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  No 4 RAF Hospital Rauceby

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Updated: 27 May 12

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1947

Rauceby Hospital had been a lunatic asylum since 1902. As the scale of the wartime RAF in Lincolnshire became evident, the RAF Hospital Nocton Hall which had been built to accompany the RAF Hospital at Cranwell was not deemed to be large enough for the task, and Kesteven Mental Hospital as Rauceby was acquired, opening in 1940. The existing inmates were dispersed.

Known formally as No 4 RAF Hospital Rauceby, the hospital acted in many ways as a satellite to the Cranwell unit,with 1000 beds, focussing through its Crash and Burns unit on supporting aircrew injured on operations. Most famously the pioneering plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe was part of this team, many of his early patients forming a drinking club known as the 'Guinea Pig Club'.

The wartime Burns Unit was situated in Orchard House, built alongside the hospital orchard.

After the war, Rauceby Asylum was handed back to the newly formed National Health Service in 1947. However this was not a smooth process as the Hall burnt down in the final phase of RAF use.

The hospital site is now known as Greylees and has been developed for housing.

A British horror movie - The Lucifer Effect - filmed at the site was allegedly 'cursed' following incidents involving peple associated with the project. It hit local and national headlines when one of the cast was almost throttled by another cast member and the footage was seized by Lincolnshire Constabulary as evidence. Two of the cast were hospitalised and others receiving counselling and treatment for depression. The director who oversaw the filming of the original events was also missing at the time of the premiere and there were rumours that one of the actresses was sectioned in South America. The Lucifer effect is a psychological consequence that is said to occur when good people are given power over others in an evil place. The effect was first investigated in the 1970s during the infamous Stanford Prison experiment. The Lucifer Effect producers recreated a modern day equivalent in the abandoned mental asylum. It finally debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012.




In 1939 the RAF station at Cranwell included a small well equipped hospital but it was quickly realized that this would be inadequate for the treatment of the sick and wounded on any large scale. The admissions Hospital in the grounds was cleared and left empty in readiness for RAF occupancy until 11th April 1940. On this day, with just a few hours of notice, seventy five patients from RAF Cranwell took up residence. Many of the staff during these early days were members of the local Red Cross Society under the supervision of Nursing sisters from Princess Mary’s Nursing Service.

Rauceby had been envisaged from its inception as one of the principal RAF hospitals. It was within easy reach of the many bomber and maintenance stations in the area and was well served with road and rail facilities. Its spacious grounds were ideal for convalescent patients. From 1940 onwards the number of service personnel served by the hospital increased rapidly.

The very nature of air warfare meant that many of the aircrew were not only physically injured but were also badly burnt before they could be rescued. Rauceby often became the first stop on the long, painful road to recovery either in the excellent hands of Squadron Leader Fenton Braithwaite, the resident plastic surgeon, or, on transfer, to the pioneering specialist Mr. Archibold McIndoe at the now famous burns unit at East Grinstead.

The main building of the hospital was used for general purposes and the Admissions Hospital now accommodated the Burns and Orthopedic Units. With such an influx of personnel from the United Kingdom and many other countries, there was a significant rise in the number of tubercular patients. Once again the verandas were called into use as isolation and treatment bays. As the war progressed RAF Rauceby played a central role in the care of service personnel. At the height of the war there were a thousand beds in use with another thousand in store ready for an invasion or bombardment.

The hospital would have become a receiving and clearing station for both civilian and service personnel.

Figures provided by the Air Historical Branch of the RAF show that in 1943 alone there were:-

1398 Major operations 2926 Minor operations
1452 Orthopaedic patients 1233 Medical patients
163 Burns patients 48 Orthodontic patients
1791 Psychiatric out-patients 141 Psychiatric in-patients
(Including 47 aircrew)
Admissions totaled 5337 with 18650 outpatients
Burns and Orthopaedic Departments
Aircrew involved in crashes and emergency landings were often seriously burnt or had suffered injuries to their hands and faces. Their flying gloves were extremely clumsy and cumbersome and despite constant reprimands they were notorious for not wearing them. Lack of heating in the aircraft meant that flying at high altitudes often resulted in severe cases of frostbite. The surgeons had the daunting task of repairing these young men so that they could retake their place in society feeling and looking as normal as possible. Many, in fact, returned to normal flying duties.

Badly burnt patients were photographed on arrival by the Clinical Photographer Bill Howlett. As treatment progressed more photographs were taken so that both the surgeons and the patient could see the progress and transformation that was occurring.*The albums bear silent witness to the skill of the surgeon and the fortitude and courage of his patients.
An ex-theatre nurse said that patient’s wounds would often still be sizzling with phosphorus on their arrival and this had to be cleaned out before treatment could begin. In the burns unit there was a bathroom containing three large deep baths. Badly burnt patients were submerged in them soaking in saline solution. Nurses knelt on the stone floor, sometimes for hours, gently easing away the burnt flesh. The pain must have been almost intolerable but most patients managed to grit their teeth and swear their way through it. The nurses would often develop severe blistering on their own hands and arms from the continual immersion in the saline solution.
RAF Rauceby operated for the comparatively short period of seven years. Much of the work carried out was of routine nature but a fair proportion had been, by the very nature of the injuries treated, both experimental and life saving.

*The albums have been handed to the medical Branch of the RAF and they are to be used in the training of RAF surgeons

The Great Fire of Rauceby
A dance was held in the ballroom on Whit Monday in 1945 which finished shortly after midnight. By 3am the whole room was engulfed as the pine paneling and highly polished floor were greedily consumed by the flames.
The stained glass windows and arched ceiling were destroyed and despite the efforts of the resident firefighters and the Sleaford Fire Brigade the room was completely gutted. Fortunately the wind blew the flames away from the surrounding building, had they not done so they might well have been lost.
It was believed that the fire started under the stage where a number of items of furniture had been stored. It is thought that someone had used the area for an assignation and had left a cigarette smoldering on one of the seats.

The Rauceby Club 1947 – 1980
Such was the feeling of comradeship among the medical staff at Rauceby that in 1947 Wing Commander Eric Jewesbury instigated the formation of the Rauceby Club. The membership list bears the names of many who rose to become eminent in their chosen speciality, several being knighted for their work. As age caught up with the members attendance gradually dwindled until in 1980 it was decided to disband the club.
A New Beginning
Although the war in Europe ended in 1945 the hospital remained in the hands of the RAF until April 1947. Apart from the work connected with structural alterations and damage resulting from the RAF occupancy, there were considerable engineering and building items needed including additional housing for staff. By 1949 the only outstanding work to be completed was the refurbishment of the burnt out ballroom.
By the end of 1949 there were thirty three male and seventy five female patients in residence attended by twelve male and four female staff. Numbers only rose in 1950 when the hospital was ready to resume its normal role.

Rauceby in 2006 on actionstations

History of Rauceby Asylum

Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire

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