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From the Front to the Backs: Revisiting the 1st Eastern General Hospital, Cambridge – Film & Discussion

Tuesday, 8 November , 7:30 pm 9:00 pm

The recent centenary of WW1 provided many opportunities to explore overlooked and forgotten aspects of local history.  The 1st Eastern General Hospital in Cambridge treated tens of thousands of returning casualties between 1914 and 1919. The pre-fabricated wooden huts housed up to 1,700 beds, operating theatres, ancillary buildings, a Post Office, shop, cinema and other recreational facilities. ‘This small city on the Backs’ stood on the site now occupied by the Cambridge University Library, and yet – a century later – it seemed to have disappeared from public memory. 

In ‘From the Front to the Backs’, a documentary film (2014, 36 mins) produced by the University of Cambridge, Dr Sarah Baylis tells the story of the military hospital and its site and asks how it was possible that a building of such local and national significance should have been so widely forgotten. The film draws on a range of images and archives and includes interviews with local people who help us to remember.

But there are still many stories waiting to be uncovered. Stories about the people who worked there. The local businesses and tradespeople who supported it. The families for whom the hospital buildings represented home.  The impact of the Spanish Flu pandemic that coincided with the ending of the War, with devastating consequences.

Sarah Baylis is a Cambridge-born writer and heritage consultant who works with community groups – helping them to explore and share aspects of their histories. She has a particular interest in the legacy of WW1 and trying to understand its impacts on individuals, families and communities.

In this event we will screen the film and then Sarah Baylis will lead a discussion of the film and its themes.


St Philips Church

185 Mill Road
Cambridge, CB1 3AN United Kingdom
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01223 414775
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