they came to the local Army hospital when they developed medical problems seemed coherent.  The medical scams were drawn from Sir John Collie’s MALINGERING, also available at


The finance storyline was the result of a lot of quite startling research. Robert is truly a financial insider with a different take on a war just three months old today. I derived these ideas from quite a long reading list; BLIGHTY - Gerard de Groot (which he has just rewritten); THE MYRIAD FACES OF WAR - Trevor Wilson (huge but good); BRITAIN AND THE GREAT WAR - JM Bourne (a great partner to de Groot); THE DELUGE- Arthur Marwick (quite old now but lots of good things); THE PITY OF WAR - Niall Ferguson (the newest go at this sort of combined economic and military history, stands it all up with stats and asks the big questions).  To a lesser degree I read Turner's Businessmen and Politics; Dewey's British Agriculture in the FWW and French's British Economic and Strategic Planning 1905-1915, all statisitically rigourous but not for any sort of casual reader.


I'm no economic historian (just ask Mike Willis), but it seemed to me we might cast Robert as being on the amoral smart money. The country may be thinking along the lines of a short and popular war over by Christmas, but he’s read the secret as well as the public-domain reports and he can see that it won’t be.


He can see that he can strike a bargain with the government. He’ll give them what they want in the short term so long as they give him his long term needs. And he’ll trim off any extras he can get along the way. But Robert’s main victories - through his keener understanding of the situation than his masters – might be as follows.


Robert’s chief triumph is to understand the significance of the appointment of Lord Kitchener as Secretary of State for War.


Prior to his appointment, British war planning rested on three ideas.


Firstly, the Navy would blockade Germany into submission. Huge assumptions were made about the quickness of this obviously slow process.


Secondly, a small army would hold the Channel ports of France and Belgium. This was the key strategic aim of the war, whoever won. Without them, Britain is strangled.


Thirdly, the finance houses of the City of London would lend the Allies the money to wage war and therefore make a fortune for the country.


This is the ideal war for the British, because they have no army to speak of: some other blighters do the main body of the fighting, while Britannia acts as banker. But crucially, and this is the emotional as well as the political and economic point, they want the froth of war without having to change anything. In fact, they want ‘business as usual’, a fantasy world where the country mysteriously prosecutes a war while remaining simultaneously ready to carry on exactly where they left off when victory is declared.


So there is no acceptance that every machine that will have to make firing pins (and no longer sewing machines) cannot immediately be converted from one to the other, and then, on the first day of peace, straight back again.


If this seems strange to us, it might be helpful to recall that prior to WW1, governments of every hue practised laissez-faire government - the government only really ran the armed and civil services, and the Post Office, and that was about it. The rest was left up to market forces, and these were assumed to be run by super-flexible financial and industrial titans, because they said they were, and the Empire partly ran upon everybody agreeing to this proposition.


Financiers such as Robert might be excused for not wanting to play along with this fantasy. And Robert is one of those who hears what Kitchener has to say, rather than just enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling that putting the Lion of the Empire in charge gives everyone.  


Kitchener blights the plans of the ‘business as usual' fraternity. He calls for a million recruits. All trained from scratch because he has no time for the Territorial Army or the Special Reserves. They need guns, uniforms, food, exactly what ‘business as usual’ is not going to be able to handle.


He’ll want five million men in total, but he doesn’t want to use them yet. Instead, he’s going to want to do as little as he can in Belgium now - because he wants Russia, France and Germany to slug each other to exhaustion in Europe. Then he can invade Germany in the north (somewhere near Hamburg?) and he wants to do that in 1917.


Kitchener instinctively grasps the static nature of a modern war - sandbags, trenches, shelling and so on. This understanding has been around since 1899 with the publication of 'Is War Now Impossible?' by Ivan Bloch. Similarly the British government’s own 1911 Antwerp report concluded that Germany could feed herself practically for ever, and was surrounded by too many neutrals who would act as conduits to the rest of the world to make a blockade a realistic tool for victory. Ultimately it is a soldier who secures that on the ground.


This leads to the paradoxical situation where Kitchener and Robert might be the only two realists around, with the country and the government in a soup of their own making.


In August 1914 therefore, Robert was very tight with his money. The Government, unable to understand why this might be, issued £300m pounds of quantitative easing. Yes, just like we have now.


Robert got all his gold out of the Bank of England - in total his run and that of others cost the Bank £6m. The uncertainty of war meant that £350m of cargoes across the world - and Britain was the home of maritime insurance - might never be paid for. This was potentially a £350m insurance claim that would destroy the City of London. So the laissez-faire government went into the maritime insurance business.


These financial moves to preserve an idea - the ‘business as usual’ idea - would be amazing to Robert. What other scams might he pull?


He could offer to build anything they like so long as they guarantee the contracts. He could ask for the Government's help getting women into work in spite of the unions. He’ll handle the Government's war loans.


And the Government will agree, fully aware that by agreeing, Robert risks nothing, gets to use the cheapest possible labour (he's pro-women but for the hardest-headed of reasons), lends himself money on which he also gets a percentage, all the while gaining protection by being party to some Whitehall horse-trading.


Altogether a different take on the early days of WW1, I thought.